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Voting Record

2008 November 3
by Julie Clawson

It seems that the world has been put on hold as the election approaches (at least from the perspective of the US media). All conversations revolve around the election. So that’s what your getting here – totally random thoughts about the election.

I tried to explain to Emma earlier why tomorrow was a special day after she in her totally three year old logic stated – “I can get a haircut on Tuesday because Tuesday isn’t a special day.” After I attempted to explain the concepts of President, the United States, and voting she got really upset and said she didn’t want anyone to be faster than her (Emma in 2040!). I had to play the mommy as linguistic anthropologist to understand that she thought “running for president” meant a footrace and that she didn’t want anyone besides herself to win. So I clarified to be told by her that she wants “Mr. Cain” to win because he has a better name. Then she informed me that velociraptors are her favorite dinosaur because they have the most fur. Some days I just don’t ask.

But her comment about names struck me because there are so many out there who are voting for one candidate or the other because of similar inane reasons (including name). My last post was a rant on such uncritical voting habits, so I thought this post should be a confession of my record and the sometimes flimsy reasons behind my voting habits.

I mentioned here before that the first election I remember was 1984 when in the first grade mock ballot I attempted to vote for just the VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro because I thought a woman should have a turn at President. The first election I voted in however was in 1996 – Clinton vs. Dole. At the time I felt like there was no choice but to vote for Dole no matter who he was or what he stood for. He was a Republican, Clinton wasn’t. I was a Christian so I had to vote Republican. I was in my freshman year at Wheaton College and was surrounded by similar attitudes. Dole won by a landslide in the mock campus election and the handful of people who came out for Clinton were called some seriously evil names.

Not much had changed four years later for Bush vs. Gore, at least on campus. I was in grad school at Wheaton at the time. I recall the student newspaper reporting on some political science students who had worked at a Gore rally. The backlash of that was intense – students and alumni writing in to express their astonishment at the sin the college was letting its students participate in. Even though the students had expressed that they themselves weren’t democrats (they just went for the experience), they were guilty by association.

I was torn in that election. I knew that there were a number of issues that I agreed more with Gore on than with Bush, but I still couldn’t get over my evangelical upbringing enough to vote Democrat. Sad, I know.The issues that stick in my head that were deciding factors at the time were the facts that Gore had recently sided with pharmaceutical companies to keep cheap generic drugs for AIDS out of Africa and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) that I liked what Bush had done for education in Texas. So I voted for Bush. I remember being in Bruce Benson’s Christianity and Postmodernism philosophy class that evening as the returns came in. I think the only three Democrats on campus were in that class as well. We took an extended break to watch election coverage in the lecture hall and they formed a small but vocal cheering section for Gore. I recall being somewhat indifferent about who won (a good thing given that it took forever to find out). I voted for Bush out of obligation, but the part of my that cared about the issues wanted Gore to win.

Then came 9/11 and the Iraq war, and by 2004 I was part of the anyone but Bush camp. I liked Nader, but didn’t want to throw away my vote, so I voted for Kerry as a lesser of two evils choice. I was pregnant with Emma at the time and had been put on strict bedrest just a week before the election. Getting out to vote was one of the two times I broke that strict bedrest rule. The election occurred right before everything hit the fan with our jobs at a Baptist church (we were scary emergents, you know the rest), so the women prayer warriors still cared enough to call to see how I was doing stuck on the couch all day. I mentioned to one of them that I had gotten out to vote (not mentioning who I voted for) and she praised me for being willing to risk my health for the sake of electing God’s candidate. I let her assume whatever she wanted to assume…

So here we are on the eve of one of the most exciting elections I can recall. It has also seen some of the saddest elements in our society emerge as the sexism and racism still present in our society surfaced. I am fascinated to see Christians (some at least) break away from the party allegiance and vote independently. I have a feeling that this change is permanent and that we are entering a new era of American politics. Early in this race my wish was that it come down to Obama vs. McCain. At the time that outcome seemed impossible, but I thought then that I could live with either candidate. McCain has disappointed me since then, and Palin seriously frightens me. So contrary to my toddler’s name affinity, I’m voting for Obama. I don’t see him as a savior, or our only hope, or all those other far-fetched accusations I’ve heard. I think he will be good for our country and the world. I’m not going to rehash the issues here, but just say that for the first time I am casting a positive vote for someone whose vision I support.

So after this long journey across the political spectrum, I’m voting Obama tomorrow. What’s been your journey?

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13 Responses leave one →
  1. November 3, 2008

    I voted for Bush in 2000, but because of problems with college in 2004 I didn’t get a vote. I was supposed to send in an absentee ballot, but I didn’t. This year I voted for Barr because I think he is the closest to my actual political views (less government).

    My only disagreements with Barr are that I think we SHOULD have universal health care and that the richer districts should provide at least some money for urban poor districts in education.

    I don’t think any candidate really fits me and it is frustrating that I don’t feel like I have anyone who represents me. My vote for Barr was a protest vote. I don’t really like McCain, and I don’t particularly care for Obama. Obama is the lesser of two evils, but I would have rather seen Clinton in the White House.

  2. November 3, 2008

    Right there with you in 2000. Even the same issue: Africa aid. By the time 2004 rolled around, I was a different person.

    I’m voting for Obama because he is the first candidate in my life who has, even for just a moment, caused me to suspend my incessant cynicism toward politics. I agree with him on many issues and think he is the better choice, but, in many ways, I’m not voting with my head. I’m voting with my heart. He moved me, and, for me, emotion is extremely important in dragging a faltering country out of its doldrums.

    I don’t know if he’ll actually make a huge difference, but he’ll at least be tons better to listen to than McCain is or Bush was.

  3. November 3, 2008

    My earliest political recollections are of the end of Reagan’s presidency. I was 6. I had always admired seeing him speak on TV, and I wrote a tearful goodbye letter saying “You are the best president I’ve ever known.” My family prayed for Bush to win the election, and thanked God when he did. Dukakis was about as evil as the devil in my mind.

    However, even by the time the first Bush was ending his term, I was already aware that I didn’t necessarily share my parents’ enthusiasm for Bush, the Republican party, or the evangelical conservative platform. I thought that Clinton seemed cooler and more connected with regular people. Shallow, yes. I was 10. But also I learned that maybe sometimes I wouldn’t agree with my parents.

    By 16 I was a crazed liberal, according to those around me (especially at youth group). In my high school’s semester-long House of Representatives simulation, I was a vocal member of the Democrat party’s leadership. I sponsored a bill to improve conditions and wages for migrant farm workers. I decided that being a Christian meant having a serious obligation to create changes on Earth, and often these changes were more likely to happen through the Democrat party.

    I started college at Wheaton, despite knowing that I would probably feel out of place. It was close to home, and my parents were happy with the choice, perhaps hoping it would de-liberalize me. A high school friend and I were the crazy freshmen that started the Wheaton College Democrats club in fall 2000, and managed to get 30 students and several faculty members signed on. Our efforts were minimal – I think we were primarily concerned with making a statement that Christians could and perhaps should be Democrats. I was one of few people in Fischer Hall watching the returns on Election night and cheering for Gore.

    Wheaton did de-liberalize me a bit, though. I started to see a more balanced perspective of each issue. I decided I’m not a true Democrat, but most definitely not a Republican either. I was disillusioned by politics for awhile, especially with the election of 2004, where I voted for Kerry only because I so strongly disliked Bush and his policies.

    That’s why I am so excited about this election. Obama has re-energized me and given me hope that a good leader could help more people step up and help fix this country. My faith in the political system is still pretty broken. The 1996 Republican-controlled congress plus a Clinton approval are responsible for the aggressive and mean-spirited immigration code that now has me and my husband living in separate countries.

    I suppose a big reason I vote for Obama is because I hope that his presidency will help turn hearts and minds away from the greed, selfishness, and fear of our own neighbors that have run this country into the ground. Who knows.

    That’s my journey!

  4. November 4, 2008

    I’ve been voting since Reagan was first elected. I voted for John Anderson in that election. When he was re-elected I was going to march in a protest march during his 2nd inaugural parade. However, it was so cold here that day, that all outdoor inaugural activities were cancelled.

    I can’t remember who I voted for in the next couple of elections, just that when Clinton was in office I would rather have come out told my church I was gay (a lie) than that I was a Democrat.

    By 2000 I’d gotten over that and knew that W was altogether wrong for this country. I didn’t care what anyone had to say about him, he was/is a playboy who has survived on his parents coattails. So I voted for Gore. Then watched and listened as the national popular vote was stolen in Florida. I remember sandwiching a quilt on the floor as I listened to the Supreme Court hand down their decision and the dissenting decisions.

    I’ve been following Barack Obama for years now. I can’t remember when I first heard about him, but I knew that he’d be a presidential candidate sooner or later. When I heard he was running for this election cycle, I knew it was good news. The other day I found this quote and it encapsulates why I find his candidacy so compelling:
    “People are more inclined to be drawn in if their leader has a compelling vision. Great leaders help people get in touch with their own aspirations and then will help them forge those aspirations into a personal vision.” John Kotter

    There are parts of his platform (as with any candidate) that I’m not so fond of. But it’s his ability to create bridges, and help us each see our own ability make our own bridges that is inspirational to me. That’s what I want in a leader. That’s why I’m voting for him today.

  5. November 4, 2008

    julie – thanks for this story. it makes perfect sense. i feel as if millions of us have grown, not LEAVING where we came from, but seeing where we came from in different ways, and moving into what we can see now. and what i see now is exactly what you said: “this change is permanent and that we are entering a new era of American politics.” and a new era in general.
    i think tomorrow i’ll need a nap. and then i’m ready.

  6. November 4, 2008

    Thanks for sharing. Aspects of your story echo my own (with a minor temporal shift on the front end, as my first election was in 1992. Our conservative Christian campus wore black all day the next day. Myself included, I’m now embarrassed to say), and I found myself voting for Bush in 2000 with similar ambivalence. The Bush responses (there really wasn’t just one) to 9/11 changed all that.

    But the fears about “coming out” as an Obama supporter are still strong. My wife and I are almost certainly the only people in our immediate families to vote for Obama, and with the exception of my mom’s side of my family, I could probably say the same about both of our extended families with little fear of contradiction. I had a conversation with my Grandparents just a little over a week ago, and felt I had to choose my words very carefully lest they think I’d fallen away from the faith (especially ironic since I’m the one who’s studied to become a minister!).

    Anyway, thanks again.

  7. Williebop permalink
    November 4, 2008

    “A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicity.” – Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

    We’ve sure fallen a long way since then.

  8. November 4, 2008

    I was raised by a yellow dog Democrat (unusual in the conservative Churches of Christ) and remember being sent to school wearing a Vote Mondale button and then, 4 years later, a Vote Dukakis. Interestingly, I grew up assuming that Christians voted Democrat, because I thought only Democrats cared about the poor. The first election I was ever old enough to vote in was Dole/Clinton and I voted Clinton. Though I believe Clinton was a great President, that vote was probably the equivalent of your Dole vote, it seemed like the only choice. More informed about politics, I voted Gore in 2000, though I remember thinking that either guy could become President and I’d be happy. It didn’t take me long to change my mind on that. I voted Kerry in 2004, though his name might as well have been Not Bush if you want to know all that went into that choice.

    This election is the first time that I feel like I’m actually voting for someone. Clinton was just “who you vote for”, Gore/Bush seemed (at the time) to be two versions of the same guy, and Kerry was simply anyone but Bush. While I also don’t get caught up in the Obamessiah movement (in fact, it really bugs me), I do believe he will be an excellent President and am proud to have voted for him.

  9. November 4, 2008

    It’s also worth noting that I am, to this day, the only person to ever be “boo”ed in a chapel service at my alma mater. I was announcing a meeting of the campus Democrats.

  10. November 4, 2008

    I got a bit interested in politics when I was 16 or so, not long after becoming a Christian. My dad had a subscription to World Magazine, which considered itself to have a Christian view of national and international news. I read it for a few months, but it then occurred to me that, to this magazine, everything good was Republican and everything bad was Democrat. I decided I didn’t like this because I didn’t think a Christian view of news was a poster for the Republican Party, and so I stopped reading it and stopped being interested in politics.

    I was 17 in the 2000 election so I couldn’t vote, but I had a vague preference for Bush inside my non-interest. When 9/11 happened I was a freshman at a Pentecostal university, and I woke up and started becoming interested in peace and other forms of activism, and in the suffering that we caused and ignored. I became acquainted with Sojourners and The Other Side, among other things, and by the time the invasion of Iraq occurred I was among the few critics at my school, and sat in class asking to pray for the Iraqis we were bombing when others asked to pray for our troops.

    In 2004, I chose not to vote because I didn’t see Kerry as an alternative on anything I was concerned about, and couldn’t stand Bush. Today I was happy to vote for Obama. I don’t find him to be a perfect candidate, and I sympathize with those who choose not to vote as part of their way of standing against a system that can never line up with the Cross, but I find him to be a powerful candidate, both in his policies and in the significance of his background and his story. I found a lot of wonderful things in Ron Paul, but besides the fact that the Republican Party doesn’t stand for any of the things that he does, I find Obama to offer more of a chance of improving the image of America, both here and internationally.

  11. Scott M permalink
    November 4, 2008

    Many of y’all make me feel old. My first presidential election was 1984. However, I remember Watergate. (And I remember going to see All The President’s Men with Mom a few years later.) I remember Chevy Chase’s impression of Gerald Ford on SNL. I remember staying up with my parents watching returns when Carter won. And I definitely remember the Iran hostage situation which was really what turned the 1980 election from a close race to a landslide for Reagan. My spiritual background is complicated to say the least, but I wouldn’t say it was particularly Christian growing up. And by 1984 I was decidedly in an anti-Christian camp.

    Hmmm. Just given where I was in 1984, having recently completed basic training, and with strong Libertarian tendencies, I’m pretty sure I voted for Reagan. But those years were pretty crazy ones and I don’t recall for certain. In 1988 I did vote for George the Senior. He was actually a pragmatic and largely moderate politician. He wasn’t a great president, but I think he did a much better job than he often gets credit for doing.

    However, in 1992 I would say I was even more strongly Libertarian in inclination and voted for Ross Perot. I was tired of both parties. In 1993 I stepped further along a reencounter with Christianity that had begun in 1990 and would eventually lead to the next stage in a journey of conversion that had probably begun when I was 6 or 7 years old.

    So by 1996 my convictions were just beginning to shift, colored by the stories I was absorbing of this strange God revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth. I was actually in (and sorta still am in) the sort of conservative evangelical (SBC) church many of you seem to describe growing up in, but that environment didn’t color my thinking as much as this kaleidoscope of a new way of seeing reality I was absorbing. (I ended up in that church largely because I picked one to try I thought would confirm my worst thoughts about Christians. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?)

    Anyway, I didn’t really know how to vote. I finally ended up voting for Clinton because the things he had done or tried to do (include the health care effort) seemed more aimed at helping those who most needed help than any other option.

    I definitely voted for Gore in 2000. Living in Texas, I had experienced first hand exactly the sort of person Bush really was. While I couldn’t claim to really be surprised, he has managed to exceed my worst expectations. I rather liked McCain in 2000 and would have considered voting for him had he won his primary.

    I voted for Kerry in 2004. More because he wasn’t Bush than for any positive reason.

    I’ve not been thrilled with the turn McCain has taken over the past 8 years. He has turned away from the very things that inclined me to like him in 2000.

    I have been impressed by Obama and decided a long while back to vote for him. I still don’t vote in party primaries, but I did donate a small amount of money to his general election campaign. It’s the first time ever that I’ve donated to any political campaign.

  12. November 6, 2008

    While I grew up catholic, I didn’t become a Christ follower until much later in life. In 2004, I really struggled with my vote for the first time. I kept going online taking the “Are you a Democrat or Republican” quizzes and they kept coming up “D”. And yet I never felt comfortable about Kerry and voted for a Republican president for the first time ever. It was based soley on the idea that Bush would nominate a pro-life justice to the supreme court. (Sounds like it is the total opposite of your experience, Julie).

    This year, however, is the first time I ever voted FOR a candidate. First time I ever donated, phone banked and canvassed, too. And when I filled in the circle for Barack Obama, I did so proudly as a Democrat, an American but most of all, a Christian.

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