Politics as usual define year one of Obama era

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Monday, February 1, 2010
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I recall listening to Will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” video in the month leading up to the 2008 election and being struck by Barack Obama’s optimistic perception of American citizens as a united people. Convincingly he claimed, “We are not as divided as our politics suggest.”

He continued, “That we are one people; that we are one nation; and together we will begin the next great chapter in the American story.”

Look, I’ve never been one to rely on hope, nor would I consider myself an optimist. But the sincere effort the Obama campaign made to convince me that there was something positive and constructive to look forward to in this country impacted me in a very real way.

His speeches and his vision made me believe that we, the American people, shared a common ground despite our political differences. He made me confident that in a time of great conflict we would unite and address the many challenges we faced together.

Sadly, the exact opposite has happened.

In his State of the Union address, Obama said that we must, “overcome the numbing weight of our politics,” and I couldn’t agree more.

We’ve become a nation of sides and stances. We proudly define ourselves by political affiliation. We know our friends and, more importantly, our foes, not by experience, but by whether they identify with a donkey or an elephant.

I know what you believe and you know what I believe. We don’t agree — what’s left to say except for may the best man win?

My cynicism is deep-seated, or at least as deep as it can be for a person who scarcely remembers the Clinton Administration. Along with many of you, I grew up in what is now lovingly referred to as “The Bush Era,” a time of appropriately placed distrust and outrage. Moreover, I witnessed and participated in the epic battle that ensued during the 2008 election.

The only knowledge I have of presidencies and the American voting population is riddled with pettiness, desperation and refusal to collaborate.

I recall that, with a few exceptions, Americans and our elected officials fail to unite on nearly everything. When there is tragedy, we are generous, both for our own citizens and those far away. But when it comes to the day-to-day decisions — ones that affect the public and private lives of our citizens — we’ve relegated informed conversation to the screams of Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann.

Of course, we all know and complain that the media skews messages and turns politicians into caricatures of actual people. And we all hate it. Except, the thing is, we demand it.

We’re becoming caricatures of our own selves. We’ve chosen this path of unyielding partisan stubbornness. And, as far as I’ve learned, we always have.

So as Obama skillfully continues to speak his common ground rhetoric, I remove my rose colored glasses and understand that the message he’s sending addresses an imaginary society — one where 300 million people are rational and willing to communicate; where the elected officials can’t be bought; and where the citizens choose to support their fellow man.

But, from what I have seen, we are as divided as our politics suggest and no amount of hope can change that.

Becky is feeling pessimistic. E-mail her something optimistic at rrubens1@asu.edu