Friday, February 15, 2008

why i support obama

With the democratic primary in a dead-heat, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have each engaged in their fair share of bad-mouthing one another. From Obama's visible frustration that he didn't know "who he was running against" to Clinton's remarks that more than hint at her superior experience and clarity of ideas, the Democratic front runners are hardly acting friendly toward one another. Naturally, the ruckus has permeated the entire body of self-proclaimed Democrats and liberals, as well as a great many others. Supporters of both candidates are making no hesitation to declare their true feelings as to who is the better (wo)man for the job. For his part, Paul Krugman has bluntly stated "I won't try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody" (New York Times, 11 February 2008, A25).

Clintonites say Obama, if elected, wouldn't have the experience and the gusto necessary to stay afloat in the destructive waters of American politics. However, former DNC chair and Bill Clinton campaign manager David Wilhelm has not only endorsed Senator Obama, but went on record as stating that Obama has "the unique ability to encourage cooperation as a 65-percent president after the divisive years of a 51-percent majority" (Philip Elliot, "Clinton Ex-CampaignManager Backs Obama"). What's more, they claim Obama is too focused on ideas and can't possibly do the all-important task of building coalitions to get important legislation passed for this county.

On the other hand, Obama's fans feel as though Clinton has been too willing to cross the aisle and compromise with Republicans, the greatest example being her votes and opinions on the controversial war in Iraq. Not to mention the fact that another Clinton in the White House has that inevitable aura of elitism to finish the trend: Bush, Clinton, Bush II, Clinton II. Of course, no one should be discounted simply because they are related to the powerful - if that rule were applied across the board, Washington would be a ghost town. Nevertheless, they shouldn't be propped up because of familial ties either. Having the same last name doesn't prescribe a list of policy preferences.

Sen. Obama doesn't seem to entirely get this; when Obama retorted "Wait up Hillary, I can't tell who I'm running against" at the recent Democratic debate, he wasn't joking. His campaign speeches have repeatedly lambasted the Clintons for being unable to form a working majority in Congress in the 1990's - last I checked, Hillary didn't enter the Senate until 2001. He also has been quoted as saying
Keep in mind, we had Bill Clinton as president when, in '94, we lost the House, we lost the Senate, we lost governorships, we lost state houses. And so, regardless of what policies they wanted to promote, they didn't have a working majority to bring change about.
New York Times, 11 February 2008, A16
So it seems that Obama is sincere about his confusion. Still, for some odd reason the major outlets seem to have reached a consensus on one fact: the slightly more liberal Obama will be able to build a better (read: bigger and/or more stable) coalition than the overwhelmingly centrist Clinton model. Firstly, Obama can unite the Democrats. Pundits from both sides of the aisle have predicted that, if his momentum keeps up, the all-important superdelegates, once thought to be a stronghold of Clinton supporters, will soon be swinging to Obamaland. Columnist William Kristol says this could happen as early as March (New York Times, 11 February 2008, A25). Secondly, Obama can unite the country. Winning the Democratic primary race is important, but the real test will come in November, when either Clinton or Obama will have to face off the equally-attractive-to-independents John McCain. In a recent opinion column in the New York Times, Roger Cohen pointed out that,
Republicans, likely to be led by McCain with his appeal to independents, are unanimous in saying they’d rather face Clinton than Obama. Many independents will never vote Clinton but might vote Obama. This calculus will weigh: the Democrats know they will seldom, if ever, get the stars so aligned for victory. Failure would be devastating...In making their own choice, Democrats now need to think carefully about how best to counter a more defined Republican challenge.
Nicholas Kristoff has reported that polls place Obama ahead of McCain in a hypothetical general election while the same study found that McCain beat Clinton by four percent. Obama also has the highest approval among self-identified independents, and even sits well among evangelical Christians. Kristoff quoted the granddaughter of Republican icon Dwight 'Ike' Eisenhower and Obama supporter as saying, "Obama would appeal much more to Republican voters...[n]ot all Republican voters, but certainly those who might be somewhat in play." These are the practical considerations. Although I despise it and the system that creates it, tactical voting is a steadfast reality in America's first past the post election system. If Obama is more likely to both a) bring a strong Left base to the general election and b) attract the many self-proclaimed moderates of America to his campaign, then it only makes sense to put him at the top of the ticket. If there's one thing Democrats can agree on, hopefully it's that the ultimate goal is to steal back the White House.

As important as tactical voting is, picking a winner means nothing if your winner is soulless. Take that for what you will, but what I mean is that if you don't agree with a candidate on the major issues, then you really shouldn't vote for them, regardless of popularity or probability. After moving down the line from Kucinich and then to Edwards, pullouts and campaign suspensions have left me but with one choice: Barack Obama.

Both Clinton and Obama have positions I disagree with: both support the continued embargo of Cuba (Edwards did not) and both believe the death penalty should remain a legal option in America (Edwards did not). Both of them voted for HR 6061 to establish a physical barrier between the United States and Mexico, a bill that is one of the most Republican-endorsed, blatantly symbolic, impractical, and, in this author's opinion, unabashedly against the American tradition of freedom and acceptance in recent memory. However, there are several issues that are important to me where Obama gets it right and Clinton just doesn't get it.

On the issue of campaign finance reform (my baby plank), Senator Clinton failed when she voted in 2002 for HR 2356, which effectively raised the limit of individual contributions and Political Action Committees, these a major loophole by which campaign regulations are often bypassed. In comparison, Obama worked to pass a tough law that banned the use of all personal money for legislator campaigns in Illinois, a state which was prior to that ranked worst in campaign finance regulations.

My favorite sound byte on the issue of 'illegal immigrants' came from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) who refused to answer the question on the premise that, to him, there is "no such thing as an illegal human." Unfortunately for all involved, Kucinich dropped out. Hillary Clinton takes the ever-precarious position on the fence of this issue. At a CNN debate in January, she had this to say:
...[W]hat we've got to do is to say, come out of the shadows. We will register everyone. We will check, because if you have committed a crime in this country or the country you came from, then you will not be able to stay, you will have to be deported.

But for the vast majority of people who are here, we will give you a path to legalization if you meet the following condition: pay a fine because you entered illegally, be willing to pay back taxes over time, try to learn English -- and we have to help you do that, because we've cut back on so many of those services -- and then you wait in line....
On the contrary, Obama has clearly worked as a state senator in Illinois to give aliens driver's licenses, job training, and health insurance. In a 2006 floor statement given in the US Senate, Obama said the following:
I will not support any bill that does not provide this earned path to citizenship for the undocumented population--not just for humanitarian reasons; not just because these people, having broken the law, did so for the best of motives, to try and provide a better life for their children and their grandchildren; but also because this is the only practical way we can get a handle on the population that is within our borders right now.
Barack Obama has direct familial ties to the immigrant heritage of America, and I will feel astonished and betrayed if he sides with the neocons and employs the politics of fear to justify discrimination against humankind just because they stupidly chose to be born on the wrong side of an arbitrary border.

But of course the most controversial, and one of the most important, issues on which Senators Clinton and Obama differ is the Iraq War. In 2003, Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
I was one who supported giving President Bush the authority, if necessary, to use force against Saddam Hussein. I believe that that was the right vote. I have had many disputes and disagreements with the administration over how that authority has been used, but I stand by the vote to provide the authority because I think it was a necessary step in order to maximize the outcome that did occur in the Security Council with the unanimous vote to send in inspectors. And I also knew that our military forces would be successful.
Although she finally relented in 2005, it does seem suspicious that this about-face came so close to her decision to run for President. On the same token, Clinton has wisely, although hypocritically, reversed her position on setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq just in time for the 2008 campaign, saying in 2005 that it was time for "not a rigid timetable that terrorists can exploit, but a public plan for winning and concluding the war" only to vote in 2007 in favor of a timetable. Of course, realizing one's mistake is hardly a fault, but the ideal would be good judgment from the start

To conclude, if you didn't already know, Barack Obama is heardly perfect. His recent approval of the ridiculous amount of US aid given to Israel merits a serious loss of points. Of course, we should take such incidents with a grain of salt: most all major US politicians are hesitant to fly against the traditional logic of subsidizing, to the tune of $3 billion per annum, Israel's aggression. What's more, in 2006, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz ranked Senator Obama dead last in its consideration of which presidential candidate would be "best for Israel." That has to count for something.


GhairBakheel said...

1. Obama was saying he didn't know who he was running against because Bill was running the campaign trail in South Carolina.

2. Obama criticizing Hillary for not reaching majorities during Bill's tenure is valid because she touts that time as part of her "experience." Otherwise her experience advantage would amount to a couple of years longer in the Senate.

3. Edwards has campaigned on a radically different platform than his Senate voting record.

4. 2006 is very different than 2008. Ha'aretz was quoted in February 2008 as saying (after a speech at AIPAC) that Obama "sounded as strong as Clinton, as supportive as Bush, as friendly as Giuliani. At least rhetorically, Obama passed any test anyone might have wanted him to pass. So, he is pro-Israel. Period."

5. It'll be interesting if Obama's recent love for AIPAC and Israel will change if he enters the Whitehouse. His pandering to Israeli interests reminds me of McCain's recent pandering to Conservatives. In 2004 Obama did say, "Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front." He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!" Read this:

6. Blogger has a terrible commenting system.

James said...

Bravo on being an informed supporter! I, of course, have several responses to what you said, but I am afraid that it is about to be moot. Come play on my blog...

Amanda said...

You criticize Clinton for supporting the war and then changing positions. But it isn't Clinton's fault or Congress's fault that the Bush administration lied to the world. You also have to remember that she is a senator from New York, with NYC a target of the 9-11 attacks. Her job is to represent her state. With NY on the forefront of terrorism at that point, many of her constituents supported war and actions against terrorism. Her job is to represent them. While that only doesn't necessarily excuse her continued support of the war, it at least counts for something now that's she changing her mind. If she still supported her decision, I think that would be the bigger issue. And of course, Obama has no record on the issue b/c he wasn't a Congressman until 2005.

While I think campaign finance reform is a noble platform, I think reforming the educational system and the health care system are more important areas to focus on at this point in our nation's history. FECA is doing its best for now.

And as far as "bridging the gap" and bringing the parties and Congress together, I think Clinton has proven that she is more than capable to handle the task. She began her career in the Senate as a deferential junior senator, and has proven able to work with Democrats and Republicans alike. Sure, Obama may be attractive to the Democrats, but that doesn't mean he is able to work with ALL members of Congress, not just people in her party. Centricity may not always be a bad thing, especially not in a general presidential election.

Analysts predict that in a general election against McCain, Clinton will survive much better than Obama. All of Clinton's dirty laundry is aired at this point - there really isn't anything the Republicans can pull out on her. In contrast, Obama faces some major skeletons.

First, as you mentioned, there was the picture of Obama in the headscarf (which was blown completely out of proportion). But because of his family ties with Islam, it became an issue. Second, there is Obama's church, Trinity UCC. Read on: “One of the brightest points in Barack Obama's rising political star has been his ability to talk about Jesus without faking it. Beginning with his rousing "Audacity of Hope" speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and continuing with his book of the same name, Obama has shown that he can speak about his Christian faith in ways that are authentic and broadly appealing. Little wonder that his enemies have tried to turn that strength into a liability. Right-wing bloggers and TV pundits have been targeting Obama's church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and its pastor, Jeremiah Wright, complaining that its self-proclaimed Africentric Christianity is separatist or even racist. Obama's campaign has itself pulled back a bit from being identified with Wright. In February it revoked an invitation to have him give the opening prayer when Obama announced his run for the presidency."

While this is not important, Republicans are already picking up on the story. "Critics have pounced especially on the church's "Black Value System," by which members affirm their commitment to God, the "black community," the "black family" and the "black work ethic," and disavow "the pursuit of 'middle-classness.'" One hatchet-job report in Investor's Business Daily, pointing to the Black Value System (a statement written not by Wright but by church members in the early 1980s), concluded that there is "little room for white Christians at Obama's church." Black conservative pundit Erik Rush said the church has embraced "things African above things American," and he claimed that this should be as alarming as a Republican presidential candidate "belonging to the Aryan Brethren Church of Christ." Tucker Carlson of MSNBC described Trinity as having a "racially exclusive theology" that "contradicts the basic tenets of Christianity." Sean Hannity of Fox News confronted Wright on TV and asked how a black value system is any more acceptable than a white value system. Hannity also suggested that Trinity's emphasis on black values contradicts Martin Luther King's famous hope that people would be judged "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." This could come back to haunt Obama in a general election (even though, of course, it shouldn't matter).

Lastly, Senator Obama's ties to a former leader of the violent left-wing activist group the ‘Weather Underground’ are drawing new scrutiny. As an Illinois state senator in 2001, Mr. Obama accepted a $200 contribution from William Ayers, a founding member of the group that bombed the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon during the 1970s. Talk about campaign contributions.

I think the most important thing for the Democrats is winning this general election. The Republicans already have their candidate and McCain is already campaigning while Clinton and Obama still battle it out. While I understand that you don't discount Clinton and even find many of her positions similar if not exact to Obama's positions, I think she fares the best chance in a general election to beat McCain.