As one of the country’s prominent liberal enclaves, Ann Arbor has provided a bubble in which Democrats lord over the few Republicans on campus who muster the energy and courage to defend their political beliefs. From a personal standpoint, all of this has been fine for the past five years. I’ve enjoyed sitting around with friends discussing the epic failures of the Bush administration. It was a comfortable pseudo-debate between who knew, if nothing else, that it was wrong to be a conservative.
But that unity came to an end last semester when I found myself in a politically defensive minority – when I came out as a Hillary Clinton supporter.
To hear it romanticized by the press, Barack Obama’s success on the Democratic delegate scoreboard has been propelled by the grassroots campaigning of college students swept up in the fervor of a youthful, inspiring candidate. The candidate I support, on the other hand, has been characterized as a corrupt representative of an old-school establishment we young people supposedly abhor. Given the weak state of the Republican Party and the time yet to go until the general election, Clinton has taken on the persona of political enemy and threat to Obama Democrats. And, as one of her fans, I’m implicated.
An first-person article on Slate.com, written by a male staffer of the website covering the Clinton campaign, describes the awkward situation of being the lone young man in an office almost entirely peopled by women. The gender divide hasn’t really affected me, though. I don’t have enough pro-Clinton friends of either gender to compare.
The larger surprise was the lack of support from people my age.
At the beginning I thought that perhaps I was just surrounded by Obama fiends, and tried to search out Clinton kinship by talking politics with people outside my immediate circle. Instead, I kept finding myself the guilty Clinton supporter encircled by Obama faithful who demanded to know how I could support a candidate who would spend her presidency partaking in shady backroom politics and paying back favors. How could I support a candidate who was more concerned with getting elected than creating change? Why would I back someone who “couldn’t possibly” beat the Republicans in November?
Unprepared and not used to people on campus questioning my political preferences, I threw back half-hearted answers that only seemed to fuel the Obama endorsements, as well as the so-called cult mentality news sources often attribute to his supporters.
This, I realized, is what it probably feels like to be a Republican in Ann Arbor.
I e-mailed my sister, a talent agent in Los Angeles, confused about how I had become the outsider. Didn’t they realize that Obama was a first-term senator whose key political moment to date was a speech? Didn’t he essentially just spout idealistic hope rhetoric that could never so easily manifest in a complicated political environment?
She said she found herself in the same situation. In one of the few places more liberal than Ann Arbor, her fellow Democrats in Los Angeles had latched onto Obama. They considered her the ignorant heretic who, if they could only explain how much Obama would change the government, would realize the foolishness of her initial choice.
For both my sister and I, every party would inevitably result in someone pointing out the hilarity of our Clinton support and asking if we had changed our minds yet. This is what we used to do to Republicans, both out of curiosity for beliefs so different from our own and out of a need to make them feel embarrassed for those beliefs.
It didn’t appear my passive approach, hoping people would come to their senses and realize Obama wasn’t ready to be president, seemed to be working. I realized I might as well attempt to sway a few of the less fervent Obama fans to my side. Sounding like a jaded critic, I criticized Obama and his supporters’ belief in wholesale change of the government as wishful thinking. The people change, but the machine doesn’t, I’d say. This didn’t really work, though, since it reinforced the image of Clinton as a well-worn part of that machine.
I also tried using football metaphors. Clinton was the seasoned veteran who had some ups and downs, but had the experience to handle high-pressure situations. Obama was the highly touted freshman phenom who wasn’t quite ready to start, but could be a superstar in a few years. Instead of heads nodding in newly enlightened approval, people just started talking about whether Terrelle Pryor will decide to grace the University with his freshman quarterback star power.
Nothing really worked, and Obama’s support base only seemed to grow stronger. I did convince one drunk, undecided friend that he should support Clinton. It was my sole victory in a skirmish against Obama supporters also vying for his vote. The victory was for naught, though. I’m not even sure he voted in the primary.
His lack of participation reflected the general disinterest in the Michigan primary since an ill-advised primary date cost the state’s delegates their seats at the Democratic National Convention. Michigan’s delegate situation had originally angered me, but it actually turned out to be an escape route. Any political debates that went on for too long were easily ended with a remark about how it didn’t really matter who we wanted. This pushed people’s criticism away from me and toward Michigan Democrats.
The tactic worked for a while, but Obama’s strong push toward the Democratic nomination, as well as the possibility of Michigan’s delegates being seated, the odd sense of isolation continues. I look at the so-called liberal media, including The Michigan Daily, with a hint of skepticism – knowing its contributors are likely Obama supporters. I fall in line with campus Republicans who see stories written from his campaign offices, but none covering other candidates’, as a sign of bias. In large part, news segments on TV seem to trumpet Obama while only pointing out Clinton’s missteps. Turning to FOX News obviously doesn’t help.
Fortunately, though, it will all be over soon. Only a few key states remain until the nomination will be announced. Then, no matter who the nominees are, we’ll be back to focusing on the national election. And I’ll welcome that return to comfortable Democrat-Republican animosity, along with the chastisement of Republicans that will inevitably ensue as November nears. Although, this time around I think I’ll lay off a little.
– Punit Mattoo is a Daily Arts Writer and an Engineering graduate student