Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why vote for Barack Obama? Part II

As noted in the post below, I’ve been challenged by a conservative blogger in Wisconsin to state why I support Barack Obama without delving into all of the myriad faults and shortcomings of his Republican opponent.
At the start of the presidential campaign I assumed, like many others did, that Hillary Clinton would be be the Democratic nominee and I was perfectly fine with it. She had raised an impressive amount of money and had a strong campaign operation in place and I figured she would quickly outpace her competitors in the Democratic primary.
While I thought Obama seemed like an intriguing candidate, I figured he was too new to the process to have a chance against Hillary’s powerful political machine and was mostly running to build up his name recognition for a future run for the presidency.
But Obama surprised me and everyone else (especially Hillary) when he won the Iowa caucuses and then went on to split the Super Tuesday states almost evenly with Hillary. After that, his campaign seemed to take off as he racked up victory after victory through the month of February. By early March as the Texas primary was approaching it was already becoming clear that Hillary had squandered her chances and had fallen too far behind in the delegate count to win the nomination. As a practical matter, I decided to support Obama at that point on the grounds that a victory in Texas would slam the door on Hillary and bring a quick conclusion to the Democratic primary race.
But I have no qualms about supporting Obama beyond the pragmatic desire to coalesce around a winning candidate. While he is relatively young - 46 - he has more than enough experience and qualifications to be president. Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School where he also held the prestigious position as editor of the Harvard Law Review and then went on to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago for several years. But rather than cashing in by joining a big law firm in the private sector where he could have made a lot of money very easily, he chose instead to launch a career in public service, first as a community organizer and later as a State Senator and then U.S. Senator from Illinois.
Throughout his poltical career, Obama has demonstrated a desire to reach bi-partisan agreements and work constructively with his political opponents. His legislation to reform ethics and health care laws in Illinois gained broad bipartisan support. And in the U.S. Senate he has worked with Republicans like Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Richard Lugar of Indiana to pass bipartisan legislation. Obama is far from being the extreme left partisan caricature portrayed by right-wing radio and web sites. While he is unabashedly progressive in his politics, he is not an ideologue and believes above all else in promoting good government policies that benefit rather than burden the citizenry.
While I’m not supposed to veer off into bashing Republicans, I have to stop here and say one of the key differences between the parties today that drives my voting decisions is my perception that Democrats, as opposed to Republicans, truly believe in and support good government. By “good government” I mean the kind of government that is beneficial to the people and accomplishes its goals in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
Republicans long ago were co-opted by a radical faction that believes that every government program is bad, government is always the problem and never the answer and that privatization is the ultimate answer to everything. So they practice what I call “bad government” and intentionally try to block, deter, ignore, starve or otherwise gum up government programs just to prove that they don’t work.
The problem is that Republicans have had eight years to put in place all of their ideas and they have failed miserably in almost every case. I would invite anyone interested to read Greg Anrig’s book “The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing” for a thorough and in depth look at this predicament.
We need a leader who actually believes in our country, supports it and thinks that it can work. Someone who will put good government people into top positions, as opposed to right-wing anti-government ideologues, and help turn around some of the long neglected programs that this country needs to function more effectively and more efficiently.
I believe Barack Obama will do just that. A gifted speaker and communicator, he has an inate ability to gain people’s trust and find compromises that most people are willing to support.
As someone who will support and defend long established and proven programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Obama is the true “conservative” in the race. Republicans, by contrast, are the radicals, driven by an ideological furor, who want to tear down the status quo and replace it with a radical privatization scheme that has never been proven to work under any circumstances.
Obama’s position on global warming is in line with sound scientific studies and the conclusions of the vast majority of the scientific community, not based on a radical ideology that rejects science out of hand whenever it does not agree with predetermined conclusions.
I could go on with a long list of programs and policies that Obama supports and with which I agree, but suffice it to say that I support Obama because he is not an ideologue and because he supports and practices good government principles. That means that even if he puts in place a program or policy that I disagree with, I trust that he would abandon it or change it if it proves not to work, rather than stubbornly supporting it just because it meshes with his ideology.

Here is my response to Steve Kroll that I posted at his blog:

Great analysis. Here are some of my responses and reactions:
Under qualifications, I should have stressed that Obama had 12 years of experience in elective office (eight in the Illinois State Senate, four in the U.S. Senate before launching his presidential bid) which puts him ahead of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, John Adams and quite a few more notable U.S. presidents.
Plus, as you can see from the list here, our most experienced presidents have not necessarily been our best.
I would contend that legislation that both sides agree on is the epitome of bipartisanship and in that context the difference between bipartisan and non-partisan is essentially moot. What examples do you have of Obama acting in a way that would be considered overly partisan?
My friend Nick Marinelli brings up the National Journal vote ranking that concluded that Obama had the most liberal voting record in the Senate. But their methodology is flawed as is detailed here. You can see a more accurate study here.

A good example of what I mean by “good government” vs. “bad government” is the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA under President Clinton (good) and what it devolved into under President Bush after he filled its top leadership with partisan cronies (bad). The book I referenced in my initial post goes into great detail about the FEMA fiasco and how it went from being a highly respected agency that won kudos from state governments dealing with natural disasters, to the sad joke it became as a result of the Bush administrations neglect and mismanagement culminating in the trainwreck response to Hurricane Katrina.
I am not saying that privatization is never a good option, but it is clearly not the cure-all, miracle solution that so many on the right claim it is.
Here is a good, nonpartisan introduction to the issue of privatization. Also, check out the wiki article with a rundown of the pros and cons.
The point is, sometimes it can be good and sometimes it’s not. Taking a hardline position on one side or the other means you are going to be wrong about half the time.

As for ethanol, that is another complex and involved issue which you seem to dismiss out of hand. Have you really studied the issue? How can you say “Ethanol is an inferior fuel that nobody wanted to put into their gas tanks”? Inferior in what way?
Turning to Wikipedia again, shows that “higher compression ratios in an ethanol-only engine allow for increased power output and better fuel economy than would be obtained with the lower compression ratio. In general, ethanol-only engines are tuned to give slightly better power and torque output to gasoline-powered engines.”
Combined with the fact that it is a renewable resource that burns cleaner than gasoline, it sounds like a pretty good deal. Admittedly, it does have some drawbacks, but overall the ability to grow our own fuel rather than relying on imports from overseas would seem to at least merit further study.
And just as privatization is not a miracle cure-all, neither is wholesale reliance on “free market solutions”. Throughout our history the “free market” has needed government intervention to keep from running us over a cliff as we nearly did during the Great Depression. What we have in this country (and what makes us great) is a careful mix of free market and government intervention. If we go too far in one direction or the other the economic engine will overheat or stall.

When I say that Obama is being the “true conservative” I am making a distinction between “conservative” by which I mean defending the status quo, and “right-wing” which is a radical ideology often intent on overturning the status quo.
Admittedly, it is all just semantics.

My point with global warming is that while you can find a physicist here or a geologist there who may have differing views on the matter, the wholesale majority of the scientific community as represented by the National Academy of Sciences and countless others has concluded “that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.”

With regards to your age, I meant no offense. You are the same age as the students my wife teaches at the university. You are not old enough to remember Ronald Reagan just like I’m not old enough to remember John F. Kennedy. Yet each one had a profound impact on our particular political views.
When I was your age, I cast my first presidential vote for Reagan in 1984. But just a few years later I became disenchanted with Reagan and the Republican Party as I watched the Iran-Contra scandal unfold before me. I’ve been an avid observer or politics since then.
I did not support George W. Bush when he ran for governor of Texas, but I thought he did an OK job once he was in office. And while I did not support his bid for the presidency in 2000, I had hopes that he would continue the same kind of bipartisan governing style he demonstrated in Texas where he worked well with the Democratic leaders in the State Legislature and especially with then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, on old-style Democrat.
But I was severely disappointed once he was in office and became, in my opinion, the most partisan (and the worst) president this nation has ever seen.
Since Bush is the only president you’ve known for your entire adult life, I’m not sure how well you can appreciate this distinction. But I am not saying that your are naive or that you are certain to change your views. In fact, changing ones views they way I have seems to be quite rare.

Finally, while I certainly respect William F. Buckley and historic icons like Madison and Jefferson, I must admit that I nearly choked when you included Mark Levin in their ranks.
I think Dahlia Lithwick’s review of his “book” sums up my opinion of him.
I look forward to further debate. Thanks, Steve!

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