UPDATE: So you have an idea of how the timeline below shakes out, I was born in December of 1977 and I’m currently 35.
The first thing I can remember, politically, is the Iran-Contra hearings. At the time, I didn’t really care about the details, my major concern was that finally somebody named “Oliver” was in the news and he wasn’t a British street urchin. Unfortunately, he was also some kind of criminal. So that stunk.
I didn’t pay attention again until the Clarence Thomas hearings and the first Gulf War. I remember not being impressed with Thomas’ speech about a “high tech lynching” but I’d be lying if I said I had the same visceral dislike of him that I do now.
I certainly was in favor of the first Gulf War. I collected editions of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel with front page stories about the buildup and eventual war. I remember watching a Peter Jennings ABC News special talking to kids about the war. In many ways, the first Gulf War formed my view of how the U.S. can go about armed interventions – a clear mission, an international coalition, overwhelming force – the opposite of our second war there. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I paid attention to the 1996 election, it was the first in which I would vote and my mom – who I would describe as some sort of far-left person economically who still thinks I’m too conservative on that topic – raised me to be a voter who is informed about the people and parties they vote for. I remember ads about the Dole-Gingrich Congress, and I remember flashes of the debates, etc. and I did proudly vote for Clinton that fall.
But I wouldn’t say I was really into it. It’s hard from my current vantage point to remember it, but while I wasn’t apathetic, I also was not knee-deep into politics like I am now. In other words, I was probably like a normal voter.
Then the Republican Party attempted to remove Bill Clinton from office for having an extramarital affair.
To this day I can remember watching the votes for removal, wondering what the hell was wrong with this party that they could jeopardize our Constitution in order to settle a political score.
The impeachment of Bill Clinton made me into a partisan Democrat. I leaned left, but I might have been open to Republican ideas if they hadn’t made such a spectacular public display of their callous disregard for our founding documents. Even today, the idea of impeaching Clinton – for having an affair – makes me see red.
Little did I know it would get worse. The stolen 2000 election – both the GOP’s coordinated offensive to stop the counting of votes combined with the Democratic Party’s spineless performance – made me into a hardcore Democrat.
From day one of his presidency, I viewed Bush as a sort of usurper. Others in his party had won the White House in my lifetime, but neither Reagan nor his father had oozed into our oval office in that manner.
Then 9/11 happened, and like most good Americans I lost my mind for a little bit. I can remember sitting watching the smoldering ruins of Ground Zero on TV for hours and hours. I remember waking up and just staring at the TV in the middle of the night, wondering when the next shoe would drop and wanting to hear our leader do the right thing. For me, at that moment, I was willing to let bygones be bygones with Bush. Honestly.
And for a little while, he did what I still believe was the right thing – demanding that Afghanistan surrender Bin Laden, then invading when they refused.
Then they started talking about Iraq.
As I wrote on my blog back then – I was more than willing to support some sort of action against Iraq if the Bush administration could have ever credibly made the case of a connection to Al Qaeda.
I read everything, everything I could get my hands on at the time attempting to make the case. I made sure to watch Colin Powell’s UN presentation because I felt that if anything were to convince me, they would have laid it out at that time.
Nothing. I said out loud at the time at the conclusion: “That’s it?”
We were going to war while engaged in global battle against Al Qaeda for horrible reasons. It didn’t make any sense in 2003, and it makes even less sense in 2013.
The Bush administration’s push for war in Iraq, combined with the propaganda they and their allies promoted across multiple platforms and dovetailed with a domestic agenda designed to give the powerful free reign over our society while eradicating the safety net constructed and strengthened by both parties, is what made me into a liberal.
Before the Bush years I was more quick to support military solutions to problems, and while I think they must often remain a viable option, I can’t ever forgive Bush and his allies for the THOUSANDS of Americans who died for no reason, let alone the innocent Iraqis whose lives perished for his failure to lead.
Before the Bush years I supported a lot of the center-right Republican-lite economic policy promoted by Democratic groups like Third Way and the DLC. The Bush years showed me that those ideas, combined with a conservative belief in limited oversight and intervention, was a complete disaster.
The destructive powers of conservatism, on issues foreign and domestic from 2000-2008, ages 22-31 for me personally, are what made me into a liberal.
I’d still argue that I’m definitely not on the “far” left on the real world scale (conservatives insist anyone to their left –including a majority of American voters – is on the “far” left, no matter how moderate they are.)
I consider myself an FDR Democrat (or maybe a Teddy Roosevelt Republican.) I support strong military force when necessary, government oversight of private industry, and a well-funded social safety net to help those in need (which is also cost-effective over the long run for society). I believe in the free market – when it is well policed from the outside. I believe in entrepreneurship and making wealth, but I also believe in people paying their fair share as part of a collective society and giving each of us at the very least the opportunity to succeed.
I believe in the American dream and giving everyone a shot at it and defending it until the last man or woman’s last breath.
You know: Truth, Justice, and the American Way.