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August 29, 2008

Sixteen Years Is a Long Time

In the Fall of 1992, I stood among my peers on the library green at the University of Colorado, looking up with trepidation at black clad snipers creeping along the surrounding spanish tile roofs. This was my very first election related political rally and I was transfixed. I voted for Jerry Brown in the very first democratic primary for which I was old enough to participate (hey, I was 20 and he made it perfectly clear that he was for the de-criminalization of marijuana). When Brown surprisingly took the primary in Colorado, I felt the first blush of political empowerment. It was an intoxicating mix of civic righteousness and pure, unmitigated hope. At that age, I had no idea what life yet had in store for me, but I loved the idea that every single individual had a inalienable, indelible voice with which to shape America. Naive? Perhaps a little. This was years, after all, before Walden O'Dell promised Diebold would "deliver Ohio" to President Bush and before the name Katherine Harris entered the public psyche. All I knew was that I had participated in something larger than myself, something that could lead to a political course change, and I was hooked. Big time.

Of course, Jerry Brown wasn't able to capture the Democratic Party's nomination for president. That honor, as we all know, went to a young, charismatic Governor from Arkansas. George HW Bush famously broke his 1988 campaign promise not to raise taxes during his administration (yeah, yeah, I can read your freaking lips) and his increasing shift towards more conservative social policies (in the midst of David Duke's loud mouthed foray into politics) effectively ended his presidential run, but in September of 1992, who knew?

I knew very little about Bill Clinton before July's convention and knew even less about Hillary (other than the fact that she, like me, thought first ladies should have more on their plate than perfecting cookie recipes). When Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived at CU to stump for her husband, I packed into the Quad with other curious students, unsure of what we would hear. Sure it was great to see Michelle Shocked and Sean Kelly play, and, wow, there were a lot of secret service, but the highlight was hearing Hillary Clinton speak to my generation, those famously slacker x's, not only with respect but with a sort of conspiratorial glee, praising us for being bright and creative and, when challenged, a force to be reckoned with. She made it clear that we could be simultaneously women, mothers, wives, and strong, accomplished individuals. We were not to forget, however, that as strong individuals, we had an innate responsibility to better our communities, to have compassion for those who have less, and to hold accountable those who have more. This was the very same message I received from my wonderful, much loved hippie high school and in one single afternoon, Hillary Clinton won my admiration and by extension, her husband won my vote.

I still believe in the message the Clintons so proudly campaigned on and then delivered in their time in Washington. Regardless of Whitewater, Troopergate, Travelgate, blowjobs, the definition of 'is", Starr's bodice ripper report, the House impeachment proceedings, or the creative use of cigars, Bill Clinton will always represent the very best of leadership: compassion, empathy, thoughtful governing, and, above all, a brilliant intellect that could easily comprehend the complexities of international political relations and see the myriad of possibilities. As he said in his speech last night in Denver, America's strength lies in the power of her example NOT in the example of her power.

I have never been a flag waving, rah-rah kind of girl and have become something of a tired cynic in the last eight years. As a disclaimer, I studied American Soviet comparative studies in college because I thought it hypocritical for eagle Cold Warriors to pound the Soviet system when we, albeit covertly, perpetrated horrendous acts in the name of patriotism or American interests (Mossadeq anyone? How about Guatemala in '54?). A good dose of youthful, righteous indignation mixed with a dash of misanthropic inclination and middle class guilt, sewn up with a general mistrust of the powers that be. I am quite a bit older now than the idealistic 20 year old who lay down in the intersection of 30th Street and Arapahoe to protest the first Gulf War (who knew in 1991, other than Paul Wolfowitz or Richard Pearl, that there would be a bastardized sequel). But let's face it, America has taken a heavy since the Clintons packed up and moved to Chappaqua. The last eight years have not been kind.

Which is exactly why I watched Barack Obama's speech accepting the Democratic Party nomination for President with unabashed, giddy wonder. Holy shit! He spoke with a powerful conviction of the very ideals I thought I had already packed up and sent to permanent storage. That we should pursue our individual dreams to the very best of our abilities, but that our individual responsibility still lies in bettering our communities. That we are a better nation than the last eight fucking years have exemplified. That we have a dear responsibility to our veterans and that the war in Iraq is a fucking sham to begin with. That we can invest in alternative fuel sources that are compatible with environmental and economic health. That health care is a RIGHT not a privilege. That there is no such thing as an easy fix to what ails us, but that we shouldn't be fearful of change.

I cheered, I cried, I jumped up and down (and in the process, scared the shit out of Stella), and for the first time in years, I felt like that 20 year old student, watching a woman named Hillary Clinton tell me that I had the power to effect powerful change in America. For the first time in years, I actually felt hope.

If you weren't able to see Obama's speech or are simply interested in revisiting it, you can read the transcript HERE.

Posted by bethamsel at 9:17 PM