On Obama

I’ve partially bought into Obama. No, I don’t think he’s the Messiah and I don’t expect him to single-handedly turn the economy around, fix health care, end Iraq, improve education and cure cancer. I am disappointed with his faith-based plan, but I still think Obama is the best presidential candidate to come along in my lifetime. To paraphrase Cornell West, the day Obama gets elected, I’ll dance and celebrate, but the next day I’ll be an Obama critic.

As president, he is the establishment and needs a vocal core to keep him focused on progressive governance. Obama, above all, exists in a political world where compromise is the only way things get done. If, to get the things I want as a progressive – health care reform, out of Iraq, pro-choice judiciary, drug law reform, poverty reduction, sophistication of domestic and foreign policy, competent emergency response, focus on global warming – even if Obama’s faith-based plans don’t get him one vote but if it allows him to build a bigger working coalition on other issues and it earns him political capital with which he can advance agenda items I believe in, I’ll gladly take the compromise. I won’t refrain from criticizing the program, but I won’t judge Obama by the concessions he makes as much as I’ll judge him on the progress those compromises buy.

I am optimistic about Obama because I feel that in areas I disagree with him or find him deficient, that, because he his thoughtful, open-minded, and sophisticated, we can employ vocal criticism, activism and the old-school principals of grassroot democracy to pressure President Obama and his Democratic congress to get right on controversial issues.

I’m voting for Obama and I’ll rock the “Hope” poster and the campaign t-shirt, but I will not give him a free pass. I’d urge people who disagree with Obama to still vote for him because I believe at the very least Senator Obama is dedicated to making government work and will respond to pressure from the people to do the right thing. In other words, he may not comply with your viewpoint today on an important issue, but we the people can work with this guy. He is unlike Bush and McCain because he lacks the GOP’s rigid dogma. Examine this statement from his 2006 book “The Audacity of Hope”:

[I]t is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility in my support of abortion rights. I must admit that I may have been infected with society’s prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God; that Jesus’ call to love one another might demand a different conclusion; and that in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history.

For the record, Obama recently said this on the topic of gay marriage: “That is why I support extending fully equal rights and benefits to same sex couples under both state and federal law. That is why I support repealing the Defense of Marriage Act…And that is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution [to outlaw gay marriage], and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.”

This shows that Obama doesn’t subscribe to the black-and-white, oversimplification of policy championed by intellectually bankrupt Karl Rove right. I won’t urge people to vote Obama based on messianic campaign promises or lofty idealism, but I would stress the pragmatism of voting for a pragmatic candidate that is far more open-minded and cooperation-oriented then his doctrinaire conservative faux-“maverick” counterpart. If you want indefinite war in Iraq and Iran, tax cuts for the wealthy paid for by average Americans, and a climate conducive to ending a woman’s right to choose, then McCain is the best choice. For any other American – Democrat, Republican, Independent, none of the above – who cares about any other issue, Obama will be a far more responsive President. I’m not even saying you have to like the guy; I’m saying that you as a citizen will be able to hold Obama’s feet to the fire and make more progress on more issues you care about under his administration than the alternative.

Discounting the “Barack walks on water” public infatuation and mythos, objective evidence shows that a pragmatist of any stripe’s only reasonable choice is Obama. A vote for Obama doesn’t mean you have to worship him or that you must refrain from criticizing him. A pragmatist would vote for Obama with every intention of not writing a blank check and holding President Obama accountable. Based on McCain’s “never surrender” campaign and the last 8 years of a Republican presidency, there is no evidence to suggest McCain will be nearly as accountable to America as the evidence indicates President Obama will be. If you want to risk not voting for Obama and allowing McCain to be elected, you risk not just one set of political principals and ideals being privileged in the executive over another, you risk another 4 years of unresponsive, malfeasant, and recklessly authoritarian governance. Even if I disagreed philosophically with McCain and Obama equally, I’d still fervently choose Obama out of shear pragmatism.

I value principals, but by principal I am pragmatic. Even if some Obama positions conflict with your principals, take a pragmatic inventory of your principals and see if they’d fit best with a President Obama or a President McCain. I disagree with Obama on faith-based initiatives and FISA, but I want a president focused on ending Iraq, fighting poverty, and securing affordable health care and many other things; Obama’s good exceeds the bad. I know there are third party candidates and that you could not vote at all, but this election is bigger than you, me or any of the candidates. We have people being slaughtered in Iraq daily and an economy in the tank. Either McCain or Obama will be the next president, like it or not. Which America are you most optimistic about: the one led by President McSame or the one led by President Obama?

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