Editorial: Even Cynics Have Hope

Hillary ClintonAn editorial by Nick Kowalczyk

I am twenty-eight years old, a political cynic—someone savvy enough to deflect the warm, fuzzy feelings of sentimentality, especially for politicians. So I am stunned to find myself believing in Barack Obama.

Too young to have experienced Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign, I was taught by history books that optimism and awe for an American presidential contender died in the 1960s. Certainly my lifetime hasn’t given me many inspired examples. I don’t hope for a return of Ronald Reagan’s let’s-get-greedy 1980s any more than Bill Clinton’s let’s-abandon-the-working-class-with-NAFTA 1990s. Too many well-publicized scandals, lies, letdowns, wars, and moments of national divide have turned my stomach on American politics, and for this I blame the leaders of my lifetime.

Yet I find myself believing in Barack Obama. How weird.

Perhaps it’s because he can write about himself engagingly, intellectually and clearly. Perhaps it’s because he can speak about himself and to me when I see him, and he speaks like he writes—engagingly, intellectually, and clearly. Perhaps because he seems thoughtful and charming like any smart, unrehearsed person should. In politics I don’t know what this word means anymore, but I think Barack Obama has integrity.

I’ve attended three Obama events in my home of Iowa City: an Earth Day rally, a town hall meeting, and an early December rally at the University of Iowa. Each event overflowed with energy, optimism, and pride that America could be lucky enough that a person like him—a person who seems so real, so genuine, so thoughtful—might become America’s next President.

Can we be so lucky? Some Iowans actually are asking this, in this day and age—can you imagine?

A graduate student on holiday break, I soon will be home in the Cleveland area visiting my girlfriend from mid-December until mid-January yet we plan to drive back to Iowa—nine hours—so I can caucus for Barack Obama on Jan. 3 and drive back to Ohio on Jan. 5. Is this the insanity of the ‘audacity of hope’? I don’t know, but it feels like a rebirth to believe.

Rumors say that Hillary Clinton’s campaign runs on political calculation fueled by fear. Hence, I suppose, her press-release attacks about Barack Obama’s presidential ambitions since kindergarten and the planted questions at her Iowa events. I have witnessed the truth of such rumors.

On July 3, I attended a Hillary Clinton rally which involved a stump speech of poll-tested truisms such as “America needs a president who sets goals!” Located on public ground near the university’s student union, the event drew a crowd so large I watched it from a nearby bridge over the Iowa River. I stood beside a man with a posterboard protesting, “Hillary Voted for This War.”

I saw campaign workers hassle this man and call the cops to eject him. Unaided by police, who permitted this apparent crime of free speech, a campaign worker said into his headset, “911! The police won’t help! What do we do!?!”

911? I couldn’t believe what I was eavesdropping.

Next I saw nervous volunteers carrying signs by the armload. “Who’s excited to see Bill and Hillary!” “Who wants to welcome the Clintons!” “Take a sign!” “Take a sign!” “Take a sign!” Obviously fearful of news cameramen capturing this conflicting opinion, the campaign manipulated its supporters like puppets. One man with two posterboards taped together pushed the protester aside and held a pro-Hillary sign in front.

Furious with the Clinton campaign’s pettiness—I never saw anything resembling this at the three Obama events— I took one of the protester’s spare signs and held it throughout the Clintons’ whole appearance. (As I said I’m cynical, but more so I hate being insulted by leaders who consider Americans dumbly passive).

Then during Bill’s introduction for Hillary he pointed toward the bridge and said, “There’s a sign up there for a group I believe in. It’s called ‘Fathers for Hillary’ for young girls.”

Suddenly hundreds of people turn around looking at me. Holding my own “Hillary Voted for This War” sign I stood directly to the left of ‘Fathers for Hillary.’ Was it a delicious turnabout? You bet. I even appeared in the July 4 edition of The Rocky Mountain News as an ‘outraged’ rally attendant. But a better turnabout will be my sidelining of cynicism on Jan. 3.

My sixteen hours of driving will involve audacity and hope for someone I believe in. I hope the caucus’ results won’t leave Americans disappointed in politics, yet again.

-Nick Kowalczyk 12/30/07

1 Response to “Editorial: Even Cynics Have Hope”

  1. 1 MJB

    Hi Nick,

    I’m from Rochester, NY - and on behalf of those of us who don’t live in Iowa, I want to thank you, thank you, thank you! for driving back to Iowa to caucus for Obama. The same hope you feel stirring where you are is alive and electric here.

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