Let me tell you, it ain't easy being the lone liberal in a family packed with conservatives.
To my mom's chagrin, it's always been difficult for me to maintain my composure when conversation turns political—there's something about being outnumbered that's made my defense a bit, shall we say, offensive.
During Thanksgiving dinner this year, I lost my shit when my eldest sister unexpectedly morphed into Lou Dobbs and started in on illegal immigrants—to the degree that I had to issue an apology later for name-calling—and that's a shame because, before dinner, I had been Mr. Teflon when faced with what could otherwise become a bloody, multi-front, wine-fueled battle over healthcare reform.
I was especially proud of keeping my lips zipped when the middle sister derisively said that the only possible reason I could be in favor of healthcare reform is because Barack Obama is president. I may have clammed up amid indecisiveness: Do I lay out why hundreds of millions of reasonable minds think the nation's healthcare system ought to be reformed, or do I first parry the insulting suggestion that I hold a particular opinion out of brainless loyalty to a single officeholder? In a rare moment of situational maturity, I just shrugged it off.
But that doesn't mean I've been able to stop stewing over it. If my sister knew better the nuances of my thinking vis-à-vis the president and the healthcare brouhaha, she'd know that I remain irritated at Obama for removing single-payer from the table even before negotiations began. I'm also irked that he didn't state loud and clear long ago that elimination of a low-cost, government-run insurance option was an absolute deal-breaker, especially in light of candidate Obama's insistence that every American be required to have health insurance.
In other words, my sister has no idea how bad it is: Obama's way too conservative on healthcare for her little brother's tastes! And the point is: Even though the historic nature of Obama's election (not to mention his extreme superiority over his opponent) far outweighed our policy differences, this ain't no my-president-right-or-wrong thing.
Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder how large a role my desire for Obama to succeed plays in my judgments of his decisions. Where am I on the continuum that ends on one side with the wife of Union-Tribune columnist Logan Jenkins, who devoted Monday's column to his spouse's unflagging support of the president?
Already, as Jenkins noted, Obama devotees have faced several challenges, not the least of which was last week's escalation of the war in Afghanistan and the subsequent assurance to the nation's hawks this past weekend that U.S. troops will be in country for a long, long time.
Any self-respecting liberal starts with an immediate-withdrawal stance: Bring the troops home, avoid further deaths and catastrophic physical and emotional injuries, stop spending hundreds of billions of dollars overseas when there are fewer and fewer dollars for domestic healthcare, education, libraries, parks and other social services and infrastructure. But it gets complicated for anyone willing to genuinely consider the real-world regional impacts of leaving a country in chaos that we created. Then again, unless we had the capacity to go in with overwhelming force—we don't—and destroy the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and prop up a stable government that could resist the Arab jihadists, who cannot be defeated militarily, there doesn't seem to be any point to muddling along in a halfhearted yet very expensive and increasingly dangerous occupation.
Personally, I don't think Obama's strategy of sending 30,000 more troops will do a damn thing (take that, dear sister!), but Obama inherited a war that probably can't be won from a predecessor who shot first and never bothered to ask such elementary questions as, What will happen after we topple that regime? and How will we get out of there?
The New York Times last week detailed dozens of hours of deliberations in which the president encouraged rigorous debate of the options within his inner foreign-policy circle—the kind of thing that was in disastrously short supply during the last administration. So, no, I don't always agree with Obama, but at least I know that the decisions that come from his White House result from an intensely intellectual, methodical process, rather than from conversations with yes-people and higher powers.
Or maybe I'm rationalizing because I want him to succeed.
In any case, wish me luck. Christmas with the family's right around the corner.