Sunday, January 06, 2008

Why I've Changed My Mind And Will Support Barack Obama (UPDATE)

In the pre-primary run-up, I've voiced support for Sen. Chris Dodd, even though I knew he had zero chance. I later, and latterly, voiced support for former Sen. John Edwards. After Thursday, however, I consider myself a convert of sorts to the campaign of Barack Obama. There are many reasons for this, and my wrestling with these things should be evident. I thought, however, in light of Democracy Lover's argument with me, that I would make clear why I think Obama is the candidate of the moment, and really will transform our politics, albeit perhaps not in ways I or others might want, or think go far enough, etc.

First, though, I think it is fair to add that I still am wary of much of Obama's rhetoric. I mentioned that FDR ran a pretty thin campaign, not mentioning "New Deal" after introducing the phrase at the Democratic convention in Chicago that year. His running mate, John Nance Garner of Texas, told his that if he kept talking about "that New Deal shit", the Democrats would lose. I think that, rather than taking Garner's advice, Roosevelt understood that Hoover was a dead duck, and campaigned as any typical pol would do, being able to read political winds better than any politician until Bill Clinton.

In this way, I think Obama's message might be a strategic ploy, offering hearers something upon which to latch, without getting too specific in stump speeches, in order to surprise both detractors and supporters. Of course, I thought Bill Clinton had FDR's willingness to be experimental, rather than a more fearful approach to pragmatism, covering his political assets with something for the center-right dominated Congress. Especially after the defeat of health care reform, I think he figured trimming his sales to the prevailing winds was the only way to accomplish anything. He was probably right; that doesn't mean there wasn't a measure of cowardice in his approach.

All of this is going the long way round to giving my reasons for supporting Obama. It seems just a couple weeks ago, I said explicitly that he didn't have what it takes to be President. One thing I forget to factor in was the one thing vitally necessary to becoming President - support among the electorate. I think he proved the naysayers wrong three days ago.

There are a series of posts over at Fire Dog Lake that neatly capture my (reluctant and hedged) support of Obama. First, there this from Scarecrow, from which I wish to site two passages that pretty neatly sum up my own feelings.
I've tried to remain deliberately restrained about any of the Democratic candidates, not because they're not good people but because I see each of them as possessing only a piece of what we need in the next President. It's like pretending there could be a person with Obama's charisma, plus Edward's empathy and passion, plus Clinton's wariness and experienced pragmatism, plus Dodd's courage and constitutional commitment, plus Biden's knowledge and insights, plus Kucinich' moral clarity, plus . . . well you get the idea. But there is no such person; there never is.

We have to choose which qualities to emphasize and then hope the person we choose will have the wisdom, maturity and self confidence to reach out to those who can make the Administration whole and successful.

This is part of my argument with Democracy Lover. Too often we sacrifice the good on the altar of the perfect. Yet, we are in the position in this election year to have "good" be very good.

The second quote neatly encapsulates why (a) my support is still hedged even as I make it public; and (b) why I think he has been far more successful than either Edwards or Clinton:
Whether by luck, logic or innate wisdom, Obama has tapped into the country's longing for hope. Every bit of anger, every frustration we have with the current malignant regime, with the direction of the country, with the plight of working people, the health care crisis or the economic insecurities of the middle class can be channeled through the message of hope. It may not be rationale; it may turn out to be more image and fluff than reality, and we will almost certainly be at least somewhat disappointed in the end. But the country needs to believe in itself again, and that's what Obama is selling. No one else is selling that so well, even if they understand and believe it.

I'll be watching the debates tonight looking for that sense of hope from these candidates. I have no illusions about Barack Obama. I honestly don't know whether he feels inside but has chosen not to repeat what Edwards is saying, how much he cares about what Dodd has been warning us about, and so on. I don't know if he's just rallying the troops with his rhetoric or really is as naive as Clinton would have us believe. But it's clear he represents the hopes of millions who desperately want to believe in their country again, to believe he can pull this off.

This leads me to quote this post, by Jane Hamsher, which neatly sums up my own sense of why Obama has succeeded and Edwards has not:
Edwards seemed the most energized and in addition to joining up once again with Obama to take Hillary down, got in some very impassioned points about the need to confront corporate America. "You cannot nice these people to death." I wish he'd find a way to make that sound a bit less antagonistic -- while I appreciate the willingness to fight, I believe most people listen to him and think it sounds a bit 2004.(emphasis added)

Edwards' message is both correct, and hitting many notes that resound well with the American people. Yet, I think that Obama has something, and learned something, from President Clinton's first campaign, and Ronald Reagan's first and second campaigns and from Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign. It is all well and good to be against something, especially when those somethings are forces that are destructive of our social contract and our political life. Being anti-corporate, anti-Bush is not a positive message, however. Edwards offers a voice for the frustrations of those who just don't seem to have a place anymore; yet his style of confrontation is not one that most people will respond to. I think Obama's smiling, impassioned invocations of possibilities, of a future that is a shared future - not a Democratic future, or a Blue State future, but an American future - is what people are responding to. I know that it the source of my own decision to give him support.

Of course, part of this decision is wholly practical, and I refuse to deny it. I am jumping on what, to me, is the fastest wagon sure to cross the finish line first. Why should I deny that? The campaign, especially for President, isn't about me, or my wants, fears, or desires. The President is the only truly national office; since 1992, the whole issue has been a partisan one, and Obama is telling people his Administration will be an American Administration again. I think there is something powerful, deeply American in that message. When I heard that, I knew that he was not only talking about transcending the bitter, petty battles of our current partisan polarization. I also knew he was talking realignment - and I think he will ride that wave well.

So, there are reasons both petty and rational for my support for Obama. Reasons that make sense, and reasons that seem to contradict much of what I've said. I will gleefully accept that, especially as it shows that I am quite willing to change my mind.

UPDATE: This piece at Talk Left, in its skepticism, misses some things about politics in IL that actually show that Big Tent Democrat doesn't know what he's talking about. I remember this bill, and to say there was vehement opposition is to say much. State politics in IL are run by four people, the governor, the Speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, and the mayor of Chicago. Obama managed to play these egos well, and the unanimous passage only shows how well. Furthermore, our current governor is despised by all three of the other major players, and by the voters as well.

That he has been unsuccessful in Washington shows the environment is different; I think he's saying he will change the environment so others can do what he did in Springfield. Maybe I'm wrong; perhaps this is wishful thinking. I do know that BTD is dead wrong on his reading of Illinois politics.

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