This is a personal story.
I am a strong supporter of President Obama primarily because I agree with his policy views, and I think his re-election provides the best chance for the best policy going forward. However, my support of him does not explain why I have worked so hard on the grassroots “get out the vote” aspects of his campaigns in 2008 and again this year (I didn’t go door-to-door for President Clinton, or for VP Gore or Sen Kerry).
The reason is encapsulated in this television commercial, the so-called “Hands” ad that appeared in the 1990 North Carolina Senate race between Senator Jesse Helms and Harvey Gantt.
Like most kids, I voted like my parents, who are fairly conservative (but I should note not the least bit racist; in fact, the opposite) and so-voted for the re-election of President George HW Bush in 1988, the first time I was old enough to vote. However, I didn’t have a particularly strong party identification, in part because of the influence of my granddaddy who was a blue-dog, Eastern North Carolina Democrat with whom I spent much time growing up and who also had a great influence on me. But, I come from fairly conservative stock.
As the 1990 campaign approached, I recall mostly feeling like Senator Helms represented the “rear view mirror” of North Carolina and that it was time for a change. However, I was a person without a strong party identification and still thrashing about for my political identity. I volunteered a bit that year for Mayor Gantt’s campaign and it seemed like he had a reasonable chance of winning, at least until the “hands” ad appeared and Senator Helms was re-elected (I also lived in Chapel Hill then, so I may have been overly optimistic).
That fall, the Republican Party lost me forever, because of that despicable ad. That ad encapsulates what I have mostly HEARD* from most Republican candidates since then: appeals to my fears. And I am a hopeful person.
On election night 2008, even after President Obama was declared the victor, I was desperately nervous to see if he had won the state of North Carolina, which he did by 14,000 votes (out of over 4.3 Million cast). I wept that night when it became clear that he had won North Carolina, because it put the politics that made Senator Helms’ hands ad so potent a bit further in the rear view mirror of my great state.
As a 44 year old man who grew up in the rural South, I am still sometimes struck when I see President Obama and re-remember that we have a black President. However, my children who are 12, 15 and 17 think nothing of it, and for that I am glad. That is what progress looks like, and the election of President Obama greatly advanced our country in this intangible way.
*it may not be what they meant to say, but it is what I have heard.
cross posted at freeforall