Off the Fence: Voting Obama
“The great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to do something stupid.” – Art Spander
Maybe this is my “chance to do something stupid.” Or maybe it’s the smartest decision I’ve ever made. I don’t know. Time will tell. Regardless, the decision has been made.
I first voted for a Democrat for U.S. Senator in November 2006. I now plan to cast my first vote for a Democrat for President next month.
Granted, my road to supporting Sen. Obama has been an on-again, off-again journey — largely because, like Joe Gandelman, I’ve long-respected Sen. McCain, especially the Sen. McCain of 2000. This year, I kept hoping he would defy gravity, which he did for awhile, but no longer. I still agree with much of what McCain stands for and advocates, but he has progressively lost my vote in the last several weeks, for a number of reasons; in particular, what seems to be a worsening case of “bipolarity.”
As George Will wrote Sept. 23: “Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.” Will’s indictment even made McCain-backer James Joyner flinch.
Thursday, Steven Stark summed it up thus: “… in the past several weeks McCain has certainly been anything but steady at the helm. The economy is good — oops, no it isn’t. I’m for the Paulson plan — no, maybe I’m not. I won’t be going to the debates unless there’s a bailout deal — oh, I guess I’ll go.”
I also count among these signs of bipolarity, McCain’s non-vetting of Palin. Qualified or not — and I continue to believe that, even after her less-than-disastrous debate performance, she is woefully not — picking her was yet another in a series of snap, half-thought decisions.
I also factor into the mix certain less-substantial but still bothersome points. For instance: McCain’s endless claims that Obama refuses to acknowledge the progress wrought by the troop surge in Iraq, despite Obama’s repeated recognition of said progress. Case in point: In the Sept. 26 debate, McCain said Obama didn’t acknowledge the progress. Obama then acknowledged the progress. Later, McCain said Obama wouldn’t acknowledge the progress. OK … ?
Bottom line: I fear McCain’s mind is at once too stubborn and too flippant to be trusted in the White House. His mind might be useful for a fighter pilot, or for a Senator who has built a noteworthy career on squeaky-wheelness — but it’s not a useful mind for a President. At his core, I still think McCain is a decent person, probably more decent than I’ll ever be. But I can’t vote for him, not for the top elected office in the land.
Which brings me to Sen. Obama.
Now, before the hard-right and right-leaning factions who read this post prepare their tar-and-feather mix with my name on it, let me be painfully clear: I do have some serious concerns about Sen. Obama. First on the list, I think many of his policies tend to the super-sizing of government, which is almost always accompanied by profligate, wasteful spending and heavy-handed taxation. Second, despite promising (as McCain did) a campaign of decency, Obama has detoured from that promise, more than once (as McCain has).
Regardless, these doubts pale in comparison to what I consider the Senator’s most-redeeming qualities; namely, his tendency to take a thoughtful, cautious, and diplomatic approach to virtually every subject. And I am certainly not alone in reaching this conclusion. Consider:
Nine-term Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest applauds Obama’s “initiative and reason and prudence and wisdom.”
Clive Crook writes: “I do think Obama is handling the [financial] crisis much better than McCain — not because he is suggesting better remedies (he continues to say little), but because his instinct to reflect before opening his mouth and his impeccable taste in advisers are both working to his advantage.”
Joe Klein reports: “… I’ve also gotten the sense, in the times I’ve interviewed and chatted with him, that calm is Obama’s natural default position. He is friendly, informal, accessible … and a mystery, hard to get to know. He doesn’t give away much, doesn’t — unlike Bill Clinton — have that desperate need to make you like him. His brilliant, at times excessive, oratory is an outlier — the only over-the-top, Technicolor quality he has.”
Even the seemingly-Obama-skeptical John Fortier gives the Senator’s measured demeanor hesitant props: “Both [candidates] claim bipartisanship, but McCain’s idea of it is more muscular. He noisily crosses the aisle and forges coalitions, often without the support of Senate leaders, such as his efforts on campaign finance reform or with the Gang of 14 on judicial nominations. Obama is gentler and pragmatic; he reaches out to Republicans but tends to have the backing of his own party leadership.” (Some may view this prudence as less-than-ideal, but I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to delay stepping out on a limb until you’ve made sure your friends — or most of them, at least — are still your friends.)
I also continue to believe that, despite our serious economic troubles, foreign policy should be the defining issue of this election. And Obama’s emphasis on calm, caution, and alignment seems to fit perfectly with the type of foreign-policy approach I think we need in the years ahead, an approach described thus by Richard Haas, at the end of his essay in the May/June 2008 edition of Foreign Affairs:
There will be a premium on consultation and coalition building and on a diplomacy that encourages cooperation when possible and shields such cooperation from the fallout of inevitable disagreements. The United States will no longer have the luxury of a “You’re either with us or against us” foreign policy.
With this confession of my voting intent, I am painfully aware that certain members of my family and circle of friends will be angry with me, for one or two reasons or more, including these:
(1) They think McCain is the more pro-military candidate, and we have a cherished member of our family in the military. In response, I’d respectfully encourage them to check the facts.
(2) Obama is pro-choice. To this, I can only say that there are issues more important than abortion in this election, and I continue to believe the best deterrent to abortion is education, not government intervention.
Bottom line: Even if I question some of Obama’s policies, even if my vote helps turn over the White House and both chambers of Congress to a political party with which I frequently disagree, I still want a President who is studied and cautious and diplomatic — and of the candidates most likely to be President on Nov. 5, I find Sen. Obama to be the more-studied and cautious and diplomatic of the two. Period.