Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Why I like Barack Obama

(NB -- I've added a bit to the bottom of this one.)

(Update -- I'm just going to keep tweaking this post when I think of something else to say... I've added some links this time.)

I just posted an abbreviated version of this in the comments at Byzantium's Shores and decided it ought to be a whole post. In spite of what I just said about not posting so frequently.

Obama's Convention Keynote Adress solidified my support. Here's why:

My favorite thing about him is that he doesn't pander. I have yet to hear him make any impossible promises, which habit has been a problem for several of the other convention speakers. Health care is a hard problem, and even if you could get enough Republican support to actually pass any of these universal insurance plans, it would take years to actually get it working as well as the Canadian or UK systems, about which Canadian and British people complain constantly (though they prefer their own to the US system.) Job creation isn't that easy, and cloned-embryo stem cells, moral issues aside, won't provide the miracle cure that Ron Reagan described.

As far as I can tell, Obama doesn't make claims like that. Nor do his speeches consist of restatements of the party line on the high profile issues. At the debate I saw, when the others piled on an abortion question to make it clear that they had absolutely no doubts on the subject, he saved his time to talk about death penalty reform, which he was involved in, in the Illinois Senate. You may remember that Illinois placed a moratorium on the death penalty pending investigation. As a civil rights lawyer, Obama was well-suited to participate in that process. He is not categorically anti-death-penalty, and I am, but I respect that he didn't pander to me either. Similarly, though he has consistently opposed going into Iraq, he repeatedly tells pacificist Democrats that he sometimes supports wars. I'm surprised this sort of thing hasn't cost him more votes. But apparently it wins them -- after all, it worked on me.

My second favorite thing about him is that he doesn't demonize his opponents. This is my main problem with Howard Dean. He thinks Republicans are brain-eating aliens. Whereas Obama says:

We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

Now that's what I call a uniter, not a divider. Mentioning "worship" is another example of not pandering to your base, by the way. His references to religion put off one strongly left-wing friend of mine before the primaries. He seems much more sincere about it than most Democrats. (I really wish atheistic politicians were allowed to simply call themselves atheists. Its Obama's honesty that I like, not his actual beliefs. But atheists aren't allowed to be honest -- because other people like the beliefs.)

My third favorite thing about him is that he talks about moral duties when other Democrats only talk about rights. This is sort of the same thing as not pandering, in the sense that people want to hear about rights rather than duties, most of the time.

When he said "Alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we’re all connected as one people. If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child." I really expected him to start quoting John Donne. "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."

And I liked "The people I meet — in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks — they don’t expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead — and they want to." for the same reason.

My fourth favorite thing about him is that he knows and cares about the rest of the world, outside of the US. His father is from Kenya. He spent part of his childhood in Indonesia (and more of it in Hawaii.) He's got perspective. I trust him to care about people who live in other countries, and people who are new to this country.

My fifth favorite thing about him is that lives in Illinois, and his mom's from Kansas, and I believe he knows the sort of people that I know. It's not so much that I like midwesterners, as that I don't want people who don't like midwesterners representing me.

My sixth favorite thing about him is his charisma. Although I feel guilty, liking him for such a shallow reason.

My seventh favorite thing is that he speaks clear, correct, articulate English, without sounding pretentious.

My eighth favorite thing about him is his résumé. Editor of the Harvard Law review, civil rights lawyer in Chicago, and a solid state senate record.

I also like that he'll add some desperately needed racial diversity to the Senate, but I think it's unfair that he's going to be expected to represent an entire race, as well as my state. It's unfair to him in the same way this is unfair.


After watching Edwards' speech last night, which struck me as empty all limp generalities and rhetorical tricks, I had a good-humored argument today over whether Obama's was any better. After all, he didn't exactly lay out an agenda either, except in the same general "poverty bad; veterans good" sense. I asked myself what it is, exactly, that I want from these speeches. After all, they can't really wonk out on national television. Anyone who wants to read a budget proposal can probably find that material themselves. So what do I expect them to do on television? What did Obama do that Edwards didn't?

I've decided what I want is for politicians to get up there and explain to the people why they can't have everything they want. I'd like them to explain the political realities to people who live in insular communities, and don't understand what their tax breaks/public works project/social services would mean in terms of sacrifices that other communities would have to make. Some civics lessons, a tutorial on deficit spending, and sincere efforts to make competing interests understand one another's points of view. I want my politicians to get up in front of everyone and say, "It's more complicated than you think!"

This comes back to "don't pander." Edwards just told people what they wanted to hear. Obama generally doesn't. As I said, I think his emphasis on responsibility in the DNC speech is a part of what made it so good.

But there are better examples. For instance, he got in a little trouble the other day for acknowledging that there's not much difference between John Kerry and George Bush on Iraq, for instance -- that's true. There's not much choice now but to appeal for help and keep trying to rebuild. There's presumably a large difference between what Kerry would have done in March of 2003 and what Bush did, but we can't undo it now. It's true, but none of the other Democrats will say it.

Some more quotes I like:
On foreign policy:
"To begin with, we must confront the immediate challenge involved in returning sovereignty to the Iraqi people. Although I loudly and vigorously opposed the war in Iraq, I understand that it was an American commitment, not a Republican one. --- Closer to home, the United States has a powerful interest in sustaining democratic reforms in Latin America. We must restore the United States’ reputation as a defender of democracy in this region. [Who talks about this?] --- And, in every region, we must remember that our armed forces cannot impose democracies." And this whole speech. "I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars."

On crime: "In America, we teach that when a criminal has done their time– they’re free to return to society. But that is not the reality. Ex-offenders are subject to any number of hurdles, particularly with respect to employment and housing. Though some of these provisions are offered as protection from violent criminals, they too often restrict non-violent ex-offenders as well." [on the passage of a crime package he sponsored, which also mandated videotaped interrogations and record keeping for the purpose of detecting racial profiling.]

On the economy (soundclip): "All of us at some level believe in free trade. --- But what we do expect that our government is going to make sure that people are at the forefront of this government's thinking when it comes to world trade." [proposing replace tax advantages for moving jobs with tax cuts for those who keep them in the US -- "You don't have to be protectionist to say that that's got to change."]

On politics:"A century and a half ago, two Senate candidates from Illinois set an admirable standard for campaigning with a series of debates that captivated the attention of the entire nation. --- To do these issues justice, we owe the people of Illinois more than glib TV ads and rehearsed sound-bites. " [proposing Lincoln-Douglas style debates with Jack Ryan]

Obama is outrageously popular, all of the sudden, so maybe nuance will catch on.


Andy Nelson said...

and how about this:

In citing Thomas Jefferson's opening words on equality from the Declaration of Independence, Mr. Obama also broke the mold; African-American politicians have not cited those words without sarcasm and qualification for many years, if ever.

from http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/01/weekinreview/01malc.htmlI knew there was something special about him saying that.

Mary said...

I suppose that's true. I wonder if he was conscious of it?

All of the articles on Obama's race seem so tortured to me. "Is he black enough?" When I first saw him and heard his name, I thought Arab or Indian (Asian, not American) were possibilities. I wonder whether his race would be an issue if either of those actually was his background... Or if he would've gotten this far.

Hmm... I wonder if there's still a chance of the Republicans tapping Kathuria... Probably not, as I recall a long Tribune article that made h im seem like a pathological liar. But wouldn't that be an interesting race?

Mary said...

Although probably no one will check these comments now that it's so far down the page, I think I'll put a note here rather than ammending the post this time... Keyes, whose whole purpose is really to show up for the debates, has asked for six of them, which is the number Obama originally arranged with Jack Ryan. Obama says there's not time, and he only wants two, now. Andrew said he was waiting for me to be disappointed in Obama... Well, he's disappointed me there.

hiro said...
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Tom Naka said...
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