In deciding my vote this year, I decided to use my experiences during last eight years as my compass. Some defining moments for me:
¶ On election night in 2000, I had a calculus midterm the next day, so I went to bed while everyone still crowded around the television. Sometime during the night, my girlfriend quietly broke the news to me and the next morning my professor apologized for the little sleep we all had. The next few weeks were not easy either as everyone waited to find out who our president was going to be. It was the first time I voted.
¶ In 2001, on the night of Sept. 11, the students held a vigil in the center of my New York City university. I walked away in disgust after the person with the microphone blamed America for the acrid asbestos odor that was wafting through the air. Two years later, I walked through the bitter cold Manhattan streets with half a million people to protest the war that everyone could see was descending upon the Middle East. A few months afterwards, I did the same in Rome while on a trip to visit a friend, and the war began while I was overseas.
¶ During my winter break in January 2004, I spent a week in New Hampshire holding signs, calling voters, and generally campaigning during the Democratic primaries. It was so cold during our door-to-door canvassing, my fingernails became brittle and parts of them permanently died.
¶ While we were driving to the campaign headquarters to watch election results during the night of the primary, a girl from our group had to go to the hospital. The seven of us were exhausted, having stood outdoors in below-zero wind chill to “do visibility” for the entire day of the primary. We sat in the hospital waiting room and watched our candidate handily lose.
¶ On Election Day 2004, I drove to swing-state Pennsylvania to get-out-the-vote. We got home in time to watch the results come in. I couldn’t believe it when George W. Bush was re-elected, but not surprised given the candidate the Democrats fielded. Thereafter, my political activism waned and, besides a protest on the National Mall a few years ago, mostly subsided.
Such was my experience during the two terms of the Bush presidency.
It has not been a noble eight years. Our country is embroiled in another Vietnam, the very fear that made me march the streets, which is approaching an ignominious end. The economy is falling into pieces, destroying banks and car companies I have known for a lifetime. There will be the opportunity to experience something that has not happened for a generation — a severe global recession.
Bad times are coming, and they were preceded by eight years of Republican rule.
Yet, when I see the visible enthusiasm for Barack Obama in my friends and colleagues, I puzzle over why I’m unable to share in their ardor. I was excited when Obama announced his candidacy, mostly so that I could experience the historical moment of the first serious black presidential candidate.
Barack Obama is all that I would look for in a candidate: intellectual, commanding, and visionary. But I worry that George Bush has created a massive cynic in me, one who doesn’t believe that the system can be redirected to reverse the malaise that hangs over the United States of America. Obama has not convinced me that he can correct the wrongs we have been endowed with.
Don’t misunderstand me, I can’t imagine the McCain-Palin ticket has a clue about how to run the country. John McCain scarcely understands supply-demand curves and his fetish for returning soldiers from Iraq “with honor” seems more important to him than a stable Middle East. Sarah Palin, meanwhile, is simply in over her head and is doing her damnedest to compensate by winking her way to VP.
However, while I believe in the tone and tenor of Obama’s policies, the Democratic candidate’s entreaties ultimately ring hollow for me. Government is burdened with such massive, systemic problems — entitlements, Iraq, energy, the economy, healthcare, foreign relations, the debt, etc. etc. — that it would be a miracle for any administration to merely manage these concerns, let alone advance an ambitious agenda.
Seeing a lot of people swept up in the passion of Obama’s campaign makes me feel that I’m missing something. Except I think a lot of people are missing the fact that, even if Obama is elected on his platform of “change,” it means little as to what he can actually accomplish. I too will celebrate along with the liberals in the People’s Republic of Cambridge for a Democrat to return to the White House. But deep down inside I’m afraid it will be a Pyrrhic victory.
Barack Obama has my vote. I’m just not expecting much for it.
Gary Shu is a graduate student in the Engineering Systems Division.