Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why I Am For Obama

Lately I have spent a lot of time calling out Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin for the blatant lies they keep repeating about their records, and Sen. Obama's. So the time has come for me to dispel the impression that my support for the Illinois senator is driven exclusively by anti-McCain sentiments, instead of pro-Obama enthusiasm.

The type of presidency that Obama envisions is one where his supporters should get involved, both socially and politically, to help him bring about the change he promises. This view of personal involvement in the life of one's local community, and of the nation at large, has been shaped by the years he spent in Chicago's poorest neighborhoods as a community organizer. He understands the power of the people, as well as he understand that a community organizer cannot bring about the change he envisions without the help of the people he is seeking to help. This is a very important, often misunderstood and wrongly maligned component of Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer: the realization that epochal change can only take place when people demand it and get personally involved.

Behind the Republicans’ distasteful and self-defeating sarcasm aimed at community organizers, best (worst) represented by Rudy Giuliani's odious snickering "what?!?" at the Republican Convention, lies the realization that the worst thing that can happen to Republicans, the protectors of the status quo, is for common people to get directly engaged in their own social and political future. Obama's plea for popular involvement in support of his presidency, were he to get elected, scares the bejesus out of the party that is literally hell-bent on not only maintaining, but in expanding the status quo to their advantage.

Obama's ability to mobilize supporters (shown by the grassroots support and direct involvement by legions of supports in his campaign) offers the perfect antidote to the unholy conservative alliance with, and exploitation of, the evangelical right. Obama’s message is so appealing, and so powerful, because he seems to have a genuine urgency about the change he talks about in his campaign speeches, having lived it himself. Sen. McCain's call for change, on the other hand, seems merely a slogan, accompanied as it is by his inability to genuinely relate to the problems that ail America's middle-class and the poor and by his 26 years in the Senate, during which things have hardly changed at all, if anything for the worse.

In other words, Obama's call for change seems credible, whereas McCain's campaign cries for change seem a last-ditch effort to defeat Obama on his strongest turf, behind which lies the Arizona senator's true desire: to maintain the status quo for the Republican's biggest contributors. Why else would he back the same fiscal policies, health care policies, and energy policies that have already failed under the eight years of Bush's rule? And why else would he surround himself with so many advisers currently or previously registered as lobbyists?

No one with an ounce of understanding, a beating heart, and a regular bank balance can doubt that change, quite radical in nature, is the only hope for a country left in shambles by eight years of neo-con mismanagement and hijacking of public resources. Republicans know it, and the best shot they had at preserving power was to field a candidate portrayed by the media (even the much despised liberal media) as a maverick, an anti-establishment candidate, which is more the stuff of legend than a reality-based assessment of a politician who has spent the last 26 years in Washington and has voted with President Bush 90% of the time. Also handy is McCain’s experience as a POW, the trump card that McCain pulls out whenever his credibility as a maverick is called into question. Stephen Colbert, ever the wry and perceptive commentator of political hypocrisy, summed it up best: "McCain himself is famously reticent about his Vietnam experience. He only mentions it when people ask unrelated questions."

My worst fears about McCain were confirmed when he picked his running mate: Gov. Palin, a churchy, ultra-conservative, former beauty queen who believes that victims of rape and incest should, by law, carry their pregnancies to term, and whose resemblance to George W. Bush in terms of secretiveness and cronyism is too close for comfort. The only plausible justification for McCain picking Palin over his favorite VP candidate, Joe Lieberman, was the Republican's party attempt to energize the base.

To counter Obama's message for change, Republicans have desperately thrown their full financial and media weight behind the most despicable smear and spin campaign yet seen, which rests on the willingness of disreputable characters to bald-facedly lie in front of mics and cameras around the country in exchange for substantial compensation, and which is funded by the moneyed interests that have more to lose from an Obama presidency than from a McCain's term as a butler for special interests.

These tactics hardly represent change, instead they are Washington usual at its very worst. I believe that is why Obama has so far tried not to respond in kind, to reinforce the change he advocates by avoiding the lies and smear on McCain's campaign that Republicans resort to with respect to Obama.

Republicans have also been trying to shift the country's focus from the need for change to Obama's inexperience. Needless to say, inexperience can be seen as an asset, not as a liability, by those who are tired of business as usual.

When Republicans attack for Obama's lack of experience, because he has only been a U.S. senator for only the past four years, their argument seems likely to backfire in a country that is really hungering for change. Who can better deliver change? McCain, with his 26 years of Senate experience which have culminated in his party dragging the hopes and finances of the middle class down for the past eight years; or Obama, with his desire "to make the government 'cool' again"?

If, on the other hand, Republicans imply that lack of experience is synonym for lack of judgment, as Sen. McCain himself has done on several occasions, that argument can also quite easily backfire. All people need to remember is that Sen. Obama was right in his opposition to the war in Iraq. The Republicans' hail Mary play is that Sen. Obama opposed the surge, which Sen. McCain instead supported, and that the surge has in fact worked. Of course, whether the surge has worked or not depends on the standards that one adopts to measure its success, which once again will be the subject of spin by both campaigns. But the inevitable truth remains: there would have been no need for a surge had the country followed Obama's lead in opposing the war in Iraq, instead of supporting it as Sen. McCain did. I trust that Obama's judgment on foreign policy more than Sen. McCain's famous distemper and volatility, and I believe that there is more than one way to secure the country against its enemies. Under President Obama, diplomacy and international cooperation would regain their pre-eminent role in dealing with the security threats that one country, even one with the mightiest military in the world, cannot defeat alone.

This country needs change on too many levels to mention, and it is unlikely that any one president can bring about all the change we need. The need for health care reform is critical, not only for individuals but to make American business more competitive around the world. Energy reform is needed to rebalance the mix of fuels we use to power our industry, transportation, and residential needs. Fiscal reform is needed to rebalance the tax burden from the middle-class and the poor to the wealthiest. To conservatives who like to say that the rich are already paying their fair share, I respond: not in terms of discretionary income, they are not. (Discretionary income is defined as gross income, minus taxes, minus necessities.) Corporate reform is needed, both in terms of the effective tax rate which corporations pay (corporate tax revenues are at their lowest point as a share of GDP since 1937. Source Center on Budget and Policy Priorities), and also in terms of CEO and Director compensation, particularly when compensation does not match the company's performance for investors. Other changes we desperately need are campaign financing reform, media and FCC reform, consumer credit reform, and-–as has become painfully apparent over the last few weeks—-banking reform.

On all of the above points, Obama has convincing and pragmatic plans. And while some of his plans do not go far enough (for example, Obama's health care reform plan stops short of single-payer, which would be my preference) they reflect Obama's carefully developed idea of what seems achievable under the current circumstances. After eight years of ideology-driven mismanagement of the republic, pragmatism seems particularly palatable. Politics, in a democracy, is the art of achieving what is possible. Under President Bush, too often, politics have been interpreted as the means of achieving ideological perfection, by running over one's opponents and by twisting the interpretation of the Constitution in a pretzel, to give the administration quasi-monarchic, if not dictatorial, power.

Which brings me to the last, but not least, reason why President Obama would be a breath of fresh air. It would be oh-so-nice to have someone in the White House who has a real appreciation for the importance of the Constitution as the glue that has held together the country for 230 years after its ratification. After eight years of quasi-dictatorial rule by a clan seemingly hell-bent on redefining the Constitution to its exclusive advantage, having a professor of Constitutional Law at the helm would be a dramatic change of course.

In the end, will Obama be able to deliver on his promise of change, or is change going to prove an empty campaign slogan? That depends largely on the support he gets from the American people. As I said, no one president can bring about all the change the country needs, but we can try with Obama and give him what he asked for: our enthusiasm, our commitment and our involvement. Count me in, and I hope we can count on you, too.

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