A Critical View from a 2008
October 9, 2012
Last week I was given the chance to hear First Lady Michelle Obama speak to supporters on campus. I have to admit, I found myself at the crossroads of positivity and jaded. While I think President Obama has done some positive things for me, I’m not afraid to admit that he’s fallen short in other areas. Let’s also not ignore the fact that he lost the first presidential debate by a landslide.
Four years ago, I stood in that same quad listening to Barack Obama less than a month before the 2008 election. It was the first election I was eligible to vote in, so I felt a sense of duty and entitlement. Hope? Who talks about hope in a presidential campaign? The only speaking points I remember from the 2000 and 2004 elections were the environment, the War on Terror and big oil. Does any of that directly engage with the 16-year-old graduating high school in a couple short years? Not at all.
Political leaders talking about hope- that was different. I just received an associate degree from a community college. Ready to start on my path to the rest of my life. Ready for my generation to step up and take control. Ready to be heard and tell Washington their old ways “aren’t working anymore.”
But when I stood out there today listening to Mrs. Obama’s words on work ethic and the American dream, I realized I’m not the same person I was in 2008. As hundreds of people around me chanted “four more years!” and cheered for the country to go “forward!” one term haunted my mind: social mobility.
This semester in my Social Stratification course, we’ve been examining mobility between social classes. This pushed me to take more critical view of presidential campaigns and the meaning of “success” here in the United States. What becomes apparent, and is no surprise, is that the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. The more inequality there is, the less mobility is available. This means people can work as hard as they want but still have forces working against them. Even the First Lady has a “rags to riches” story, and sharing it leads people to think they too can achieve their goals.
On the other hand, I know mobility can be achieved I’ve seen it, if only in very small instances, in my own family. My grandparents worked minimum wage jobs at the casinos for decades, and here I am attending a university.
Not everything they teach you in college, not everything you read online and not every statement in a political campaign in 100% true. But you have to make decisions. The ability to make those decisions, to listen to candidates and to voice your opinions is what makes America what it is.
We should expect government to do its job, but at the same time we should not depend so heavily on them for our own successes. As for me, I’m not going to play “victim.” Instead, I’m going to do everything in my power make it in this country and hope no leader stands in the way of that.