Eight years ago, I was a cynical, idealistic, radical, 21 year old college student. I didn't believe that there was a real difference between Bush and Gore, and I didn't think that either of them would do what I thought needed to be done. I saw Gore as a milquetoast corporate-controlled candidate, and I saw Bush as a far right moron. I voted for David McReynolds, the Socialist Party candidate for President, who got something like 7,000 votes nationwide.
Something happened to me between 2000 and 2004. I saw Bush do some really, really awful things to the country. I saw him fail to prevent the worst terrorist attack on America's soil. I saw him react to that disaster by attacking a country that had nothing to do with it. I saw him give tax breaks to the rich, gut social programs, and begin to create a surveillance society that started to break down constitutional barriers of privacy. I saw him take a hammer to the wall between church and state.
But I still had very little confidence that the Democrats would have been much better. I worked for a Democratic candidate for Congress in 2002, because I thought that I wanted to become a campaign worker and try to move the Democratic Party to the left.
In that campaign, I saw that the Democratic Party really did have different ideas from the Republican Party, and while in no way did the Democrats go as far as I would have liked, they would at least put a stop to the horrible things the Bush regime was inflicting on the country.
In 2004, I finally found myself inspired by a Democrat. Howard Dean had the kind of message that I was looking for. "You have the power," he said, and I believed him. His campaign was grassroots and real, and it was a movement of people who really cared about change. I worked my heart out for Dean's campaign, and I was crushed when he was destroyed by the media. I voted for Kerry, even though he ran a miserable campaign, and I was again crushed when Kerry conceded.
The 2008 primary campaign was a giant mess, and I didn't know who the hell to support. I saw Obama's campaign as inspiring but empty, and I hated Hillary. I vacillated between Edwards and Kucinich. By the time Oklahoma's primary came around, it was between Hillary and Obama, and I voted for Hillary. I still didn't see enough out of Obama to vote for him.
But then I saw Hillary's campaign take a nose dive into the toilet, and I saw Obama rise above the fray. I saw Obama's campaign finally go into substantive detail without losing the inspirational message that defined it. I shook off my shell of cynicism and began to believe again.
Obama has run an exemplary campaign, one that not only inspires passion among his followers but also has a coherent, defined policy message. He may not be as progressive as some of us might want, but he's at least honest and genuine about his positions. His positions in favor of "clean coal" bother me, but I can see myself agreeing with almost every one of his other policies. More importantly than that, however, Obama is fiercely intelligent, which will perhaps be the most dramatic change from the last eight years.
But it's not just about policies, as we all know. It's about hope. Obama's campaign has created a real grassroots movement and revived a spirit of optimism and belief that real change can happen in America. His message is simple: "Yes, we can." We can change politics from the bottom up. We can recover from the disasters of the Bush regime. We can rebuild America and get the economy moving again. We can regain our standing in the world.
Obama's historic candidacy represents the best of America. I'm proud to have voted for this extraordinary candidate, not just because he'll make history as the first African-American president, but because I see him as perhaps the next Kennedy or FDR, someone who unites the country around something bigger than the petty politics of the individual. I see Obama as someone who can take this great, positive energy that his campaign has generated across the nation and translate it to change profoundly the way America works, and make it a more cooperative, democratic, and free country.
Yes we can.