Intrepid Girl Reporter

Thursday, 8/14: when you like the idea of something but you hate the thing itself
August 15, 2008, 5:37 am
Filed under: election, politics

…It was okay to be perplexed, to be torn by issues, to look at the world and not feel inadequate because it would not sort itself out cleanly.

– Ted Gup, “In Praise of the Wobblies”

Growing up is a process of, among other things, discovering the traits that define oneself. Using myself as an example: I do not really like either broccoli or McDonalds, despite having eaten both mindlessly for the majority of my life. I look best in bangs. I don’t hate working out as much as I hate heavy shoes and sweating. I don’t play video games not because I hate them, although I do think their negatives largely outweigh their positives, but because once I start I have difficulty stopping within a reasonable period of time. I like chocolate malts and I prefer Kikkoman soy sauce to La Choy, which, in a family that takes its food seriously, is like coming out of the closet or moving into a van down by the river.

In this Year of The Election, writing as I do for a political site, I’ve spent a great deal of time considering my own political orientation. And when I do, I return time and again to the story of Antwonn.

Antwonn ran the afterschool program that I also ran in college. Antwonn was deeply religious and related by blood to approximately half of the students who attended the program. Antwonn believed in Christian instruction and did not believe in talking much to uppity outsider women or listening to their ideas, and he seemed to think that most of my attempts to feed the kids snacks other than baloney and cheese were hooey. I did not get along very well with Antwonn.

What I learned, over the course of the first year, was that Antwonn and I wanted essentially the same thing for the kids with whom we worked: to provide them with support and love, to help them achieve, and to prevent them from losing faith in themselves. We just had very (very) different ideas about how to go about doing this. My plans involved showing them the fascinating world of words and ideas; Antwonn’s involved a lot of prize bribery. We both had a lot to learn, obviously, in that not everyone automatically finds ideas fascinating, especially when they’re hungry, and that prizes don’t always work and are pretty expensive.

As a result, we both grew a lot: I learned to provide for the kids’ basic needs before moving on to more advanced stuff and not to pitch every battle, and Antwonn learned that listening to me would not make him go deaf. At least for a while. Then he decided to take over the program entirely and teach Jesus stuff behind my back, in a story that is too long and boring to go into here, but it wasn’t a reflection on his ideas as much as it was a reflection on him as a person I never want to work with again.

I come from a conservative family. I am the product of a liberal arts college and I have a lot of idealistic friends. As a result, I’ve heard a lot from both sides about Barack “Our Ford” Obama and John “I Used To Be A Person Everyone Liked And Now It’s Totally The Opposite” McCain, and what I find from both sides is a dismaying refusal to listen. In a way, I feel like listening is the reason why I hesitate to align with either side.

Being independent, it seems, is a decidedly unfashionable position to take. My parents don’t understand how I can consider someone with such minimal foreign policy experience; my friends don’t understand how I can refuse to write off anyone who considers continuing the war in Iraq. My politics in a nutshell don’t bear minute breakdown here, as you don’t have that kind of interest and I don’t have that kind of time.* But suffice it to say that while I share a lot of goals with the Democratic party, I don’t necessarily agree with the solutions they offer, inasmuch as I don’t believe in the reality of easy panacea or the possibility of pleasing everyone. And I share a lot of philosophies with conservatism, but I find myself unable to go along with the party as it is currently populated. I want to see (and work for) a better world, but I don’t believe in legislating what I perceive as idiocy out of the picture. In short, I believe in giving people choices, but I don’t know that I believe in using their government to make them go along with them, at least not always. And I think that both parties need each other to continue to refine each other’s ideas, but more often than not they appear to be pressing for each other’s eradication.

I’ve met a few of us, people who feel almost guilty for their skepticism and their refusal to stand on a hill with a bullhorn, who insist on pointing out the flaws on either side, and they know who they are. Most people who have met me would probably be surprised to find me placing myself in this camp; I am, after all, more than a little passionate and what some would consider uppity, and yet it is precisely this passion that has taught me that my ideas can always benefit from a little opposition. And even fighting for what you believe doesn’t necessarily exclude listening to the other side. I sort of wish I could get behind this whole good vs. evil dichotomy, but at the same time, that’s what’s preventing me from being a full-throated supporter of either side; I would do it if it didn’t seem to imply a mighty wish for the one party’s dominance over the other. I would do it if I could wear a button saying “I think he’s mostly the best choice, but I do wish that he would reconsider his positions on A) B) and C) and take back what he said about D).”

To be totally honest, I don’t think our problems are going to be solved by one man in one term; I think our problems are going to be solved by all of us, with a little bit of government help here and there, over a long period of time, because humans are humans and they make mistakes and messes and disagree and have affairs in airport bathrooms or with trashy women named Rielle and totally ruin the reputation of their respective organizations. So I’ve resigned myself to supporting a candidate with whom I’ll have a few problems (that’s both of them, in case you haven’t been following). Right now I’m leaning a little bit towards Barack, simply because, having lived abroad, I think it would be healthy for the US to have a president that other countries liked, and I’m really not happy with the way McCain is pandering to the far right. I mean, I know that America is always going to be resented no matter what it does, but I think having a popular administration for four years, simply on a common-sense level, is going to make our lives a little bit easier. But I truly haven’t decided. I guess I have to reserve my passion for other things, like education, like a free press, like a clean world that people will choose rather than have forced upon them, things that NO candidate will do perfectly with. I’d rather focus my energy on working to offer the best world, both with and without government help, than in promoting one man and one all-encompassing ideology. As always, I have to learn to accept imperfection and to learn from it. (And I reserve the right to change my mind at any time. Duh.) But it seems that not knowing, as well as knowing, is part of my definition.

*Although I do plan to blog about each candidate’s policies and the pros and cons of each in the future. Maybe this will help me make up my mind and get more comfortable with supporting at least a limited degree of government action.