Saturday, November 1, 2008

Why I'm voting for Obama

A few weeks ago, I did a series of posts called "How Obama lost me." The basic premise: I was a big fan of his during the primaries, but during the general election I came to realize that he's not a particularly better candidate than any generic Democrat would have been.

Some people who read that series seemed to think it was important for me to also explain why I was still voting for him or why I was so supportive of him in the first place. I didn't give an answer those commenters, because I disagree — I don't think it's very important for me to explain why I'm voting for him. There's no shortage of newspaper and magazine endorsements of Obama, and there must be thousands of blog posts extolling his virtues. But if one more blogger's reasons for voting for Obama don't matter much in the grand scheme of things, then I might as well give them.

First, let's get McCain's negatives out of the way. Here's what I said at the conclusion of my "How Obama lost me" series:

Every candidate has a slew of flaws, and I think McCain's are worse. There are the staggering self-reinvention and flip-flops, which dwarf anything I've seen from Obama. There's his refusal to admit that invading Iraq turned out to be a bad idea. There's his painfully shallow understanding of economics. There's his "How dare you question my integrity or righteousness — I was a POW!" attitude, which makes Bush look humble by comparison.

And yes, there's his age. Of course I think people in their 70s can handle serious jobs. I have no problem with, say, an 80- or 90-year-old judge, as long as they're able. But being president is a uniquely stressful and demanding job, so I do have a problem with an 80-year-old president (which is what McCain will be if he has a full, successful presidency). The idea that this is somehow offensive or taboo is ludicrous. The stakes are just too high to worry about offending people.
Now onto Obama's positives. Since this is pretty well-tilled soil, I'll mostly rely on snippets from other people's endorsements that happen to reflect my thinking:

The Economist (which has endorsed Democrats and Republicans for president):
Merely by becoming president, he would dispel many of the myths built up about America: it would be far harder for the spreaders of hate in the Islamic world to denounce the Great Satan if it were led by a black man whose middle name is Hussein; and far harder for autocrats around the world to claim that American democracy is a sham. ...

A man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and outfought the two mightiest machines in American politics—the Clintons and the conservative right. . . .

In terms of painting a brighter future for America and the world, Mr Obama has produced the more compelling and detailed portrait. He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and discipline than his opponent. Whether he can fulfil his immense potential remains to be seen. But Mr Obama deserves the presidency.
The Chicago Tribune (which has endorsed Republicans since Abraham Lincoln and had never endorsed a Democrat until now):
We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator to an inspiring U.S. senator to the Democratic Party's nominee for president. We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready. . . .

We know first-hand that Obama seeks out and listens carefully and respectfully to people who disagree with him. He builds consensus. He was most effective in the Illinois legislature when he worked with Republicans on welfare, ethics and criminal justice reform.
The Washington Post (which seems to mostly endorse Democrats for president, but also supported the Iraq war):
Mr. Obama is a man of supple intelligence, with a nuanced grasp of complex issues and evident skill at conciliation and consensus-building. At home, we believe, he would respond to the economic crisis with a healthy respect for markets tempered by justified dismay over rising inequality and an understanding of the need for focused regulation. Abroad, the best evidence suggests that he would seek to maintain U.S. leadership and engagement, continue the fight against terrorists, and wage vigorous diplomacy on behalf of U.S. values and interests. . . .

On most [foreign] policies, such as the need to go after al-Qaeda, check Iran's nuclear ambitions and fight HIV/AIDS abroad, he differs little from Mr. Bush or Mr. McCain. But he promises defter diplomacy and greater commitment to allies. His team overstates the likelihood that either of those can produce dramatically better results, but both are certainly worth trying. . . .

Mr. Obama's temperament is unlike anything we've seen on the national stage in many years. He is deliberate but not indecisive; eloquent but a master of substance and detail; preternaturally confident but eager to hear opposing points of view.
The New Republic (which always endorses Democrats for president, but endorsed McCain in the 2000 primaries and supported the Iraq war):
Obama will work to achieve an ambitious agenda but will revise his opinion when the evidence dictates a different course. He is a sincere liberal but without the temperament of an ideologue. His health care and environmental plans are broadly progressive but make concessions to the free market and do not fit the platonic ideals of the left. He doesn't intend to create a single-payer system (alas) and expresses openness to nuclear power. His recent education rhetoric has incorporated the best of the reform movement.

In the middle of this recession, the national mood will run raw. Major policy changes, now inevitable, will exacerbate the anger. . . . Fortunately, Obama has a fetish for data and the company of social scientists, as Noam Scheiber has shown in his reporting. And, just as important, he has the soothing demeanor that might calm tempers and the gift for language that could make necessary, but not necessarily popular, policies more palatable.
Individual Slate editors (each paragraph is an excerpt from a different editor's explanation of why they're voting for him):
I'm a liberal person and I usually vote for Democrats, and while I'm not proud of being a totally predictable voter in this election, I don't mind admitting it. Any further justification would be post facto reasoning for a decision I made by default a long time ago.

As for the accusation that he doesn't have enough experience: No one has enough experience. Nothing prepares you for the presidency. Nothing can. But Obama has the temperament and the humility to surround himself with smart people and let them do their jobs.

It's important not to ratify failure, and the current Republican administration is a failure.

I'm choosing Obama for one main reason: He's the smarter candidate. I don't just mean he's got smarter policies, though he does. I mean he seems to have the higher IQ. His books and speeches suggest deep intellectual curiosity—a calm, analytical, rational mind of the sort we haven't seen in the White House in years.

Obama seemed an implausible candidate when he first announced because he was so short on experience. But . . . Obama's disciplined and level-headed campaign style and his commonsensical grasp of domestic and foreign policy proved his mettle. It doesn't hurt that along the way he gave at least one speech that my grandchildren will study in school. Obama ain't the messiah, but I think he'll be a good president and maybe a great one.

I admire Obama's quality of balance: between attention to details and grasp of ideas; or to put that somewhat differently, between politics and ideals. Beyond that quality of balance, he has demonstrated in action an impressive ability to keep his balance through two challenging, stressful campaigns, for nomination and election.

I like his obvious inner calm. It suggests that his decisions will come from somewhere other than expediency, anger, or fear.

For his charisma, his cautiousness, and his cool. In a time of high stakes, we need someone who can sort out the best course of action without bridling in anger. A candidate who actually nods when his opponent makes a powerful counterargument—as Obama did several times during the last debate—is a rare bird.
Fareed Zakaria:
Let's be honest: neither candidate has past experience that is relevant to being president, except that they have now both run large, multiyear, multimillion-dollar, 50-state campaigns. By common consent, McCain's has been chaotic and ineffective, while Obama has run a superb operation, and done so with little of the drama and discord that usually plague political machines. . . .

I admit to a personal interest. I have a 9-year-old son named Omar. I firmly believe that he will be able to do absolutely anything he wants in this country when he grows up. But I admit that I will feel more confident about his future if a man named Barack Obama became president of the United States.
Well, I don't have much more to add to all that. A few more points, though:

You might notice that some of these excerpts cite superficial qualities like his "style," "cool," and "charisma." But wait — shouldn't we be focusing exclusively on "the issues" instead of superficialities? I don't think so. The superficialities matter too.

Does anyone really cast their vote based on reading the candidates' bullet-pointed position statements on "the issues," subjecting them to rigorous intellectual and empirical scrutiny, and finally tallying up the strengths and weaknesses of each candidates' policies to see which one is stronger overall on "the issues"? Kudos to you if that's how you make your decision, but I don't think people are that rational.

I wish I could figure out how to solve the credit crisis, but I just don't know enough. None of us really knows enough to cast a fully informed vote. So we have to focus on what we are capable of perceiving. It's easier to perceive character, habits, and personality than to predict the consequences of whatever legislation the president might end up signing by extrapolating from the promises on the candidates' websites.

So, what traits do I care about? Intelligence. Open-mindedness. Cautiousness vs. recklessness. Humility vs. arrogance. Pragmatism vs. dogmatism. Is there any serious doubt that Obama trumps McCain on all of these traits?

The president isn't just the top bureaucrat or policy wonk. Our president is the equivalent of Britain's Queen and Prime Minister smooshed into one person. The president needs to encapsulate the spirit of the nation and speak for all of us.

Don't you feel like we don't quite have a leader right now? Don't you feel like our country is missing its voice? It's not a very good feeling, is it?

3 comments:

dbp said...

Don't you feel like we don't quite have a leader right now? Don't you feel like our country is missing its voice? It's not a very good feeling, is it?

What I wish is that the government be such an insignificant part of life that it would be quite normal for people to neither know nor care who the president is.

rishigajria said...

Is your brother Christopher still supporting Senator McCain? Is he still enthusiastic about Sarah Palin?

Christopher Althouse Cohen said...

rishigajria said...
Is your brother Christopher still supporting Senator McCain? Is he still enthusiastic about Sarah Palin?


I ended up voting for Obama. McCain and Palin were unable to make a substantial case for why we should trust them with the financial crisis. I was never that enthused about the two of them, just skeptical of Obama and worried about how he would handle certain types of international crises. Hopefully Obama will be a great president and the people who love him will be right.