September 19, 2008

Why I'm Voting for Barack Obama, Part 2: Holistic View


In part one of this series, I examined the positions of John McCain and Barack Obama on the issues that are most important to me in determining my choice for president. As we inch ever closer to election day, however, there are unquestionably other parameters along which it is worth considering these two candidates; from how this election fits into the overall ebb and flow of political power in the United States, to each man's personal history and indicators of the manner in which he might lead. To that end, this post will focus on a holistic view of the Republican and Democratic nominees.


Balance of the Political System:

Whatever one may think or have thought of Republicans, and whatever claims today's GOP makes to being "Reagan-esque" (if you consider that a good thing), this is not your father's Republican Party. The modern GOP has been taken over by ideologues that have desecrated the Constitution at every opportunity, fought a war of choice, brought the economy to the brink of collapse, and never missed an opportunity to be fiscally irresponsible. John McCain sold whatever soul he had to those same people, and if nothing else, this election needs to see the Republicans kicked to the curb for a period long enough to allow them to clean house and get themselves straightened out.

To be sure, this does not mean that the Democratic Party is some sort of white knight. Senator Obama's party unquestionably has issues of its own, but the sheer scale of the malignancy within the Republican Party makes those problems pale by comparison. No matter what mealy-mouthed attempts may be made to talk about current failings as bipartisan in origin, they are, flatly, untrue. No presidency or political party has ever wrought as much havoc on the country and its institutions as the Bush Administration and the modern GOP. John McCain is, as revealed by his voting record and his public statements, very much a continuation of the Bush Administration. A McCain presidency would mean that the same people are in power, and, frankly, I don't believe that the country can withstand more of what it has endured for the past eight years.

Image and Personal History:

It can be argued - quite convincingly in my opinion - that image and personal history have no place in an election; they merely serve to distract from the important issues at hand. That said, image and background are major - if not often deciding - in modern ballots, and in 2008 they have been driving both the press narrative and the uncertainty that remains within the electorate. Pausing to examine the images of the candidates, and whether they are supported at all by fact, will, I think, make it easier to actually focus on the issues.

Barack Obama has become the political equivalent of a rock star, much to the chagrin of his opposition, and his popularity has provided impetus to both a press narrative and a period during which the McCain campaign responded with ads attacking him as a celebrity without leadership skills. Personally, I have no problem with Obama's ability to draw big crowds - a good leader is inspirational, and he appears to me to have the substance to back it up. While there are additional elements to the celebrity meme - specifically that Obama is "light on specifics" - in fact, his platform as described on his website is (and has been for a long time) highly specific. Having looked at Barack Obama's stance on various issues, it is clear - whether one agrees with his positions or not - that he has given them serious thought and that he is no lightweight. He knows what he wants to accomplish and how he wants to go about doing it.

Rather than Obama's image however, I think the most important issue of popular perception actually surrounds John McCain; he is portrayed as a foreign policy expert, a "maverick" and an independent thinker with bipartisan leanings. If there is one thing - and there are many - that at which the press has been particularly bad (at least up until very recently), it's examining the John McCain of 2008 and comparing him to the John McCain of 2000. Today's John McCain is not the center-right candidate he once was; he has wholly sold himself to the rightwing GOP base, and in the process, totally - and I do mean totally - turned his back on everything he was believed to have stood for.

Most people have forgotten, but John McCain didn't become a "straight-talking maverick" until he was brought up on ethics charges - to which he admitted - for peddling congressional influence in the Lincoln Savings & Loan scandal. He is a member of the justly infamous Keating Five, but he was re-elected anyway, and escaped with little more than a talking-to. So far, so good - I have no problem with second chances (although I don't know that I personally would have given one to McCain were I an Arizona voter) - but the real story is what happened after the 2000 election. It reveals a lot about McCain's true character and his willingness to fully embrace political expedience.

In the 2000 contest, George W. Bush's campaign used a technique known as push-polling - most famously in South Carolina during the Republican primary - in which they placed calls to likely voters and asked questions like "If you knew that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child, would that affect your vote?" (The McCains have an adopted daughter from Bangladesh.) McCain's own campaign collapsed as a result, but rather than hold a grudge, he was a good soldier and endorsed Bush. Over time, he appears to have come to some sort of epiphany that the only way he was going to realize his presidential ambitions was to cleave fully to the hardcore rightwing elements that currently control the Republican Party.

Without a look back, he went from opposing the Bush tax cuts, to both supporting them as a necessary tactic and fighting to make them permanent. McCain went from calling Jerry Falwell and others like him "agents of intolerance" to giving the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University. He went from being a vocal supporter of "the troops" to opposing Senator Jim Webb's new GI Bill until he could no longer block it given the political storm his position created. (He acquiesced to supporting it, but despite his campaign commercials, he was not an avid supporter, he never cosponsored the bill, and was absent for the vote.) He went from opposing torture as an element of U.S. policy to providing legislative cover that has allowed it to continue, which is particularly striking given his own experiences as a POW in Vietnam. Additionally - and this has gotten none of the scrutiny it deserves by the mainstream press - McCain, co-author of the much ballyhooed campaign finance reform bill known as McCain-Feingold, is actually in violation of his own law, but isn't being prosecuted because the Federal Election Commission (FEC) doesn't have the quorum required to take action. (Currently, only 2 of the 5 seats on the FEC are filled.)

Simply put, John McCain is not the man he is portrayed to be. If you look even a little bit beneath the media hype, he is, in fact, a serial panderer and a fully-owned subsidiary of the establishment GOP. And even if he was once, he is certainly no maverick today. He has an overall voting record that aligned with the Bush White House 90% of the time overall, 95% in agreement in 2007 and 100% in 2008.

Vice Presidential Selection:

Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin has - at a minimum - energized the GOP base. That said, whatever you think of Governor Palin and her counterpart, Joe Biden, as individuals - and whatever one may think about the importance of the number 2 spot in general - I think the selection process and the choices themselves say an awful lot about the men at the head of each ticket. Biden is an experienced foreign policy leader who can clearly bring something to an Obama administration from a policy perspective, and who is intended to shore up the Democratic ticket against one of the biggest criticisms leveled at it: a lack of overall experience and a shortage of foreign policy experience in particular.

Governor Palin, meanwhile, had never, ever been heard on the national stage or on national issues prior to her nomination. She appears to be a capable politician and is obviously not stupid, but she has already been caught lying on a number of topics. She supported the Bridge to Nowhere before turning against it when it finally became too much of a political hot potato; she tried to fire the City Librarian of Wasilla, when she was mayor of that city, for refusing to censor books and then tried to cover it up; she is being investigated - and refusing to cooperate with said investigation - for abuse of power. Further, she appears to be a serial liar, touting a visit to Iraq that never occurred, talking up a visit to Ireland that was no more than a refueling stop for her flight, and continuing to trumpet her supposed opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere despite having been revealed to be one of its biggest backers.

The idea that Sarah Palin strengthens the GOP ticket in any manner other than the purely political is unsupportable. Objectively, there is any number of other female Republicans who could fill the vice presidency and who have the same ideology as Palin, and even Republican shills like Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy know that to be a fact. With his selection of Governor Palin, John McCain is demonstrating his adherence to the Bush Administration playbook, using cronyism to put politics ahead of the country. (In case that wasn't already clear from his political metamorphosis since the 2000 election.)


The relative experience of each candidate has been a significant topic of conversation, with the Republicans actively ridiculing Barack Obama's resume at their national convention. There is no doubt that John McCain has more government experience than Barack Obama, but I think it is very much an open question as to whether he has used - or is using - that experience successfully or in the best interests of his constituents. Likewise, it is worth considering that Obama's work history is not nearly the flimsy construct it has been made out to be in the press:
Meanwhile, Governor Palin, who has unquestionably worked to further herself in Alaska politics, has a depth of qualification that gives even fellow Republicans pause about claims that she is ready to assume the most powerful office in the world, should the need arise. Her resume at the national and international level, frankly, pales in comparison to either Senator Obama's or Senator Biden's:
Experience is only part of the equation, however, and it's important to remember that the administration of George W. Bush was one of the single most experienced in history when it arrived in Washington, DC. That experience, because it has been rife with cronyism and absent critical thought, intellectual honesty, and judgment - whether it be on foreign policy, climate change, energy policy, disaster relief, politicization of the Justice Department, torture and human rights, or in any number of other policy areas - has meant, literally, nothing. Unless experience is mixed with prudence, pragmatism, and an ability to learn from one's errors, it is useless. Unfortunately, while I see experience in Senator McCain, I see a horrible lack of judgment, and when I look at Governor Palin, I see both inexperience and a lack of the common sense she so often attributes to herself. Both of them are every inch Bush Republicans.


From a qualitative standpoint, therefore, I am backing Barack Obama for the following reasons:
  1. He has a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish
  2. He has demonstrated the ability to inspire others to contribute to that vision
  3. He has made smart choices about the people with whom he surrounds himself
  4. He has remained consistent - with one or two exceptions - in his positions and his politics, but leavened them with common sense, prudence and pragmatism
Senator Obama has sufficient experience for me, and he has shown judgment and substance that I trust. John McCain, between his flip-flops, slavery to political expedience, outright lying, and choice of a running mate who - it becomes more clear everyday - has no business being a heartbeat from the Oval Office, has not.


lokywoky said...

I read this yesterday and posted a comment but it seems to have posted to Saturn or somewhere else.

Anyway, another good article. I am like you, I have reservations about Obama, but the alternative is just too horrible to contemplate. Unfortunately, I think all his grand plans have just gone down the toilet. This Paulson blank check will bankrupt this country for the next decade and I just hope Obama and his team of advisors can figure out a way to undo some of the damage. I think he can - but every day that goes by Bushco seems to figure out some new way to screw things up ten times worse than they already are. And of course, the Rethugs will blame all the problems on him, natch.

Looking forward to reading Part III.

PBI said...


Don't you hate when your thoughts just disappear into the ether? : )

The Paulson plan needs to be seriously revised; it is the financial equivalent of the AUMF before the Iraq War, and there has to be oversight and review. Whether or not that happens, I think that Obama will be potentially handicapped unless he figures out a way to significantly change the game. Hopefully, with a fully Democratic Congress, he'll be able to do so.