Wednesday, November 5, 2008

yes, we did

I have never been prouder of my country.

After Obama took the primary, I put my back into the Fourth of July as I had never done before. I made an all-American cookout happen in a Manhattan apartment. I made cupcakes, wore red, white, and blue, donned my Obama For Your Mama t-shirt and drank domestic beer. I was full of this alien enthusiasm for my fatherland. Suddenly, I was remembering the great words of great statesmen a hundred years dead, white, landed men of priviledge who once tried to make of a new land mass something better. They were human, of course, but they tried and those first steps, however imperfect, however fallible, created the rubric for a country that has always stood for that intangible something better, even—and especially—when it failed to.

I was reconnecting to the America of the history books, taking my private ownership of her—for better or for worse—and thinking that maybe this time we had something to hope for. I can't say I was all that optimistic that he'd win, or even if he did win, that he'd be any different, but I can say that I had hope. I had hope that the evils we've orchestrated on our own soil and abroad may yet have taught us something as we endeavor to grope our way into this uncertain century, that our worst moments may yet have been the birth of our best.

I remember feeling renewed by a candidate who, for the first time in nearly a decade, seemed to have our best interests at heart.

Now, a lot of conservatives and right wingnuts will tell you I don't know my own best interests from a hole in my head. They whine about the big, bad government taking away their hard-earned cash to build schools. They say America is dead when she restricts in any capacity the individual freedoms of her citizens, their right to hold onto their God-given winnings and their God-fearing guns. When their talk-radio virulence is drowned out, and the Jesus rhetoric dials down, there are some good points to be made there. This country was founded almost on a dare. It was an experiment, a government of restraint and informed citizenship. As Lincoln said nearly a century later: of the people, by the people, for the people. The government of our founding fathers ought to be protected, ought never "perish from the earth."

Some of these McCainiacs and naysayers are well-meaning fiscal conservatives who support the left in social matters, but draw the line with guns and taxes. Libertarians. They tell me I am misguided for voting my conscience. They tell me I am sacrificing my birthright in this great country for a few useless social dictums that shouldn't be decided by the federal government anyway. I say they are hypocrites. Forfeit certain freedoms to safegaurd others? To save a few selfish dollars—on principle—they'll vote dog-eat-doggystyle down the line for a candidate who condemns their best friend, their brother, and their heart. What does it matter if women, gays, and peoples of color are denied a few civil rights? Rights which really should be inalienable, but mean nothing if you can't bear arms and keep your tax money, right? And so these cynics vote their wallets and in so doing throw their support behind the Republican Party and damn the rest of us.

The old adage tells us that a young conservative has no heart, sure, but an old liberal must have no money. (No, Churchill never said it.) And, it's true, I am young and poor and idealistic. But I'm also not an idiot. I weighed every issue in this campaign before succumbing to Barackoholic Obamania, before rallying behind the audacity of my hope. I don't believe he'll pay my mortgage or my gas bill. I am not a knee-jerk pseudo-socialist out to rob the rich to feed the poor. I just read the last line of the Declaration of Independence with pride: "we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." I am more than willing to pay taxes I judge to be fair. And if Joe the Plumber (who is not even a plumber) has to pay $257 more this year when he buys his business, or some corporate wahoos have to sacrifice half a million or two from their bloated salaries, I can live with that. To quote Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr: "I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization." I cast my vote for civilization yesterday.

Some people are afraid this morning. They think the big, scary black man with his rowdy fanatics will steal their pensions and spend them on inner-city crack whores. (or, you know, schools and health care and infrastructure). They think he'll invite the terrorists over for tea and Oreos. Who knows? Maybe he will. Maybe John McCain and Sarah Palin would have done worse, much worse, for our broke and fragile country. Two men laid out their best plays and we chose one. We won the coin toss and we gave Obama the ball.

I still believe in the dormant American Dream and every citizen's right to that pursuit. The president I picked inspires me to work a little harder to get there and wants to give everyone a fair shake. But I need no longer justify a vote that I cast in the company of 63,372,482 others. This year we are spared the narrow margins and the back-and-forth of populace vs electorate. We can forego the blue state/red state battles. The coasts and the Middle can agree to disagree now (to the tune of some very close races in Indiana, Iowa, Virginia, Missouri... Montana.) Electoral maps and long-established demographic lines in the sand have been redrawn. Maybe we have a shot at some semblance of unity as a nation so we may reclaim our place in a world that has watched us anxiously for months and last night started the slow clapping.

We have elected a leader worthy of leading for the first time in a very long time. What surprises me is not that he won, a stunning victory in its own right, but that this morning I feel proud to be an American—in theory and in practice.