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Groundhog Vote: The Case for Obama

by Kent M. Pitman (Monday, March 10, 2008)

I'm a political independent, but I voted Democrat this year in the primary. As it happens, I voted for Obama. I think others should, too. Especially the so-called super-delegates.

Change of Dynasty

Partly it just comes down to the simple observation that the nation's leadership needs some fresh blood. Clinton is not bringing new vision. She is the very image of status quo in a great many respects.

Hillary may be well qualified in some areas, but part of that is that she was involved in some of the policies that brought us to where we are. And it's clear from watching the debates that she wants to get credit for having political experience that goes back into her husband's term, and yet when it comes to things that he backed that she knows are unpopular (like NAFTA), she's not up front about accepting any fault for it. That kind of dissembling bodes ill for what she would try to do and not try to do while president. We need a president that will consider all options, not one that begins her term by rationalizing past actions.

Add to that her high negatives. A lot of people simply don't want her in office. That places a cap on her possible numbers in the election, and starts her already handicapped when it comes to getting things done in office. We need someone who is a uniter, not a divider. And not just in words but in deeds.

By contrast, Barack may be new, but he is well-respected by people on both sides of the aisle.

Qualification and Relevant Experience

It's been observed by a number of pundits now, and I think it's an important observation, that the mere way that people run their campaigns is an example of their character and ability to manage a business. Obama's ability to mobilize and inspire new people and to hit a broad market is quite a good sign, and a proper credential in its own right.

The US is in a tough situation in a great many ways. Bush should have called for more sacrifice than he did, and until we fix the environment, the national debt, and health care, there will be ever more need for sacrifice. The quality of inspiring people and rallying them to contribute to a cause is not to be underestimated.

Barack has also been calm and poised under pressure. He has not allowed himself to be drug down in the debates. He has sought the high road. We'll need that when we go to try to repair the image of this country in the world community. The world wants to respect America, but we've done things as a nation that make it hard. His calmness and sense of fairness come through and will serve us well in the kinds of diplomacy we can expect.

As to the questions of knowing details of how to negotiate, I think that's overrated. Any president going into negotiations will be advised by people with experience. Evidence seems to show that Barack has had some good advisors, and I have little doubt that he'll get good advice in the future and that he'll listen to it (a feat I'm less sure Hillary would do).

I agree with those who say that the Hillary ad did nothing to inspire me in her favor. (I half expected Bill to pick up the phone and say "She's out. Can I help you?") The ad was not an example of taking the high road. It was a cheap and desperate shot intended to inspire not hope, but fear, in the best tradition (if you can call it that) of how Bush has risen to power. It's not what I want for America. The irony is that in the war on Terror, Bush has “fought” it every step of the way by embracing and instilling terror, not by dispelling it.

The Groundhog Effect

But what seems more important to me still is that the people who are behind Obama include many who didn't previously care.

Just as every year on February 2nd, groundhogs around the US allegedly poke their little heads out of the ground to assess the weather and determine whether to come out and play, so too there are voters who every now and then (not every election) poke their head out and ask the political "whether" question--that is, "whether my vote matters". The polls suggest these people are voting for Obama.

We need these people as much as we need Obama. They are energized with hope. A vote against Obama is a vote to tell these people there isn't a shadow of a hope that their vote matters, and to send them back into their political holes for a good long time. Even if they're wrong in their choice, and I don't think they are, they'll know they made a difference, and they'll vote again knowing they can make a difference again. But if we tell them they can't, they may disappear from the scene for a long time, and we'll all be the poorer for it.

A vote for Obama is a vote for people feeling empowered about their government.

What We Leave Our Children

The environment is our top problem. It doesn't seem like it, but it is. I know people think health care is an issue. Almost everyone knows someone directly impacted by health care. But the health of individuals pales against the health of the planet, and there is a very real chance that most or all of humanity will not survive the next hundred years, and that even the next decade or two will bring devastating changes to climate that could affect everyone in major ways.

One thing that concerns me a great deal is what a one-issue candidate Hillary is. Obama, by contrast, has made a strong point of noting that the environment is a serious issue and is working with Gore to give it due attention, even before the election. That's not just a nice idea, it's critical.

The fact that Obama's supporters are younger means he has his eye on that generation. It's not that the other generations don't matter. It's just that the younger generation is all of our kids, and they will inherit the climate mess we've left them. They have every reason to be afraid, and placing our faith in what they see as a good candidate is likely to lead to the best chance of giving this matter the attention it deserves.

A Footnote

I don't work for Obama's campaign. No one paid me to write this. He's done some minor things in his campaign that have annoyed me. He has policy ideas I disagree with. He's not perfect, and I'm not starry-eyed about the guy. But he seems a solid candidate, by far the best in the field, and I'm trying to be very realistic.

And McCain? The Republicans have been in power too long, and have openly abused that power. It's time to clear the air and clean house. For that reason alone, I can't support him. But his willingness to continue to embrace the Iraq war is troubling, too. We simply can't afford that. Not in terms of dollars. Not in terms of people. We need to dive in and fix the climate crisis. He's not leading us in that direction. The Republicans are pushing old ideas about how the free market, left alone, will fix the climate crisis. I don't just disagree, I think their positions are dangerous to the survival of the planet. We need someone in office who will challenge Republican thinking on this, not just rubber stamp it.

I have modest expectations. Presidents can't always deliver all they promise. But we make them promise anyway. In practice, a lot depends on Congress. Presidents set the direction and tone, and they wield veto power. I think Obama will set the appropriate direction and tone. Much better than I expect Hillary or McCain to do.

Copyright © 2009 by Kent M Pitman. All Rights Reserved.

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