The 2000’s were haunted by 9/11 and its aftermath. In this decade, The Rambler gave us snapshots into students’ 9/11 experiences (“Forum Page (9/11)”), their condemnation of the Iraq War (“Comments on the State of the Union”), and their worries about security theater (“New airport security technology under heavy review”). Based on the paper’s coverage, students were tired of George W. Bush’s hypocrisy and war-mongering, and they gravitated to Barack Obama’s message of hope in the 2008 presidential race. The school’s enthusiasm for Obama’s candidacy shines through The Rambler’s coverage, which takes us on the journey from a hard-fought campaign to a tearful inauguration day.
George W. Bush:
The Rambler published surprisingly few op-eds on Bush’s policies, especially when compared to the number of articles from the ‘80s lambasting Reagan. Still, we can guess the tenor of school discourse around hot-button issues like the War on Terror and the No Child Left Behind Act just from the few articles we have.
Two students responded to Bush’s 2004 State of the Union speech, which was also a preview of the upcoming presidential campaign. In “State of the Union Opinion,” Cameron McCormick provides a rundown of issues from the infamously nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction” to a proposed anti-gay marriage amendment to the constitution. While Bush’s positions are still controversial today, others will be more obscure to modern readers. For example, McCormick mentions Bush’s plan to invest $23 million into drug testing in public schools. Reflecting on Bush’s rhetoric, McCormick writes, “Many of Bush’s opponents and adversaries criticize him for his “macho” approach to politics.” He cites Bush’s descriptions of Iraqi “thugs” and his threat that “The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got.” McCormick concludes, “With the election just around the corner this speech may become a decisive factor in Bush’s second bid for four years in the White House.”
While McCormick tries to keep a neutral tone, Tony Toyama’s “Comments on the State of the Union” pulls no punches in its critique of the speech. Toyama admits that he usually considers Bush’s State of the Union speeches “mildly offensive, if sometimes amusing, because of the constant contradictions. Moreover it is always the same prattle—’ . . . 9-11 (clapping) . . . terrorists (clapping) . . . democracy . . . (clapping).’” However, the 2004 speech made him so furious that he could only bear to listen to the first half. He reserves particular ire for Bush’s hypocritical posturing about the Iraq War. In response to Bush’s denunciation of countries that manufacture and safeguard nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons which could get into the hands of terrorists, Toyama writes, “So we should technically be confronting ourselves,” as well as the private military companies that supplied regimes such as Saddam Hussein’s with these weapons. Toyama also decries the sanctions that the U.S. and the U.N. imposed on Iraq prior to the war, characterizing them as cruelty masquerading as diplomacy: “Prior to the second war in Iraq, children were starving to death at a rate of between five to six thousands [sic] kids per month. Why were our sanctions not even allowing bottled water to enter Iraq?” Perhaps most pointedly, the author calls Bush’s invocation of democratic values hollow given the U.S.’s role in anti-democratic coups in countries like Guatemala and Chile.
While the articles differ in their intent and tenor, both evince a certain weariness with the Bush presidency and its fixations. McCormick frames the speech as the first stage of the presidential campaign, writing that Bush “repeat[s] phrases sure to be heard often this year.” Toyama highlights this theme of repetition even more forcefully: “Today’s State of the Union address was just like every other one,” he reflects. “It talked about terrorism, war, ‘protecting freedom’, and nothing that will elevate this nation’s problems.”
Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign captured the minds and hearts of young people across the country, including many Bush students. The article “Obamarama Comes to Seattle,” for instance, detailed the frenzy that accompanied Obama’s rally at Key Arena on February 8th, 2008. The author Ryan Calver describes the long line for the rally, which over 20,000 people attended, comparing it to Hillary Clinton’s rally that attracted only 5,000 people. Calver writes, “The line was filled with exuberant teachers as well as adults; some were missing school or work, but most were intrigued by Obama’s grassroots campaign that is sweeping across the country.” In one particularly illuminating and indicative moment during the rally, a supporter stumbled, looking disoriented, and Obama quickly gave her a water bottle and called in medics. According to the author, “The situation and its resolution seemed like an excellent example of Obama’s potential as president.”
The piece “change we can believe in” also explores the excitement surrounding Obama’s campaign, and students’ triumphant reactions to his win. While Obama’s widespread support didn’t surprise the author, Elle Thyer was still impressed by students’ level of enthusiasm: “I was not as prepared to discover how invested students were in this election.” A student who worked at a polling place started crying when she learned Obama had won. Yet “This reaction was not unusual; other students were shocked or thrilled.” Nonetheless, some students had doubts about how effectively Obama would be able to govern: “Many students agreed that his two main obstacles would be the struggling economy and foreign policy, in addition to his lack of experience.”
“Inauguration Day” by Estelle Thyer gives even more insight with a first-hand account of the inauguration ceremonies in D.C., which around 1.8 million people attended. Ready for change, the crowd booed at the procession of George Bush and his wife, and were awed by seeing Obama onstage and witnessing Aretha Franklin’s iconic performance of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”: “As she [Aretha Franklin] sang, I had chills, for once not due to the freezing Washington D.C. weather.” When Obama gave his speech, “Every person I could see was smiling, crying, or holding on tightly to a loved one.” Clearly, attending the inauguration was a once in a lifetime experience: “As Barack Obama said his closing words, the electric current running through my body was heightened, and I knew this moment made the waiting, the pushing, the shivering, and everything else worthwhile.”
Still, a few articles are more critical of Obama’s campaign. In “Enthusiasm and Frustration,” the author recognizes the need for diverse political leadership, but still has doubts about Obama’s candidacy. Criticizing Obama for style over substance, they write, “I am hesitant to get caught up in the ‘Obama-mania.’ Obama is a lightweight. Up until a month ago he had no actual policies. ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ are not policies.” Furthermore, both Obama and Clinton supported withdrawing troops from Iraq, and the author fears that the country could become a hotbed of terrorism and conflict as a result. Ultimately, they feel that too much emphasis has been placed on Obama’s ability to inspire, and not enough on his ability to govern: “Unfortunately, the election has been reduced to a personality contest between a charismatic outsider and the boring, calculated insider. I think we all remember what happened last time we voted on personality; do we want to make that mistake again?” It’s a strange sentiment—the author seems to be comparing Obama to Bush in 2004, making Clinton the John Kerry of this race? Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to examine the fears liberals had about Obama back before he had proved himself a remarkable leader.