Monday, May 05, 2008

Some Thoughs on This, the Eve of a Primary Election

Tomorrow, my state holds a primary election, which includes on the ballot the selection of party nominees for the presidential election in November. At least on the Democratic side, the race is still undecided, so the national profile of this primary is uncharacteristically high.

The junior senators of Illinois and New York have been spending a lot of time and money here in the hopes that a win will help shift the momentum in their direction. The significance of this primary is a rarity.

You'd have to go back to one year before I was born to find a time when this state's primary mattered. It is also an irony because this state's electoral votes have not been awarded to a Democrat candidate since 1964. On most leap-year Novembers, ours is the first state to be called for the GOP.

I normally don't discuss politics in this space. For one thing, this blog has always been first and foremost a personal pursuit. Second, my readers come from a wide range of experiences and beliefs, and I really don't want to complicate the conversation with tangential topics. I'm going to make an exception here because I think my views on politics have been evolving, much as my own perspectives on life.

First off, the confession, which may come as a shock to some of you. I was once a conservative, both in the fiscal and social sense. Given the "redness" of this state, that's not too much of a stretch to believe.

There are a couple of facets of personal experience that helped reinforce this worldview. Those familiar with my personal story my recall that I was born in the late 60s to young parents. They never fully embraced their roles as parents, so the real parental figures were my paternal grandparents, both of them very Republican.

My grandmother was a GOP backer by lineage. My grandfather a Democrat for pretty much the same reason. My grandmother once told me a story about before they were married, my grandfather defaced her Wendell Willkie campaign button. The story went that his support for FDR and the rest of the party vanished after he was drafted.

I started to develop a sense of political awareness about the time that the Iranian students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. I was delivering newspapers for the afternoon daily in my neighborhood. I knew that the political Zeitgeist was unpleasant, for it was the twilight years of the Carter administration. My grandparents spoke fondly of "Ronnie" and my grandfather disparaged the nightly news coverage for bias.

After entering college, my views began a centerward drift, especially after working two summers abroad in the summers of 1990 and 91. The Clinton years pushed me rightward for a while, but as the internet became more mainstream, I started to take on a more libertarian bent, perhaps of the South Park Republican variety.

In some areas, I didn't quite fit the rigid mold of a conservative. Rod Dreher's writings on the Crunchy Conservative resonated with me. I had always been a strong believer in recycling. I tried to use public transportation when available. I liked adult alternative and folk music. I cringed at suburban sprawl. Going to our friends' evangelical megachurch seemed awfully awkward.

As the Clinton years drew to an end, I was starting to grow weary of the polarization. By the end of the 2004 election, I just had to unplug altogether. Political commentary seemed to be one side getting bent out of shape ove what the other side had said or written. I cut back severely on my news consumption and stopped reading political blogs altogether.

Between 2004 and 2006, I started to shift focus inward. I was in my mid-30s, feeling like an underachiever and inadequate on a lot of levels. I didn't know it at the time, but I was going through the early stages of a process that would lead me to start this blog.

The discussion of Bowenian differentiation of self in Schnarch's Passionate Marriage had a disruptive effect on the way I viewed politics. The strong emotional interlocking between two members of an emotionally gridlocked couple is similar to the polarized politics of the last 20 or so years. Neither partisan camp seems to be able to remain calm in the face of the other sides agenda.

Schnarch writes about raising the level of differentiation by "operating from the Best in yourself." That includes reaching out to the non-wounded side of someone else. To me, the central theme of Barack Obama's campaign has been grounded in this idea. He proposes a progressive agenda, not throwing it in the face of his opposition, but rather inviting them to share in the benefits it will bestow on all, not just a limited set of aggrieved classes for whom he seeks a reliable vote.

If Obama is a path to differentiation, Clinton is certainly a study in emotional fusion. Her latest incarnation, as a fighter for the working class, is a direct appeal to reptilian instincts that animate the Jacksonian tradition in American Politics. She promises not a transformation of politics, but an all out war against her political opposition. Instead of a broad political consensus and a mandate for change, she aims to rack up enough microtargeted groups to get her just past the goal line.

I can't say I'm in total agreement with all of Obama's policies. Indeed a president's ability to enact an agenda is constrained ultimately by the political makeup of the legislative branch. Promises are meaningless without the votes to back them up. I believe that the message he is running on is more likely to give him a coattail effect than Clinton. Indeed there is a worry that if she is the nominee in November, she may have a negative effect in the local races.

So with all of that said, I will be declaring myself a Democrat tomorrow at the primary and casting my vote for the Junior Senator from Illinois. Although my views on Clinton seem pretty harsh, I do not wish her ill. My disdain is for the poisoned political tradition that she wishes to perpetuate. I don't think that's what this country needs.

If you're registered to vote, and have a primary election tomorrow, by all means get out and vote, regardless of which candidate you support.
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