(Photo via Creative Commons)
When Senator Barack Obama came along and announced his presidential campaign in 2007, I was still a young lad in college trying to find himself. Though I was not sure that I wanted to be a vocal practitioner of the conservatism that my father exemplified (for reasons that I will give later), one college friend of mine saw me as voting for Senator John McCain during the 2008 presidential election. He came to this reasonable conclusion about me obviously because he recognized through statements that I must have made (which I can use my imagination, but do not remember specifically what I said), among other things, that the Republican Party’s presidential nominee aligned mostly with my beliefs. The problems for me were that I was not completely sure of what I believed, why I believed it, and if I was prepared for the consequences for adhering to such political and social views that were becoming more and more unpopular.
Traditional ideals, like believing marriage is between a man and a woman, being against abortion, and being supportive of Israel, were the basics of being a Christian conservative, or so I thought. At this point in time, I had not taken a real investigative look at what I believed. Although I knew I was not happy about politics and what I felt was a deceitful vacillation of some politicians, I was not deeply rooted in what I took to be an ethic to live by. So, I might have said that I was against abortion, I could not go into a real thoughtful exposition of why. It would be later before I could give some kind of informed opinion on what was going on in Washington, D.C., and why I was or was not happy with it.
My childhood was molded by an independent conservative man and a some time left-leaning mother, who has grown more conservative over time herself. He shared with me his beliefs and I even saw the both of them debate each other and others on different issues, but I never thought to make them my own. Initially, I did not see the importance of voting (and I hail from Selma, Alabama, which revealed my own dismissal of the history my having this constitutional right) and I could have cared less about what took place on Capitol Hill. My ignorance and indifference would be depressing symptoms of my youth, but when I became a man, I knew that I had to put childish things behind me, albeit rather slowly.
In spite of my own hesitancy to align myself with any specific political party or social and political philosophy, I still managed to vote for Pres. George W. Bush in 2004 and Pres. Barack Obama in 2008. Many changes and events can take place in four years that can impact a person’s worldview, but my voting for a Republican in one year and a Democrat 4 years later was far more simpler. In all honesty, my political choice on the ballot box was an emotional one tied to my skin color. I really felt that if I had not voted for a man with a similar skin color to my own that I was going against “my people” and history in some way. At that time, I thought: “Don’t white people get to vote for their own kind every time in the history of our country? What is bad about me doing it? Plus, Obama will really unite the country. Look how popular he is!”
Oddly enough, in 2012, I would be voting against the very man that I voted for 2008 and for altogether different reasons. However, this time around, my views were based more on a Christian worldview, which sparked my conservatism, and my paying more attention to some of Obama’s policies. In his second term, I found the deal with Iran to be problematic, which now we see that there was another major issue with it. I thought his approach to healthcare would not be beneficial to this country, even if I respected his desire to reform it. It was no longer about the rightness of his skin color; it was about the rightness concerning his policies.
I was no longer interested in being defined by a group, a certain narrative, or even my skin color, necessarily. I wanted people to have an opinion of me (and all people for that matter), based on my own behavior and the words that I spoke. Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed that his children one day would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Those were powerful words of truth then and they resonated with me because of how I have desired to live now.
Politics is a lot more dramatic than I like, but I do enjoy keeping up with what happens at the highest levels of government. While I am a conservative, I would love to see more thoughtful debate on issues and more civil discourse in reaching common ground. Divisiveness has never been a way forward for productive work to get done and we have enough division going on in this country. I have come to see that politics is very nuanced and a politician’s rhetoric may not always be as it seems. From one view (in 2008), Obama’s rhetoric struck me right, but once my perspective changed by 2012, I knew that I could no longer give him my vote and be satisfied with myself.
Jerome Danner is a member of Project 21, an initiative of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook for more of his thoughts and commentary. For more of Jerome’s writing, please check out his website.