by Rhian Sasseen on May 2, 2012
Of course I remember Election Night 2008 – I was eighteen and it was my first, and my entire house was crowded into our Smith College living room, not a Republican among us. We waited, tense, worried that our efforts – all the campaigning, all the sloganeering – would come to naught. We who had come of age during the Bush years: what we wanted, and what we had been promised, was “change.”
When it happened – when Obama’s victory was announced – our house president, an otherwise sedate former deb from Texas, leapt onto the couch, jumping up and down in excitement. Outside I could hear screams and whoops and car alarms; at one point, my phone buzzed. “Girls are streaking across Chapin Lawn,” a friend had texted, and in that moment I half-felt like stripping down myself. We had done it! The young had voted in droves, in numbers not seen in years; the mood was ecstatic. And so we waited for neo-Camelot to descend.
I won’t deny that there was a naivety to all of this, an extreme optimism fueling our votes. But optimism is what accomplishes change; perhaps we gave ours too freely. I am twenty-one now, and about to leave Smith College; in six months time it will be my second national election. I will not be voting for Obama again.
This has been an issue of consternation between my family, staunch West Coast
Democrats, and I. “How much do you expect one man to accomplish?” my mother asked me over winter break. I realize this. I realize, too, that this so-called Great Recession was inherited, not created, by the current administration; it is not solely on this issue that I rest my grievances. Rather, I am upset with what seems to me to be a certain level of complacency, a lack of willpower from a president willing to campaign but not to govern. Why have the Republicans been able to continually push this country to the point of disaster? – The debt-ceiling crisis, the credit downgrade. And what of Obama’s own political record? – I cannot in good conscience vote for a man whose proposed healthcare reforms initially came from the conservative Heritage Foundation, who has repeatedly bowed to Republican pressures to extend the Bush tax cuts and other conservative legislature, and whose obsession with supposed bipartisanship has allowed the criminals that created our current banking and economic disasters to walk free.
“How much do you expect one man to accomplish?” – More than this.
“Be patient.” – But I am tired of waiting. What has happened to the liberals?
But my dissatisfaction with Obama also transcends the politician. In the last six months, as I grow closer to graduation and enter the usual string of existential crises that characterize young adulthood, I have realized that to vote for Obama again would be to condone the system in which he operates.
For the last nineteen years I have been a painted pony, competing against my peers for the awards and prizes and privileges that would get us into good schools, with scholarships and name-brand recognition. After the good school there would be the good job which, as the dictum went, would earn us money while also spiritually fulfilling us – it is no longer enough to simply work, self-actualization must also be involved. Of course, now there are no jobs or, rather, I am interested in the wrong kind of job, as evidenced by the onslaught of emails that the Smith Career Development Office sends to me promoting banking and finance. I once told an advisor that I write; she blinked and asked me if I was interested in advertising.
There is a good chance that I will be a waitress in the foreseeable future. I am okay with this; Smith and my liberal Baby Boomer family are not.
What I am trying to say is: how did this happen? I once accompanied an aunt to a dinner party in New York, where the old guard held sway. Our hostess smiled evenly as she passed me a plate of Camembert, all the while telling me about how she had once been involved with the Students for a Democratic Society. How did this happen. To vote for the Democrat ticket would be for me as mindless as that dinner party: an action of inaction, reflective of the smugness and endless self-congratulation that characterizes the contemporary American liberal.
Instead, we cannot simply sit by and wait for the meager scraps of reform that the Democrats deign to throw at us. It is also not as simple as “destroy the system;” a new system will always replace the old. We have started to become aware of the inequities that plague our oligarchy: corporate influence, class divides, and political careerism. Get rid of them, I say. Don’t let the politicians snatch away your vote and your morality; let your dissatisfaction become obvious through your absence. We will have to create anew: our own candidates, our own party, our own future.
Is it cliché to say that I am disillusioned with unfettered capitalism, and the empty competition that it promotes? – Because I am. In the four years since I helped elect Obama, it feels like little has changed. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are dependent on the whims of billionaires to get them elected; the goal of education remains not the expansion of the mind but the pocketbook. I am exhausted. Here, then, a scrap from my time as an English major, for you to remember me by: “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis.”