Wednesday, November 7, 2012

my identity politics.

Tonight’s election was important to me.

In my ferocious pursuit of objectivity, maybe what you’d call my dogmatic slumber, I’ve rarely allowed myself to entertain my emotions during decision-making. But now in the interests of objectivity, even while I work to distance myself from them, perhaps it’s time to admit I have emotions.

Tonight’s victory was important to me.

While Barack Obama is a politician, and as such often seems to seek change slowly, strategically, and even sycophantically at times, I can’t help but recognize the immense difference that four years of politically expedient incrementalism has in amounted to aggregate. As I watched the screens of my bar flicker to cheers that recreational marijuana use, gay marriage, and reproductive freedom ballot measures were winning across the board, I couldn’t help but feel pride. While I still question any advance of democracy in spite of liberalism, in America, democracy still advances liberalism. This is important to me.

Tonight’s victory speech was important to me.

Despite where I am in life, I think it’s important for me to recognize where I came from. I was born to immigrants in North Carolina as the first American in a family of five, to recently married refugee parents with political asylum from Australia, and to a brother and sister that remained in Iran to weather the Iran-Iraq War that my parents’ taxes were ironically funding as America played both sides of the conflict. (Not like politically apathetic artists wearing keffiyehs ironic, but like parents funding bombs dropped on their children ironic.)

Despite the wars and political obstacles, I was lucky enough to meet them; my sister when I was 4, and my brother when I was 12. I still remember meeting my sister for the first time in our small DC apartment where we shared a room. I looked up from playing in my PJs, as friendly then as I am now, and yelped “Hi, who are you?!” It turns out she was a pop-obsessed teen straight out of Persepolis, a package deal that included Madonna and Richard Marx.

(Right-to-left: Me, my dad, and my cousin/future best bud Andre, a product of my young Persian aunt teaching Farsi to a young U.S. Special Forces soldier named Tim.)

As I piece together my origins, it sometimes seems almost too easy to forget. I recall a conversation I had with my parents about why it was so difficult to recover any family property in Iran. Quite simply, Baha’is are not allowed to own property in Iran. (My father’s family is Baha’i.) Forgetting your origins is a luxury that not all governments afford you, and the aforementioned persecution is a sentiment not all democracies would reject. Despite and during both Baha’i and Baptist Sunday school, I was a very early atheist. Atheism would be an ideology I’d imagine even some Americans (I wonder how they tend to vote) would like to persecute, much less Iranians. The prospect that I could’ve grown up a closeted liberal atheist in Iran makes it that much more fortunate that I escaped that fate.

In recognition of these origins, I think it’s important for me to acknowledge, then, that when Obama speaks in stories, he consistently speaks my story. I invite you to consider why these lines from Obama’s victory speech connected with me:

These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

While Obama consistently mentions that “In America, no two families look the same,” I invite you to consider why the Republican narrative consistently doesn’t connect with me, minimizes my narrative, and why I don’t believe this to be pure coincidence.

While many chest-thump and browbeat about American freedom, they somehow frequently omit the transformative narrative that my freedom has cast, focusing instead on their entitlement to a marginally higher percentage of their hard-earned money. Sure, freedom from higher marginal tax rates is one kind of freedom among many, but I can’t help but feel that their fervent focus minimizes my story and many others. Calling Obama a tyrant because he wants to let the Bush tax cuts expire just doesn’t seem compelling when your identity as an American is a product of real tyranny, and when many (most) who’ve escaped real tyranny fear Mitt Romney for his disconnected world of privilege far more than Barack Obama for his suspiciously hard-to-spot soviet socialism. (Sarcasm, duh.)

When a political party is willing to appease intolerance or indifference towards the liberties fundamental to America’s many diverse and alternative lifestyles, seemingly in order to defend misguided economic and regressive tax policies that entrench those who’ve had multiple generations to benefit from America’s liberty, I can’t help but wonder: Despite my disdain for its ad hominem nature, is there merit to arguing in the domain of identity politics?

I don’t know.

Is there merit to welling up with pride hearing my mother, a brand new American citizen who despite all her flaws has endured enormous hardships to be where she is today, speak in broken English about how important it is that her first chance in her life to vote count for Obama in Virginia? Is there merit in thinking of her when the map turns blue? Is there merit in disdain for a Republican party that doesn’t seem to speak, understand, or care for her story?

For formulating objective opinions on propositions, I’d again say I don’t know, but I’m also not the only one who shares these sentiments. If my story and sentiment sound strange to you, I would venture something that might sound yet stranger to you: it’s not strange at all. It’s increasingly the American story, and it’s also the story of why the Republican Party is failing.

The Republican Party is failing to recognize the story of where almost all Americans began and forgetting the stories of how their America came to be. You can’t understand America by ignoring the truths that define so many Americans, or in Mitt Romney’s estimation, about 47% of them. You can’t understand America when “the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner” is more likely to illicit jeers than cheers, conjuring images of a black drug-dealer on welfare. You can’t understand America when you claim “I built that,” denying the advantage of being born to privilege in America, yet oxymoronically coveting that advantage by actively denying it to many who’ve already begun to build the American dream.

Freedom has become a marketing term, used in politics more than anywhere else, to paint bogeymen while failing to articulate how they’re an enemy to any freedom beyond freedom from marginal tax increases (which is how John Roberts and I both ultimately characterize Obamacare). As I sit here staring at a promotional “Chase Freedom” credit card balance transfer offer, a testament to freedom’s marketability, perhaps it’s Mitt’s 53% of real Americans that’ve forgotten what freedom must’ve meant to their forefathers, a freedom that is oxymoronic to browbeat about.

Their own family histories certainly have similar stories to both mine and many families in the demographics Republicans just can’t seem to capture.

As a student of economics, money, and banking, while there is merit to some of the Republican economic platform, it exists within a context where Republicans have superimposed their narrow experience of America over the actual picture of the real America. The merits of Republican policies pale in comparison to the intolerance and threats to individual liberty implicit in the Republican extremism that propels the platform.

If the identity of these implicit threats eludes you, I implore you to ask your fellow Republicans, the old-school moderates who’ve spent the obstructionist era scratching their heads, for further information. Until the right-wing fringe begins to grasp some of these concepts, the demographic trends will continue to bury the Republican Party.

Sometimes it strikes me that in so many ways, I was almost a kid who didn’t make it; a kid who’s story today’s Republican Party wouldn’t care to tell. Yet here I am, I’d like to think by some merit of my own, but also by many strokes of fate and fortune; a first generation American, a government-subsidized graduate of America’s best public university, a former Fed bank regulator turned private sector consultant in NYC, amidst the cross-hairs of a couple super-storms and sleeplessness, awash in a sea of relevant history, so proud and so happy.