A Political Fervor That Spawned Facebook Classics (And would Jeff still think Obama’s got the right stuff?)

23 Oct

“Man I like Obama but I hate his sports picks.  Biggest frontrunner ever.”

-Jeff Klein, text message to Dad, June 3, 2009

 

Four years ago, raucous celebrations broke out on college campuses across the country upon the official announcement that Barack Obama had been elected President.  At Middlebury, it was no surprise to anyone that Jeff was right in the thick of the action.  I am so thankful that one of Jeff’s friends took photos at the party he attended and thus captured the joy of that historic night and the early hours of the following day.

There is no question that the 2008 campaign was a turning point for Jeff in that he developed a heightened interest in politics and social issues which continued throughout the last two years of his life.  Evidence of this lies in the fact that before the summer of 2008, the vast majority of the emails and texts that I received from Jeff revolved around sports.  Once the campaign began, however, and until his final days, I would estimate that I received just as many emails and texts from him about politics and social issues as I did about sports.  As an example, I enjoyed the following email that Jeff sent to me just three months after the election, at 1:50am on February 12th, 2009:

 “Tonight I went to hear Al Sharpton speak at Mead Chapel.  He gave an excellent speech—he was very eloquent and made some great points.  He exuded a much different persona than the one that is normally attached to him.”

That simple email says so much about the type of person Jeff was.  He always formed his own views on people and issues.  He never pre-judged anyone, and he ignored generalizations and stereotypes.  He formed a view on Sharpton based on what he heard in his speech, not based on the reputation that preceded him into Mead Chapel that night.

The 2008 election took Jeff’s passion for politics to such a high level that it spawned incidents that have gone down in Facebook lore as instant hall of fame classics.  I can’t resist sharing the two best examples, and those who are Facebook friends with Jeff will likely remember these memorable posts.

On November 29th, 2008, just 3 ½ weeks after the election, Jeff’s Facebook status read that Jeff Klein is “sorry for the mass drunk political text last night!  Happens sometimes.”

When two of Jeff’s friends responded that they had not received the text, Jeff posted, “Haha well maybe it wasn’t mass then.  all i know is i woke up this morning and got like 5 texts from people in some form of either “yay obama!” or “boo obama!” or “i love how you talk politics at 3 in the morning.”  good times.”

Jeff’s status and his follow-up post were vintage Jeff, but in my view, the best part of it all was a response he received from someone who DID receive the text.  It was from one of his KDR brothers, DeHanza Merritt who, as a testament to the sheer uniqueness of Jeff’s post, wrote with exasperation:

“yeahhhhh jeff.  wtf.  you are quite possibly the only person I’ve ever met that does drunk political texts.  for serious.”

I’m sure he WAS one of the only people who sent drunken political texts, because Jeff’s uniqueness and genuine nature are large parts of what defined him.  He frequently did things that no one else would do, because there really is no one else quite like him. And in my opinion, that’s what made him so irresistible.

The next example might lead one to conclude that by April 25th, 2010, Jeff’s interest in talking politics had gone a bit too far and had begun to get in the way of, shall we say, more interesting pursuits. On that day, he posted a status that has to go down as one of the most classic ones in the history of social networking sites.  I recently discovered this on Jeff’s relatively new Facebook timeline.  He wrote the following:

“went to UNC Chapel Hill for the [first] time last night. Met a gorgeous blonde girl at the bar and somehow thought it would be a good idea to start talking politics with her. She thought George Bush was a great president and I was trying to tell her differently…instead of asking what her plans were for the rest of the night. Why am I such a retard?”

The humorous anecdotes above are simply meant to illustrate Jeff’s growing interest in the political arena as he got older, and they lay the groundwork for the more serious question at hand, which is whether President Obama would still have had Jeff’s vote in 2012. 

Surprisingly, the answer to this question is not a no-brainer and is complicated by the fact that despite Jeff’s unequivocal support of Obama in 2008, he was not just some left wing ideologue who blindly waved the Democratic flag regardless of the country’s situation.  In fact, it seemed that Jeff had an epiphany in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day in 2009, just weeks before Obama’s inauguration.  After partying that New Year’s eve in the NYU area, it became clear to him, based on his interactions that night, that he had no tolerance for extreme views on either side of the political spectrum.  Jeff’s first text message to me of the New Year made that abundantly clear:

“I’m no longer a liberal.  I’m a moderate.  These stupid quirky liberal intellectuals at NYU disgust me almost, if not as much, as social conservative Palin supporters.”

Though his words were a bit crude after a long New Year’s celebration, the message behind them was clear.  Jeff was extremely analytical, and he had always believed that a close examination of issues and the facts surrounding them was essential to forming a view.  He abhorred the partisan politics that lead members of both parties to take uncompromising positions and result in government gridlock.  Jeff would have thoroughly analyzed Obama’s performance these past four years and would similarly have given Mitt Romney every opportunity to convince him that he had the best plan to reduce unemployment and the deficit, to stimulate economic growth, and to do so without compromising our military strength and important social programs through excessive spending cuts.

Not even two months into Obama’s presidency, Jeff was already monitoring his approach to and progress in dealing with the financial crisis.  On March 4th, 2009, he sent me the following email sharing the latest article he had read on that topic:

“Here’s a counter to the idea that Obama’s not doing anything to fix the financial crisis”.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/us/04states.html?_r=1 

When I pointed out to Jeff that it wasn’t surprising that such an article was published in a newspaper that was known as a left wing publication, he was shocked.  He emailed back:

I explained to Jeff that I was half joking when I wrote that about the article but that it was certainly true that the papers’ editorial page is where one would find the left-leaning views that I referred to.  His email had reflected both his innocence and idealism at that time, which is why he found it difficult to accept that a well known newspaper would be anything but perfectly neutral in all parts of its publication.  Jeff was intrigued by what I had just taught him, and he wanted to pursue it further.  He wrote:

I pointed out that it didn’t necessarily work that way, and I gave Jeff examples of newspapers that were known right-wing publications such as the notorious New York Post.  That didn’t surprise him, as he shared this disgraceful example:

“That makes sense that the NY Post is far right wing.  That would explain that political cartoon a couple of weeks ago that depicted Barack Obama as a monkey.”

I very much enjoyed playing a part in Jeff’s growing political awareness, and it is one of the sets of memories that I will always treasure.  And in honor of those memories and despite my own political leanings, I will be
proudly wearing Jeff’s Obama ’08 T-shirt on this Election Night.

And I didn’t know, until just finding this shirt in Jeff’s room last week, that Jeff had written on the back:

Intelligence > Ignorance

Yes We Did.

But here’s the bottom line and the answer to the question I’ve posed.  Jeff’s euphoria over Obama’s victory in 2008 had slowly but steadily waned over the ensuing two years.  Although Jeff’s experience of having to search for a job for six months after graduation before landing one was better than that of many 2009 graduates, it still made an impression on him.  As a magna cum laude graduate of Middlebury College, the fact that he couldn’t write his own ticket impressed upon him how dire the nation’s employment situation was and that it needed to be fixed.  With unemployment still hovering near 8% today, he would have definitely given Romney a fair hearing.

But Romney would have deeply disappointed Jeff, starting with his insensitivity to women’s issues.  With Carey as such a guiding force in his life, this would have been a deal breaker for Jeff.  Romney’s refusal to release tax returns, his frequent verbal gaffes (including insulting our closest ally, the U.K., at the Olympics), his lack of a specific deficit reduction plan even at this late date,  and his generally uninspiring performance as a candidate would have just been icing on the cake.  As Jeff wrote in 2008, Obama’s “steadiness, intellectual curiosity and depth of knowledge” were crucially important qualities to have in a president.  He would have found Romney lacking in those areas.

And so it is clear to me that if Jeff was still with us on this coming Election Day, he would pull the lever next to President Obama’s name once again, albeit with less conviction and enthusiasm than he did in 2008.

In my last post, I shared a small portion of Jeff’s article from October 23rd, 2008 in The Middlebury Campus, entitled “Obama’s got the right stuff”.  I thought it would be fitting, with Election Day 2012 beckoning, to end today’s post by sharing the complete article that Jeff was so excited to write.  I hope you enjoy it.

 

This past Sunday, the Obama campaign got an enormous boost from an official endorsement by one of the most respected political figures in the country, Colin Powell.  Powell toted Senator Obama as a “transformational figure.  He is a new generation coming onto the world stage, onto the American stage.”

But even more astute was another comment Powell made of Obama, in which he stated that Obama has “displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge.”  That statement could not have been more on the money, and it epitomizes the issues that I’d like to discuss in further detail.

Simply put, in these most extraordinary of times, we need an intelligent president.  One that, unlike our current president George Bush and Republican nominee John McCain, recognizes that not every issue is black and white, that—believe it or not—some issues actually require complex reasoning and analysis.  Moreover, we need a president who understands that the dreaded “flip flop” label, which Republicans so shamelessly attached to John Kerry back in 2004, can actually have a positive connotation.  It means that you have the intellectual capacity and sound judgment to adjust to changing circumstances and make the correct decision, the very quality that George Bush sorely lacks.  But hey, at least he’s a “strong, decisive leader” that makes decisions straight from the gut.  That’s gotten our country so far, right?

In a recent interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, Obama proved exactly how his ability to think critically about complex issues and adjust his positions to changing circumstances would benefit the country.  After Lauer pointed out that U.S. officials and Iraqi officials have been negotiating an agreement whereby U.S. combat troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011—an agreement that would conflict with Obama’s stated withdrawal timeline of 2010—he asked if such an agreement, if formalized, would become meaningless in an Obama presidency.  In other words, would Obama still try to impose his current position on the country and pull out of Iraq by 2010?  Obama answered, “If I ever make a determination that the American people will be safer by me making adjustments, I will make those adjustments because that’s my job.  My assessment right now is that in 16 months, we can have our combat troops out.  We will still have a residual force there.”  Can you ever imagine McCain giving such a thoughtful, candid answer?  In a similar situation, he would probably regurgitate for the umpteenth time that “My friends, I will make sure we win the war in Iraq and win it with honor.”

Thus, the need to elect an intelligent leader should be paramount to voters’ decision of whom to vote for.  It is a sad reflection on our society that in fact many people base their decision on who should hold the highest office in the land on mostly irrelevant issues.  While I have no exact statistics to confirm my point, I think it is reasonable to assume that numerous citizens throughout the country who plan on voting for McCain are doing so based on the misguided notion that Obama somehow lacks “family values” or isn’t a “true American.”  What does that even mean?  And more to the point, why do so many people fall into the trap of letting those shallow, uninformed beliefs overshadow what we should focus on: who has the ability to make the most well-informed, reasoned decisions that will benefit our country as a whole?  To take a specific example of misplaced priorities that particularly irk me, I can only look on in incredulity when I read that there are actually people who would vote against Obama and all he brings to the table because their priest told them that it would be a sin to vote for the pro-choice candidate.  I mean, seriously?  I consider myself fairly religious, but that is the type of fear mongering that inhibits the electorate’s ability to make a rational, informed decision on who would make the best president.

What I’m trying to say is that in less than two weeks, we have a decision to make that will substantially affect the future of our country.  Beginning on January 20, 2009, will our country be led by an impulsive, erratic, “every issue is black and white” President McCain, or will it be led by, as Colin Powell so nicely summarized, a man who displays steadiness, intellectual curiosity, and a depth of knowledge—a leader by the name of President Obama?  For the sake of our country, I hope that it is the latter.

-Jeff Klein, Notes From the Desk, The Middlebury Campus, 10/23/08

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: