The first Presidential election I remember is 1980, when Ronald Reagan destroyed Jimmy Carter. I was twelve. A friend of mine had moved to Iran with her family a few years before, and had just returned the previous year during the hostage crisis. I was so glad she was back. I’d been in front of the teevee for months, searching images of the hostage crisis looking for her, convinced that she and her folks had been taken.
The fear for my friend was the first motivation I ever had to care about politics. I wasn’t particularly savvy at that age, and all I understood was that Carter had tried, and failed, to bring the hostages home safely.
By 1984, I was a burgeoning punk rock enthusiast and hated the mainstream establishment in an indiscriminant sort of way; most of my contempt was for the Conservative Christian movement–the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell and the like. When other kids were sneaking out to find cheap liquor, my friends and I told our folks we were headed to the movies and drove up to Dallas to heckle the Republican Convention. We didn’t have any meaningful talking points to throw out there, just a desire to yell “Fuck you guys” at all the people praying around American flags. The whole thing was visceral for us. We “knew” we were right, and that Reagan supporters were idiots, and that’s all we needed to hurl anathema into the fray.
Over the years, I realized I didn’t really grasp the whole story of political events, and that I should make an attempt to know WTF I was talking about before anathema was hurled. So I started paying attention, reading, learning and forming my own ideas. I took responsibility for my opinions and for staying abreast of the news. Now, when I form an opinion, I trust it because I’ve taken the time to read, understand differing angles, how mainstream news might affect my intake of facts.
Hurling visceral anathema is age-appropriate for a sixteen year old. What’s sad is that many Americans seem to have stopped their political maturity at that stage, regardless of party affiliation. Some seem so happy there that they reserve it as a right to judge things by their grumbling guts rather than with a careful look at what’s happening. I see folks on the news puke up some point of view they heard on the teevee during the current news cycle and I wonder: do you even know what the F you’re talking about? I’ve seen a general condemnation of knowledge as “intellectualism”, as though the act of research makes you an elitist bastard. Conversely, I’ve listened to those who spend all of their time reading biased commentary, swallowing whole every last goddamned point against their opponents.
Now. I ain’t saying my opinion is pristinely unbiased. I’m saying that I have taken the time to ground it in sound information, and have been aware of the influences on my point of view. What happens when you do that is you begin to decide how you stand on specific issues, as oppossed to general social and/or political dogma. From there you can vote from a place of honest value.
If everyone took the time to do this, we would still have staunch followers of political parties, but the ossification of political dogma would be undesirable to anyone. “Gut” reactions would decrease, and more people would be curious why the other side thinks the way it does. Adopting the idea that all Americans have values would make honoring them all an American value. We desperately need that.
Here’s a few endorsements for both Obama and McCain that I think show insight, whether or not I agree with them: