Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A campaign for the ages, and why Barack Obama should be president

Believe it or not, this will all be (hopefully) over one week from today. And what a long strange trip it's been.

If current trends, polling numbers and momentum are correct, the United States of America will do itself a great favor by electing the man who even General Colin Powell, a Republican, calls a 'transitional' figure, Barack Obama. And it could change the course of our nation for the better. That's not small talk. I honestly believe that great things could happen under an Obama Administration.

At the beginning of the year, prior to the primaries, I didn't really have a horse in the race. I was repelled by the media's apparent anointing of Hillary Clinton as the potential nominee, with Obama as the runner-up. I turned away from Clinton for many reasons. I don't dislike Clinton. As a matter of fact, I gained more respect for her in recent months, and would have had no problem voting for her if she had gotten the nomination. But out of the gate, she was too mean, too establishment, too much of a suckup and quite frankly, while I was a strong supporter of her husband, I preferred a candidate not named Clinton or Bush. And I liked Obama, and was inspired by his own personal story, but after being burned by the lackadaisical campaign of John Kerry in 2004, I thought he'd get absolutely creamed in the primaries and general election. He seemingly didn't stand a chance.

But I felt compelled to settle on someone. And I thought that John Edwards, the vice presidential nominee from four years ago, had a compelling message. I disregarded the fact that he came across as much more conservative while serving as the senator from South Carolina. Politicians in deep red states have to do that. Lyndon Johnson and Al Gore were moderate-conservative southern senators that turned out to be much more liberal when broken from those restraints. This year, Edwards pushed a strong, populist, working-class platform, acknowledging what most discovered - that the 'trickle-down economics' philosophy that favors the wealthy at the expense of virtually everyone else almost always leads to financial turmoil, as it did in the 20's and 80's.

But anything could happen in the primaries. Edwards ran an aggressive third place, though Clinton and Obama sucked all the air out of the room. It was definitely an uphill battle. He eventually gave up, and soon admitted to an extramaritial affair that had started to surface during the primaries. I felt deceived. If he had that skeleton in the closet, he had no right to run in the first place until he totally came clean and put it all on the table for the voters to decide. When Edwards ended his campaign, the last of the longshots to fall by the wayside, I had to settle on another horse. By that time, I had really started to like the idea of a President Obama.

The big surprise in the primaries was that Obama got better as the campaign rolled on. Much better. I give him a ton of credit for taking on the most powerful and most aggressive political machine of our time, that of the Clintons. Hillary threw everything she had at him, and at times got rather nasty, as I assumed she would. I don't blame her too much - if Obama was to be the nominee, he had to be tested. And he passed that test, as far as I was concerned. He was confident, charismatic, intelligent, and had a highly organized campaign with a ground game unsurpassed in political history. Obama and his crew took the best idea of Howard Dean's surprising 2004 run, a mostly tech-saavy people-powered movement, and refined it into a massive grassroots juggernaut. He didn't have a gang behind him - he had a whole army!

This massive effort, and the fact that this was a relatively unknown young black Chicago politician with the unlikely name of Barack Obama who attracted people like flies to honey, really opened my eyes. And with a middle name like 'Hussein,' I knew this guy had to have balls of steel to get as far as fast as he had. To overcome perceived shallow racism and xenophobia in post-9/11 America really says something about Obama's perseverernce and appeal. He wasn't going to let anything stand in his way. He was a fighter. John Kerry couldn't overcome a group of Republicans lying about his honorable military record, which banished him to the Hall of Shame for lightweight candidates, along with names like McGovern, Goldwater, Dole and Mondale. I was convinced that if Obama could overcome all the stuff that made him who he was, things shallow-minded people would hold against him, he could accomplish anything he wanted. I knew Obama could easily become our next president, and a very good one. I was sold.

After clinching the nomination, Obama ran a very strong campaign, and one that kept growing stronger by the day. A characteristic of a good president is one that can evolve, roll with the punches and adapt to a changing environment. He did so without losing focus on the big picture.

Obama also tried to stay above the fray. Kerry was done in by very nasty campaigning. Obama was attacked mercilessly for really stupid stuff, but he stood firm on his message. He wanted to give people a reason to vote for him, rather than against his opponent, in contrast to his rival, John McCain, who had no real compelling statement for his own bid. Sure, Obama could have flooded the airwaves with a ton of negative advertising, and could have easily attacked McCain on many personal points. They could have aggressively brought up the scandal involving S&L swindler Charles Keating, who bankrolled McCain's early political career and used his influence to get McCain and other senators to stonewall investigations into his shady dealings. Aside from a small web campaign, they opted to attack McCain on the issues. When McCain brought up former radical Bill Ayers, Obama could easily have brought up McCain cronies like convicted Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy, who at times openly advocated the assassination of federal agents. And that's what set the two camps apart. Obama and his minions have held back most of their possible negative attacks, perferring to challenge McCain's positions on the issues and his embrace of the policies of the increasingly unpopular President Bush. In this respect, Obama seemed to be running from a loftier, more confident plain, while McCain seemed like he was desperately gasping for air.

To his credit, McCain himself personally avoided bringing up Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Smart move. Sure, Wright is wild and outspoken, and the YouTube soundbytes, taken out of context, could easily stir up a lot of phony outrage. But McCain and the Republicans have much more serious pastor problems, when one considers the loose lips of Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, James Dobson, John Hagee and others. And don't forget Republican running mate Sarah Palin's own crazy guru, Thomas Muthee, the Kenyan/Alaskan witch doctor. Do they really want to go there?

Democrats typically have a tougher time getting their message across. Their ideas are usually a bit too heavy and too wonky for many Americans to wrap their minds around. For Republicans, they have gotten by with merely waving the flag and singing "God Bless The USA." Democrats have a tough time reducing their ideas to small soundbytes, let along simple sentences. To Obama's credit, he was able to get his messages across effectively. After months of pounding, his middle class tax cut plan seemed to resonate. So much that McCain and his minions had to try to spin it in their favor. As of late, they have called it 'socialism,' a charge all too often shouted by Republican candidates going all the way back to Herbert Hoover in 1932. What they won't tell you is that Obama's tax and spending plan is virtually a 21st century version of Clintonomics. It's the same basic principle, but updated for the current environment. And we all know about the booming economy and budget surpluses of the 90's. McCain is still beating the dead horse once referred to by George H.W. Bush as "voodoo economics." As I said, Calvin Coolidge and the Republicans lived by it during the 1920s until the stock market collapsed and Reagan revived it, driving up the deficit and ushering in a late-80s recession. Our current president is a strong advocate of the same plan, and the Wall Street crash of '87 seems to be happening several times a week. History has proven that corporate anarchy and the culture of greed, as advocated by the trickle-down crowd, leads to fiscal catastrophes like the one we're currently experiencing. That, of course, has given Obama's message a bit more resonance.

While Obama's campaign has, at times, taken a 'do no wrong' sense of momentum, the effort of his rival, McCain, has been bogged down by disorganization, chaos and inconsistency. McCain has shifted positions and talking points so often that many voters were left confused as to which John McCain was actually running for the White House. He derided his opponent a big government socialist only a few weeks after impulsively trumpeting a plan to spend $300 million dollars to buy up bad home mortgages and advocating his own form of corporate socialism. He spent the early summer attacking Obama as an inexperienced celebrity, then taps Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, buys her $150,000 worth of designer clothing and tries to mold her into a... celebrity. The Palin pick, designed to attract social conservatives, women and disenfranchised Hillary Clinton supporters, has, in hindsight, been a complete disaster. Many Republicans have jumped ship to support Obama, citing the Palin pick as a major reason. As of late, stories come out daily about the turmoil and finger pointing in the McCain camp. Even Palin has expressed a desire to 'go rogue.'

Of the two candidates, Obama made the smarter running mate pick, bringing in longtime Delaware Senator Joe Biden. The move was not designed to win a particular state or constituency. It was based mostly on who Obama trusted to be at his side during the campaign and in the White House. McCain's pick of Palin, who he had only met a few times prior, was really just a cheap political gimmick. When people actually woke up and realized the only thing separating her from the presidency was a 72 year-old heartbeat, reality started to set in. Think McCain wakes up every morning, smacks himself on the head and says, "Damn, I should have picked Romney?"

One constant line of attack from adversaries this year has been on Obama's resume, or seeming lack of. He doesn't have a long history in the U.S. Senate, and most of his legislative experience has been in the state of Illinois. But his career trajectory is eerily similar to that of our 16th president, who's sole political background was eight years in the Illinois legislature, two years in the House of Representatives, a failed congressional campaign, and a reputation as a dynamic orator. I'm not saying Obama is the second coming of Abraham Lincoln, but it certainly pokes holes in the 'experience' argument. In another example, our 28th president's background consisted of only two years as New Jersey governor and a decade before that as president of Princeton University. Yet Woodrow Wilson consistently ranks near the top of many presidential polls. Both Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin, would be attacked mercilessly nowadays for their thin resumes. Meanwhile, the most 'experienced' candidate of all, James Buchanan, was a complete disaster in the White House, as his weak and irascable personality all but encouraged the southern states to secede from the Union by 1860. As far as I'm concerned, character, temperament and flexibilty are much better indicators of presidential success than how many lines of text their resumes consist of. It's what separates Barack Obama from someone like Sarah Palin, who McCain has repeatedly trumpeted as being more experienced. But really, who would you rather have in the Oval Office? Ability trumps experience.

While some Democrats, particularly a few wayward Hillary Clinton supporters, may still be grumbling about their current presidential candidate, they should realize that in Obama, they have perhaps the party's best, if most unlikely, nominee since Bill Clinton in 1992 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. The guy is sharp, and unlike many Democrats in the past, like Carter and Clinton, he could have an easier time working with a Democratically-controlled Congress. He is one one of them. And Democrats, shockingly enough, are much more organized than in years past. Many longtime Democratic platforms, such as health care reform and alternative energy, have been bogged down by inter-branch bickering between the White House and Congress. This time, we could see things finally get done in government, positive things. We could see affordable health care available to all, like virtually every other capitalist country in the world. We could see a shift away from Middle East oil, and a cleaning up of the environment. We could see a prosperous middle class, and even a more prosperous upper class. We could again command great respect throughout the world, which will really help to boost our economy, security and overall way of life. And we could see an end to the nasty divisive rhetoric spewed by such groups as evangelical reactionaries. With an Obama win, the tide could most definitely turn. And for the better.


Brady Bonk said...

Hells yes we can.

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