What does it mean to "support" a candidate?
Recently, while calling into the Rebecca Juro Show, Rebecca asked if I was supporting anyone for president. I've pretty much posted something negative about every candidate here at Bilerico except Duncan Hunter and Joe Biden, so maybe it's time to end my cynical position on the sidelines of presidential politics and take a positive stand.
Or not. I replied that Indiana's primary is about three months after Super Tuesday, just after the Guam caucuses, so I have the privilege of not deciding for a while.
This got me seriously thinking about what supporting a candidate means, and how to do it in a way that
- sets up realistic expectations,
- is open to change before the election,
- doesn't preclude attempting to effect change outside the political system, and
- posits an individual's goals for politics before those of any specific candidate.
What's the point of supporting a candidate if there isn't a strong, transformative rhetorical component to doing so? Are we, as queers, Americans, people, or whatever, thinking about just this election or are we thinking big picture?
I have to say that this primary season has been wearing me thin. I've heard so many people, so many generally intelligent, caring, and reasonable people, reduced to saying things like "I just don't trust Edwards," "All three candidates agree with me on my favorite issue, but when Obama says it I know he'll work for it," or, my personal favorite, "Obama has to triangulate, that's just part of politics. But when Hillary does it it's just 90's style cynical politics all over again."
When I first started noticing this phenomenon (I should note that the 2004 election was the first one where I became involved - 2000 was that big of a disaster that my massive ego wouldn't leave it up to my compatriots again), I was dumbfounded. Didn't he once tell me never to trust a politician, and now he's saying that Obama's going to change the face of politics? Wasn't she the feminist who thought women in high levels of government don't change anything when it was Condi Rice we were talking about, and now she's saying that we should vote for Hillary because a woman in high office will change the nature of gender politics?
Apparently, what it means to support a candidate is to leave some skepticism at home and get to work for that person by talking about how great s/he is, constantly. Without end. Like answering "How are you?" with "Obama's going to win!" (that's a real one).
I believe that these people are setting themselves up for a deeper disappointment when their candidates don't live up their idealization of them. But I also think that it puts too much stock in these people as saviors of American politics and short-circuits other routes to change.
When visiting Serena in Arizona a few years ago, I sat through a few conversations about how voting is a sham designed to make us think that democracy works. Serena quotes Emma Goldman:
If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal
and underground hip-hop group Dead Prez:
Ain't nobody in the hood got no hope in this fucked up system
and that's why we don't vote
I can definitely understand the hopelessness, but the argument points to a fallacy that I see also in the enthused candidate supporters - that the assumed goal of voting is to fundamentally change the government and to get what we want, completely and on its own.
Supporting a candidate can be a great way to discuss policy. Going up to someone and starting to talk about how the System's fucked up, the Man is going to keep you down, and yeah Mother Earth is dying why isn't someone doing something about it, will just get you strange looks. I hope that the work we're doing here at the Project proves that the political process itself can help start and focus those conversations about substantive changes.
That's probably why many of those crazy candidate supporters annoy me so much - they often rely on what The Onion piece above succinctly describes as "bullshit issues" instead of using the conversations to advance deeper agendas.
Suppose, for example, person A loves Hillary mainly because of her long support for health care and is talking to person B, an Obama supporter, about which would make a better president. One way to have this discussion would be each person outlining the health care system s/he would like to see and then move on to policy, experience, and other topical differences between the two candidates.
The other would be what I see all too often and involve
arguments sentences like "I just don't trust Obama on health care" or "Shillary kept the process closed from the public back in the '90's, so you know she doesn't really believe in universal health care."
The former method starts with a vision of the world that each person would like to see enacted and then examines how taking an hour every other year to vote would work into promoting that vision; the other buys into the politics of personality, swears loyalty to a candidate, and then will be shocked when that strategy fails.
In other words, the former keeps the power with the People, the latter gives it to the man, or woman, on a white horse coming to save us from terrible Republicans. And I've never wanted to be the princess in a fairy tale.
The political process is just a tool to achieve the changes we'd like to see, not an end in and of itself. And no matter whether Hillary's tears were real or not, we'll still have to live with the president's decisions, and we'll still have to push that person on policy, and we still won't get everything that, or even much of, what we want.