A new kind of liberal
It was easy being a Democrat for the past eight years. And the eight years before that. For I was a Reagan baby, but a Clinton kid. The silver-haired politician was a hero of mine: intelligent, cool, slick. Though I was aware of Travelgate and Monica Lewinsky, those were only minor blemishes, the punchlines to crude jokes and fodder for bitter Republicans like Trent Lott and Kenneth Starr. Clinton was good, the state of the nation was good and I was in junior high. Then came the 2000 election. Between the two jokers on “Saturday Night Live,” the lockbox robot and the fuzzy-math cowboy, I preferred the robot, Al Gore. Long months and 200 or so hanging chads later, the cowboy won. So he won. Half a year later the terrorist attacks of 9-11 shocked me into stupor, patriotism, then just stupor. No one questioned the war in Afghanistan.
But Iraq, a year later, drew the ire of American liberals — savvy youths and latent hippie boomers, like my parents. My dad and I drove up to Washington DC for an antiwar rally in March of 2003. I drew on a white Tshirt in Sharpie: “There Is No Axis Of Evil.” The shirt was slightly ambiguous and way too cold for March in DC. Nonetheless, it established me as a liberal, more than a Democrat, an activist. Then came college. Kerry lost and I went to sleep in disbelief, literally, expecting an ’00-esque recount. Didn’t everyone know that Bush was a miserable failure? But I remember seeing the front page of the student newspaper the next morning, with a rare color photo of America, all of it red, just a speckled rash of blue along the coasts. It wasn’t close. I was a disempowered liberal, lost in enemy territory. We were the good guys, who watched “The Daily Show,” cussed about the president and proposed a thousand variations on what the government should do differently. All I really knew was that Bush was bad. The 2008 primaries were a beauty pageant of fine alternatives to Bush. The veteran senators, the provocative governor, powerful Clinton and the dynamic newcomer. Then there was nothing to do but rally and cheer. Thanks to a laughable pair of Republicans, I had little doubt that my side would finally win. They finally did. By this time next week, Obama will be the president of the USA. In recent weeks, however, I’ve had to respond to a wholly unfamiliar political challenge: thoughtful criticism. I read a column by Bob Herbert in The New York Times — my liberal New York Times — criticizing Obama’s planned troop deployment in Afghanistan. “What Mr. Obama doesn’t need,” the writer reasoned, “and what the US cannot under any circumstances afford, is any more unnecessary warfare.” I paused to ask myself if Herbert was a liberal or a conservative. Was he on my side? After all, his criticism was more savvy than any of the socialistterrorist-Muslim scare attacks of election season. For the first time in ages, I had to ask: “What do I think?” That’s when I realized how hard the Republicans had it for the past eight years. They had to defend Bush against torrents of thoughtful criticism. So either they defended him — and no wonder they clung to party touchstones like religion and guns, Fox News and Rush — or they were conflicted and forced to think for themselves. Some joined the ranks of the undecided, some the Democrats. Others maintained, resolved and insisted on being Republicans. Such faith can be an easy retreat from reality or an arduous defense of principles. Indeed, Obama wasn’t the first person to talk about hope. Republicans hoped that we’d catch Osama bin Laden. They believed in President Bush. They said, “Yes we can” in Iraq. What I’m getting at is that for the first time in my political life I have an investment in government. As I see criticism of Obama in the media — and already it grows in the frenzy of 24-hour news shows, kibitzing his cabinet picks, naysaying his economic stimulus package and dismantling whatever else is available before he even enters office — I feel a need to respond to all of it. With that investment comes fear. Herbert’s article ended with a threat about Afghanistan: “It will be Barack Obama’s war.” Well, I don’t want him to have a war. I certainly don’t want him to have an affair with his secretary, or any other scandal. I almost wish that he didn’t have to do anything and remain instead the nearinfallible president-elect. But he will have to act, from his first day in office through whatever international crisis — as Joe Biden memorably forecast — the world will thrust upon him. Sadly, our candidate of hope will be mired in politics and besieged with controversy. It won’t be easy anymore, but I’ll stick with him.