I remember where I was exactly 4 years ago at this point. I was in a computer lab here at Norwich University, in the Cabot Wing, I'd just finished a geology lab, and was killing time before something else. Over the past year, there had been the campaigning between the parties, and eventually George Bush and John Kerry. I while I was sitting there, I was talking to a fellow student, a kid that I'd tutored in geology and asked him who he was voting for. Given that this was a military college, I wasn't terribly surprised that he said that he voted for Pres. Bush. When I asked him why, he told me that he wasn't sure, but he knew that he didn't like John Kerry very much. Thinking about it then, I realized that while I had made up my mind about who I would vote for, I didn't really think about why I was voting for any party.
Certainly, there were several reasons for why I was voting against Pres. Bush and siding with the democratic party. I was shocked at the way the war had begun to turn, and being the young, somewhat mindless liberal that I was, I was unhappy about the perceived arrogance in America's place in the world, at how we could simply impose and mislead nations and our own people to achieve something that I for one thought was the desires of a small group of people within the government.
Since that moment a number of years ago, I've been working to better understand the political world in the nation. I don't know that I see that specific moment as a turning point, but it is one that stands out in my mind as a point where I began to really question what was going on. I had, at many points, questioned the Republican party. But I had done little, if any questioning of the Democratic, or any of the smaller parties that seem to appear around an election, if however briefly. My views have changed and matured over these past couple of years.
Earlier this year, I attended the Society for Military History conference in Odgen Utah, where I was talking with our program director about politics. Somewhere along the line, I spoke to how I was disturbed at how much the government spends and wastes every year, and that to some extent, I believed far more in a sort of hands off approach to the government, such as when it came to business. He remarked that that it was fairly libertarian thinking for someone who described themselves as liberal. This made me question some more things about how I approach my views on politics.
I realized that it is impossible to pigeonhole an extremely complex set of beliefs and ideas into one or two 'sides', which makes this race even more frustrating than it already is. I like the idea of a smaller government. A character from The West Wing had a fantastic quote:
"I am a citizen of this country, I am not a special subset in need of your protection. I do not have to have my rights handed down to me by a bunch of old, white men. The same Article 14 that protects you protects me, and I went to law school just to make sure."
She was referring to the constitutional amendment in which women were specifically given the right to vote. I agree with her in theory, especially with something that she says later on, that more laws further limit, especially when there is already something in place that does the same thing. In practicality, however, some people seem to really need things laid out in plain, clear cut rulings in order for the desired effect. Of course women, blacks and whoever else is allowed to vote. But that didn't stop numerous people from preventing that desired effect for so long.
Thinking back to the fundamental differences between the parties, I still lean far more towards the left than I do the right, because of a couple of points that the right has picked up, which essentially boil down to two items - hypocrisies and discrimination.
I largely see the right, conservative wing of politics as something that is contradictory in nature, mainly with the issues that they support. While proponents to a smaller government, hands off, or whatever, there are still feelings that certain books should be banned from the public because of the content that they contain, the government will restrict who a person can marry or what they can do to themselves, while pushing for greater security while hiding behind the notion that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.
What frightens me the most is the introduction of religion into the far right that dictates much of the policy in the country at times. I have nothing against religion - I certainly don't believe that freedom of religion translates into first amendment violations or a freedom from religion, but I don't believe that the government should endorse or have anything to do with it, except for instances of attacks because of someone's religion. Religion in government has been used to discriminate against various minority groups around the country, which I can't support. This has transformed things far from the more traditional conservative view of governmental policy.
Furthermore, it seems to help continue a trend between logic/reason vs. belief and faith. The past eight years have shown that a governmental body can encourage the notion that knowledge is optional and that intelligence can be trumped by a gut feeling. This is a theme that will continue for decades and centuries to come, but in this day in age, it seems like a very sad thing to watch happen.
To be sure, the left wing of the nation is hardly better when it comes to certain issues. Rampent spending, redistribution of wealth, etc are not terribly solid ideas to begin with and can cause further problems. To some extent, I have to wonder if at times, the left and right, with the basic idea that people should be free from their governments. If anything, I see most liberal thinkers as increasingly isolated, operating in a vacuum when it comes to their beliefs. While this is the case with every extreme of the political spectrum, the left can seem to be far more idealistic, but far more clueless.
What has disturbed me the most in this current election has been the sheer amount of racism and idiotic misconceptions that have been perpetuated by national media and political junkies rooting for the various sides. Watching various news programs, I have been continually stunned at how people believe that Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim, that he has been linked to terrorists, and at how my classmates and people around the nation have even been heard calling for him to be killed. I also find it sickening at how the notion of guilt by association is still alive and well in this country, fifty years after Sen. Joseph McCarthy started his campaign against communism. Similarly, I find it extremely annoying to continually hear that Sen. John McCain will be a President Bush 2.0, where he isn't - McCain, to me, seems to be far more moderate and less religiously inclined than Pres. Bush. Even more disturbing is how he's failed to silence or to little to stop rally-goers from yelling things such as Terrorist, kill him, and other derogatory things during speeches. Sen. Obama has proven himself to be a far better person by doing the opposite.
This election has brought out the best and the worst in our country, in my opinion. I could not have written this four or eight years ago, and I think that I've just touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I believe. I sincerely believe that the next four years will get better. I hope that over these next four and hopefully eight years, this race will have started some change and realization between the two sides of the country.
Tomorrow is November the 4th, election day, and I hope to look back on it as the day the world changed.