I got a call yesterday from Mom. She wanted to know what I thought about Barack Obama.
“He was good,” I told her. I went to see him speak on the economy, in an auditorium where I’ve seen George Winston, Joan Baez, and Bonnie Raitt. No seat in the ~2,000-person house is bad.
“It wasn’t a rally like Adam went to,” I explained. Adam is my nephew who goes to school at University of Denver. He’s been an Obama backer since the beginning.
“Well,” Mom said, “Dad and I are voting for Hillary,” and then she ticked off who in the family was voting for Clinton and who for Obama. When it comes to what’s happening in our own party, we Democrats in the family can talk politics without things turning nasty.
I like that my mom and dad know who they want. Not once have they tried to sway me, and not once have I tried to change their minds. That would be fruitless.
Dad said today that he thinks this is our only chance to elect a woman as president. I also know that Dad and Mom love the Clintons. During Bill Clinton’s first campaign, Dad worked as the Assistant Treasurer of the New Mexico Democratic party. He’s as loyal as they come.
“I like Obama, too,” Dad said, “but he’s young. He can be President next time.”
My parents have a deep connection to Clinton, one that transcends her policies. They don’t know Obama.
George Lakoff, linguist and author of several books on the importance of language in politics, wrote a blog post about something that Ronald Reagan discovered. Most voters do not vote based on policy. They vote based on values, connection, authenticity, trust, and identity.
I think Clinton is great. I think she is competent and has done a lot for our country. Why then, was my decision to vote for Obama so swift and so strong? Was Reagan right?
The Iraq War
I remember those first few days when the bombs started to drop in Iraq. Jim and I cried. I was devastated, yet I went to work. In my journal from that time, I have an email memo from a vice president in our company stating that the war had started, that many people had strong opinions — even passion — over these events, and that we should remember that ours was a global workplace with employees from many nationalities.
I read the memo, incredulous. How could I refrain from speaking with passion? I couldn’t concentrate on my tasks. I was overcome by emotion and the realization that we were at war.
Also in my journal is a clipping of a New York Times article on the difficulties talking about the war at work or school. A waiter in New York said customers were sending back French fries because France was against the war. “I’m against the war, so maybe you shouldn’t eat anything served by me,” the waiter was quoted as saying.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq had broad support. People wanted to see something as retribution for the terrorist attacks of 9-11. Three hundred seventy-three Congressmen and women voted to authorize going to war; 156 opposed. Like those 156, I was in the minority.
I remember writing about those first few days. I said I felt like I was in a glass bubble, walking around the aisles at work. There’s Roberta, oh, look, Renee and Gwen, going about their business. I wanted to scream, “We’re in a war!”
But I couldn’t. They wouldn’t have heard me anyway.
To speak out against the war at that time was to show immense personal courage. Our Democratic Senator, Jeff Bingaman, voted against the resolution to approve going to war. But many Democrats gave Bush authority to move forward.
Obama was not a U.S. Senator in October 2002, when the resolution to approve the use of force was passed, but a week before that vote, he made this speech against the war. This is, for me, the primary difference between Obama and Clinton. It is one thing, but it is huge.
I care about the environment and education. I want to see No Child Left Behind ended before it demoralizes even further people like my sister who teach in high-risk schools. The economy, the poor, the environment — all are overshadowed by the nearly 4,000 soldiers killed, the 30,000 wounded, the $600 billion spent.
And what of the almost 200,000 Iraquis killed and 2 million displaced? I can’t see them, yet for nearly five years I have felt in my heart the sadness of despair.
In College I took a Creative Writing class with New Mexico author Rudolfo Anaya. I wrote a fictional account of a true event that had recently taken place in my family.
My dad’s cousin, a priest who left the Church in the late 1960s, was dying of AIDS in San Francisco, and he moved back to his mother’s – my great-aunt’s — home to be with his family during his final days. The archibishop reinstated my dad’s cousin as a priest and allowed him to give one last mass before he died.
I wrote the story from the priest’s mother’s perspective. I had her flash back to memories of her childhood, which I imagined to be sheltered and oppressed.
I noticed in class that students who wrote about sex seemed to get more praise from Anaya than those whose plotlines were tame. In my final draft, I inserted a long scene where the protagonist was sexually molested by an older boy when she was a teenager.
The scene served to show how the mother viewed sexuality and, therefore, what she had to overcome in order to forgive her son. The scene also was my secret experiment, to see if I could elicit effusive praise from my professor.
Sure enough, the feedback was glowing. The afternoon that I got his notes on my draft, I left the classroom wondering what this all meant. I considered drawing up a grievance. I stewed about it for a bit, but in the end I did nothing. I didn’t want to give the university ammunition for dismissing an Hispanic professor. In my journal I wrote, “I am Chicana more than I am feminist.”
In hindsight, I realize I was wrong about Anaya. The scene worked. It went to where the priest’s mother’s emotional pain was. Anaya was not machista; he was simply guiding us to tap the interiority of our characters.
But what I got right about that experience was the understanding that of the two aspects of my identity that most shaped me, I am more loyal to my identity as a person of color than I am to my identity as a woman. This is because of the isolation I felt throughout my childhood, the “other-ness” based on the food we ate, the Spanish my parents spoke, how we lived.
That’s not to say that I don’t relate to the struggles of women. I do, and in my work especially, I am different both for my ethnicity and for my gender.
But for better or worse (and here is how this story relates to the Democratic Primaries), when I ask myself whether Clinton or Obama knows my experience better, the answer I give myself is, Obama. Deep inside I believe this man of mixed race knows me.
I don’t know how important this consideration is, but I suspect it is pretty important if I am to be honest about what exactly my gut is saying when it tells me that I trust Obama.
I’m glad I decided to go see Hillary last night. Nothing can take the place of seeing a candidate live and in person.
She was much better, much more inspiring and trustworthy than I expected. I clapped and yelled. I liked her immensely.
I feel relieved that no matter what happens, it will be great.
I’m also glad I wrote this. I learned that my decision is wholly mine. One hundred percent my own. It is not complex, and yet it is more profound than I ever imagined. It’s based on no more than a couple of simple things, things I’ve tried to distill down to soundbites. “He’s a leader, not a manager.” “He inspires, he unites.”
The endorsements, his words and his presence at the event, the analyses — all they do is validate. They don’t really mean anything more than that. I knew shortly after he entered the race that he was the one.
I’m telling you this because it’s a revelation, not because I want you to join me. I can no more sway you to follow me than you can influence me to follow you. I’m glad I figured that out. I find it calming.
I don’t know what you will base your decision on, but I trust it will be deep, whatever it is. I wish you the best on Tuesday and beyond.
I can’t wait to tell Mom about Hillary.
-related to posts, The Politics Of Primary Season 2008 (A Presidential Primer) and Do You Do Politics?