by Martín Granada
- USA -
One of the first times I ever saw my mother cry was the night Reagan was elected president. She cloistered herself in her bathroom and drank an uncustomary glass of wine. I found her crying with her face in her hands. After unsuccessfully trying to conceal her wineglass, she sobbed, "Ronald Reagan won! Ronald Reagan, every time I hear his name I think of Donald Duck. Our country has elected Donald Duck as the president!"
At the time I didn't understand what she meant, however, several months later I began to catch on when my mother began dying her hair with a product called Loving Care. Every time it came out too dark, she asked me if she looked like Ronald Reagan.
Shortly after Reagan came into office, my father lost his job as an affirmative action officer and the neighborhood where my mother taught elementary school transformed. Every morning the school janitors began having to sweep away pipes and needles from the playground. My mother transferred me to a private school, closer to home. Though I lived in a safe community, in a four bedroom house, whenever I watched President Reagan speak on the television, I wondered how he could justify that all was well? Didn't he see all that I saw?
When Bush The First was president, I was in high school and so numbed by a childhood of Reagan that I thought of those in the White House as no different from those elected to my school's student council who derided others just for the amusement of their peers, and who sought office only to pad their transcripts or assert their popularity. Hence, like high school politics, I paid little intention to the White House and instead focused on attaining a grade point average that would get me into a good university.
Truthfully, I remember little about Bush The First, other than his dog Millie, his distaste for broccoli, his pronunciation of Sa-"damn", and his "iconoclastic" stance on taxes: "read my lips." However, I will never forget what he said after his vice-presidential debate against Geraldine Ferraro: "We kicked some ass." I was ten years old and it was the first time I had ever envisioned a woman in the White House. It was also the first time I heard an expression like "kicking ass"; it was language I was forbidden to use.
My father had always boasted to me about the first presidential election he voted in, having the privilege of voting for Kennedy. In my dorm-room at UC Davis, I proudly and naïvely voted for the first time – absentee – for Bill Clinton, imagining a new Camelot: Bill Clinton was young, he played saxophone, and his wife was more refreshingly and wickedly smart than she was stylish.
I admit during the Clinton era I vainly devoted more of my attention to romance than news from the White House, or my studies. Clinton never seemed to manifest as the Arthurian Kennedy I envisioned him to be. His yuppie yet populist ideology mouthed in an Arkansas drawl struck me more like Lancelot, a hero figure who charismatically wielded his rhetoric and intelligence like a sword.
I began substitute teaching while working on my teaching credential a year after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. The high school students I taught referred to me as the "substitute who looked like Monica Lewinsky" as she and I shared the same age, the same height, body type, and features. The comparison bothered me. Never had I been so disappointed in a president.
Needless to say, I am no admirer of the second George Bush. I voted for Gore in 2000. Despite Ralph Nader’s ideological appeal, I didn’t care for his smugness – a righteousness that teetered on becoming as small minded as the conservative right – and I did not want to waste my vote. I was in my car when I heard Gore lost the election. After believing he had won, I nearly drove off the road. Though Gore never struck me as a strong leader – and therefore did not surprise me when he did not contest his "loss" in 2000 – the alternative of George Bush II terrified me, for reasons I then could not pinpoint.
I have since come to think of George Bush as a very dangerous and Machiavellian buffoon, but I do not hate him. I pity him for the same reasons that make him so dangerous. He, like Ronald Reagan, sincerely believes he is steering the right course socially, economically, internationally, and ecologically. However, unlike Ronald Reagan, Bush does not have the excuse of senility, just utter ignorance and self-righteous incuriosity.
Although I did not vote for George W. Bush, he is my president and my burden – an embarrassment I have spent two summers overseas apologizing for. Though Bush jokes are easy for me, I never know how to answer any real questions about his re-election without denigrating my fellow Americans or sounding like a conspiracy theorist. Of course I wanted John Kerry to win, but truthfully I did not believe he had a clear enough stance to lead the nation. As much as I liked the populist rhetoric of John Edwards, something about him reeked of slickness.
When Barack Obama announced his intentions to run for president, I did not, forgive the pun, dare to hope. His candidacy seemed too good to be true. However, the skepticism I held was not for Barack but for my countrymen. I asked my father if he believed it possible that Barack Obama might actually get the nomination. My father told me yes; the majority of Americans could, perhaps at last, look at a candidate’s policies more than the color of his skin. Though I have voted in four elections, I found myself for the first time truly enthusiastic about a candidate, and even wearing a button.
Maybe Barack Obama does not rely on "folksy phrasing" such as "doggone it", "say it ain't so Joe", or "heckuva job", or invectives such as "kicked some ass" or "trollop." Instead he speaks like a "professor" (which, ironically, he is) – his rhetoric is elegant, crafted, and though guided by a script, not scripted. His political stances on foreign, domestic, and environmental policy come from careful consideration and investigation without having been polished – or tarnished – by years in politics, or Hollywood.
This is a candidate, whom after helming the Harvard Law Review, went into the public sector and worked as a community activist for the poorest of the poor in our country, not for vested political interest but sociological understanding and a sincere desire to make a difference. This is a candidate whom I believe understands nuances and does not divide ideas or people into categories such as "good" or "evil" and who is unafraid of decisive actions on issues such as the war and the relationship between the environment and our reliance on oil. This is a candidate who can transcend boundaries as the son of an immigrant, the son of a single mother, and the grandson of a Midwestern senior citizen. This is a candidate whose affections for his wife – the ear-nibblings and fist-bumps – are unchoreographed, playful, and sincere.
Perhaps all that I believe about Barack Obama is myth, but it is a myth I am proudly willing to cast my vote for.
I am proud of my fellow Americans for putting Barack Obama on the ballot. I will be even prouder if we actually elect him to represent our country in its highest office.
About the Author
A high school English teacher, Martín Granada believes Grendel did not kill the Danes just because he was "evil," and has been staunchly against the war in Iraq, as well as the use of force in Afghanistan since its inception.