Turning 18 is a right of passage with little true excitement once it is broken down. You can’t drink yet, but you are eligible to serve in the military. For many it marks the end of high school. For me, I waited anxiously for the first time I could vote.
For much of my childhood and adolescence I was enamored with politics. The only problem? My idea of politics came from the Frank Capra movies my parents spoon-fed me. I believed in idealism, in politicians fighting for people, for truth, for justice. By 18 this idealism began to dissipate, in large part due to George W. Bush’s election in 2000.
Still, I was not fully disheartened. My senior year of high school I took an AP U.S. Government class, during which we took a political spectrum test. I attended a private, Catholic, college-prep school. My tuition was covered by financial aid, child support, and my grandmother’s kindness. Many of my classmates came from families much better off financially. After we took the test our teacher organized us in a line from most conservative to most liberal. The conservative end was filled with good students from well-to-do families. The liberal end was filled with slackers and potheads who were only at the school because of their parents’ financial standing. Me? I was dead in the middle.
The first time I was eligible to vote was 2001. I missed a presidential election by one year, but still I voted with a fervor in the small time elections in the gap between national ones. I even voted for a Libertarian. I read every candidate bio, every endorsement, every policy summary. I consumed the process. I voted for those who I felt were genuine, who I felt had valid points. I tried to embody the intention of our electoral process.
Over the next few years the world went to shit. The Bush administration seemed to defy on a daily basis the kind of politics I had once been so struck with. Still, there were glimmers of hope. At a political forum hosted by the university I was attending, I had the good fortune to meet Senator Bill Bradley. Senator Bradley had always seemed to be the kind of politician I hoped to find, and talking to him I continued to sense that. I asked him if he’d be running in 2004, he said no, and I told him I was sorry I hadn’t been old enough to support his candidacy in 2000. He looked battle-worn that night from his run at the Democratic nomination and from all that had come since, but he smiled in that moment and thanked me.
2004 came along and I watched in horror as Bush was re-elected. I voted for John Kerry, though I was frustrated by his winning the nomination. I was ready to vote for any Democrat over Bush. And with Bush’s re-election something snapped in me. No one else was playing by the idealist rules of the Capra-verse. Party politics were real, and they were lines that weren’t being crossed. A line had been drawn in the sand. But I knew which party was looking out for me.
I am not wealthy. For the last five-plus years I have supported a family of four on less than $25,000 a year (sometimes a lot less). Obviously, the economy is important in my eyes. During those years I have had four jobs and am now looking for a fifth. I have had health insurance from two of those jobs, and once from the State of Oregon, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). My kids have had state health insurance because of the ACA, and will soon be on it again. During this time I’ve had a minor heart attack, a tumor on my back, severe migraine issues, and more. I have multiple prescriptions that I have to take. Obviously, health care is important to me, too.
Social issues are also important to me. I was raised to believe all people should be treated equally. I believe in the equality of humankind. I believe if people are in love they should have the choice to be married. I believe women know their own bodies better than I (or anyone else) do. I believe public assistance is not a crutch but a helping hand, and I say this as someone who has worked his ass off for years and still had to rely on some of that assistance. I believe all people should have opportunity. And opportunity comes in many forms from Planned Parenthood to PBS.
But more than anything? I believe that our country, a country I love and am constantly wanting to be proud of, should always be fighting for progress, for the evolution of greatness. Who can lead by example if not the United States? Who can model progress better than us? I believe it is the job of the President to help us achieve that. We have seen it over generations from Lincoln to FDR to our current President. President Obama did what many candidates fail to do when he first ran four years ago, he gave us such high expectations that even with all his successes there are many who say he has not done enough in his first term. But few Presidents in our history have managed to move so progressively into the future, and I know, I trust, he will do even more good in a second term.
President Obama is a politician, and politicians are not saints. Politicians are not altruists, but a good politician does care about people. President Obama has made me believe again. If not in a Frank Capra-esque politician, then in a real world candidate of more than hope or change. He makes me believe because I trust he cares about everyone, that he believes in the truest form of equality, and that he believes in all of us and our potential to be our very best.