The Sam Dulik of 2008 would likely be shocked by the Sam Dulik of 2012. Four years ago, I was anObamaphile who traipsed across America from swing states to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, ardently campaigning for Barack Obama. If you know me today or have read my past columns, you’ll appreciate how far I’ve come. With one week to the presidential election, I want to take the opportunity to candidly reflect on my political transformation. Who knows, maybe it is a motif for larger trends that will manifest on Nov. 6.
I was born in San Francisco. Enough said. Growing up in an environment where Democrats are the conservatives and the liberals are the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party, I’m not sure I ever had much of a choice in political identification. In fact, I’d be shocked if I even met an openly Republican person before the age of 15. From my point of view, Republicans were mythic cretins who emerged from the swamps of Dixie to torment us coastal intellectuals.
From a young age, I felt a political spark. I’m the type of guy who can rattle off members of Congress, districts, vote tallies and candidates by memory. I have a fanatic — some might say unhealthy — obsession with the world of American government and politics. It made sense for me to translate my interest into working in Democratic circles.I interned with my liberal member of the state assembly, chaired a student advisory board for my Democratic congresswoman, rallied delegates for a gubernatorial candidate at the 2006 state Democratic Party convention in Sacramento and generally inhaled every opportunity in Democratic politics that was out there for a precocious kid.
With Barack Obama, it was love at first sight. His words electrified me, his message inspired me and the momentum that grew around his campaign consumed me and drove me to become more involved than ever. I took time out of high school to campaign for him in the Nevada caucuses, I moved to Virginia in the summer of 2008 to intern on the campaign there, and I had the privilege of attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Along the way, I met then-Senators Obama and Biden on a number of occasions and have a handful of photos from those encounters that will always remain special to me. Up through Election Day, and well beyond, I proudly flaunted my Obama-Biden gear. Our family’s New Year’s card that winter featured all the kids, and even our dog, decked out in Obama gear with “Wishing you Hope and Change in 2009” written inside. In retrospect, perhaps a bit much.
Coming to Georgetown, I threw myself into College Democrats and was selected as freshman representative on the executive board. Yet over the course of my freshman year, I became disillusioned with what I began to see. College Dems is a terrific organization of passionate and committed people, but its militant left-wing spirit was off-putting to me, a moderate. What’s more, I was shocked by the failure of leadership I saw coming from President Obama. I had ignored the critics who in 2008 had noted his utter absence of any executive experience but started to ask myself if they could have been right all along.
Our government was spending money like a drunken sailor with zero oversight or accountability. Where the president had promised to create the conditions for job growth, the only thing he’d grown was the size of government. Obama had made commitments to focus on big issues like immigration reform but threw them aside as he fixated on an overhaul of America’s healthcare system in a fashion that violated his own initial promises of transparency and compromise. Most offensively, this president promised to govern from the center and bring a new standard of cooperation and common purpose to Washington. I’m tired of hearing people say Republicans stopped him from accomplishing this — Obama simply never tried.As these hard realities whirled through my head, I faced a once unthinkable question: Was I in fact a Republican? I outlined my positions on issues, then compared them with the respective party platforms: strong supporter of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in favor of tax cuts and less regulation, a card-carrying member of the NRA, a committed Christian who believes faith should be more active in society, a devout advocate of American exceptionalism and so on.
“Oh, my God,” I thought, “I’m a Republican.”
I quickly shared the news with friends and family, many of whom weren’t as surprised as I would have thought. I changed my voter registration and immediately signed up with College Republicans. There, I found students who were pragmatically conservative — just nice, normal kids who gave a damn about limited government and building a strong and enduring America. The conservative wave in 2010 was a godsend in my mind’s eye and gave me the opportunity to pursue an internship with the newly-minted House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Looking back on a political conversion that is now two-and-a-half years old, I realize my old self might not recognize me know. In fact, he might sob into an old Obama-Biden t-shirt if he realized I’ve worked for bastions of conservatism like Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the Republican Governors Association and the Heritage Foundation. He’d likely be horrified to learn that I just sent in my ballot to elect Gov. Mitt Romney as the next President of the United States.I continue to believe that Barack Obama is a really good guy who happens to be a really bad president. Leadership should be evaluated on the basis of concrete results, and by that metric, President Obama has not lived up to the promise he represented to millions of Americans — like me — in 2008.
To my Democratic friends, I can only say that the decision to cross the partisan aisle was not nearly as traumatic as I thought — so consider it!If anything, I hope my self-aggrandizing politicalbildungsroman demonstrates that the grass truly can be greener on the other side. As quirky as my story is, I don’t presume to be unique; in fact, I expect millions of young Americans to flip from voting for Obama to Romney as wistful appreciation for America’s challenges pushes us from vacuousnaïveté to strong and substantive policy prescriptions. In one week, can Republican converts redeem themselves? I’d argue: Yes We Can.
Sam Dulik is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.