Today for the first time I voted in a presidential primary election. In Texas, unlike in Illinois, participation in primaries is "open" to whomever cares to vote, so long as s/he votes in only one party's primary. Officially, Texans hit the polls on March 4. But the roommate and I headed to "early vote" at the UT Pan-American library. And for whom did I cast my ballot? It sure wasn't Dodd or Biden or even Edwards, though these three were, surprisingly, amongst my options.
My friend Carly and my roommate, Amanda, notoriously refuse to make decisions. But in this pre-election season it is I who have labored over the choices and who have flip-flopped so many times that even Mitt Romney's head would spin. Carly and Amanda, like much of our recently-graduated-from-college demographic, have supported Barack Obama throughout. I have been resistant.
Here's my dilemma: I like both of the Democratic potentials. Neither seems as bullheaded or anti-intellectual as does Republican frontrunner John McCain. Neither could embarrass our country more than does our present, lame-duck president (who even in "humanitarian" vacations to disease-ravaged Africa manages to bully people around). Six months ago, about the time I visited Washington, D.C., I preferred John Edwards, whose commitment to America's impoverished and contempt for America's corporates he established firmly and early, but in January he threw in the towel, refused to endorse either of the remaining players, and disappeared from public view.
This unusually-tight Democratic race has dominated the media for months. The CNN/UniVision debate in Austin last Thursday was, according to an article I read somewhere, the second most-watched debate in television history. From my living room I tuned in, and what struck me was not Hillary's emotional eleventh-hour plea so much as the reality that both Democrats left in the race are, more or less, identical. In opinion, that is, if not in appearance. They do split hairs over universal health-care mandates and whether or not a President (rather than a diplomat of lesser standing) should initiate reconciliatory communication with post-Fidel Cuba, but even these differences are at best only skin deep.
Because I live in McAllen, a largeish town that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border and is a latino epicenter, I have luckily been able to catch both Clinton and Obama in person at rallies. Clinton I have seen twice, oncein the new McAllen Convention Center (where I snapped the photo above), a second time in her "early-vote rally" at the Dodge Arena in Hidalgo, where I helped chaperone a school group of about 500. Both times I was within twelve or so feet of the platform, the second time because I accompanied a wheelchair-bound student to the handicapped-accessible section on the floor. This student, Peter, wanted so much to meet Clinton that he zipped past other onlookers in his motorized chair and, believe it or not, sweet-talked a Secret Service agent into coordinating a meeting. The picture I have of the two of them, Peter and Hillary, is glorious, and I would post it here if I weren't a teacher and it wasn't illegal to post photos of students online without parental authorization. Both Clinton events were well-attended, especially by retirement-aged women, but neither was so crowded as the Obama rally I attended Friday morning at the university campus (also with students, and where I took the other photo on this page).
Until Friday, I would have voted for Hillary Clinton. Had I not chanced upon the Obama rally, I would have voted for Hillary Clinton. Although I have liked Obama since I voted for him in the 2004 Illinois senatorial race, I have been troubled by his relative lack of political experience and by what Clinton has characterized as his naïvely hopeful tone. The Presidency of the United States certainly is not a position that should be filled by a gumshoe, and Clinton is absolutely impressive in her authoritative presence and her ability to, on a moment's notice, regurgitate facts and statistics. If she wins the Democratic nomination, I will absolutely champion her until November.
But today I cast my vote for Barack Obama. And I have not quite found the words to explain that decision. Already I have had second thoughts. If anything, what ultimately won my vote was the crowd's ebullience when Obama stepped onto the stage, forty-five minutes later than scheduled. Clinton's supporters were, well, supportive, but Obama's were rabid. His every word they lapped up like strawberry milk. His oration was, as rumored, assured and persuasive, but his promises and his priorities remained -- as expected -- virtually identical to Clinton's. The one difference I detected was that, when I watched Clinton, I felt like I was observing an already-great lady in the middle of an historic presidential campaign, but when I watched Obama, I felt something different. I felt something in my head and heart click. I felt like I was watching a man already elected president.
Yesterday Amanda and I mounted Obama's campaign sign in our kitchen window, which overlooks our small apartment complex's parking lot. "Change We Can Believe In."