Two months ago today- I wrote a piece endorsing John Edwards for President. On Friday, I cast my ballot, by mail, in California’s Democratic Primary which is part of the February 5th “Tsunami” Tuesday for Senator Barack Obama.
My views about Mr. Edwards have not changed- his policies and his positions are nearly exactly the same as mine. His anger about corporate greed and the problems of the new Gilded Age resonate for me. The influence of corporate lobbyists, the oil companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the banks and the health care industry has indeed put a strangle hold on this country.
His views on health care are in synch with mine. All the Democratic candidates hold similar positions to mine on most issues that are important to me including L/G/B/T issues, HIV/AIDS issues, health care, the enviornment, and influence peddling in government. Mr. Edwards embodies much of what I would want to see in a President. So why did I change my mind? The reasons are complicated and more esoteric than most political decisions I would make- but I’ll try to explain.
As I wrote in my November 12th endorsement of Mr. Edwards, “I think any one of the three leading Democrats- Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, and former Senator Edwards- would be acceptable. There are things to like about all of them and things that are somewhat problematic but they are all smart, committed public servants.”
Senators Obama and Edwards probably hold views closer to mine than does Mrs. Clinton. I admire her intelligence and her tenacity- but although she said she found her voice in New Hampshire during the recent primary, I would disagree. I honestly think that Mrs. Clinton found her voice when she became a member of the United States Senate. She is a good legislator and has developed respect from colleagues on both sides of the aisle- inclduing many who publicly loathed her as First Lady. Mrs. Clinton would be an awesome Senate Majority Leader. Her skills are at their best in the legislative branch.
Mrs. Clinton talks a great deal about her 35 years of experienece. To her credit she has worked as a staffer in Congress, as First Lady of Arkansas, as First Lady of the United States and as a United States Senator on progressive issues that have helped improve the lives of women, children and people of color. Mr . Edwards has decades expereience fighting the good fight for the little guy against big corporate interests as an attorney. He is a “trial lawyer” which the radical right like to equate to being a member of a Satanic cult, but trial lawyers often fight on behalf of people who have been kicked around by the system and by big corporations; they are not all ambulance chasers. Clearly Mr. Edwards was one of those zealous advocates for the little guy- not an ambulance chasing sleaze bag.
Mr. Obama is the youngest of the front running Democrats and has a little different of a background- it is one of community organizing and teaching law as well as time spent in the Illinois State Legislature and a short time in the United States Senate. As I mentioned in my piece on December 17th, Mr. Obama’s political resume eerily mirrors the political resume of another Senator from Illinois who became president- Abraham Lincoln. Both have just about the same amount of experience at both the federal and state level of government.
In my original endorsement for Mr. Edwards I stated “Mr. Obama shows a lack of experience and reticence that makes me a little nervous. I don’t know if he has the gravitas to be President right now. He brings a fresh face to politics, but I haven’t really seen a lot of substance behind the rhetoric. I think that 8 years from now he would be an awesome candidate. I just don’t think he is quite ready yet.” Over the past few months I have looked at the “experience” factor more closely.
It wasn’t until the “experience” issue was raised ad infinitum by Senator Clinton’s campaign that I truly looked at the issue of experience as it relates to our nation’s best and worst presidents. James Buchanan who came to the presidency with 29 years of experience as a representative, senator, ambassador and Secretary of State was arguably one of our worst. Abraham Lincoln with experience nearly identical to Mr. Obama’s was inarguably one of our best. My piece Presidential Candidates: Is “experience” a real issue? Just look at Abraham Lincoln addresses this issue in more depth.
So while experience is a factor it doesn’t seem to be a proven factor of presidential achievement so should it be the final arbitor in my decision making? I decided that while expereince is important – expereience varies and many other factors should be considered.
Mr. Obama’s experience community organizing in inner city Chicago is something that should not be ignored and give him a unique perspective. His experience in federal government seems to bode well when looking at former Presidents
In my original endorsement of Mr. Edwards I cited concerns about Mr. Obama’s reticence and I wasn’t sure if he had that fire in his belly that is necessary for a presidential candidate and gives that person the gravitas that is so often talked about as essential for a president.
Somewhere in the last months Mr. Obama has turned my concerns about his reticence on its head. He is hardly reticent and he shows that “fire in the belly” that is essential for any serious presidential candidate. To borrow language from Mrs. Clinton- he truly has found his voice.
I have also poured over his positions on issues and there is indeed a great deal of substance to his views. Again- those views may vary slightly from Mr. Edwards’ and Mrs. Clinton’s but they are substantially similar with the most striking similalrities being between Senators Obama and Edwards.
So with the original concerns I had about Mr. Obama off the table and my clear admiration for Mr. Edwards, what factors were at play as I cast my vote for Mr. Obama after endorsing Mr. Edwards?
Is it the change factor? Maybe a little- but the term “change” has been so over used in this campaign that I could vomit. If you want a real candidate of change vote for the former Governor of Massachusetts Willard “Mitt” Romney. He has changed his position at least once if not twice on every issue. Now that’s change!
What sort of change might Mr. Obama bring that might allude the efforts of Mr. Edwards or Mrs. Clinton?
First is generational. I am at the tail end of the baby boom generation and it seems that my generation has mired itself in a partisan red state / blue state debate that will take someone with a fresh approach in order to extricate the nation from this partisan inertia.
Second is racial. I would not vote for Mr. Obama just to see the first African American president nor would I vote for Mrs. Clinton because she would be the first woman president although either would be historic. However Mr. Obama has approached race in a completely different way than it has been dealt with in our nation since the Civil Rights movement. It is more of a uniting theme and less a divisive one. During the Civil Rights era that divisive fight was necessary to create change. Now- forty years later- racism still haunts us and manifests itself in different ways than it did before the landmark victories of the Civil Rights moement and it will take a new approach to move forward. Mr. Obama’s role as a uniter is exactly what this nation needs at exactly the right time as we continue to wrestle with racial tensions and inequities.
Race has haunted this country since its founding. Racism was enshrined into the original words of our Constitution, the document that we hold as the paragon as liberty and equality, in Article 1, Section 2 – the enumeration clause where the Constitution outlines how members of the House of Representatives will be apportioned to the states. Slaves were counted as three/fifths of a human being. No matter how you try and spin it- racism has been part of our nation since before its founding. Slavery is a legacy that our nation has never truly dealt with openly, appropriately and rationally.
Mr. Obama seems to offer a new direction for racial relations in the United States- not only because he would be the first African American president but because he approaches the issues surrounding race in a new and fresh way; an approach that seems, at least to me, to be the natural next step in the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mr. Obama’s mixed racial background and his personal story may resonate world wide as well in a way that could have much of the world rëvaluate the tradional view of United States’ arrogance and imperialism. The rest of the world might wonder if the American people have finally emerged from our cocoon.
Third is inspiration. There is no doubt in any one’s mind, from the most conservative to the most liberal, that Mr. Obama is an orator unlike any we have seen in more than a generation. I have often thought of former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo and President Bill Clinton as gifted orators and they are; but they are no match for Mr. Obama. Watching both Mr. Obama’s victory speech in Iowa and his concession speech in New Hampshire brought tears to my eyes. How many times can a cynical old liberal admit to crying at a political speeech? Not since Robert Kennedy has there been someone on the public stage that seems to move and inspire people like Mr. Obama.
More than any time in recent memory, this nation needs a leader that inspires us. For too long we have been electing men for their competence. Competence is important but we are not electing a CEO of a corporation we are electing a leader for the nation as well as the free world. That role requires someone who can inspire us and move us. It is clear to me that Mr. Obama is certainly bright, visionary, savvy and able to lead.
Inspiration alone is not a good enough reason to vote for someone. Eloquent oratory is laudable but it must be combined with vision and the inspiratrion to engage us- the citizens of the United States- to join in a movement to reinvigorate the greatness of its people.
Mr. Obama emphasizes the connections between people, the networks and the webs of influence. These sorts of links are invisible to some of his rivals, but Obama is a communitarian. He believes you can only make profound political changes if you first change the spirit of the community. In his speeches, he says that if one person stands up, then another will stand up and another and another and you’ll get a nation standing up.
The key word in any Obama speech is “you.” Other politicians talk about what they will do if elected. Obama talks about what you can do if you join together. Like a community organizer on a national scale, he is trying to move people beyond their cynicism, make them believe in themselves, mobilize their common energies. It is clear that we need a leader that will stir the American people to change- not just “offer” change in Washington DC.
It was reading a piece by Michael Kinsley in the New York Times (“Stirred, Not Shaken”, January 6, 2008) that ultimately swayed me towards Mr. Obama.
“Americans say they want change, and think they want it, but there is room for doubt. Change is scary. What are the candidates actually promising? As often as not, it is protection from change. They will not muck around with your Social Security. They will make sure that you don’t lose your health insurance — and that you will always be able to keep your own doctor. The world is changing fast, but they will protect you from any dire effects. They won’t let the country get flooded with poisonous toys from China or workers from Mexico or (a Mike Huckabee offering) terrorists from Pakistan. A fence, that’s what we need. A fence to cower behind, to keep out change, or at least to slow it down.
There is nothing contemptible about a reluctance to change. Most of us have it pretty good in this country, and can’t be blamed for wanting things to stay that way. For that to happen, though, will require some wrenching changes. The list isn’t surprising, or really very long, compared with the list of our blessings. We need to use less energy and borrow less money. We need to fix our schools and reform our health care system. We need to end a stupid war.
Is this what people mean when they demand “change”? Are these things what the candidates have in mind when they promise to deliver it? If so, great. But all of these (except, maybe, ending the war) will require some changes that are unpleasant. We as a society have shown no tolerance for unpleasant changes, and politicians have shown no enthusiasm for trying to persuade us that they might be necessary. If all you want is happy changes, you really don’t want change at all.”
Thinking about all of the candidates and thinking about which ones might be visionary and able to lead the nation into change by demanding our sacrifice and challenge us to unite to make a better world- it seems to me that Mr. Obama is the best choice.
A leader who can inspire us with the sort of words that haven’t been heard with such clarity since President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961- nearly a half a century ago.
“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”
A few leaders have inspired the American people to do difficult things at difficult times, to make difficult choices and make some sacrifices and to dream beyond our imagination- all the way to the moon. Mr. Obama has convinced me that he is that leader at our particular time.