The delusion of choice.

Staring aimlessly at a glowing computer screen I began to wonder to myself, what the hell happened? Only five alarmingly quick years have passed and somehow that space feels like a lifetime ago. I was just entering my freshman year in college at Minnesota State-Mankato in the fall of 2008. I was amazed at the levels of awareness and consciousness that were harbored by a growing number of acquaintances. Left and right I was encountering intriguing ideas and thought-provoking conversations. And no conversation was bigger at the time than the presidential election taking place in November; one that pitted a longstanding Arizona senator against a little known senator from Illinois. The country was hungry for an alternative outlet that reflected its ever-changing demographic. Those of voting age had marginally different candidates to pick from that offered two seemingly separate viewpoints. But looking back, has the trajectory of our nation’s stability veered from disaster, or is it still on the brink of it?

We should all still remember the story because it was an important turning point for our country. In January of 2008 the stock market endured a sharp crash that affected prices and prosperity throughout the nation. We were still fighting senseless wars in the Middle East for reasons that we didn’t understand. The last part of George W. Bush’s second-term was turning into a lame-duck that was increasingly impeded by political feuding and inaction. The national debt was now being viewed as a serious indicator of how poorly our country was being run. Over a million people lost their jobs in 2008 leading up to the election. Employment for college educated workers declined as well leaving a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth about the state of the economy. Plus there were a few interesting social arguments to be made at the time. The cases for cannabis legalization and same-sex marriage rights were beginning to become more main stream. The premise of government surveillance and wiretapping had snuck into the conversation as well. People were even beginning to wonder what role large corporations should play during times of economic hardship and steep unemployment. Economics, defense-strategy, new social dogmas. The election of 2008 was arguably the most important election since Bush v. Clinton in 1992. The public was hungry for change. Change. What a powerful syllable. “Out with the old and in with the new,” is what we were craving at the time. And the election presented us with two starkly different candidates that reflected exactly what was on our minds when we stepped into the ballot box.

John McCain (R-AZ) and his running mate Sarah Palin, the first republican vice-presidential nominee, represented the old guard. They stood for the broken policies that had bogged down the economy and the countries growth. They weren’t even on the radar as an option for most of the people I knew. Barack Obama (D-IL) and his running mate Joe Biden, however, came across as something different and fresh. He talked about social uplift; bettering the middle class and making it easier overall for social mobility to grow. He spoke of the importance of unity and teamwork. He called on the left to work with the right, the young with the old, black to work with white and so on. Obama had glided into the picture at a time where you couldn’t flip on a news channel without hearing some kind of anti-Bush rhetoric; much less find a conservative voice in the dormitories of a state-funded liberal arts college. He listened to Jay-Z, struggled with cigarette addiction, was still paying off student loans and understood every mantra expressed by the everyday working man. Needless to say, he was the coolest presidential candidate most of us had ever seen. But the biggest thing he had going for him that year was that he wasn’t a republican. As far as most of the public was concerned George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and any other republican for that matter were entirely responsible for the whole mess we were in. Strangely enough, I voted for Bush rather than John Kerry in a mock election for civics class in 2004.

Feed the hungry, tax the rich, give to the poor, employ the jobless, shelter the homeless, provide care for the sick, educate our children; the credo of liberalistic statehood appears—on paper –to be so virtuous and noble that it’s curious the democrats have ever lost an election. Personally, Obama’s promise to end the raiding and confiscation of cannabis dispensaries in states with medicinal legislation was enough to garner my vote. To me it appeared to be overdue justice in an increasingly unjust world. If the millions of residents in an entire state had voted to enable something, what right did a couple of hundred men and women in Washington, D.C. have to strip them of their choice? Obama roared into college campuses and town halls with celebrities and entertainers of all kinds. Broadening his appeal among young voters while his well thought out speeches attracted voters from the more sensible middle-age demographic.

According to the Roper Center, Obama carried an unbelievable sixty-six percent of the 18-29 year old electorate in 2008, roughly two-thirds, and given that the same age group made up about 18 percent of the voting population, it’s clear the young people of these United States paved the way for his eventual—and surprisingly easy –presidential victory. Perhaps people were just tired of the way things were going under a republican president. Maybe some folks wanted to give a nod of their cap to the first serious, black contender for the White House (yes, take offense, Jesse Jackson). But I think most of us had been swayed by his eloquent speeches, like the one he delivered at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and the way he could strike a chord with the average citizen. The victory was viewed as a victory for the new way of thinking in the modern age. Obama’s first main achievement as president occurred shortly after he took office; shoving the cleverly named ‘Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act’ (Obama-care) through both houses of Congress before penning it into law on March 23rd, 2010. Being under the cut off age of twenty-six for staying on your parents’ insurance I foolishly backed the legislation and was quick to confront anyone who thought  otherwise –even going as far to suggest that some elements of socialism would be good for the country and that anyone who contradicted Obama’s views was a racist. I had been duped by the cult of personality; fighting to uphold something which I didn’t even truly understand for the sake of my own pride. What a tragic sap I was.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that the proverbial wool started to slowly recede from over my eyes. Nothing substantial had occurred or passed through Congress since the clobbering the democrats took during the midterm elections of 2010. Despite numerous news outlets reporting the contrary, our economy didn’t feel like it had recovered at all. Unemployment was still unbearably high. We were still fighting two wars in the Middle East. So too did his promise of ending the DEA-style raids on medical dispensaries turn out to be false. When his agenda was thwarted by his opponents in the House of Representatives, Obama resorted to demonizing rich people, calling for Americans to unite against corporate interests. Even I was a mouthpiece for such a move. I believed that a man should be forced to give more to the common good if his tax return showed he could afford it.  But then one fine day, a friend of mine pointed out the inconsistency in my logic. He brought up how Obama had once promised to bring Wall Street to justice for what they had done to “Main Street” following the most recent stock market collapse. He then proceeded to tell me that instead of sending them to prison, the larger, more bureaucratic banks had been bailed out by the taxpayers, and that none of the CEOs or major players had been arrested or charged with any crime pertaining to the market crash. That bit of information was the beginning of the end for the paper tiger that guarded Obama’s pedestal.

Shortly after this awakening, I began to immerse myself in any and all information on why Obama hadn’t kept his promises. It turns out that Wall Street, with its banks and investment companies, was one of Obama’s biggest donors. It turned out that unemployment wasn’t getting better despite news outlets telling us differently. Although we had been told that they were pointless wars of aggression, the fighting in the Middle East continued while there was no drastic reduction of troops ever produced. Gasoline prices had been over three dollars per gallon for so long that it became routine to empty my savings at the local station. Food prices soared while housing prices and credit ratings began plummeting. What’s worse is that I discovered the fines that would be weighed against a person if they refused to enroll in health insurance after 2015. How could the government levy a fine against a person for not doing something? Isn’t that the definition of fascism? Forcing an average, innocent citizen to do something against their will?

If you are not aware of what the ‘National Defense Authorization Act’—or NDAA –is, then I will step back and wait for you to run an internet search before you rejoin me. Got it pulled up? Great. Long story short, it is a military defense budget that occasionally also includes new rules, codes and statutes. On the final day of 2011, President Obama signed into law what was, at the time, the newest edition of the NDAA. Except this time, with the incoming flux of newly elected republican congressmen approaching in a few short months, the democrat-controlled Congress added a few provisions that they knew would be overlooked and disregarded when debates began to fire up again on Capitol Hill.  This newer version allows for the indefinite military detention of civilians, which includes U.S. citizens, without the writ of habeas corpus or due process of law, violating the Bill of Rights in utter defiance. This use of indefinite detention, we are told, is only for use in cases involving terrorists. However, the legal definition of the word “terrorist” is constantly changing under the feds’ watchful eye. The legal precedent for indefinite detention cited by this piece of malarkey masquerading as legislation is the ‘Authorization for Use of Military Force’ (AUMF). The AUMF was signed into law on September, 24th 2001, thirteen days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. So in all honesty, the NDAA, one of the most influential and expansive laws of these United States, one that spits in the face of over two-hundred years of constitutional law, is backed by legislation that was penned out of fear a mere ten years beforehand in the wake of devastating tragedies.

The evidence has quickly piled up and it’s become blatantly apparent that all the information I have uncovered leaves a daunting truth; one that glares you straight in the eye. Obama lied- about a lot, actually. The economy isn’t fixed. The wars are ongoing. We’re meddling with new countries every day. People aren’t working. The national debt has increased exponentially. Prices are still rising. The current socioeconomic system is neither more equal nor fair. Corporations are still raking in profits at the expense of the average citizen. Innocent people are still being spied on. Obama sold us out to the CIA. Health care is more expensive and confusing now than it was then.  The number of welfare and unemployment applications increases from month to month. The list goes on and on. So did we really vote for change? Or did we vote for a devilishly clever marketing scheme that was paid for by the same rank-and-file tyrants who have clogged the system for the last fifty years?

 

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