January 8, 2008

Obama for President

A few months ago, I decided I was supporting Edwards based on his health care plan. I still think he has the best health care plan, though Hillary's is awfully similar, and I still think Obama's plan is terribly flawed in its lack of a mandate. Over at the Political Schmientist's, Andrew argued in comments that the mandate's not that big a deal; Am said what I would have said: "the lack of mandate is... a fundamental difference in the way the plans would operate, namely, that it would drive the average cost of insurance up because people could wait to sign up and pay in until they needed to (i.e. were sick). one of the key reasons that other universal health care plans actually work is that they contain mandates on both ends."

But now I'm supporting Obama. A couple of things changed my mind. I'd made my earlier decision based entirely on policy, on the grounds that all politicians are fake, so I couldn't evaluate character or judgment that effectively, and that electability was anyone's guess. I've changed my mind about both of those things. Obama's life has been consistently dedicated to his espoused principles, and that sheds really powerful light on his character. I still think policy is important, but I also think that judgment and the future of the progressive movement count an awful lot. More than that, I don't think Edwards is a viable candidate: he's not polling well in South Carolina (his home state!), he's not that well-funded, he's not polling that well nationally. I don't even think Edwards would be a good VP candidate. He doesn't balance Obama in terms of experience, and while he's a white Southerner, he doesn't pull much voting power in the South considering that he didn't even carry SC in 2004. So the race is between Clinton and Obama, and I think a Clinton nomination is the worst of the three quite good options we have available.

Clinton and Edwards have both talked good talk about economic justice, but all of Obama's choices - from his career decisions to his votes - have fallen right in line with what he says he believes in. Contrast this with Edwards's stint at a hedge fund (which he's said was for research into the inner workings of the financial world, for whatever that's worth), Clinton's private law career, and both of their voting records. They're centrists. Clinton votes right-wing on defense issues, and made some very troubling foreign policy votes: authorization for force in Iraq, voting to declare Iran's Quds Force a terrorist organization (which managed to be extraordinarily hypocritical and intemperate at the same time). You can explain those as political calculation or you can explain them as bad judgment, but you can't explain them as a reason to support Clinton. In fact, for me it's a deal-breaker for primary support. Edwards did not focus on economic issues in the Senate - Am argues that it's because he was representing a conservative Southern state, but he never ran for reelection; his rhetoric is consistent, but his actions are not. The word about his career in law is that he chose cases he knew he could win, and it seems like he may have done that in the Senate too (patients' bill of rights, minimum wage increases) - that's not the road he's on now, so it's hard to tell how he'd do. Regardless, I think that the consistency of what we hear about Obama's values, priorities, and decision-making counts tremendously in his favor.

Policy counts, but the worst aspect of the disastrous Bush presidency has not been any specific policy; it's been the fact that Bush has organized his administration around secrecy, personal power, and corporate greed, and fed an ultra-polarized rhetorical climate that allows fools like Ann Coulter to argue that political disagreement is tantamount to treason. Obama is the only candidate whose actions speak clearly against that culture. Clinton is closest to Bush in staffing her campaign with disciplined, secretive folks driven by loyalty; she would be an incredible improvement on Bush, but not as clear a change in this specific way as Obama.

Enough about this. Honestly I think all three candidates are pretty decent people for politicians who are trying to get elected to office, but Obama's exceptional. Moving on.

There's also a lot of new information out there on electability, all of which suggests to me that Obama is not just someone who can win, but a movement-building opportunity for the Democratic Party. Many of us have complained about lack of investment in the future by the Democratic Party, as exemplified by the Terry McAuliffe/Howard Dean fight over having Democratic organizations in all 50 states - this is our chance to do something about it just with a candidate. Obama's base of support is amazingly young: 36% of his support in Iowa came from people under 30 (by my calculation from this data). Through actual political science, someone found out that people form their party IDs young; with Obama, we'll have a lot of young people coming in who will be Democrats for life. Not only that, but he has great support from independents, and pretty good support even from Republicans. Clinton has stronger support from hard-core Democrats and older people, but voting for her misses a tremendous opportunity for the future of the party and the country.

I'm also concerned by the tremendous amount of hatred for Hillary out there. I really think most of it is sexism, or was originally sexism and has acquired some more legitimate trappings. However, and I say this with great reluctance and a lot of uncertainty, I still think the visceral hatred of her might be a good reason for her not to be the nominee. One of my best friends in Des Moines from high school has said he'd vote for McCain or Huckabee over Clinton; I got really angry about that, but I also think it points to Obama's value as a movement-building candidate who appeals to a lot of people personally and is a progressive. This is not a narrow effort to go for the most moderate candidate, but a search for a candidate who will depolarize the country (as Obama is doing not only rhetorically but through his support base) while building a long-term progressive movement. Edwards and Clinton have been deep, deep in the hateful muck of the last few years; Obama might get us out of it. Their policies are still fairly similar, and I don't think a health care policy - necessarily subject to Congressional battles about its details - is worth this trade.

On the other hand: like Am said, we have a great, great candidate pool. I'd love to vote for Obama or Edwards for president, and be pretty darn happy to vote for Clinton. Even more exciting, the Democratic front-runners are approximately seventy-two million times as attractive as the Republican front-runners. Because that is what will help us in November.

Tomorrow/when I get to it: more about blatant media sexism and why people hate Hillary (Gloria Steinem was right, but that doesn't change my vote); why the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries aren't so bad as a way to get the nominations started.

Please leave comments! They make me want to write more!


Andrew said...

This is a very compelling endorsement. It largely echos my own position, but it sounds like you've thought about this and researched it even harder than I have. Well done, and thanks for sharing.

And, just for the record, I was somewhat persuaded by the arguments that the mandate is a big deal--not a dealbreaking deal, though.

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Iowa and NH.

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