It’s 1992 and I’m listening to the next President speak on the radio. Despite being 22, this is the first year I can vote in the big election – I turned 18 a week after the last one. For the first time in my life, pride in my country – this must be what they call patriotism – fills my heart. I am a sucker for a well-delivered oration and Clinton provides.

A compulsive reader, I devoured three sections of the L.A. Times regularly throughout my childhood: Comics, Opinion and Calendar*. Comics first, even the dumb ones like Mary Worth and Family Circus, but Far Side, Bloom County and Doonesbury were the ones I was hooked on. Then to Opinion, where I’d read the letters, the editorials and my favorites: Column Left and Column Right. Good writing hooked me, no matter the subject, and because both sides would be well-written, I enjoyed everything, despite my instinctive and familial leanings toward the left. The artful arguments sometimes forced me to rethink my own opinions, sometimes articulated what I’d felt but not been able to say. The Calendar section was one to pore over, preferably in bed while eating Frosted Flakes by hand. It offered a glimpse into a world of culture than my hometown lacked – an assurance that something better was, absolutely, out there.

The combination of Doonesbury and faithful Opinion reading influenced me into the political realm at a young age. In sixth grade, I debated the worth of the Equal Rights Amendment with my nemesis, Jason Richard. I won the debate – although the horrible teacher I had that year wouldn’t actually say so – but lost to Jason in the chess tournament, damn it. I never put my political beliefs into practice in any real sense, like running for student council (dorky!) or getting involved with an actual issue (commitment!), but I could hold my own in an argument about sexism, racism or Prop. 13. This often shocked people who assumed that someone cute, blonde and squeaky-voiced must also be dumb. Granted, most of my behavior during my teen years did center around finding the party, not studying up on the Parties. (And my formal education is woefully full of holes as a result.)

My parents were Democrats while I was growing up. My mom still is, but my dad split when I was 15, turned into a Republican and remarried. Not necessarily in that order.

The man who shed light on how the electoral college actually works, Glenn Stockwell, explained political affiliation in Poli Sci at CR like this: the three main concerns are individual liberty, equality of opportunity and social order. How one ranks those is how one ends up in one party or the other. (This is in regards to the Republican vs. Democrat choice. Obviously, more so-called “fringe” parties may have their own specific agendas.)

Republican priorities in order of importance: social order, individual liberty, equality of opportunity.

Democratic priorities in order of importance: equality of opportunity, individual liberty, social order.

(If I remember correctly. And the Libertarian priorities are self-evident, right?)

I have varied from Democrat to Decline to State to Green and am about to switch back to Democrat for primary voting purposes.

The Political Compass confirms my Left-Libertarian views (hey, I’m like Gandhi!).

The Electoral Compass plants me near Senator Barak Obama, whom I also hear is a great orator. Jaded from Clinton, I haven’t tuned into Obama’s speeches, preferring to read cold analysis on the page instead.

It’s 2008, and I’m listening to Clinton speak on the radio. Damn if he doesn’t get me again – almost. For as much as I remember the sudden inspiration his speech prompted, I also remember the letdown that followed. The Defense of Marriage Act, for example. And I’m pretty sure NAFTA hasn’t turned out to be the best of all possible worlds. Sure he did some good, too. Americorps and the Brady Bill; I’ll give him those.

But the Welfare Reform Bill? That was one of the cruelest swipes at America’s most vulnerable in recent history. I’d have expected it from a Reagan or Bush or Bush, but not from someone whom I’d wholeheartedly believed was on the side of goodness. Of the people. Of me.

To support that bill was to deny that mothers should have the right to take care of their children. To support that bill said the only person of worth was one working a job, any job, regardless of parenting demands or education desires. To support that bill was to tear already struggling families apart and create a modern form of indentured servitude. The Welfare Reform (or “Deform” as HipMama referred to it) made it clear that without money, a person did not have a right to care for her children or to seek an education.

Al Gore later boasted of the great success of this act by pointing to the decline in the welfare rolls. That would be like Ronald Reagan saying he’d cured all the mental patients ’cause gosh-darn, all the mental health clinics are closed. That’s why I would never vote for Gore. He bragged about making people, mostly women and children, invisible.

But I sat in my cold car in the dark driveway for at least 15 minutes after the kids had gone in, listening to Bill speak at Redwood Acres, and once again found myself moved near to tears. Damn, did I want to believe.

* Not a follower of pro sports, I nonetheless read Jim Murray, suckered into his well-crafted prose.

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