I've tried to keep away from politics in my blog throughout this crazy election season, but now with the election looming in just a couple days, I want to publish my thoughts about what makes Obama the better candidate in this race. I strongly doubt that my thoughts will change anyone's mind, especially since most of my readers are as liberal as I am, but I want there to be a record that not all Obama supporters are crazed, anti-American elitists. Much of what I will say is laid out, more eloquently and in more detail, in the New Yorker's endorsement of Obama, but I'll add my two cents as well.
First of all, what about McCain? I used to like McCain, especially because of his touted maverick status when it came to the issue of torture. Any senator, especially a Republican, who stood up to the Bush administration's shameful endorsement of torture gets my respect and admiration. Also, McCain's willingness to break with the most conservative members of his party marked him as someone with sense and moderation. Unfortunately, McCain has abandoned that stance in an attempt to pander to the most conservative members of the party. The worst instance of this is his choice of an extremely conservative, poorly prepared, evangelical as his running mate. Sarah Palin has shown herself to be ignorant on important issues, extremely inarticulate, and willing to engage in the nastiest of misleading attacks against her opponent. Yet McCain chose her to fill one of the most important political posts in the U.S. Did McCain really think that this woman was the best choice to help him lead the country and possibly to take over in the event that McCain is unable to finish out his term? Really? Or did he deliberately pick someone with more folksy appeal than education and experience in an attempt to win over conservative voters in the "real America"? I cannot vote for someone who treats the decision of who will be his second in command so irresponsibly.
So I'm not interested in voting for McCain. But what makes Obama an appealing candidate? First of all, I am a staunch Democrat and tend to side with liberal policies more often than with conservative ones. I believe that education and equal opportunity for everyone are higher priorities than military might and the well-being of enormous corporations. I think the world is more nuanced than neo-conservative policy allows. So I probably would vote for Obama regardless of his personal appeal. But, Obama also has personal appeal in spades. He is an amazing speaker and exudes intelligence and a detailed understanding of the issues that a president would have to deal with. He seems like a sincere idealist. I realize that he has been playing the political game just as hard as McCain over the past few months, and he's made decisions that I haven't agreed with, such as his about-face on accepting public financing for the campaign. But I think that Obama has shown tremendous character over the course of the campaign. What I like about him the most can be illustrated, I believe, through his reaction to the Jeremiah Wright controversy that erupted during the primaries.
When Obama's connection to his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, began to make headlines in the spring, I thought he would react like most politicians faced with such accusations: deny, deny, deny. But instead, Obama acknowledged his ties to Wright. Yes, he attended Wright's church. Yes, Wright baptized his children and performed his marriage. He repudiated unequivocally Wright's inflammatory speeches, but he would not repudiate the man who had played such an important role in his life. How absolutely refreshing to see someone in a position of power own up to potentially damaging information and take responsibility for his choices!
But Obama didn't stop there. In his amazing speech about race, he went on to address the lingering issues of race relations in the U.S. in a way that did not obscure just how complicated the relationship between whites and blacks in the U.S. really is. So, Obama disagreed with his pastor's rhetoric, but instead of simply dismissing him as "an extremist" or an "evil" man, he tried to look at things from Wright's point of view. Why would an aging black pastor in Chicago be angry enough to say terrible things about his country? Is he justified? How can those of us who aren't as angry or vitriolic reach out to those who are? The contrast with the Bush administration's neo-conservative view of the world is clear: in Bush's world, things are black and white. Those who do not share the interests of the United States are labeled "evil." What does it really mean to say that a leader or nation is evil? Not much. It doesn't lead to an understanding of what leads our enemies to act as they do or a willingness to use our common humanity as a basis for compromise. Instead, looking at the world as a battleground for the forces of good and evil pushes us towards viewing our enemies as irrevocably different and irredeemable. I don't know whether McCain has such a stark view of the world, but his running mate's evangelical background and her lack of reaction to the violent, ugly rhetoric from the audience at McCain-Palin rallies suggest to me that she does, and that worries me.
In summary, Obama's liberal stance and his intelligence appeal to me. His refusal to lie about or deny his connection to Jeremiah Wright speaks highly of his character and his belief in himself and his choices. Finally, Obama's willingness to engage with those he disagrees with is the crux of his appeal for me. In a world where relationships between nations are as fraught and complicated as those between the races in America, I can think of no better quality in a president than the desire and ability to understand those relationships and engage with those who seem irreconcilably different from us.
So, when I received my absentee ballot at the end of September, I cast my vote for Obama. I don't know whether he will be the kind of president I hope he will be, but I hope that I'll have the chance to find out.