My hopes for Tuesday and beyond
Posted by clubsodaandsalt on February 4, 2008
I won’t be voting in the US until 2012 at the earliest, but I figure I can try to help out those of you who can. So, when you go to the polls tomorrow (or beyond), I hope you’ll consider voting for Barack Obama. Let me tell you why.
As I’ve discussed before, I’ve spent most of this primary season on the fence. Hillary Clinton is a strong candidate with a lot to recommend her, and, frankly, I’d be thrilled to have her be president. Being from the Clinton-Gore wing of the party, she brings a familiarity with policy details that I find both refreshing and encouraging after the last seven years. Moreover, her election would be historic, and we might finally see a media (and perhaps a broader culture) that’s willing to deal with ambitious women with respect, rather than disdain and suspicion. Plus, it would send people like Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity to new levels of derangement, and who doesn’t want to see that?
The decision has also been difficult because the two candidates have such similar views. It’s clear to me, as much as Paul Krugman et al may disagree, that an Obama presidency would pursue pretty much the exact same goals as a Clinton administration, even on that thorny health care issue. And insofar as there are differences, my allegiances are split. I prefer the mandates of Clinton’s health plan, of course (and I admit that Obama’s rhetoric on this issue does betray a worrying lack of understanding), but I also prefer Obama’s foreign policy instincts, which are clearly to Clinton’s left. Obama also has slightly better positions and rhetoric on immigration (my major issue), and civil liberties, and clearly has a better grasp of technology. In the end, though, the differences are tiny, and are likely to be dwarfed by the realities of governance in any case. They are not the basis for my choice.
So, then: why Obama?
As I said, I think that Hillary and Barack will both pursue worthy goals. Unfortunately, we will need the support of a few Republicans to get anything passed. If you think that we are drawing down our presence in Iraq or getting universal health care without a filibuster threat, you’re just not paying attention (or maybe you’ve just been hoping the media will explain things). Now, if you are expecting me to say that I think that Obama can really “bring us together” and “work with Republicans” or whatever, you must not come here often. I believe that the GOP leadership will be more intransigent than ever in 2009. So how do we peel off 4 or 5 votes for cloture? The only way, IMO, is by winning over public opinion. You show people like Specter and Collins that the people are with you, and suddenly, you get some defections. President Bush has been incredibly good at this, even with a 27%(!!) approval rating. So who can better sell the argument for liberalism?
It’s not just that I think that Obama will be better at moving public opinion, though I do. It’s more that he seems to grasp that it is necessary to do so. With Hillary, I get the distinct impression that she believes that we will need to operate within the confines of the current political atmosphere. I do not see her trying to shift public opinion substantially; rather, I believe that she will focus on the legislative process, with its dealing and negotiations. She will be good at this, no doubt, but I don’t believe that it’s going to get the job done.
Obama, on the other hand, truly seems to believe that building a deep and lasting majority for liberalism with the public is central to getting liberal plans enacted. We both believe, I think, that it is only by showing wavering legislators that the votes are on your side that you will get them to defect. Not only will this help him deal with Republican filibusters, but it will more broadly benefit liberalism as a movement in this country, and that’s how you get big plans like universal health care, or a real national transit plan, or whatever it is that you like. There’s a certain amount of risk inherent in this. I have to hope that Obama will actually be able to sell the public on liberalism, after 3 decades of demonization of social democratic ideals. But he seems to have the ability, and at least he’s going to try. With Hillary, we’ll have the White House and Congress, but the discussion in our country will continue to be on their terms, and that means that ultimately, we will not win. I’m not deluded. I don’t think that we will convince everyone overnight. But I do believe that Obama wants to leave the country a liberal legacy to match the destructive legacy of Reagan, in a way that Hillary just doesn’t seem to get. That’s what he means when he talks about the way that Reagan changed America with ideas. It wasn’t a change for the better, but it was far more fundamental than what Bill Clinton, for all his good work, was able to accomplish.
Look, I was always a little biased towards Obama, even if I’ve often found it difficult to come off the fence for him. I still think that his speech at the DNC was the best explanation of why I am a liberal that I’ve heard from someone living. He’s much closer to my generation than the others, and I feel like we approach things in the same way. And it’s no mistake that I feel an attraction to an Ivy-League educated black man who is the son of an immigrant. I mean, come on! As a presidential candidate, he is about as similar to me as is constitutionally permissible. Of course I like the guy. But I think you should like him too, because he doesn’t just want to change our government, he wants to change the way that all of us speak about what our government should do. That’s what America needs, and that’s why, if you are fortunate enough to have the franchise, I hope that you vote for Barack Obama.