I became a political junkie in 2008 because I was excited by having a black candidate for president and a female candidate for president (both Dems). It’s not the most noble of reasons, but I don’t think it’s a bad selfish reason. I’ve been a Democrat since I’ve been able to vote*, but it was more de facto than with any enthusiasm. I knew the Republicans didn’t have anything to offer me, and what’s more, they actively didn’t want me in their party. I chose the Dems by default because at least nominally, they gave lip service to diversity and caring about the underdog. Mind you, I knew it was mostly cosmetic and superficial, but it was better than being told I was an abomination on a daily basis.
In other words, I wasn’t enthusiastic about being a Democrat, but I knew it was the better of the two unappealing options. My first vote for president was for Nader in 1996 (NOT 2000), and it was a protest vote. Even then, I didn’t like the fact that we had two parties, and I really didn’t like Bill Clinton for several reasons. So, I waited until I was sure he’d won Minnesota before voting for Nader. My next presidential candidates were Al Gore and John Kerry, two of the most boring, non-charismatic candidates to win the primary. Listening to them speak was painfully dull, but I knew I wasn’t voting for the Republican candidate (W. both times), so I didn’t pay any attention as I voted straight D. Both Gore and Kerry were good men, but they were very much quintessential politicians who didn’t excite me at all.
Side note: I understand why people want to vote third party. As I noted, my first presidential vote was for a third party candidate. I do think there are problems that come with being long-term establishment politicians. Most politicians who have been in their positions for decades have been changed by the job, rather than them changing the job, even if that was their intent to begin with. I remember how idealistic Paul Wellstone was when he was first elected. He vowed he would only serve for two terms because he had the same reservations about lifelong politicians. Near the end of his second term, however, he changed his mind and said he was running again because he was still needed. Now, I don’t necessarily disagree with his change of mind because he did a lot of good for Minnesotans** and has been one of our most progressive congresspeople, I just shook my head at the time because it’s easy to see how seductive a life in politics can be–even for someone as idealistic as Wellstone. Again, he did it for lofty reasons, but there was still a sense of ego that only he could do the work. Regardless, I would have voted from him again in a heartbeat if he hadn’t died in a tragic plane crash. He was a politician whom I believed was doing what he truly thought was best, even when I disagreed with him.
When Candidate Obama spoke in 2008 on the campaign trail, I felt as if he was actually talking to me personally. For the first time ever, I had a candidate I felt a connection to. I’ve written about it before, but the fact that he mentioned Asians and bisexuals and nonbelievers in his speeches made me feel as if I were being seen. I know it sounds like a stupid thing, but imagine not ever being mentioned or seeing representation of who you are in thirty-seven years of life on this earth. The fact that Candidate Obama mentioned Asians consistently meant more to me than even I knew up until that election. PBO has a half-sister who’s Asian, which was why he knew we existed.
Why am I nattering on about this, even though I’ve written about it before? Because it’s backstory to the main point of this post. I started stepping back from politics during PBO’s second term, not because I was becoming disenchanted with him, but because I was becoming disenchanted with how political Twitter, including all media, reacted to him. No matter what he said, the reaction would be the same, depending on how a person felt about him in the first place. That’s a bit convoluted, so I’ll try to clarify. There were some ardent PBO supporters who took it upon themselves to defend him from every slight, perceived or real, big or small. There were some progressives who thought he was always wrong, no matter what he did, and they had to loudly tell everyone just how wrong PBO was all day long. Then, of course, there were the Republicans who opposed everything PBO did on principle. PBO could have said he liked chocolate, and his supporters would declare that this was the best position in the world on chocolate that he could ever make. Progressives would sneer and say that liking chocolate proves he doesn’t care about the environment or the poor cacao beans pickers in Bolivia. He should eschew chocolate and declare it illegal! Republicans would say they hated chocolate and only a islofascist commie pinko like Obummer would be pro-cocoa.
It reached the point where I could read a response to something PBO had done and accurately predict in which camp the person belonged, even if I knew nothing else about them. It started to depress me that it was purely tribal rather than actual thoughtful political discourse. The whole thing appeared as theatrics to me, and while I’m an avid theater person, I’d rather not have it in my politics.
In addition, so many political junkies on Twitter seemed to be addicted to the poutrage of the day. All those Morning Joe rants about how awful he was, and, yet, they would continue watching him with their morning coffee. The PBO stans scoured the internet to find something to be indignant about, and it was tiresome. I’m a huge PBO supporter. Still. Always. He’s the best president in my lifetime, and one of the best ever. That doesn’t mean he was perfect or that I agreed with every decision he made. I do believe he thought carefully before acting, but I still disagree with some of his decisions. Even mildly expressing that caused anger or pushback from his stans. It reached the point where I didn’t want to express my opinion if it wasn’t full-throated approval of PBO’s every action.
I was almost completely disengaged by the 2016 election. First of all, I was a Bernie Sanders supporter in the primary, and it was annoying to read that only progressive white dudebros were supporting Sanders. The two camps were at it again, and I had no desire to enter the fray. In addition, I didn’t like Clinton as the candidate. I remembered the bullshit she pulled in 2008 in order to discredit PBO, and while I’d moved past that, I just didn’t think she was our strongest candidate. She was very much an establishment Democrat, and many people hate the Clintons, reasonably or unreasonably. She had a lot of baggage, and she wasn’t a charismatic person. No, that’s the most important thing is a president, but it’s often the thing most people focus on. I wasn’t impressed by her in the primaries, but I knew I would support her in the general if she won (which I knew she would). There was no way in hell I’d be voting for any of the Republican candidates, which meant Clinton by default.
I will say, she got better as the general went on. She was never a natural speaker, and when she talked about being more of a wonk, a light bulb went off. She’s an introvert, and it’s hard for her to be in public. That made perfect sense to me, and I had more compassion for her after that. Still. She never felt like my candidate. I didn’t identify with her, and she wasn’t really speaking to me, though I have to give her credit for talking to Asian communities during her campaigning. One of the things I never liked about her was that it always felt as if she was reacting to popular opinion rather than doing what she thought was right. I do understand to a certain extent because she’s been heavily scrutinized for the past twenty years, and she can’t win for losing no matter what she says. So, yes, I can understand why she’s hunkered down and cautious about what she does and says, but it comes off as too calculated. She just doesn’t seem authentic, and while that may be unfair, it’s a persistent viewpoint of her that just won’t go away.
During the last two or three months of the election, I didn’t follow it at all because I was too afraid. Once Clinton lost, I ignored the news for the last few months of PBO’s presidency because any time I thought about the results, I started to freak the fuck out. Once this president was inaugurated, I reluctantly knew I had to pull my head out of the sand and pay attention to what was happening. It’s not right just to ignore national news, and denial wasn’t working any longer, anyway. The problem is, my Twitter timeline and my Facebook feed are cultivated to be pretty political, so any time I check them, I’m overwhelmed by all the negative news that floods me. In the last month of the elections, I had Trump muted on Twitter and that made me feel so much better. I notice that my mood plummets if I read about politics the first thing in the morning. Well, any time, really, but especially before I’ve had my first Coke Zero of the day.
So, my new goal is to find a way to balance being responsible by keeping up with the news and not allowing myself to be overwhelmed by the negativity of this administration and congress. By the way, I think we need to stop our laser-focus on every stupid thing this president says even though they are infuriating and plentiful because behind the billowing smoke he’s blowing all over us, the real wizards, the Republicans in the Congress, are busy trying to destroy all the progress PBO has made and more. I get the uneasy feeling that a lot of the noise emanating from the White House is to cover up the truly evil shit that is happening. Anyway, I’m thinking of making one day a week social media free so I can give myself a break from the steady dripping of bad news. I’ll let you know if I can actually do it.
*Well, before, actually. I saw Reagan on the television when I was a kid, and I was horrified by how vapid and idiotic he sounded. I may not have known exactly who he was and what he stood for, but I knew that I didn’t want to belong to any group that had him as its leader.
**One of his glaringly bad votes was for DOMA, which he later regretted.