My father is not well. He readily admits his time is short, and the encroaching spectre of The End has made him a more reflective man than I have ever known him to be. Over the past few weeks, he’s spent a lot of time talking about what he will take away from this life when he leaves it. Difficult stuff, to be sure, but hours I will cherish.
To my surprise, Dad has not moved toward religion in his last days. Instead, he’s found his spirituality in family and friends. According to him, the people he loves are the ones who have filled his life with light, not the promises made in his Bible. Last week he said Christianity always gave him the same comfort he remembers from childhood–the feeling of cuddling up by a warm fire with a good story and a parent to reassure him that in the end, everything would be okay. But it’s the end. And everything is not okay.
Dad is a self-made man who came up from nothing. To him, personal responsibility is the foundation of our society. He didn’t believe that men, black or white, should rely on anyone, especially not the government. But as he watched his life savings drain away with his health, and the dreams of his children fade as we struggled to pay the bills to keep him alive, that ideology began to feel disconnected from reality. The Conservatism he taught me encouraged unrepentant faith in the Free Market–if you believe, you will prosper. But we believed. And we are not prospering. We are withering away.
Dad has long since abandoned the Conservative cause–not just because he felt betrayed by George W. Bush, but because his perspective on life changed the longer he lived it. As many of you have pointed out, I’ve begun to question my own devotion to the party as a result. In recent weeks, the debacle of McCain/Palin has accelerated my move away from Conservatism so rapidly, I can’t even see my old mindset on the horizon anymore. And in the wake of my retreat, a new question has emerged: why did I hold these beliefs so close for so long? Maybe I, like my father, needed that comfort of a parent reading a storybook, assuring me that I would be safe and secure if I would just close my eyes and go to sleep.
I feel like a stranger to my all-too-recent self. There was an obstinance to my thinking, a stubborn determination to stick to the “values” of Republicanism, even when the moral failure of that ideology was staring me in the face. It is remarkable that in spite of the disaster of the past 8 years, so many of us continue to believe in that story, to stay Republican on faith alone. We have been told from a young age that belief is the greatest virtue, that faith makes a man. But it doesn’t. In this case, faith just makes a good consumer.
We are the wealthiest country in the world, and yet we are the only industrialized nation where a health problem can bankrupt an otherwise secure financial existence. We tell our citizens that cutting taxes for the wealthiest will somehow “trickle down” to them, but it simply doesn’t. The idea that every man must live and work for himself has not served us well. If we are to survive, we must embrace a shared purpose.
So I will vote for Barack Obama on November 4th.
I will vote for him because I want to learn from our past and evolve to a better future. I will vote for him for my children, in hopes that their American story will not mirror mine. But most of all, I will vote Obama because my father would have done it, as a final dissertation on his experience in this life. He may not have the opportunity to put his change of heart into action. But by changing me, he already has.