I am only a spectator for today’s United States election. As a Canadian, I can merely suggest how I, were I given the responsibility, might vote in what some have called the “election of a generation.”
For the past few months I’ve listened to arguments —the forthright, the ill-informed, the wistful, the impassioned and the politically naive— about whether this country should be run by a black, former community organizer from Chicago who once stridently preached “Change,” or a white, corporate juggernaut, with a (self-professed) business acumen superior to the current, and aforementioned, Commander-in-Chief, who wants to make America great (again?).
In the land of perpetual political campaign, these two men have set out across the 50 states hoping to capture, if only for a moment and a ballot, the essence of what Americans want.
But behind the scenes, in the darker corners of campaign headquarters, in the holding areas where both candidates take deep breaths before mounting another stage, shaking another hand, one has to believe the sense of melancholy —of promises impossibly proffered— must be overwhelming. If 2008 was the year for change, 2012 is certainly the year for patience.
Back in November 2008, in a dusty beige-walled business office at a six-room hostel in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, I watched Obama accept what appeared to be the world’s worst job offer —President-elect of the United States.
As the global economy teetered in response (at least in part) to the economic stress created by runaway banks and the “toxic debt” amassed over years with insufficient financial regulation, President Obama had to take the reins of a country at war (two, actually) that also sported an ailing international reputation.
Yet somehow, as I sat on that worn couch, talking politics with other curious and engaged non-Americans, there was a sense that the United States would be stronger, smarter, more productive and more worthy of respect with Obama in charge.
Four years later, I still think we were right. Unfortunately, without a vote that doesn’t matter much.
In world where I can watch breaking news on my phone and scroll through countless 140-character Tweets that wash over my computer screen, citizens (and importantly voters) have come to demand a government so responsive that even a reasonably timely solution is open for critique. And it was that very Obama-inspired “Hope” —plastered on campaign materials, stencilled on the country’s crumbling highway overpasses, and graffitied on public spaces across a nation— that has become Obama’s stiffest opponent during the 2012 campaign.
Obama hasn’t made good on every promise, but one has to think it’s because there was so much to fix. To solve a decade-long crisis of leadership, he was going to need more than four years.
Even as the viciousness of the 2012 campaign reached crescendo, the country was still climbing back to pre-crash conditions; a country stewarded out of the spiral by economic bandaids and political emergency measures, despite continued obstruction from the Red side of the aisle —a fact apparently forgotten among Republicans/Tea Party-ites. (Sidenote: I wonder how many Democrats from the Cold War era imagined the most significant threat to America’s future would be the “Reds” at home?)
In fairness, Obama has made his mistakes. His vision —or at least his voiced opinions— have not always been followed by the necessary conviction to make good on those promises. He knows perhaps more clearly than his critics that rhetoric alone cannot create policies, and that promises rarely look the same after they’ve been fed through the political machine.
But a vote for Romney (or worse, simply against Obama) is not just a rejection of the “new America” —that near-utopian, post-partisan political playground of compromise and cooperation. It is vote in favor of the tired, broken, polarized, ‘winner-take-all’ political environment that breeds the very animosity seen in the vitriol of this campaign. It is a vote in favor of an American political landscape imbued with a simple and destructive creed: humiliate-or-destroy-thy-opponent-at-all-cost.
This ethos praises political victory over tolerance and personal privilege over pragmatic politicking. The system it spawns is neither reflective of democratic ideals nor the oft-voiced principles that Americans believe make their country so strong. Instead, it is a system based on division, of special interest couched in an American narrative. It is a political system destined to leave the many behind.
While this post comes late on election day, it shouldn’t be construed as a last-minute appeal to sway the fervent and stiff-necked from their positions. This piece is merely intended as record:
Four years ago, on this day, I made a bet: that the impatience our generation would limit Obama’s time in office to a single term, that the real cost of “Change” was patience our generation didn’t have.
Today —despite the money on the line— I desperately hope I lose that bet.