My case for Obama

My friend Paul challenged me to write a positive case for Obama. (He’s still trying to decide who to vote for, and he similarly challenged another friend to make the case for McCain.) Rather then just email it to him, I decided to blog it.

The challenge is to make the case for Obama, not against McCain, and to keep it positive. I’m going to do my best, but some of my arguments are two-edged swords: saying what I like about Obama’s approach is, in part, a criticism of what I’d expect from McCain and what I’ve seen from Bush.

That said, the following is my case.

1. Foreign policy.

I believe that the US does much better abroad when we emphasize soft power and international cooperation over hard power and lone wolfism. In general, I expect that a Democratic administration’s foreign policy is more likely to follow the soft-power/internationalist approach. And in specific, I think that Obama will do a great job in these areas – just by electing him, the US would take great strides towards greater soft-power.

I also believe that one of the worst things that a national leader can do is get his country into an unwise and unjust war. (I view this as one of the biggest failings of the Bush administration.) I expect Obama to be a lot less likely to do this than McCain.

As to Iraq: I like the fact that Obama opposed it early. I think it was a particularly stupid war, especially at a time when we had little choice but to go to war in Afghanistan. Right now, pretty much everybody, including Bush, McCain, Obama, and the Iraqis themselves, agree that the US will be withdrawing sometime in the next two years. So I don’t see much practical difference in the current policies. (It should be noted that Obama favored the timetable before McCain did, but that McCain supported the surge, which probably made it possible for the timetable without greater chaos. I call that a tie, with Obama getting extra credit for not wanting us to be in Iraq in the first place.)

And don’t get me started on torture.  That would be a hard topic on which to keep positive.  Let’s just leave it that, based on political positions in the last two years, it seems probable that an Obama administration would be far more likely to get the US out of the ugly business of torture.

2. Domestic policy.

I expect Obama’s to be less beholden to big business and to focus more on the people. I expect this to play out both in specific domestic programs (e.g., health care) and in regulation. (And I do think that we need greater government regulation. The biggest fiscal crisis of the last few years – the subprime mortgage problem – was largely due to deregulation.) I think this will also improve the chances that we’ll do something meaningful on the environment.

I also want a fact-based science policy. The Dems support stem-cell research. The GOP platform opposes it.

Over the last few decades, the Dems have shown themselves to be better stewards of the economy than the GOP. I’d expect that to continue under an Obama presidency.

On the budget, I don’t really expect either side to be great. But the Dems are more likely to tax and spend, and the GOP more likely to borrow and spend, and so I’d expect deficits to be smaller under Dems.

3. Change.

Here I’m not talking the kind of change that is getting a lot of attention on the campaign trail these days. I’m talking two things in particular:

First, I believe that the Bush administration has badly screwed up this country and the operation of this government. I believe that we need a new broom to clean up all the mess. An Obama administration would lead to changes throughout the executive branch of the government and an overhaul of many of its procedures. I doubt that another GOP administration would lead to changes anywhere near as sweeping. Thus, I think an Obama administration would be more likely to give us this particular sort of change – something that is badly needed.

Second, I think we need to get past the culture wars that are left over from the 60’s. The only way we’ll do this is by getting past the Baby Boomers as the party in power. (And yes, I realize that if you look at the birthdates and demography, Obama can be viewed as a boomer while McCain is not. But McCain was shaped by the 60’s in ways that Obama was not, and so I don’t really view Obama as a boomer from a cultural perspective.) A vote for Obama is a vote for generational change, and I think that’s important.

4. Personal Privacy.

One of my biggest issues is keeping government out of my life. I expect that Obama would be less likely to engage in invasive surveillance methods, and much less likely to support policies that interfere with personal privacy. (I’d also expect his Supreme Court picks to be more supportive of individual liberty, but I’ll deal with that later.) I don’t want government in my bedroom, and I don’t want government on my phone lines. Here again, this is a matter where neither party is perfect in my mind, but I believe the Dems are far better.

5. The Supreme Court.

John Paul Stevens isn’t going to last much longer. If he is replaced by a Republican, kiss goodbye to all of those SCOTUS rulings that support individual privacy and choice. Abortion igets the most press, but it’s far from the only issue. Do you want continued access to contraceptives? Do you want the legal right to do whatever you want in your own bedroom with another consenting adult? (And bear in mind, there are laws on the books of several states, including Virginia, that outlaw oral sex, a practice engaged in by a majority of Americans.) You have those rights because the Supreme Court says you have them, and the balance of justices is such that another GOP administration could easily lead to overturning those cases.

6. Symbolism.

I believe that the central theme of American history is race. Slavery is one of the two great sins on the American conscience (the other being our treatment of the Indians). And people still alive felt the bite of Jim Crow laws – I recently had a friend tell me what it was like to be told that he and his mother had to move to the back of the bus.

I think it would be a great and a glorious thing if, on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we had a black president. It’s a symbol we need – proof that in America, anyone really can grow up to be president.

7. Obama the man.

I like the idea of having a president who is thoughtful and articulate. I like the idea of having a president who can himself craft words to convey complex ideas in a way that speaks to millions. I like the organizational talent that Obama has shown in running one of the most impressive presidential campaigns in recent times. I like having a president who can inspire Americans to do better. I like a president who can inspire youth.

Obama is all of these things.

8. Biden.

I’m extremely happy with the choice of Biden as VP. I wanted him as part of the administration – I had been thinking Secretary of State, but am happy with VP. He’s a solid choice with experience in a lot of important areas. Moreover, he has been one of the most creative thinkers in areas where we’ve had troubles of late, most notably including Iraq.

One of the most important tasks of a president is selecting the right people. Selecting Biden as his VP strikes me as solid evidence that Obama will do a good job of this.

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