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Friday, December 21, 2007

I Would Caucus Obama

It's that time of the election year where the primary endorsements have just about finished rolling in, and the "regular folks" take a week off and then emerge to caucus in Iowa. My own personal preference has been months in the making, but I've known for some time who I intend to vote for, if I have the chance in our late voting state.

If I lived in Iowa, I would caucus on Januray 3rd for Barack Obama. This is my own personal endorsement for Barack Obama, and not does not necessarily reflect the views of the Drexel Democrats or Drexel University.

First, a nod to my second choice, Senator Chris Dodd. I have been very impressed with Dodd, from his strong energy policy to his leadership in the senate with FISA. His campaign has been overshadowed by bigger names, but he would make an excellent President. I certainly hope that whoever the nominee is takes a good long look at Dodd to be Vice President.

My support for Obama has slowly coalesced these last few months, for the following reasons. They could be summed up in three short points:
  1. Sen. Obama is the candidate best equipped in my view to bring, positive, progressive, and transformational change.
  2. Sen. Obama has displayed the strong judgement and strength of character in the past that I look for in a President.
  3. My Gut. I have an impression of what kind of candidate and president each canididate would be.

Expanding on Those Points

1. That this is a "change election" is both obvious and clichè. After seven years of one of, if not the, worst Presidents in American history, it's only natural that Americans would want to "change direction." The Clinton campaign ceded the rhetorical point early on, and has been arguing that Sen. Clinton would be most able to bring about change, utilizing her significant political experience and network.

I think that this misses the point. George Bush has been an awful President, and we need a great President to right his ship of ours. I believe that only Sen. Obama is in the best position to be a great President. That's because George Bush was not the only American who failed this country over these last seven years. The majority of the country, led by our political establishment, failed this country. Whether the timid questioning of our leaders by Democratic leadership, or swallowing administration lines by the media, there is plenty of blame to go around. Pretending that George Bush was the only problem, without addressing the enablers, doesn't bring us very far.

Barack Obama, in my opinion, is the candidate that can address the enablers, without being cast aside for it. Obama has an ability to talk both to and past the media. I know that sounds rather vague, but I think its understandable. Obama has the ability to speak to the media, and be heard and recognized for what he is actually saying by the media establishment, even as he criticizes them, and at the same time he is able to speak over the media, more so than any candidate that I can rememeber in my admittedly short life.

Furthermore, Sen. Obama is running as a progressive candidate to be the President of the entire country, not the 50%+1 that he needs to get elected. I'm not a sucker for appeals to artificial "unity." Disagreements are natural and desirable in politics, and unity is not an admirable goal in itself. The key is persuading those who disagree with you, by force of rhetoric and political will, that your position is right and good, and if you convince enough people, then you can achieve really transformational change.

If you think that we can tackle the big challenges this country faces with a 50%+1 majority, you're kidding yourself. The fact of the matter, through largely no fault of her own, Sen. Clinton is viewed very negatively by large swaths of the country. That isn't something that I think can change, in great part because its somewhat irrational. That it isn't her fault, however, would bring me no solace when major legislative initiatives get bogged down in frivilous '90s era politics.

It would be naive to think that there is any Democratic candidate that could serve as President without facing dishonest attacks, as the Republicans scramble to salvage their party by laying blame at the incoming President. It would be equally naive, I think, to not recognize that electing Sen. Clinton would amplify this.

This argument for Sen. Obama is encapsulated by what he said on Meet The Press. To address the problems and issues facing this country we need a strong progressive leader who can govern the entire country, not a slim ruling majority.

2. Obama's position on the Iraq War before it happened hasn't gotten as much attention as I had thought it would. He mentions it alot, with good cause, but I have been suprised how people are willing to dismiss all the pre-war material and ask "What have you done for me lately?" I think that it is entirely germane and worthwhile to assess the candidates on their pre-war positions, as evidence of their judgement.

If you haven't read this speech by Barack Obama from a 2002 anti-war rally, take a minute and go do so now. He was right. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards both voted for the AUMF resolution. Edwards has since called the mistake a vote, and Clinton has maintained that it was the correct vote but that Bush abused the rightful power. I applaud Edwards for his acceptance, but Obama deserves credit for his outspokenness. Many politicians are now coming forward and saying "I was anti-war, I just didn't tell many people." (See: McCain, John; Clinton, Bill; Klein, Joe). Obama took an unpopular stance that has since been proven to be correct. How do we expect politicians to be held accountable if we don't reward them when they're right, or hold it against them when they are wrong?

Regarding Clinton's assertion that it was the right vote but that Bush abused the power (which was also Sen. Kerry's nuanced position that was such a huge electoral success), I disagree. First, I think that the AUMF was an abdication of Congress's constitutionally mandated authority to declare war. I believe that declaring war is a serious committment of a nation, and should be the subject of fierce debate, not midnight votes to cede the authority to the executive. Secondly, and more specifically, I think that trusting Bush with that authority is almost as grave a lapse in judgement as having voted to go to war. Bush's responsibility does not absolve those senators voting "Yea."

The conventional narrative is that Sen. Obama lacks the foreign policy experience that the other candidates have. I think this is unfair, especially considering the experience of his primary rivals. Sen. Edwards' experience is very similar to Obama's except that Obama's politcal experience has much deeper roots in state politics. Sen. Edwards had been a senator for 3 years when he first ran for president, and he certainly didn't feel he was underqualified to serve. Sen. Clinton's experience as First Lady is very much a closed book. We don't know how much she was involved in policy decisions, because those records have not been made public. She has 6 more years in the Senate than Sen. Obama, but that is hardly a deciding margin.

Additionally, political experience is a valuable asset in both a candidate and a President. Sen. Obama spent 8 years as a state senator in Illinois before running for federal office, and before that he worked as a civil rights attorney. He is politically savy, and I think he would be a powerful president. The bottom line is Obama has more state experience than Clinton, and she has more federal political experience than Obama. Both are valuable, and her claim to experience monopoly is not warranted, in my opinion.

3. My gut impression of each candidate and how they see the world colors my view of them. I see Sen. Clinton as a Democrat who has internalized right-wing frames, and who would govern accordingly. This was starkly illustrated when Sen. Clinton said that another terrorist attack would be good for the GOP. Yglesias rightly pointed out that another terrorist attack would be a repudiation of the GOP, a blatent policy failure. I don't want our Democratic nominee to accept right-wing frames, I want him or her to stand up and make the case for progressive policies that work. Sen Obama has shown that he is a post-vietnam candidate, who isn't stuck in '90s era frames and endless debates. This is largely an impression of the candidates, and if your impression differs, I probably won't be able to convince you to see it my way.

Another aspect of the gut impression is how the candidates would approach legislative comprimise. I think it would be fair to say that Sen. Clinton would approach major legislative agenda items willing to comprimise as a major tool to passage. Unfortunatly, with the fierce opposition she inspires, I fear that a Clinton Presidency would start a push for, say, healthcare reform, by proposing a fair comprimise, and then proceed to water it down even more to gain passage, eventually ending up with something marginally better than today that was passed really only so that it could be claimed as a legislative accomplishment. I see in Sen. Obama, on the other hand, the kind of politician who can rally support behind a strong proposal, compromising when appropriate without compromising the heart of the matter.

Again, this last aspect is my subjective assessment based on my impression of the candidates. In that sense, it is unfair to criticize Sen. Clinton for things she hasn't done, but that I only speculate that she might do. It is, however, how I see her, and even if you don't agree with me, you might want to understand why people like me see things this way. If she is the nominee, I would be happy to be proved wrong.


Finally, as excited as I am about Obama, I acknowledge some things I don't like. I think that he has been wrong, both politcally and as a matter of policy, when he talks about reforming Social Security. I also don't like how the Obama campaign has attacked Paul Krugman of the New York Times. I want a candidate who will hit the media hard when warranted, but Krugman is one of the good guys. He has been right time and again these last decade or so, and his voice is a welcome respite of common sense and expertise in an otherwise pathetic commentariat.

Much of this endorsment was argued by contrasting Obama with his rivals, but please don't make the mistaken conclusion that I picked Sen. Obama in a process of elimination. The only thing that excites me more than the prospect of an Obama candidacy is the prospect of an Obama Presidency.

Similarly, even though I support Obama, I wouldn't have a hard time at all supporting whoever our nominee is. All of the frontrunners, and several of the also-rans, would make very good Presidents, and certainly be better than whichever Republican falls out of the pack.

Final Thought

Barack Obama for President.

Please click "There's more..." and I'll explain my reasoning.