To tell you why I’m voting for Barack Obama, I first have to explain to you why I’m a Democrat. I was very, very young when my mother explained the differences between the parties to me. It was 1983, and I was six. Walter Mondale was running against impossible to defeat incumbent Ronald Reagan. My class was holding a fake election, and we were asked to pick a candidate to support. I was eating at the kitchen table, my mother was doing dishes, and as I did with almost everything I didn’t understand, I voiced my random concerns to her out of the blue.
“Mom,” I asked, “Am I a Republican or a Democrat?”
“We’re Democrats.” She replied.
“Why are we Democrats?” I never had just one question. You know the sort of kid who asks one thousand questions a day about everything in the entire universe, until anyone within earshot wants to smack him or her with a whiffle ball bat? I was that kid.
“Because we’re poor, and Republicans don’t like poor people. Democrats do. Now finish your sandwich.” Fair enough, I thought, and dutifully went back to my bologna and american cheese with yellow mustard on white bread.
Of course, that isn’t the whole story. To imply that a single conversation cemented my political views would be overly simplistic. It was millions of things over the years.
In my family, we watched the news every night. Not a single weekday went by where Peter Jennings didn’t explain the daily global happenings to us while we ate dinner. My mother insisted that we be informed, and I payed very close attention to everything. As I watched strings of impossibly grown up tie wearers discuss the events of the day, I began to develop the characters. Republicans were always trying to stop things, or to take things away from people, or say no to something. Democrats seemed to be trying to move us along, ineptly most of the time, but in earnest. They were trying to protect people, and fight for more rights rather than less, to watch out for the little guy, and no guys were littler than my family.
I was born into the middle class, with the ranch style three bedroom and the stay at home mom. All of that changed at age nine when my father emptied our bank account and disappeared. Abandoned, we went from a standard issue, Reagan-approved nuclear family, to one with tremendous debt, less than zero dollars, and absolutely nowhere to go.
Mom didn’t work at my father’s insistence, as she took care of myself and my two sisters, the house, and just about everything else. Her job was harder than most as much of her time was spent caring for my severely mentally disabled sister, the middle child, who had Down syndrome, hadn’t ever spoken in her life, was prone to self-inflicted violence, and required constant monitoring. Now destitute, we were forced onto welfare and moved into government subsidized housing.
There we were. A Republican’s worst nightmare. Were we living in the sort of high rolling paradise of work free, taxpayer subsidized opulence smug GOP politicians, looking to sew a little quick public resentment like to describe? No. Not by a long shot. Our neighborhood was tough, and the government stipend was only barely enough to survive. Sometimes less than enough.
But it was somewhere other than the street, which was the only rung lower on the list of possible family options. We hated welfare, but had no choice but to accept it. Without it, we would have had nothing. My family had no wealthy grandparents, no Romney fortune and connections to tap into. We had each other, and the lifeline of public assistance. The first time I heard the phrase “Welfare Queens” I was eating government paid for food in a government subsidized home. I looked around and thought “Wow. Republicans have no idea what this is like. They aren’t living in the real world. To call what is going on here fit for royalty is insulting.” Do some people cheat on welfare? I’m sure they do. People cheat on their taxes too. The country is filled with all sorts of terrible people. But for those of us who absolutely needed it, it was the Democrats who were there for us, while all Republicans wanted to do was insult us and take our tiny, tiny lifeline away.
Democrats fought for the programs that kept our family alive. Republicans spent most of that time bitching about having to pay a slightly higher tax rate. My sympathy for them remains limited.
It took us over eight years to dig ourselves out of the hole we had been forced into, and our return to solvency was only accomplished through hard work and perseverance. In the end, when we looked back at our struggle and made a list of who was there for us, and who had stood in our way, all the rhetoric and bluster meant less than nothing. Democrats fought for the programs that kept our family alive. Republicans spent most of that time bitching about having to pay a slightly higher tax rate. My sympathy for them remains limited.
Then, as I grew older and came to the realization that I was gay, it was again Republicans playing the role of villain. I had Ronald Reagan allowing his bigotry to inform his public policy, while millions died of AIDS. That’s something I can never forgive him for. I had the Moral Majority missing no opportunity to tell me how depraved I was. Know a lot of depraved 13-year olds? Apparently they do. It’s hard to imagine now if you weren’t there, but in the days before “Will And Grace” and It Gets Better and NPH, gay people were still painted as unhinged bridge dwellers, skulking parks in Freddie Mercury mustaches looking to, well, I’m not sure what, but believe me, Republicans made it sound horrible. Forget marriage equality, Republicans wanted to put me in jail, or mental institutions, or both, for being gay. I was to be run out of polite society forever. Barred from employment. Shunned. Shamed. Attacked with impunity. With every step made toward equality — steps not possible without the leadership of the Democratic party – a histrionic outcry from Republicans could be expected.
Only Democrats have a record of supporting those cast aside by Republicans. While Republicans whine about taxes, or proselytize about morality, the rest of humanity has to survive, and only the Democratic Party has been consistently trying to help. They fail all the time, no one fails better than a Democrat, but when they succeed, they literally save people’s lives. Failures vanish. Do you have any idea how many different programs FDR tried before he landed on a few that worked? Loads. Democrats aren’t afraid to try to help, and fail trying. Republicans just fail to help.
Once their working days were over, it was programs like Social Security and Medicare that allowed my grandparents to retire with some modicum of dignity. Do you work for a living? Then you have Democrats, and the unions they have for so long supported, to thank for OSHA and the 40-hour work week. When my mother was finally able to go back to work, after the Democrat supported mental health infrastructure came to help my family with my sister, who did we discover behind the effort to establish the minimum wage she got that made that transition possible? Democrats. When I went to college, it was Democratic Party championed Pell grants, and government subsidized loans that made it possible. Democrats made it possible for me to attend public school, and eat while I was there. They championed PBS, which helped teach me how to read, and helped foster my love of science. These are just a few examples, and every one of these things has been, or is being currently, opposed by the Republican party.
So why do I vote Democrat? Because I am grateful. Because they’ve earned it. Because it’s the right thing to do. Without their leadership and endless push back against a Republican party that would have seen me jailed for my sexuality, my family broken apart and cast to the streets with no support whatsoever, and my grandparents reduced to abject poverty in their golden years, the details and quality of my life would be drastically different than they are today. I could go on. I really could.
So, why Barack Obama specifically? This one is easy.
Barack Obama is a great president.
President Obama ended the war in Iraq, ended Bush’s shameful policy of torturing prisoners, boosted fuel efficiency standards, nominated a couple of brilliant women to the Supreme Court (becoming the first president to place two women on the bench), quietly reorganized the priorities of the military industrial complex by reducing military spending and getting rid of the stupid Star Wars missile defence thing that never worked ever, managed to handle the largest oil spill in history, helped lead a successful military effort in Libya that unseated brutal wackadoo Muammar Gaddafi, restored funding for stem-cell research, began a draw down of forces in Afghanistan, launched more initiatives to help stimulate the economy than are even reasonable to name here, oh yeah, and for good measure, tracked down and killed Osama Bin Laden.
Is he the dashing, inspirational figure he sold everyone back in 2008? A little yes, but mostly no. What he has proved to be is far more important. Rather than become the empty suit with the rhetorical gift that nay-saying Republicans warned us about in 2008, Obama has instead spent his time throwing himself into his work. He has worked non-stop on one major, earth changing initiative after another since the moment he took office. He had hardly unpacked before signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill he signed as president, which helps prevent employment compensation discrimination based on gender, and hasn’t stopped since. I am voting for Barack Obama, not just because he is a Democrat, but because he is a really good one. He has worked tirelessly to help restore economic stability, best demonstrated by his extremely brave bailout of the auto industry, a move that at the time was a political disaster and which proved to be among the most important things he would do as president. Just that one thing, risking his presidency to save one of the nation’s most important and historic assets, should be enough to get high schools in Detroit named after him.
Obama however, has made a habit of taking politically risky moves in the interest of the American people. Even if you don’t like him, and plenty of people don’t, you have to admit that he has consistently put his work before his popularity. He thought health care was so important, that he spent nearly a quarter of his Presidency working to pass it, despite massive resistance from almost every side of the issue. Did he do that so that he would sail through re-election? Obviously not. It damaged his chances greatly, as everyone knew it would, but he thought it was so important that he was willing to spend every last dime of his political capital on making it happen. Republicans were more than happy oblige, spending the remainder of his term impersonating lead weights, forcing the President to drag them around from one policy initiative to another in hopes of engineering a failed Obama Presidency that would be easier for their eventual nominee to run against. Charming, right? You see Romney trying to execute that part of the plan during every one of his stump speeches. Unable to win a fight on their strength of their ideas alone, Republicans resorted to trying to rig the game, hoping no one would notice.
And that was it for the Obama administration, right? Hardly. Despite the shameful and damaging efforts of the Republican party to stall his every attempt at progress, his work continued uninterrupted.
President Obama ended the war in Iraq, ended Bush’s shameful policy of torturing prisoners, boosted fuel efficiency standards, nominated a couple of brilliant women to the Supreme Court (becoming the first president to place two women on the bench), quietly reorganized the priorities of the military industrial complex by reducing military spending and getting rid of the stupid Star Wars missile defence thing that never worked ever, managed to handle the largest oil spill in history, helped lead a successful military effort in Libya that unseated brutal wackadoo Muammar Gaddafi, restored funding for stem-cell research, began a draw down of forces in Afghanistan, launched more initiatives to help stimulate the economy than are even reasonable to name here, oh yeah, and for good measure, tracked down and killed Osama Bin Laden. I expect there are quite a few #2 leaders of Al-Qaeda who wake up in the middle of the night with cold sweats, swearing they hear the low hum of Obama’s flying robot death machines.
Then there is his record on gay rights. Never in the history of the country has the LGBT community had a greater friend at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue than President Barack Obama. If you are a lover of equality, or even equality curious, you have to be impressed with his record on gay rights. He repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Stopped defending DOMA. Worked for and passed serious hate-crimes legislation, and became the first President in history to publicly affirm support for marriage equality. Those are just the highlights. The real list is massive. Here is a good one.
In short, I like Obama because he’s a fantastic president, and a great Democrat. I’m not filled with as many reassuring warm fuzzies as I expected from his presidency, but it appears that he’s just been too busy solving our nation’s problems to get around to boosting my self esteem. He has always tried to treat the country as if it were filled with adults, so it’s a little hard for me to fault him for not spending his time reading me bedtime stories and tucking me in at night. I want him back in the White House because his work isn’t finished, and from what I’ve seen so far, he’s likely to have plenty of hustle left to expend in the interest of the American People. I see no reason not to give him that chance. He’s earned it.
Benjamin Phillips is an Essayist, Web Developer, Civics Nerd, and all around crank that spends entirely too much time shouting with deep exasperation at the television, especially whenever cable news is on, and proudly serves as Director of Development for The New Civil Rights Movement. He lives in St. Louis, MO and spends most of his time staring at various LCD screens, occasionally taking walks in the park whenever his boyfriend becomes sufficiently convinced that Benjamin is becoming a reclusive hermit person. He is available for children’s parties, provided that those children are entertained by hearing a complete windbag talk for two hours about the importance of science education, or worse yet, poorly researched anecdotes PROVING that James Buchanan was totally gay. If civilization were to collapse due to zombie hoards or nuclear holocaust, Benjamin would be among the first to die as he has no useful skills of any kind. The post-apocalyptic hellscape has no real need for homosexual computer programmers who can name all the presidents in order, as well as the actors who have played all eleven incarnations of Doctor Who.
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