My early voting ballot is almost complete. I have done my reading, finished my research, and ignored a sufficient amount of robo-calls and attack ads. I have made my choices for county school superintendent, state representatives, and even U.S. senator. But there is a gaping hole at the top of my ballot.
It is November 6, 2012, and after more than a year of carefully following the presidential campaigns I still do not know which candidate I am going to vote for. I am an independent voter but registered as a democrat. On my Facebook page I identify my political position as "a morally conservative Democrat or a fiscally irresponsible Republican."
I live on the Navajo Reservation, and for the past six years I have been brainstorming and discussing ways our country can more intentionally include Native American into the political process. And this was going to be my break out year; I was going to do everything I could to engage with the candidates. I knew from history that they would make very little, if any, effort to court the Native American vote. So I made plans to engage with them. In January, I flew to Iowa and New Hampshire, where I attended rallies, stopped by campaign offices, and visited campaign events. I wrote letters that I hand delivered to campaign offices and also published online. I also made numerous visits to Washington, DC. I wrote letters to the White House and traversed the halls of the Senate and House offices on Capitol Hill in an effort to reach out and engage with anyone who would talk with me.
And after 12 months, thousands of dollars in travel expenses and weeks away from my community and my family.....NOTHING. The Native American vote was once again largely ignored, and I did not get a single response from either candidate to discuss native issues.
I should have known from the beginning it was going to be an uphill battle.
Last November Mitt Romney released a campaign ad where he promised that he "would never apologize for the United States of America.” This did not sit well with me as a Native American, so I responded with an article that I published on December 19, 2011 (Indianz: Mitt Romney vows never to apologize for US).
Through some comments that were made to that article I learned that exactly 2 years earlier President Obama had signed the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326). On page 45 of this 67 page bill, was an "Apology to Native Peoples of the United States." This apology had never been announced, publicized, or publically read by Congress or President Obama. Even the press release from the White House regarding the signing of H.R. 3326 made absolutely no mention of the enclosed apology.
So now I was in a real quandary. On one side of the aisle there was a candidate who was boldly stating to the country (and the world) that he would "never apologize for the Unites State of America." And on the other side of the aisle was the sitting President who did apologize but never bothered to tell anyone about it.
Over the past year, I did not spend a lot of time listening to the rhetoric from either campaign, nor did I put a lot of weight in either of the candidate’s words. Instead, I tried to look at their character, their courage, and their integrity.
It's hard to believe either candidate is going to be a true advocate for fiscal responsibility when this has been the most expensive election in history. Over $2 billion has been raised and spent on this campaign! Yes, that is billion with a "B." To me that is like applying for a position as a dietician or a personal trainer and walking into the interview 100 pounds overweight with a Big-Mac in one hand, a Super-Big Gulp in the other, French fries stuffed into your pockets, and chocolate frosting covering your lips! It’s hard to take their words seriously.
It is also hard to believe the promises of either candidate to reach across the aisle and lead our “entire” country when almost every word coming out of both of their mouths for the past year has an attack on the other. If a presidential candidate is truly serious about reaching across the aisle and forging some sort of compromise, you would think that process would begin by showing a little respect to his political opponent and his ideas.
I am not bitter, nor am I despondent. I merely feel a need to voice my thoughts and articulate some of my frustrations before this campaign is over. I also want to encourage our candidates, both of them, one last time:
“You can do better.”
You can get your message out without breaking the bank. In age of the internet, we live in a world where you have the ability to communicate with a national, even global audience, for the price of a library card. A billion dollars may add more flash and repetition, but it does very little for the content and substance of your message. A little creativity goes a long way and can save a ton of money.
You can also gain support without demonizing your opponent. There is a serious cost to campaigning primarily to your base. If you want to be President of the entire country, then you need to be willing to stand in the middle, between all sides, EVERY day. If you can't learn to do that when you are campaigning for office, then you will not be able to do it effectively when you are in office.
And finally, regarding the apology:
I hope Mr. Romney learns that the world is run through relationships and that the office of the President of the United States is the most relationally complex office he will ever encounter. If he wants to be taken seriously as a candidate for this office and if he hopes to positively represent our country in the US and throughout the world, then I promise him, he will have to learn to apologize.
And while I appreciate the sincere efforts that President Obama has made to engage with Native leaders and communities, I feel a strong need to exhort his courage. For when you do apologize, you MUST communicate it. Clearly. Humbly. And respectfully. Ignoring it doesn’t help. Stuffing it in a bill that no one will ever read doesn’t help. And vaguely referencing it in a proclamation three years later doesn’t help.
No one would marry a spouse or go into business with a partner who vowed never to apologize. And no marriage or business partnership would last if one of the partners never communicated their apologies, but instead just assumed they were known.
President Obama and Governor Romney, if you want my vote for the office of the “most powerful man in the world,” then you going to have to demonstrate an ability to be one of the humblest men on earth.
So who am I going to vote for? I am not sure. But fortunately I have a few more hours to figure it out.
Mark Charles is a speaker, writer and consultant from Fort Defiance, Arizona (Navajo Nation). He is a graduate of UCLA and the organizer of A New Conversation: A Public Reading of the US Apology to Native Peoples. He also consults as a Resource Development Specialist for Indigenous Worship at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and is the Primary Investigator on a study conducted through Brigham Young University on the Navajo perception of time. (Twitter: @wirelesshogan, Web: wirelesshogan.com)