Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I'd Rather Be Wrong

If you're old enough to remember the days when cigarettes were advertised on TV, you may remember one ad campaign in which the actors portrayed smokers who were so dedicated to their brand over all the rest that they defiantly proclaimed that they would "rather fight than switch."

To put a visual exclamation point on their assertion, the actors were made up to appear as if they had black eyes.

The American culture emphasizes loyalty. I haven't been in an elementary school classroom in many, many years, but children still recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day, don't they? I never served in the military, but recruits still take loyalty oaths, don't they?

And it was no secret that Barack Obama's predecessor valued loyalty over just about every other quality that the people in his administration possessed. He prized that virtue so much that he fired some of the people who worked for him because they weren't as loyal to him as he wanted them to be — even if they had skills and insights that could benefit the nation.

Loyalty is a good thing. But there is a limit to its value.

Stay with me on this because there is a method to my madness.

Last year, Hillary Clinton's supporters were disappointed when she did not win the Democratic Party's nomination for the presidency. When she conceded about a year ago, there were people who had supported Clinton in the primaries who made noises about voting for the Republican ticket in the fall — in part because of their loyalty to their leader — but, in the end, most apparently decided that their true loyalties were to their principles so they put aside their disappointment and their differences with Obama and voted for him over John McCain.

I began the 2008 campaign as a supporter of John Edwards, but he withdrew more than a month before I had the opportunity to vote for him in the Texas primary. For various reasons, I never really felt comfortable with either Clinton or Obama. I voted in the Texas primary, but I felt left out of the process. I felt like I was being asked to endorse other people's preferences, not my own.

As things turned out with Edwards, he didn't represent my principles as well as I thought he did. I reached that conclusion when Edwards admitted to having an affair with a former campaign worker while his wife was fighting cancer.

In that regard, Obama is clearly a different kind of man than Edwards. I have never doubted his dedication to his wife and children. But that didn't change my misgivings about his policies.

Well, Obama's been the president for nearly five months now. It should be obvious that being president is quite different from running for president. I've continued to be honest about my misgivings about some of his policies. And I've tried to give credit where I thought credit was due.

Frankly, it does bother me when some people seem overly eager to rationalize Obama's policy choices and statements. It often seems like racism in reverse to me, like they're bending over backwards to prove (if only to themselves) how tolerant they are of a black president.

And it bothers me when I feel that people treat the unemployment problem as some sort of theoretical puzzle — an economic Rubik's cube. This isn't a theory. This is my life — and the lives of millions of Americans.

But all that may be due to my current mindset. As I've acknowledged before, I'm out of work. I'd like to be working again. I feel I have a lot to offer.

So it's frustrating when it seems to me that a lot of people treat rising unemployment like it's an intellectual parlor game. But that's probably unavoidable when a president faces as many problems as this president faces.

I have a friend who is a conservative. She is anti–Obama because she believes the rhetoric from the right that he is a socialist who has an agenda to radically transform this country. Whenever we talk on the phone or we exchange e–mails, she often seems hellbent on persuading me that Obama's objective is to turn America into a Marxist state.

I don't believe that — and there have been many times when I have wondered what she wants from me. Does she want me to validate her beliefs? If I did, what difference would it make? I'm certainly in no position to influence government policy. If I say I agree with her (which I don't), it won't change who the president is and it won't change the policies.

Still, she's being true to her belief system, and I respect that. I've always tried to be true to my belief system, too. And, truthfully, there have been times when I have agreed with things that every president in my lifetime has said. There have also been times when I have disagreed with things that every president in my lifetime has said.

I have voted for the loser in a presidential campaign more often than I have voted for the winner. But after the votes have been counted and the winner has taken the oath of office, he becomes my president, even if I didn't vote for him. At that point, it is in my interest for him to succeed. If unemployment comes down and GDP goes up, that's good for everyone.

When times are hard, as they are now, I want the president to make the right decisions. I may disagree with him. When I do, I will say so.

But, deep down, I want him to succeed. What good will it do any of us if he fails?

I'm not like one of those smokers with the black eyes. I'd rather be wrong.