Why I Endorse Obama

I’ve felt out of place with American politics for a long time.   I find the nationalism, militarism, and religious attitudes of the Republican party out of touch with my own ideals.  Don’t get me wrong — I have the highest respect for religious folk — my thinking is closer to theirs on a variety of personal and spiritual issues than the dominant thought in our secular, materialist culture.  I also believe that the United States represents ideals that are great and worthy — freedom, individual rights, and optimism.  I have respect for those who serve in the military with the desire to defend their country from attack.  But in my opinion too many in the Republican party have embraced a narrow view of religion, an ease in using military power without regard to its human impact, and a view of America that is less patriotism than nationalism.

On the Democratic side, I find too much faith in large bureaucracy and serving special interest groups.  The result has been large government programs which have been mostly ineffective and expensive, financed by high budget deficits which have rendered our country almost helpless in the current financial mess.  A lack of fiscal responsibility and a lack of trust in local and regional governance has been evident with the Democrats.

And to make matters worse, while the Democrats talk a good game on foreign policy and social issues, they’ve often supported the Republicans, as they did in granting President Bush the power to go to war, and continuing to fund the wars.   While the Republicans talk a good game on individual responsibility and fiscal conservatism, they spend like wildmen when they are in power — look at how deficits and debt skyrocketed in the terms of Reagan and Bush the Younger.

Though I am known for my optimism, in politics I’ve had a strong cynical thread.   Only Ralph Nader has really seemed worthy of my vote in recent years.

Yet now I endorse Barack Obama for the Presidency.  I do so noting first his faults:  his campaign is spending massive amounts of money, treating the campaign as being less about politics than marketing.   Second, he is relatively inexperienced — though, to be sure, no more so than George W. Bush.  Yes, Bush was Governor of Texas, but the Texas governor is one of the least powerful governors in the Republic in terms of how much power that institution has.  Indeed, in terms of ‘resume’ qualifications, Obama shares company with people like Reagan, Carter, Clinton and Bush the Younger whose experiences were generally outside the realm of what we look for in Presidents.

I also recognize that a lot of what the Democrats are talking about now seems to sound like more government spending and more centralization.   How can that really be “change,” and how can we afford that given our massive debt and the current credit crisis?   Given that, how can I support Obama?

First, I do not believe John McCain is up for the job.  He seems intellectually lazy, a gambler, and prone to anger.   He’s also over 70 and I’m sorry, but as a voter I can engage in age discrimination!  Second, I do not believe Sarah Palin is at all ready to be President.  Today I’ve been reading about how the McCain campaign considers her to be “looking out only for herself,” untrusted by the McCain people.  That sounds at the very least like a dysfunctional ticket.  Finally, I don’t think McCain is ready to do what needs to be done to change our country and its foreign policy.   That leads me to the positive reasons to vote for Barack Obama.

1.  Obama’s inspired a lot of people, particularly young people and minorities who previously have been outside the political realm.  To solve America’s problems, we need a national effort based on real people making contributions to the good of the country, not just bureaucrats in Washington throwing money at problems.  Perhaps Obama can parlay this national movement into something positive for dealing with the nation’s problems, not just electing Barack Obama.  He’s hinted at this, and frankly — no one else has come close to this kind of possibility in unifying the country and inspiring us not to look to government to change things, but to work on it ourselves.  He’s said he’ll call for sacrifice and service.  Perhaps that’s exactly what the country needs.

2.  Barack Hussein Obama can fundamentally refocus our foreign policy.  I like mentioning his middle name because if we elect someone with a name like that, we in one bold stroke prove to the world that Americans are not a bunch of red neck yokels who love war.   By electing an urbane black man with such a name, we’d be showing that we can think, and we are willing to embrace people who don’t fit the cowboy stereotype.  That would help us in shifting our policy from one based on simply trying to get others to do things our way, to working with others to develop a common approach.  We’ll still of course have a strong voice and a lot of influence, but through compromise and the use of soft power, we can lead without appearing arrogant.   Ironically, President Bush has moved in that direction since 2005, apparently having learned the hard way that “with us or against us” doesn’t work in a globalized world.  Given our economic crisis and the military fiascos of recent years, we need friends, and we need to work well with others.

3.  Health care.  The American health care system is irrational, and while many are without insurance, those who do often have insurance are covered by profit hungry HMOs and similar plans that try to deny people basic coverage, or seek excuses to reject claims (unreported pre-existing conditions, etc.)  McCain’s idea of taxing health care benefits and giving $5000 of tax credit is a scam.  Most families pay far, far more than that, and his plan, in essence, benefits primarily the HMOs and insurance companies, who won’t be challenged a bit.  I’m not sure if Obama’s plan is right; I’d prefer something more focused on helping states develop their own approach.   But I think Obama and the Democrats are more likely to try to fix a broken system, and to do so in a way that does not focus on the profit motive, but rather sees health care as a fundamental right for people in such a wealthy society.

4.  A change is needed.  McCain and the advisors around him are from the ‘old school,’ politics as has been practiced for the last 50 years.  That doesn’t work in an era of globalization, or in an America that has become a fundamentally different country culturally and sociallly than it was even 30 years ago.  Our economy is extremely vulnerable, and this crisis will get worse before it gets better — it may take over a decade to correct the imbalances of the last 30 years.   Terrorism remains a threat, yet “war” as a solution has failed.  We need to come together, focus on our values, work with others, and take a very different approach to the future.

Barack Obama is the first candidate I’ve seen in a long time that inspires hope that we can accomplish what it will take to deal with these difficult challenges.

I know many friends, fellow bloggers, and students at UMF who are very strongly either in favor of McCain or against Obama.  I respect that, and am thankful that in Maine we can disagree on politics without it becoming something angry or hateful.   The biggest compliment students pay me is when they disagree with me in class or in papers, showing they trust that I’ll respect their opinion and not punish them by grading their work down because they don’t share my opinion.   It is good that people disagree, our system couldn’t work without disagreement.

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