Monday, January 19, 2009

Why I Voted for Barack Obama

This essay was originally going to be called “Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama” and I was going to post it a few days before the election. But then I got superstitious and decided not to jinx him and I wanted to finish reading Dreams From My Father—which I did, on election eve.

And then, once he’d won, I wanted to read The Audacity of Hope before I finished it, and so things I wanted to say played in and out of my mind for the next two months. Hopefully I’ll get to the point I’m trying to make before he takes office tomorrow. This is what I wrote a few months ago. I thought I would change it, but I still like it even if I’ve added more:



Do I think he’s the absolute best candidate for president ever? No.
I’m not sure what that person would look like.
But I think he is certainly the best running now.

A friend asked me recently if I liked him. Yes, I like him. I like him more and more as we approach the election. I like his calm, his grasp of rhetoric, his intelligence after eight years of a man who seemed at times barely functionally literate. I like his smile and his graciousness. And, as a multi-racial, Ivy-League educated, naturalized American, I like his back story because it relates to me. And that is the point, I think, that we do vote for whom we relate to, to a large extent. It is not a valid reason for Hockey Moms to vote for Palin even though they may be pro-choice themselves, or anti-gun, and it’s not enough of a reason for me to vote for him either. But there is a great deal more to my decision and it does start here, in my understanding of where he is coming from, because I have often faced the same questions.

I am reading his book, Dreams From My Father. I started it because I was tired of hearing the mis-quotes in the right-wing press and I wanted to form my own decisions. Would I give equal time and consideration to McCain’s book, Faith of My Fathers? Absolutely, but I started with Obama because I haven’t heard the McCain book misquoted.

Dreams From My Father is beautifully written, written in Senator Obama’s own voice as absolutely as if you were hearing him speak. It bogs down a bit—he has not crafted the narrative to make it more dramatic. It is himself coming to terms with the issues I mentioned above—of being multi-racial, of being intelligent but of making the choice to give something back and become involved because racism is not dead in this country and anyone who says or thinks that it is is lying to us or to themselves. It is himself coming to terms with what it means to be human with all our foibles and issues and baggage, seen through his own particular lens, and the lens of the mythical man who was his father.

In 2000 I admired John McCain. I certainly admired him more than Bush. I ignored his temper and the Keating Five scandal and saw a good man who’d made some mistakes. I saw a man who reminded me in some ways of my father and for whom I think my father would have voted. I also saw a man who I believed might be able to bridge the middle. I believe that in the intervening 8 years he has made every effort to court the neo-con, right-wing base in order to win this election. In 2000 he denounced the hate mongering of the evangelicals, while in this campaign he has accepted the endorsements and/or shared stages with the likes of Falwell and Hagee. I still believe that he is in some ways a good man who believes that the ends—his presidency—is worth any means, but I think if he were elected, he would find that it is not possible to lease your soul out and then expect to get it back, no strings attached. I have referenced this to many people, that Lyndon Johnson wanted to do so much good but made so many deals along the way that he found himself hog-tied in office—owing allegiance to those who got him there. I think that McCain would find himself in the same position. I am not the first to say that the John McCain of 2000 would not vote for the John McCain of 2008.

To a certain extent I, like so many other people, am voting not for a candidate, but against a continuation of the last eight years. I am sick to death of politics in America, of the Rovian/Cheneyesque style of attack your enemy with hot button words and evade punishment of your own treachery and corruption. Of this bullying, McCarthyesque labeling—if you can brand your enemy with being un-American then you can sway the public even if you can never actually define what that means. Of feeding an “Us vs. Them” mentality that reduces your enemy to less than human instead of accepting differences of opinion.

Like Michelle Obama I have not been proud of America these last eight years, and perhaps not ever. I am ashamed of Guantanamo and the Patriot Act. I am horrified that incompetence and outright treachery is ignored. That no one was punished for outing a CIA operative—a truly, legally treasonous action, as opposed to the so-called treasonous action of standing up and saying, “I believe the policies being pursued by this administration are wrong.” The first is in the law books. The second is the most Patriotic thing one can do, because the government is of the people and by the people and the majority of Americans think this administration is corrupt. I am angry that Alberto Gonzales and other Bush cronies will not be punished for at best monumental incompetence, at worst, outright lying and cover-up.

The further collapse of John McCain in my eyes is his acceptance and use of tactics which were used against him in 2000 and which he decried then, but because they work, has begun to use now. The cheap smears, the blaming of the press, the Swift-boat attacks… Don’t even get me started on Sarah Palin. She is not running for president, and so should not be the focus, but she and McCain have made her the focus and she exemplifies to me everything that is wrong with the Conservative party today. She came out of the gate attacking not leading. All that she has done has been to attack Senator Obama with meaningless smears, dancing away from details and facts before she is called upon to prove them. It was the basis of her acceptance speech and it has been her raison d’etre ever since. Her excuse for her absolutely mortifying performance with Katie Couric? “Well, she wouldn’t let me talk about what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about Senator Obama.” I’m sorry, Governor Palin, you serve at our discretion, and we want to know what your policies have been, what you have done and will do, not what you think of Senator Obama. You are not there to repeat gossip and innuendo; you are there to prove that you have the intelligence and the temperament to lead.

One of the things that I do not understand in America is this reverence of the stupid. That somehow being educated and intelligent (though the two do not always go hand in hand) is seen as somehow suspect. That by merely not dumming oneself down, one is seen as presenting oneself as superior. Do you know why we have an electoral college, when we are the only nation that still does so? It was because those revered Founding Fathers, the most educated men of their time, in a time when most of the population could not read or write, believed that the general public was too stupid to be trusted with the vote.

I personally would like to believe that the people governing the country are the smartest and the most educated. That they are not people I would drink beer with because I would not be smart enough to join in their conversation. I believe that the more intelligent you are, the more likely you are to see the world in shades of grey. The world is not this simple black and white. I will take an intelligent man who is able to change his mind honestly and weigh different points over a rigid “decider” any day. To me, Palin suffers from the same hubris as Bush, Cheney and their crew. Because she believes her cause to be just, she can break any law. After all, she’s doing it for our own good. Dictators think this way. The tales of corruption and rule bending in her Alaskan dealings are the tip of the iceberg in terms of the power she thinks she deserves. She scares me because she thinks she knows what is right. Wisdom is knowing what you do not know. We have suffered through eight years of a man who either took no counsel but his own, or only took counsel that agreed with what he had already decided. We need a leader who will take counsel from those who disagree with him. Lincoln knew that. Jefferson and Adams knew that.

But again, to vote against something is not the reason to vote for a candidate. The Germans voted for someone who promised something different in the 1930’s. The French Revolution gave way to the Reign of Terror.

So, I am voting for Senator Obama because I agree with him. Because the things about him that scare so many people in America are things that I embrace when they are true and ignore when they are false.

Something I do to try and stay balanced is listen to as much of the right wing attack mongering as I can stand. If there is something that I haven’t heard from the left I research it. There is a particularly odious radio personality here in the Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh school who likes to say that the left says that anyone who uses Obama’s middle name is a racist. Well, no. It is the fact that the right glories in saying his middle name for its fear value. Do we equally hear John McCain’s middle name? Sarah Palin’s? The S. in Harry S. Truman didn’t stand for anything. When has a candidate’s middle name every mattered until now?

And, (and this is a big one) what if he WERE Muslim? The rise of the neo-conservative, Evangelical movement in America has kept the presidency the right of white, Christian men. Since no one can come right out and say, “We can’t elect him because he’s black,” they will instead say, “We can’t elect him because he’s Muslim.” Would we be equally afraid if his name were Benjamin Ben Gurion? We have not had a Jewish President either. Or as I recently joked with friends if his name were Brock O’Bama. Would the American public then believe that he must be tied to the IRA? The Founding Fathers, the ones that the right likes to reference, believed in separation of church and state. That were not Evangelicals. They came from different denominations and different faiths. They were men of the age of Reason. Their God was the Great Watch Maker who did not send Katrina to kill homosexuals.




These words still stand. A few weeks before the election, I was speaking with two different friends, long-time liberals, and they were still voting against Bush and not for Obama. They had been Hillary supporters. They said that they still didn’t know what he stood for. That surprised me as I read Audacity of Hope, because it is all right there. He sees that there are a multitude of answers for every problem and that we respond to problems both emotionally and rationally, and sometimes we have to wait for the emotion to pass before we can make a rational and long lasting decision. That each answer has pros and cons and that each person who disagrees with you has reasons, some logical and some emotional, for believing as they do. That you must learn what motivates people before you can work with them and you CAN work with them if you will take the time and not dismiss them as “crazies” whom we must work against. And I will be the first to admit that these tactics are not the purview of the right, but I do not believe they are the tactics of Barack Obama

I like him. I really like him. I like him more with every appointment he makes, with every unflappable appearance. I’ve never supported a candidate the way I’ve supported him—with donations and purchases. I’ve never put a candidate’s magnet on my car until now. I proudly wore the button. His way of thinking is my way of thinking and that is at the heart what it is about. Will I agree with him on every decision? Absolutely not. Do I believe that I will understand why he is doing what he is doing? Yes, and that is something that has been sorely lacking in government for sometime.

I have been asked if I think he can do everything he says that he is going to do—well, no. There are things any presidential candidate does not know on the campaign trail that he is told when he is elected and only a fool would think that a decision can be made without all of the facts in evidence. President Obama knows that and has said that and I don’t think it’s waffling or giving himself an out to acknowledge that he doesn’t know everything. Instead it makes him human and wise—more wise I think that those who ignore facts for their own pre-agenda. Will he do it all? We can hope and pray, but even if he fails in some things, a man’s reach should always exceed his grasp.

Perhaps it is fitting that I am wrapping this up on Martin Luther King Day. I remember when the holiday was being debated and my parents were against it. Looking up the public timeline and my own personally timeline I must have been 10 or 11. I don’t think they had any racist reasons, simply the feeling that not enough time had passed. I disagreed and I remember getting on a chair and reciting the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Hindsight makes us all geniuses but I believe that I knew, even then, that the white world that my parents lived in was different than the world that my minority friends lived in, and that I, as a “Mutt” to use the new president’s term, existed in a strange limbo in between. This is why I have looked at the actual transcripts of Reverend Wright and seen a patriotic man who wants to point out in strong terms that America is not perfect and ignoring the problems do not make them go away.

As I grew older and I lived through poverty and failed to “pull myself out of” depressions and to succeed in the Ayn Randian ideal of the far right, I realized that life is not so simple as the platitudes of gung-ho individualism. Perhaps they never were, but certainly not in a world where the wealthiest one per cent of households control a third of the national wealth. When I was born it was still possible to buy a house on one average income—now it is virtually impossible.

I have come to believe that investment in health care and education IS investment in American infrastructure and not theft from the rich as it is portrayed. The specter of socialism was used throughout this election as if we were still fighting the Cold War. The fact that Russia was not at the height of the Cold War, practicing socialism or communism as it was written is always ignored. It is time for the United States to understand that it is part of the global economy whether it likes it or not—we cannot go back or ignore the world outside our borders. International business and the Internet have made that impossible. I do not view it as a bad thing but whether I do or not, it is not going to stop. Perhaps it is my international birth that has always made me question the intention of “God Bless America.” God bless us all. The accident of birth is not an assurance of anything. If life were fair then most immigrants are the truest Americans because they have gone through the most to earn it.

President Obama has existed in this same limbo as I have—never white but never black enough. He has been poor. He has been unhappy and he has made mistakes. He is also able to speak of those times in clear and sometimes beautiful language. In this I think he speaks for far more Americans than ever before. And that is why I voted for Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. God bless him and keep him safe. God bless us all.

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