As a long-time Democrat, it will come as no shock to anyone that I am supporting Obama in this year's election. However, as opposed to previous election years, I really feel strongly about Obama, and really feel that he is the best choice for the U.S. That's not to say that I only supported Gore and Kerry out of devotion to the Democratic party, but I didn't feel as strongly about them as I feel about Obama. Obama is clearly the best candidate that the Democrats have put up since Clinton.
In 2000 and 2004, I was as cynical as anyone else about the two candidates. It was a common refrain during those election years that we were faced with choosing the "lesser of two evils," and that was a point I agreed on. Where I disagreed was on which candidate represented the "lesser."
Be that as it may, my feeling this year has been entirely different. Although I don't hear the "lesser of two evils" refrain as often this year as I heard in 2000 and 2004, it still seems to be a somewhat common feeling, particularly among moderates. This year, however, I don't agree. I think, first of all, that both candidates are better than either candidate in 2000 and 2004. Second, I think Obama is a clearly better candidate than McCain, and one of the best overall presidential candidates in recent memory. I think people have gotten so used to being cynical about presidential elections, that even when two good candidates are put forth, people still want to stick to the old "they both suck" idea. I mean, let's face it – everyone shares the feeling that politicians are all liars and will do or say anything to get elected. What most people don't seem to realize is that politicians are like this because the American voting public demands it! If a politician got up and ran for a major office (like president, for example), and didn't play the politics game, and didn't "compromise" his stances, and didn't "act" presidential, he or she wouldn't have a snowball's chance in Sudan of getting elected president.
If the American public thinks their politicians are all scheming, double-crossing liars, the American public only has itself to blame. Our politicians are us. They are a reflection of us, and of our demands upon them.
Cynics aside, I think we have two reasonably decent candidates this year, and I think we can reasonably feel good about the future, because I don't think a presidency by either of these candidates will be the abominable failure that Bush's presidency was doomed to be. Both of these men are intelligent, well-spoken, full of ideas, commanding of respect, and experienced in Washington politics. Bush was none of those things.
But I'm choosing Obama over McCain, and here's why.
- It's no secret – I admitted it above, after all – that I am a Democrat and have been throughout my entire adulthood. In fact, I've voted for a Republican only one time, and that was in a congressional election when the only person running for the seat was a Republican. That person – Ernie Fletcher – proved to be a charlatan and a crook, and I deeply regretted even that one Republican vote. He later was elected Governor of Kentucky – the first Republican governor in something like 40 years. His term was full of scandal, backdoor deals, partisan-driven witch hunts, bankrupting the state government, and good ol' boy politics, and he lost his re-election bid in a near landslide. As such, it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am supporting Obama. Democrats simply represent my worldviews better than Republicans.
- I was a Hillary supporter for a very long time. In fact, as far back as the summer of 2007, I bought a Hillary '08 bumper sticker and had that on my car for many months. However, after Obama came to prominence late last year, and especially early this year, I couldn't help but take notice. He had personal charisma. He had convictions and he stuck to them. He didn't give in to partisan-fueled nonsense (like with the whole flag lapel pin thing). He stood up for himself without pandering (like with the whole "Obama's pastor is a left-wing nut" thing). He gave straight answers without spin.
I suppose the first thing that really won me over to Obama was something quite innocuous. During the early days of the primaries, when Hillary still had prominence, there was a debate or a question and answer session or something that all the candidates attended. One of the questions was something like "What is your biggest personal weakness?" or something like that. Hillary and all the other candidates gave the standard political answer (we might call it the "Sunday School" answer), saying things like "I just care about the American public so much!" and "I guess my biggest weakness is my dedication to my job" and yadda, yadda, yadda. Well, Obama was actually called on first. And when he answered, he said something like, "Well, I dunno, I guess I'm pretty disorganized. My desk is always a mess."
That comment, alone, particularly in light of how everyone else responded, really struck me as raw and authentic. The next day, Obama was interviewed on NPR, and was asked about that comment. The reporter pointed out how the other candidates had given Sunday School responses, and then asked Obama if he would have answered differently, had he not been asked to respond first. Obama laughed and first said something like, "I was asked what I thought was a pretty simple question, so I gave what I thought was an honest and simple answer. I suppose I should have said my biggest weakness was wanting to help little old ladies cross the street." He went on to assert that no, he wouldn't have answered any differently if he'd had a chance to hear what the others said, because the difference between him and the other candidates is that he doesn't spin things out – he just gives straight answers.
That really impressed me, and I have more or less been a fan of Obama ever since. The Hillary sticker came off my car within a matter of weeks, and I ultimately voted for Obama for the primary.
- Obama is educated, intelligent, and charismatic. These are traits that are important in a leader, and command respect, not only from American voters, but from other countries/world leaders as well. One of my biggest beefs against Bush is that he is an embarrassment. Having Bush as the American president is sort of like bringing your crazy uncle to the company Christmas party. People respect intelligence and charisma. I think Obama – by the simple virtue of his personal characteristics – will help repair America's damaged reputation in the international community. When you elect as president the pampered douchebag sitting at the end of the bar with a martini glass – the one who has never worked a day in his life and has been handed everything he ever wanted on a silver platter – when you elect that person to the presidency, you get what we've had the last 8 years.
- I have been patently opposed to the Iraq war since the day it was first mentioned in the media in the days after 9/11. I knew then, as I know now, that Bush was simply exploiting the patriotism and outrage of Americans after 9/11 to drum up support for an otherwise insupportable invasion of Iraq. I knew his claims about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" were bogus – that much was evident from the reports of the U.N. weapons inspectors who had actually been in Iraq and had found no evidence to support Bush's claims. This doesn't make me a psychic – there were millions of people who were skeptical of what Bush was saying – anyone willing to use their brains could have seen through those transparent lies. As such, I have great respect for Obama for having stood out against the war, publically and openly, from its very inception. He led anti-war rallies in Chicago – while he was still a state senator – as far back as October of 2002, the same time that the U.S. Congress gave Bush authority to go to war.
- He has not pandered to the religious right. A professed Christian, Obama has, nevertheless, stood up to the machinations of the religious right, recognizing that they are neither religious, nor right. In 2007, after he had teamed up in an AIDS awareness campaign with Saddleback Church minister Rick Warren, several anti-abortion groups (18 to be precise) published an "open-letter" condemning Obama's stance on abortion and Rick Warren's relationship with him (as if that has anything to do with AIDS). In the letter, they stated: "In the strongest possible terms, we oppose Rick Warren's decision to ignore Senator Obama's clear pro-death stance and invite him to Saddleback Church anyway." In other words, no pro-choice person should be welcomed in our church! Instead of pandering, Obama called them out for the hypocrites they are, stating that they are "all too eager to exploit what divides us."
- I support Obama's vision of healthcare for all Americans. As someone who has spent nearly 3 of the last 4 years without health insurance – despite working and having a college degree – I recognize that our healthcare system is in sorry shape. I think one of the responsibilities of government is to provide for the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for its constituents, and I would include health insurance as part of that responsibility to provide for "life." Indeed, life is very difficult and fragile when you don't have health insurance.
But what about McCain?
- McCain has been a major supporter of Bush II. I've already touched on Bush II above, and there is no reason to go into his presidency any further. Everyone over the age of 11 understands the travesty that Bush has been as our president. No matter how much better McCain would no doubt be as president than Bush has been, McCain cannot hide from the fact that he has supported Bush almost from the first day of the man's presidency. Of course, there have been a few places where McCain has stood against Bush – most notably on the environment (and good for McCain for doing so), but the far and away vast majority of the major political themes of Bush's presidency have been supported, and sometimes even sponsored and defended, by McCain.
- McCain's newfound conservatism seems dishonest and politically-motivated. In 2000, when McCain ran against Bush in the primaries, I felt like McCain would be a great Republican candidate, and even suggested that I might vote for him. Like a lot of other people, I hoped that McCain would switch parties and run as a Democrat in 2004 – I believed then (and still believe now) that if he had done that, he would have won handily. However, political insiders evidently caught McCain's ear, no doubt clueing him in on the fact that he was seen as too moderate and too cozy with the Democrats for him to ever have success as a Republican presidential candidate. Since McCain clearly thought of himself as primarily a conservative, and since he still planned on another presidential run, he began a very obvious move toward the right, in an effort to shore up his support there. Where he had always been a strong moderate voice in the Senate, he suddenly became a puppet for the Bush administration, rubber-stamping damn near everything they did. He began pandering to the religious right and other right-wing lobbyists. And, of course, it has worked! He's now the Republican nominee and is strongly supported by most Republicans. I don't believe that would have been the case 8 years ago (in fact, it wasn't; McCain lost to Bush in the primaries in 2000).
Despite this clear and obvious progression right, I haven't heard a word during this election season about "flip-flopping." Hmmm. How could dat be? Sort of like how in 2000 and 2004, when the Democrats ran military veterans both years, against a Republican who was not a veteran and whose state-side military service was seriously in question, there wasn't a SOUND from the Republicans about the importance of military service – which had seemingly been of such mighty and vast importance in the 1996 election between Clinton and Dole.
Now, of course, if McCain's pandering to the right wing has just been politics, then perhaps I shouldn't be too concerned if he wins the presidency – maybe once he gets in the white house, he'll return to the moderate governing that had characterized his career prior to 2002 or so. But whether that happens or not (and I don't believe it will – he'll have a re-election to be concerned about, after all), the fact remains that his stance over the last 6 or 8 years has moved progressively right, and seems transparent, dishonest, and politically-motivated. I'm not sure I want someone in the white house who will vacillate like that to political pressure. Again, that determination and unwillingness to pander is an aspect of Obama that really draws me to him, and it stands in contrast to the transparent ideology McCain has spouted for the last 6 or 8 years.
- McCain turns 72 on August 29th. If elected, he will be the oldest first-term president in American history. He will be nearly 2 years older than Reagan was in 1980. This is a subject that frequently gets overlooked, largely – perhaps – because McCain has done a good job of hiding physical evidence of his age. Be that is it may, I think great consideration should be taken in voting for a man who is already 7 years past retirement age. That isn't to say that a septuagenarian can't adequately govern the country. But the American public absolutely must take into consideration the fact that before McCain's first term is over, he will already be older than the average age for males in America. One must also remember that McCain spent several years as a POW in Vietnam. I don't know what the life expectancy is of former Vietnam POW's, but I'm betting that McCain is probably already past it. One cannot underestimate the long-term physical and psychological impact of an experience like what McCain had in Vietnam. This makes his choice of vice-president even more important. Heaven-forbid he choose a radical like Dick Cheney. If I am thankful about anything in regards to the Bush presidency, it's that Bush has managed to survive it.
- I question whether McCain really is in touch with the heart of the American public. This, of course, was demonstrated none-too-subtly in recent comments about how he would describe a rich person as someone who made "$5 million a year" and was unable to answer the question of how many houses he owns. Does he really have a clue what the average, middle class American (much less lower class American) is really going through? Obama is wealthy too, of course, but he didn't grow up that way. McCain, on the other hand, was the son of a prominent navy Admiral, attended private boarding schools, and generally grew up as part of the upper-middle class. He's never known a "poor" day in his life (his POW experience notwithstanding).
When I add all these things together, Obama simply seems to be the clear and better choice. I think he is the better choice for me, personally, based on my worldviews, and I also think he is the better choice for the country as a whole. He is in touch with the average American, he is charismatic and intelligent, he has a good vision for the United States, and he can help repair our country's damaged reputation in the international community.