Sunday, March 09, 2008

Obama for the Nomination

Well friends I have been out of touch as I have moved to a new job in Utah. Things are settling in.

The never-ending Presidential campaign goes on for the Democrats. I have been reluctant historically to write in endorsement of any specific candidate as I treasure my status as an independent. But now the time is right to cast my support to Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination.

Two politically strong candidates have and will continue to fight a tough campaign. This is a full 60 minutes of football. The first quarter through Super Tuesday was a draw, and the 2nd quarter belong to Obama through 11 straight wins. Too many commentators thought the game was over at the half. Senator Clinton regrouped and had a solid ground game in Ohio & Texas, ramming the ball into the endzone coming out of halftime So now there is still almost a full half left, with the very real prospect of this game going into overtime! What a crazy year this 2008 is.

So why do I write now in support of Senator Obama? I think it is vital to push for a candidate who offers the best possible chance for progress on so many fronts – dealing with radical Islamic fundamentalism and the threat of terrorism, rebalancing our foreign policy, revitalizing our economy, and dealing with real changes in energy policy, health care , education, environment, and our nation’s fiscal soundness. And with an evenly matched game, I hope I can influence events to some degree in the key remaining states – Pennsylvania, NC, Indiana, Oregon, Kentucky.

Senator Obama is a far superior candidate to Senator Clinton both in substance and in style, in the content of his character and the class of his campaign. Let me first give my overall impressions and then discuss issues point-by-point. Obama genuinely represents a break with the past. His crossover appeal rests not only in his badly needed eloquence and charisma, not just in running as a politician who happens to be black as opposed to a black politician (and as opposed to Clinton’s cleverly manipulative use of her woman-as-victim role), not merely in respectful dialogue with members on the other side of the aisle, but in consistently challenging conventional orthodoxy. For example:

· He was and remains the first candidate to identify Pakistan as the root of al Qaeda and as a critical arena to apply action, not just words. No one, not McCain, not Clinton, not even the “crazy cowboy” Bush has had the courage to say that.

· He recognizes the problems of the black community stem not from racism, but from deep cultural issues that need resolution – missing fathers, broken families, lack of emphasis on education in favor of basketball or rap, drugs, etc. To lend the Presidency’s bully pulpit to Bill Cosby’s trenchant message would be a tremendous advance and possibly a chance to move beyond race-based affirmative action and the corrosive battles over race.

I think these examples are windows into a mind that recognizes reality and is not imprisoned by received wisdom that is long past its shelf life. An intellect that is bright enough to see that, in the words of JFK, “The old ways will not do.”

Now let us turn to the issues and arguments of this campaign. Contrary to what the pundits say, there is a good amount of daylight between Obama and Clinton’s positions on several issues:

  • National Security: Obama has clearly and consistently identified the Pakistan/Afghanistan theater as a priority. McCain’s glib reply “Why would you bomb an ally?” is preposterous after a moment’s ponder – what kind of ally is Pakistan? I also think Obama is not as beholden to the Saudis as much of the Republican Party is.
  • Iraq: Readers of this blog know I backed the invasion of Iraq and continued US military involvement. This was a judgment call based on the premise that hopefully turning Iraq into a decent democratic country would eventually promote positive political change throughout the region, a “democratic domino” theory. Readers will also know I have consistently bashed President Bush’s execution and lack of planning, and worried gravely about the primary motives of this administration. Whether this was the right call or not will not be known for 10, 20, perhaps 50 years. I will grant it has seemed like the wrong call for much of the last 5 years, although I must point out that just as the North Africa invasion after Pearl Harbor lured the Axis’ best general & forces into a desert environ where we could defeat them, the Iraq theater has been much more of a meatgrinder for Islamic fundamentalists (both footsoldiers and high level commanders from all over the world) than it has been for Americans. Yet I digress - how is all this an argument for Obama?
    • It is vital to examine why Obama opposed the Iraq invasion and why Clinton supported it. Obama opposed it at the time because of his cost-benefit analysis – lots of blood and treasure invested with no obvious exit strategy. Clinton supported it becomes it seemed politically to be the best call for her future presidential run – support Iraq War II because Iraq War I was a slam dunk for the Republicans, keep a “tough” image, because it was supported by the polls and by most of her Senate colleagues. She was a follower, not a leader. She did what was convenient – sign on with Bush’s plan. And now when it is convenient and popular to bash Bush’s war, she does.
    • On future management, both have committed to withdrawal. But Obama’s deftly leaving enough wiggle room (committing to fight terrorists and prevent genocidal ethnic cleansing) suggest to me he is wise enough to adjust policy to the realities when he is in office. Realistically, we have a moral obligation not to abandon the Iraqi people to foreign terrorists and predatory neighbors. When and if they want us to leave, we should. But we are not there yet.
  • Iran: Obama’s statements that he would meet with Iran’s leaders are concerning. Yet as Martin Peretz points out in the Wall Street Journal, “Unlike the isolationists in the guise of idealists, or the cheerleaders for violence who pretend to be pacifists and populists, Mr. Obama is a patriot of the old cadence and the old convictions, and not easily pushed around. If he is elected president, he will disappoint many of his supporters, and surprise many of his detractors.” Senator Obama should be questioned more aggressively on how exactly he will prevent Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and dominance of the Persian Gulf, but I believe his judgment and backbone are sound.
  • Economics & Fiscal Policy: There is only so much a President can do about business cycles and economic slowdowns. Yet Clinton’s proposal for a 5 year freeze on adjustable rate mortages is moronic (it will simply raise rates for everyone else and freeze lending even more) and her “timeout” on future trade deals is equally braindead. Obama’s push for fair trade with labor & environmental protections is more sensible. His perception of the Social Security payroll tax as a highly regressive part of our tax code is spot-on, and his proposal for prefilled tax returns is in the words of the Economist, “a gem”. I would hope he would build on this by seeing that payroll taxes are job killers, and while removing the cap, dropping the rate from 6.25% to 3-4% on all income, and normalizing the tax system so that all income (even for hedge fund traders) is taxed equally.
  • Health Care: Clinton’s first foray into health policy was a disaster, handing both houses of Congress to the Republicans for over a decade and putting Bill Clinton on the defensive for the rest of his tenure, Let no Democrat forget that it was Hillary Clinton who developed a gargantuan, unintelligible health care plan behind closed doors (initially with not even a single doctor on her panel), that it was unelected, unappointed Hillary Clinton who singlehandedly squandered the first two years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Now she pushes for “mandated” health insurance for all, but conveniently does not specify enforcement. There are good reasons to require health insurance be obtained by all. But this is America, where freedom is justly valued at a high premium. The Republicans will have a field day with her health plan. Obama’s alternative of essentially allowing anyone to buy into a Medicare equivalent health system makes a lot more sense from a a variety of perspectives. I also fear for the future of medicine were Senator Clinton’s vision of national health care (she holds the VA as a role model for all health systems) to come to pass. Her complete divorce from healthcare reality is evidenced by her cluelessness that lack of incentives will lead to least common denominator care.
I think these are vital differences on substantive policy. On education, energy policy, and the environment, I think Obama’s proposals hold considerable merit as well.

The character of each candidate’s campaign is also important to consider. The Clintons, predictably, have fought tooth and claw. Throwing punches is part of politics. And as Obama has rightly noted with grace and class, it is important not to whine. But let us consider a few examples of the hollowness of Clinton’s arguments:

  • The Red Phone: If Senator Obama’s lack of experience is a concern (and it is a fair argument), how is Senator Clinton’s any better? First Lady of Arkansas and First Lady of the United States do not count. Senator Clinton claims she brought peace to Northern Ireland. Really? I think George Mitchell, Tony Blair, and her own husband would be surprised to hear that! And while on the matter of the red-phone, if she wants to count her White House years as “experience”, then the Clinton administration’s indecisiveness on Somalia, Bosnia, and killing Osama bin Laden raise real questions about whether she can make tough calls, as of course does her vote on the Iraq war. And finally, John McCain’s record would eclipse Senator Clinton’s on this score.
  • NAFTA: Admittedly, both candidates pandered to Ohio by bashing NAFTA, and Clinton pandered better. But how can she claim 35 years of experience and then claim she had nothing to do with NAFTA and was opposed to it from the beginning, when it was her husband’s administration that pushed it through? (On the whole, I think NAFTA was a good thing but should be renegotiated to some degree).
  • Michigan: She claims she won Michigan when she was the only one on the ballot, yet 45% of Democrats there did not vote for her! Enough said.

So far all these reasons, I support Senator Barack Obama wholeheartedly for the Democratic nomination. As an independent, I will give Senator McCain a fair hearing in the fall campaign. I must confess I would probably vote (for McCain over Clinton (or not vote at all), as I suspect would a lot of other Democrats (electability and battleground state coattails will be important for the superdelegates to consider). Senator Obama has gotten this far by being “all things to all people” – black and white, native and immigrant, fresh face and hope and inspiration. He must now put some meat on the table – illegal immigration, Iran, energy policy, economics, entitlements – he needs to put some solid policy options on the table. He has the braintrust and the judgment to do it. He needs to reach out to working class white voters and to Hispanics – Edwards and Richardson could really help him out here, and the party.

This is not a test of hope vs. experience. This is a challenge of talent vs. stubbornness, of hope vs. Hillary! The experience issue is a straw issue – Abraham Lincoln was all the experience of one term in Congress, and a lot of bad Presidents had a lot of experience.

And as my father used to note in his battles with school administrators, a 3 year old filly will beat a 35 year old donkey anytime.


At 5:24 PM, Blogger Jeff Fuller said...

You're dad is a wise man . . . I wouldn't want a Donkey to lead our nation back to greatness either!

Listening to what Obama says is one thing, but wise voters won't forget that he actually has a record to look at . . . that being the most liberal Senator in America "IN DEED." Also, his background (scanty as it may be) is as a civil rights attorney which sounds nice and noble . . . but the agenda of that group is as liberal as it gets. I don't buy what Obama's saying/selling, and I don't think the majority of Americans will either.

At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems that a major rethink of Obama's potential to 'bring us together' is in order. Instead of the great uniter, we may be looking at the great divider.

And any guy, who throws his grandmother under the bus, has some serious issues.

The challenge now is to see who will buck up to the challenge or reexamining Obama and who will dismiss his racist rants and rhetoric as excusable

At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is interesting that you were born in the year of the snake because that's exactly what you are, a snake. Your obsession with Islam and extremists is laughable given the terrorism caused by hinduism - a false religion not even worthy of discussion. Maybe you can redirect your criticisms of Islam into an evaluation of female infanticides, the caste system, and the continued terrorism and sexualization of women in the hindu "religion". Sometime, when you are not busy worshiping the cow and drinking its piss, you should focus on the disparities in your country and your "religion".

At 10:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last time I checked, Hindus are not warring with other religions/cultures of the world. Muslims attack Jews in Israel and the West Bank/Gaza, against Buddhists in Thailand, Copts in Egypt, Christians in Europe and United States. Against Hindus in India and even Sunni against Shiite in Iraq.

See the point?

At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Dai Alanye said...

Let's not let Hindus off the hook too quickly. They've made many attacks on Christians, and the Indian federal government seems all to ready to overlook the problem.


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