By Katharhynn Heidelberg
Stay with me on this one.
I spent eight years of my life furious with the way George W. Bush and Dick Cheney got away with ignoring, and in some cases, eviscerating our constitution. Eight years being stunned that anyone could vote for W., and four of those in despair that anyone could vote for him twice, after he proved how woeful his ability to lead was, how great his ego.
After he pulled us into the wrong war and basically ignored the just war, allowing the Taliban to regroup and bin Laden to escape for years; after he drove up our debt, gave breaks to billionaires at our expense, and then, somehow, by some sorcery the Right has mastered, got so many of the rank and file to believe this was in their best interest, to applaud it, to embrace him, and to blame the victims of his decisions.
And when those of us who didn’t vote for Bush pointed out his predatory, conscienceless, grasping nature, his arrogance, his staggering, almost singular ineptitude, well, we just weren’t “real” Americans. Real Americans, by this line of thinking, are those who enthusiastically embrace “my country, right or wrong,” without blinking, let alone thinking. These sorts of “real Americans” march lockstep with their leader and call it patriotism. They can’t accept that others may disagree with them for legitimate reasons, yet love their country, too.
OK, then. Now it’s time for a deeeep breath.
I’m starting to see the reverse.
That is, the same frustration I felt for eight years is again blasting out of nearly every public forum, especially social media. Only this time, the ire is directed at a different president. While some of the particulars are different, the despair is the same. President Barack Obama, the general reasoning of his detractors goes, has rewarded the have-nots on the backs of the haves; has destroyed the economy; gotten in over his head in the Middle East; is responsible for four deaths in Benghazi; “claimed credit” for the taking out of bin Laden, and, yeah, totally shredded the Constitution. How, his opponents ask, can anyone have voted for him twice?
I don’t necessarily agree with all the allegations that have been laid at the president’s feet. And I have even left out some of the more lunatic aspersions cast on Obama. It’s just that all this vitriol has spurred some introspection. Obama’s detractors are now wearing the shoes I walked in, while I am wearing theirs. From my end, it is head-shakingly infuriating that these folks can’t “see reason” and won’t stop supporting an obstructionist Republican Party. From theirs, it is head-shakingly infuriating that Obama’s supporters won’t acknowledge his failures and stop supporting an enabling Democratic Party.
Yes, I am seeing the reverse. And it’s opening my mind.
Not to seeing things their way, but to understanding why they see it. As I was taught in college-level history, you don’t have to believe what others — in the history classroom context, past societies — believed, but you must believe that they believed it, or you have no prayer of understanding. Without understanding, there is no knowledge, only railing in the dark. Without knowledge, there is no progression.
Exhibit A: See Congress. Exhibit B: See the rest of us, as we point fingers of blame toward the party we least like instead of demanding with one voice that our representatives stop channeling their collective jackass and get on with our business.
Other exhibits from my own life include hearing, during the president’s first term, a fellow Democrat lambaste people for not respecting the office of president, and for daring to criticize Obama. Only months before, when Bush was still in office, the same individual had fully embraced dissent as the highest form of patriotism, and criticized Republicans who said we needed to support the office of the president!
Or perhaps a good exhibit is the presidential candidate who recently got his backside handed to him on a platter, along with a heaping helping of humble pie. By what Mitt Romney said in early March, it’s pretty clear he did not much partake of that pie. Romney acknowledged he’d blown it with minority voters. To his credit, he didn’t blame Chris Christie’s spontaneous thanks to Obama post-Sandy for turning the electorate against him.
But then came the typical morning-after regret canards. “The media” turned people against him, said wife Ann. His statements about a parasitic “47 percent” were “twisted and distorted,” Romney said. Never mind that his statements were just plain wrong, and this 47 percent included a significant chunk of the senior demographic who actually voted for him. Romney: Failing to learn from history, doomed to repeat it.
Exhibits also include conservatives who whine loudly about the president, propagate or pass along what can objectively be called abusive, ridiculous garbage, who don’t bother to fact-check, or refuse to believe the facts when they do. Yet, when even mildly challenged, they promptly demonize as “intolerant!” those who dare to present facts, or even a competing opinion. Of course, there are also intolerant, fact-resistant liberals. Can’t remember a one of them, though, who keeps saying that W. isn’t “really” a Christian, or keeps insisting, in defiance of the evidence, that he wasn’t born in the United States.
What I do see is a number of liberals with a head-in-sand reaction to charges against Obama that seem to be fairly levied.
Bush was rightly criticized for the PATRIOT Act, warrantless wiretapping, black sites, torture (and yes, it was torture), and more. I’m less aware of widespread outrage over Obama’s signature on the NDAA, which allows for indefinite detention of U.S. citizens, and why we are not marching in the streets against the use of spy drones is beyond me. These are appropriate criticisms.
It’s even fair to point out that Obama’s outrage concerning the Sandy Hook child murders seems at odds with his support of drone strikes that killed kids in Pakistan. And, while he is not solely responsible for the economic muddle, he isn’t blameless, either. There are fair questions to be asked about Benghazi, even if critics need less hysteria and more facts. What will he do about Iran? Or Egypt, whose new leader is today’s friend, but easily tomorrow’s enemy?
If it frustrates me that Bush supporters cannot see the evil he perpetrated, I must also acknowledge Obama’s failings. So, how can I continue to support him? Because he stands up for women and the Republican Party does not. Because he stands up for the civil rights of gays and lesbians, and the Republican Party does not. Because he keeps religion out of politics and wannabe theocrats who lean Republican do not. (Note: I am a heterosexual Christian, but civil rights are civil rights and it is the separation of church and state that prevents a Christian – or any! – version of the Taliban.)
Because, deeply flawed though it is, the Affordable Care Act at least attempts to address the gross inequities of insurance coverage in this country. Because, although I support the Second Amendment, any president would have been forced to address the issue of guns in this country after Sandy Hook. Because I believe that a shared country equals shared risks and shared benefits, and that developing reasonable policies in this regard does not constitute “socialism.” Because the Republican Party openly admitted to tactics of willful obstructionism at the expense of our country. Because the only alternative was a tone-deaf, protean elitist called Mitt Romney.
And when I consider the reasoning that drives me, and my conclusion that despite his many faults, Obama has — so far, at least — done more good than harm, I at last begin to understand the rationale that could lead a person to vote twice for a flawed president.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.