[This is a long, unabashed, political and sentimental post. You have been warned.]
I am a small person. Not physically – physically I am tall and I take up space in a room. I tromp down the halls of my office building in my clackity heels and I talk and laugh and complain loudly. If we’re in a room together, you’ll probably notice.
But in the grand scheme, I am small. I don’t have a lot of power in this world. Politically, I am not noticed. Candidates talk a lot about the middle class and a lot about families and small businesses – none of those things apply to me. I’m not a veteran; I’m not a senior; I don’t have a special-needs child. I don’t have a child for whom I have to save money for a college education. I’m a low-income singleton who works for a state university. Politicians aren’t courting me. They aren’t trying to appease their poor, single, childless, godless constituents. In this economy, they aren’t even trying to appease educators, especially not university educators.
Even in the face of the national and global economic crisis, I am insignificant. I’m not a homeowner and my savings-based retirement account hasn’t been affected. Because I’m an educator, I have the advantage of situational job security – we may not be well funded, ever, but when jobs are in crisis, people go back to school. People need their writing and literature general-education requirements. My job is, for the moment, safe. While I’m concerned about what’s happening economically, I’m still on the outside looking in.
That describes my position on so many campaign “talking point” issues. Even “as a woman” (and I really hate to preface anything with that phrase), I’m on the outside. Contrary to what some might believe, politicians are not truly courting women’s votes. It might appear that the McCain-Palin campaign is trying to attract women voters, but to any woman capable of analysis beyond the level of recognizing whether a candidate is in possession of a pair of tits, they aren’t.
When Sarah Palin talks directly to the camera, winkingly trying to appeal – directly, literally, by name – to “Joe Six-Pack,” and when Barack Obama finely tunes his campaign to appeal to white, middle-class voters in rural and suburban areas, they aren’t speaking to me. I am the stereotypical “liberal intellectual élite” voter whom no one wants to acknowledge as a constituent. I may not live in New York or Massachusetts or California and I may not be able to afford leisure travel in Europe and fancy wine, but, ideologically, that is still me. I am pro-choice and anti-war. I value publicly funded programs in education and the arts. To me, intellect itself is a value. I don’t know why “eloquence” is suddenly a bad thing, but if you listened to John McCain in the third presidential debate, you heard that it apparently is.
Dog help me, I know this sounds snobbish, but that’s who I am. I would feel so much more confident in my country if it were headed by a president with verbal skills nimble enough to enable him to communicate with the necessary parties. I would very much like to have a president capable of logical, reasoned rhetorical analysis.
In the courses I teach, I don’t endorse any candidate or political point of view. Instead, I ask that students approach every issue we discuss with an open mind. Every argument we encounter, I ask them to analyze it both as a believer and as a doubter. I ask them to uncover the ways writers approach and use evidence to make their points and I ask them to question the underlying assumptions that are always present. I ask them to craft their own arguments only after careful and critical analysis. They have been, so far, outstanding at this. They have been open, curious, critical, and thoughtful. At times, they have also been clever, insightful, perceptive, and even eloquent. If college freshmen can do this, I see no reason why a president shouldn’t be demanded to do likewise.
We’ve all heard that Barack Obama is such an appealing candidate because he is both physically attractive and a compelling, inspiring orator. I’m not going to try to deny that: y’all, I would invite that guy to move into my white house and Barack my Obama in a heartbeat, if you know what I mean (and I think that you do).
But let’s face it, the dude is not a classically attractive man. He’s gangly and his ears stick out and he says “LOOK!” a little too often. But here’s what I think is so attractive: his ideas are hell of compelling. He inspires people to listen, and when we do, we are rewarded. He’s that person who seems more and more attractive the better you get to know him, like that sensitive and intelligent guy who’s hiding in his white tube socks at a chess club meeting.
His speech at the 2004 convention introduced us to that phenomenon, and his similarly inspiring speeches throughout the primary season and the general election campaign have solidified it. To me, Barack Obama speaks not only to the philosophic principles that guide the way I look at government, but also to the personal, emotional side of my political self. I agree with his plans for ending the war in Iraq responsibly (and with his voting record on that issue); I agree with his health care philosophy (and am continually infuriated with the reckless and unfair plan McCain has proposed – not to mention the way he has misrepresented it during his campagin!); I admire and will also personally benefit from his tax plan (and absolutely do not understand the way McCain seems to have wilfully misunderstood that plan in every debate). On policy, I am both a social and economic liberal. There’s no question that I would rather see Obama’s proposals enacted than McCain’s. The unimaginable nightmare implied by McCain’s health care plan alone is terrifying. Even trying to start to think about conceiving of McCain’s across-the-board spending freeze makes my guts churn.
More than all that, though, I am inspired by the way Obama speaks to the American people. He doesn’t seem to be so much a “politician” as a real leader. He doesn’t embody the “blind ambition” he’s been accused of, but rather asks for us to imagine a reality in which we all take part in creating a better future. Obama has spoken about tuition credits for public service, and has proposed that individuals use sustainable energy solutions to help us move closer to energy independence: these are just a few examples of his realistic plans that would put each of us in a position to help make change happen.
Although I am not one of the (undecided, middle class, suburban) voters being courted, Obama has nonetheless answered my concerns this election season. His “Yes, we can” philosophy inspires me to think about the ways I can contribute to positive progress in this country. I may still be small, but I can begin to see myself as a small part of what will surely be a big change.