I thought: nice try. He'll never make it.
A girl I dated told me she really liked him--was thinking about campaigning for him. We never really hit it off, but I did some more reading on him and decided (perhaps in the glow of an almost-relationship) that, hey, he was okay.
Sometime before the beginning of the new year I saw a debate with Hillary--then, inevitable, in her pantsuit--and the rest of the Democratic contenders on stage. Obama was immediately notable because of his skin color--I had no clear idea who the rest of the people were and made the tacit assumption they were non-starters like Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich.
I never had great love for Hillary--but no extreme hate for her either. I remember my parents, running a small business, worried about her health-care plan in the Bill Clinton years. They felt that if the government required health care they would not only be put out of business--but be forced to sell the store. I remember, at the time, a drive from Ocala (landed squarely in the central-Florida cow-corridor) to Gainesville (where I went to school) listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. I was far from any kind of "ditto-head" and considered him a blunt, jeering tool--but he asked questions about how the government could pay for a massive increase in health-claims. He wanted to know where all the new doctors would come from to triage the flood of patients coming in for free care ... those sounded like good questions to me back then.
I know, today, that any such bill would've necessarily been riddled--if not rotted--with exceptions, clauses, and exemptions for various protected entities (our family shop--a baby-gear rental store would've almost certainly been small enough to be exempt). At the time, though, I had a free-floating sense of powerlessness: no one had elected Hillary to anything--who was she to threaten my family's business? If it was legislated into liquidation we wouldn't even be able to sell it ... it would be a total loss.
Of course the 90's took hold and the VC dot-com bubble floated--me along with it, as much as anyone, really--and I forgot about all of that (my parents sold their business relatively profitably and without a revolt by the employees). And that was that.
When I saw her again at the debates, I had a residual sense of distrust--but I found her a reasonable candidate: better than Huckabee (whom I loved at first sight--and then felt a growing sense of horror when I realized he wasn't just a Republican but an incredibly charismatic and hip right-wing theocrat!). I thought maybe Giuliani would be an okay Republican choice: I was pretty sure McCain--the "good choice"--would never make it (my brother, a hawkish, fiscal-conservative executive in NYC, however, spoke strongly against Rudy which made me worry that if the guy who had arguably benefited most from the man didn't trust him with executive power didn't trust him should I?).
So again, I was non-plussed. That changed. I'm not sure--at this time, thinking back--when I became energized by the race. There was some point at which I started to realize that it wasn't an "okay" candidate (Hillary) against a (likely) ominous candidate (say, Giuliani) but instead between a very interesting candidate and another equally historic one (Obama ... vs. ... Hillary). It was on YouTube that I was first exposed to his speeches. It might have been this one:
Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.
Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.
There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.
The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.
We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.
There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.
We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
OBAMA: In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?
That was his speech in 2004 as a candidate for the senate. I was hooked. I heard his soaring voice--that's the only way I can describe it--and I thought: this guy is electric. This guy could be transformational. I felt that inspiration I had felt with Reagan--with the idea that America wasn't down--or out--but rising again.
It's true that as the campaign has worn on, there are some (legitimate) questions about what Obama really thinks of America "as she is" rather than "what he would wish to make her." There are questions (legitimate) about whether it is investment or spending that drive the economy (Obama holds with spending, McCain with investment). There are questions about the loyalties in his heart--is he a disciple of Marx? Of Ayers? Is his campaign logo patterned after the Weather Underground? Was he born in Kenya? Did he refuse to say the pledge of allegiance (Hank Williams Jr., at a Palin rally last night suggested Obama pals around with terrorist--and that he doesn't like ... and won't sing ... the national anthem. Palin was silent on these remarks, lending them her tacit support).
I doubt, today, you'll get too many people chanting "USA! USA! USA!" at an Obama rally--and that's a shame. Rather than repudiating nationalism as backwards, I think love of country--especially love of an ideal country--and love of a country as a symbol--which America certainly is, no matter whether a reader (a left wing one, I would presume) wishes otherwise--can be an anchor for our best natures. It can be a guide-post to the right way: We should not first and foremost repudiate torture because "it does not work"--it does not matter if it works or not--we should repudiate torture because it is un-American. We need know nothing else about it.
Obama is not an ideal candidate. Although he described himself as a symbol (and in ways, in truth, his candidacy is) he is just a man. He cannot be perfect and should not be held to that standard. He is, however, a historic candidate. He is an inspiring candidate. If he is elected, he will be the marker where the United States truly overcame one of the last barriers to equality that were architected into its foundations.
Today, V-Day, we get to see how it all plays out.