Why I Support Barack Obama

An anonymous commenter below wrote:
With a seventeen year old son about to sign up for the draft, I would love to see the fighting disappear before the draft appears, but I wonder if Obama has enough power in Congress to follow through with his promises. This is a war about profit not morals.

As a teacher, I wonder about No Child Left Behind and how that will impact us once Bush leaves office. Will Obama know enough to understand the unrealistic expectations of No Child Left Behind has on our educational system?

Does Obama have a solid Health Care Plan?

Will he pull us out of a recession or dig us deeper by trying to do all his promises too quickly?

And while I swear this will not become the all-politics-all-the-time-blog, I wanted to answer the commenter in a real post and explain why I support Obama. (Note that all this is greatly influenced by the Andrew Sullivan article I cite below -- really, go read it.)

The answers to the questions about Obama's education and health care plans are both yes; take a look at his website (under Issues) and you can find thoughtful answers on both subjects, with specific reference to the failure of No Child Left Behind. As for issues of Iraq and the economy, any new president is going to have a tough time dealing with the morass of the Middle East and the fine balance of inflation and recession -- not to mention the nine million other issues that will be on his desk on January 21, 2009 -- but he is an intelligent and judicious guy, and I trust him more than I trust any other candidate to do what's genuinely right and not what's politically expedient.

And that's what my support of Obama is pretty much based on: I trust his brains, his sincerity, and his passion to make him into the president that we need now. The president we need is someone who will be able to bring the country together, to genuinely inspire people, to win the respect of Republicans as well as Democrats, and to restore our country's spirit and reputation both here and abroad after the devastation inflicted by the Bush administration. I think this spiritual restoration is at least as important as whether the president can actually enact his/her policy (and indeed would make it much more likely that s/he would be able to enact that policy), because this country is bruised and bleeding, not just from the war and our teetering economy, but from our loss of faith in public service, public servants, and public ideals.

And Hillary Clinton is simply not the candidate to make that restoration happen. I was watching the debate on Saturday night, with all the talk about change, and I felt sorry for her because she really does have all the years of experience making change in Washington, whether in the White House or the Capitol or the Child; and I do think she has learned from the 1994 health-care debacle and become a better, wiser public servant. I'm proud she's my senator from New York. But she is also the most divisive figure in American politics today, because her history (political and personal), her last name, and yes, her gender just polarize far people than than she brings together. That's not the person we Democrats need at the top of the ticket this November, and more importantly it's not the person the entire country needs as president next January.

(As for Edwards, he's basically running a campaign based on division -- a class war of us vs. them, regular people vs. the special interests, have-nots vs. haves -- and that is not only of limited appeal in an election but of limited use when it comes to governing the whole country. I like the guy, just as I greatly admire Clinton, but I don't think he's the one we need now.)

Which brings me to Barack, who is not just my candidate-by-elimination but my candidate of choice. He is not perfect on the campaign trail -- not always inspiring, warm, gracious, with the common touch, the mixture of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy that people want him to be. And he will not be a perfect president; I imagine there will be a pretty steep learning curve his first months in office as he tries to enact all his promises and runs into Washington gridlock. And will he be able to enact all those promises and get everything right? No.

But one of the things I like most about him is that he's not a political animal -- he's a public servant and an intellectual, two things we are in critical need of in the highest office in our land. He was a community organizer before he went to law school, and a law professor before he went into the Illinois State Senate. He writes many of his own speeches, and writes them well, which counts for a heck of a lot with me because good writing signifies so much else -- clear thinking, an orderly mind, passion. (Who wants to read a book of speeches -- or anything really -- written by George W. Bush?) He is becoming more of a political animal, sure, because you have to be to be a viable senator and Presidential candidate. But I have faith in those community and intellectual roots.

And I like his positions on the issues. People who say he's vague and inspecific must be referring to his statements during public appearances and not his actual policies, because everything is laid out in nuanced detail on his website. (And really, what good politician gets specific about policy during a public appearance? It puts everyone to sleep.) He has called Iraq "a dumb war" from the start and supports talking to everyone in the region, not giving Syria and Iran the silent treatment because they won't play nice. (I think 16 months may be too quick a withdrawal, actually, but getting out eventually is the important point.) He is strong on Social Security, health care, the environment, education. He doubtless resembles the other Democrats much more than he differs from them, but again, I have faith in his principles and ideas, and trust the details to be worked out later. And he is young, but I trust him to get good advice.

Finally, the man inspires. Go to an event. Listen to his speeches. Look at the record turnout in the Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses -- a turnout caused partly by the spiritual desperation of the country and everyone's hope for change, but also by record numbers of youth voters, many of whom are voting for him. Republicans like him and he works well with them. At his best he is an orator in the tradition of King and Kennedy, and I believe he could have a similarly galvanizing effect on this country, in a way no other candidate, Democratic or Republican, will be able to achieve.

So that is why I will support Barack Obama in the New York primary on February 5, 2008, and then hopefully in the general election in November. End of lecture.