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November 03, 2008

Why I'm Voting For Obama Musings  Politics

I'm going to vote for Barack Obama. But you probably guessed that.

A few readers have, from time to time, chastised me for my enthusiasm for Obama, so I'd like to explain.

First off, I'm not someone who believes that a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote. On the contrary. No national election is ever going to be decided by a single vote, so I think you should vote for the candidate you believe in. People say that's wasting your vote, but you can just as well argue it's the other way around. When your vote is one of a hundred million, it counts for a lot less than when it's one of a million or two. In that sense, a vote for a third party candidate counts more, not less. But, people always say, what if everyone thought that way? Well, then we'd elect the candidate we really want, not the lesser of two evils.

So that's how I've voted most of my adult life. Usually, but not always. Sometimes the choice is so stark that I have to go with the lesser of two evils, quite deliberately. So I voted for Nader in 2000, but in 2004 I felt I had to vote for Kerry. I had no illusions about Kerry, but the evil of the Bush presidency was just too great. I knew the effect of my vote would be infinitesimal, but it was at least something.

I understand that the Democrats and Republicans are in many ways two wings of one Corporate Party, and I realize full well that most of today's Democratic politicians are basically what Republicans used to be before the Republicans swung so hard to the right. That said, I don't buy that there's no difference between the parties. If Gore had become president in 2000, for example, he never would have invaded Iraq. It never would have even occurred to him. The Democrats aren't progressives (there are a few exceptions), but they are better than the Republicans on most of the issues I care about. Of course that's faint praise indeed.

So a Democratic president is preferable to a Republican president, but that still doesn't explain my vote. After all, as I said, my one vote won't affect the outcome. So why vote for Obama? And why enthusiastically?

At bottom, I think it's not so much the laundry list of Obama's positions, it's more a question of who Obama is and what an Obama presidency will mean for this country.

First, as to who Obama is. I think he is self-evidently a man of rare gifts, with a level of emotional intelligence and maturity that is unequaled in American public life. He is a true grown-up, in the finest sense of the word. He embodies grace. It may sound like I've drunk the Kool-Aid, but that's what I sense in the man. And I am obviously not alone.

Second, as to what an Obama presidency will mean for the country. Think of where we've come as a nation. American politics has become so cheapened, so coarsened, so brutalized and corrupted and dumbed down that I think it will take a leader with Obama's gifts to pull us back from the brink. Think what it will mean to have a leader who appeals to what is best in us and not what is worst, who talks to us like fellow citizens of a great democracy, not like members of Jerry Springer's studio audience, and who genuinely wants government to succeed.

There are lots of other reasons why an Obama presidency will be good for America — Obama's standing in the eyes of the world; the transformative effect his presidency will have on American attitudes about race; Supreme Court nominations — but for me it's really more personal. It's the reasons I gave above. And it's this: I want to live in a country where Barack Obama is president.

Posted by Jonathan at November 3, 2008 11:11 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


Well said Jon, me too.

Posted by: nan at November 4, 2008 08:58 AM

Gumpa and Bass (our 8 year old grandson) were in the woods the other day and Bass was asking about the election and the presidency. Gumpa said that its gotten kind of screwed up but a good president is about trying to help the people. Bass said; Hum, maybe I could do that.

Posted by: nan at November 4, 2008 09:09 AM

Yes, Jon, it has been evident you are a supporter of Obama. I think your brief for third parties is a little thin, perhaps, but this election seems--feels--different.
I lived in Hyde Park about 50 years ago, know the area where Obama has been an activist. I was doing neighborhood work there myself around forced evictions because of 'urban renewal'. But Obama does not bring credentials as an activist; America is filled with activists just as successful as he has been.
I feel Obama somehow deserves to be president because he brings a rare kind of wit and compassion with him. It feels as though he has an intelligence that is as at home with Niebuhr as it is with Stiglitz, as comfortable with the Lovin' Spoonful as with Wallace Stevens.
He warms this old intellectual's heart and were I not in California, where the issue is mooted, I would vote for him.
Your observations were apt and you are right: those of us who watch your site for each entry deserve to have more of you, see you when the lights are low and eloquence flows. Thanks for it.

Posted by: Norman at November 4, 2008 11:35 AM

I suspect that were I in a "battleground" state I would be tempted to vote for Obama on the "hell, it's got to be better than the alternative" argument.

Even then I'm not sure; as Matt Gonzales wrote in Counterpunch on October 29, "What do they have to do to lose your vote?" For me, the FISA vote was a deal-breaker and yes, I do think it's that important.

Still, I don't live in such a state so the issue doesn't arise. But I do think, bluntly, that a hell of a lot of people are going to be quite disappointed by Barack Obama as they discover that his deeds are not nearly so inspiring as his words and his policies are not nearly so infused with "hope" as they sounded.

On another note, it's easy to lionize Al Gore in retrospect but while it may well be true that he wouldn't have invaded Iraq I'm not at all convinced that wouldn't have been replaced with a much bigger war in Afghanistan (Remember? The "good" war, the "right target," the war of which "everyone" approved?) along with continuing the bombing of, and sanctions against, Iraq - bombing and sanctions which caused the deaths of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children even before Bush came into office.

Posted by: LarryE at November 4, 2008 03:38 PM

I am 22 and I'd like to capture my thoughts before America either elects a president who its first 26 presidents could have legally owned, or brazenly subverts the very ideals it was founded upon by manipulating numbers in a final embarrassingly overt goosestep towards corporate totalitarianism.

I am nervous. And not night-before-the-swim-test nervous or even night-you-lose-your-virginity nervous, it's a low rumbling primal panic which I can only liken to Star Wars panic. Disney panic. The edge-of-your-seat-terror that makes you wonder if Skywalker's doomed after he refuses to join Darth Vader and drops down into the abyss, if the wicked octopus or grand vizier or steroid-pumping-village-misogynist is going to wed/kill/skin the dashing prince and then evil people in dark funny costumes are going to take over the world... if it wasn't a movie of course.

And tonight it's not. It's not a movie and yet I feel like Obama might as well be wearing an American flag cape while a decaying McCain, in a high-tech robotic spider wheelchair wearing an eyepatch and stroking an evil cat, gives orders to a sexy scheming Palin who marches back and forth through their sub-terranian campaign lair in four inch thigh-highs and full-body black leather catsuit bossing around the evangelical ants with a loooooong whip... umm... is this just me?

Anyway, the point is that things feel weird folks. I have friends who have peed in waterbottles to keep from interrupting a Halo-playing marathon who got off their asses/couches to volunteer for the Obama campaign not once, but many times. Friends so cheap their body content is at least 1/3 Ramen Noodle who donated a good deal of their hard-earned cash to the campaign. People have registered to vote in record numbers, and yet, something just doesn't feel right. I think we should stop congratulating ourselves for just voting. To vote is a privilege which people have died for, and I think there's a whole lot more to be done for the country than to simply help win an election every 4 years.

Hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of man-hours spent on both sides by good-intentioned people who want to make a difference in an historic election, so many resources and voices and energies devoted to a single day. After tomorrow, half of that is going to have been a waste. And I can't help but wonder what could have happened if all that muscle had been put towards something else, and what will happen to its momentum after the election has come and gone. Shouldn't we be donating our money to good causes whenever we can? Helping people who don't have? Dedicating some of our time to contribute to making the country which provides for us a better place? Of course a power shift is a hugely significant step on the path to great reform, but worrying about this election has been a wakeup call for me:

Even if Obama wins, we have not "won." This isn't a movie and we can't toss every greedy lobbyist oil fatcat bigot down a reactor shaft. I think if we dedicate ourselves to the ongoing welfare of the country as much as we have to the outcome of this election, we'll have a much better shot at coming closer to the overwhelming good the liberals hope Obama will usher in, but which no mere mortal could fully realize alone.

Which brings me to the other side. I've heard a lot of people claim that if McCain wins, they're leaving. I heard the same thing about Bush's reelection, and his unelection before that, and nobody seems to be leaving. And that's fine. Because as much as I complain about certain political happenings, atrocities, etc., I really do like it here and I suspect most other people do too. We have New York and Hollywood, purple mountain's majesty and sea to shining sea, we created jazz and country music and baseball and cars and lightbulbs and computers and that movie with hundreds of animated singing Chihuahuas! I mean who among the shivering Plymouth pilgrims ever imagined ordering hundreds of animated singing chihuahuas onto a magical box from an invisible information superweb?

The point being, if things don't turn out the way I want tomorrow, I feel compelled, as a college-graduated adultish-type-person, to take a stand. And if I'm going to leave I'm going to leave. But if I'm going to stay I'm not going to sit around whining like I have for the past 8 years. It's like when I don't clean my room because it's dirty and then I blame the dirt. So in my very indecisive way, before you and your screen, I'm declaring my intention to make some kind of stand in the event of -(Ican'tevensayit)-, and encouraging you to consider making one too...

Jump the ship or grab a bucket?
Wasn't everything so much easier back when the worst possible affront to your values was a PB&J sandwich cut diagonally with crust?

Anyways, I guess what I'm saying is that if we're going to stay on board, we should probably be generous with our time and resources when times are tough even more than when the hero saves the day. Because what if he doesn't? And what if he can't? If we're serious about real change, election day should only be the beginning of "Yes we can," not the end.

Hannah Friedman

Posted by: hannah friedman at November 4, 2008 03:41 PM