Where we’ve been, where we’re going…

My generation and I came of political age in the 1990s, specifically in ‘92 with the election of the guy who played saxophone on Arsenio Hall and promised he didn’t inhale.

A combination of political, economic, and sociological factors spelled doom for incumbent George Bush Sr., resulting in Bill Clinton becoming the 42nd President of these United States.

Though most of my teenaged friends and peers were woefully uninformed of the deeper issues at work (to say nothing of their ideological underpinnings), there was a sudden charge of interest in the political process.

For those peers of mine who came from a more liberal perspective, it was a pivotal moment. Finally, there was someone who understood the ideas and perspectives of the younger generation. Or, whether he did or didn’t, sure made us believe so. My parents liked him because, like them, he was a Baby Boomer.

But for those peers of mine from the right side of the aisle, the election was a rallying cry. The ascension of Clinton promised a return to “big government” and outrageous taxation. My parents didn’t trust him because, like them, he was a Baby Boomer.

Now, as a grown man with his own children, I continue to study my peers… especially as they too have matured into adulthood.

In the last 10 years I’ve observed a widespread inclination toward a strident polarity and partisan talking points coming from unlikely sources.

Remember that dude with the purple mohawk and piercings, who had the anarchy symbol on his backpack and used to get stoned during lunch? Now he’s a safety inspector for an oilfield company based out of Plano. Married with two kids, I saw him post a Glenn Beck quote on his Facebook page last week.

Or what about that broad-shouldered jock with the toothy grin and Dockers slacks, whose favorite insult was “queer” and dated Rangerettes? That’s right, he’s an “out” homosexual living in Round Rock and working as a bartender in Austin. While I know him to be politically averse on most specific issues of policy, I also know that he describes himself as “very Liberal.”

Now that’s an oversimplification of the journeys in the lives of two guys I know. In between the bullet-points and broad characterizations there’s a story of how they got where they are, and where they’ll go from here.

Why were they the people they were then? What changed? Were they, like many young people, merely mirroring their parents politics…  only to flip the script once they leave the house? Was it something else?

Judging from a lot of remarks I see and hear espoused by my peers, there is an overwhelming tilt toward a conservative-to-moderate grouping. Most of the liberals are the ones who left town and never came back.

Many of those that are, like me, rather moderate and take it issue-by-issue and candidate-by-candidate tend to be the most skeptical toward the process itself. I voted for Clinton twice, then turned around and voted for Bush twice. To say I was entirely satifisfied with either would be a gross embellishment.

Then came Obama…

Barack Obama swept into office in 2008, trouncing his Republican opponent on a platform infused with the buzzwords “hope” and “change,” promising to “undo” many of the policies as well as to act as a transformative figure in modern political history.

Two years later, he is struggling to rally his base.

My liberal friends blame Republicans for being obstructionist, my conservative friends say: “See, I told you so.”

On Tuesdsay, millions of Americans went to the polls. Some have told me that, even though he is not even running, they are voting against Obama.

“Not against him necessarily but his policies,” one old colleague wrote to me in an e-mail. “I’m going to send him a message that we are not happy with where he has taken this country.”

Those on the other side seem almost crestfallen, as though this election brings with it a certain inevitability.

“It’s the same thing as ’94,” a former professor of mine told me. “The Republicans take over Congress two years in and everything turns sour from there.”

Well, I’m not sure how things could get more sour than they already are, but I am interested in what happens next. However, for those of you on either side of the spectrum, I would urge restraint and patience.

Irrespective of this outcome, there’s more to this American Democracy than the simple task of elections, there’s everything that occurs between them.

With those having come and gone, let’s now return to the tasks at hand.


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