Why I’ll Be Voting for Obama:

As those of you who followed the dust-ups here on the VC after some of my earlier postings critical of Sarah Palin will not be surprised to hear, I’ll be pulling the Obama lever on Tuesday – and quite enthusiastically, too. I consider myself a “pragmatic libertarian” – I’m not a big fan of the state, I believe that power inevitably corrupts, that individuals, when left to their own devices, are capable of remarkable feats of self-organization and problem-solving, and that the freedoms of speech, conscience, and association are, by far, our most precious ones and need to be zealously protected from the folks with the monopoly on coercive force. I haven’t voted for a Democratic candidate for President since 1980 (and I came to regret that one pretty soon thereafter). My personal list of great Presidents is a short one: Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan.

So that’s where I’m coming from, and in my eyes the choice couldn’t be easier. My reasons:

Reason 1 is John McCain. During the two months since he was nominated – the two months during which he (and Obama) got to act “shadow presidents,” and in which we all got to ask ourselves, more seriously than we had been able to before: “If this guy were the president right now, would we like what he’s doing?” – McCain has, time and time again, shown himself to be a panicky, impulsive, shoot-from-the-hip decision-maker, and we don’t need panicky, impulsive, shoot-from-the-hip decision-makers at the moment. I really used to like John McCain a lot. In his role as “maverick Senator,” McCain was a real asset – I think he showed enormous political courage in taking on the culture of earmarks, and in standing up to the more xenophobic elements of the Republican party on immigration, and even on political financing, and I trusted his instincts on the important questions about national security, war, and peace. I also think he’s an immensely likable guy. But with each decision he’s made – his choice of Gov. Palin as his running mate, his almost pathetic reaction(s) to the financial crisis (from his initial “Fire Chris Cox!” to his belated discovery that there’s actually greed on Wall Street – who knew! – to his suspension, and un-suspension, of his campaign), to the choices he made about the overall tone and tenor of his campaign – each one made him less and less credible, in my eyes, as president.

Reason 2 is Barack Obama. The country, and the world, are in a precarious state at the moment, and the prospects for a very dark and gloomy future are very real; it took three years for the effects of the 1929 stock market crash to be felt throughout the global economy, and I can’t help but worry that something similar is on the horizon today. We have, as a nation, become demoralized and pessimistic and cynical about our ability to solve our problems. It’s not just that our “infrastructure” is crumbling, it’s that nobody seems to give a shit. Our belief that we are, in fact, the greatest nation on earth has always been one of our most precious assets – something of a self-fulfilling prophecy that has made us the engine for economic growth, and for freedom, for two centuries. It is becoming increasingly difficult for people to believe that, these days, and when people stop believing it, it will no longer be true. Countries can descend into the ranks of the second-rate in the blink of an eye (historically speaking): it happened to Spain, and to Portugal, and to Argentina, it is now happening to Italy, and it can happen to us.

We need a truly great president right now – and for me, a great president isn’t one who magically solves all our problems, but one who inspires us to solve our problems. No president can get us out of the mess we have made unless he or she can inspire us to do great things, and there is at least some real chance that Obama has it in him; that’s no guarantee that he’ll be a great president, but given the alternative (see Reason 1) that’s plenty good enough for me. I think he grasps the significance of the moment, and I think he understands that ideology is not policy and policy is not ideology. His gift for oratory, far from being the sideshow that some of his detractors claim, is in fact central to the prospects and the possibilities of an Obama presidency. The Great Ones – Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, Reagan – have had one thing (and maybe only one thing) in common: the ability to stir us to great deeds with their words. It is, I think, a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for greatness, and Obama’s got it; McCain does not. Obama’s astonishing capacity to connect with young voters is also part of why he might be a great president; like it or not, the young have a bigger stake in the future than the old because they’ll see more of it, and if they are energized to take the reins of power they deserve the chance to do so.

Nor is Obama’s obvious, and profound, appeal to the people of the world irrelevant to my choice. Whatever you, personally, think of Obama or his policies, it is simply an indisputable fact that hundreds of millions, or possibly billions, of people across the globe are damn near infatuated with him, and that the world will, almost instantaneously, become much better-disposed to the United States when he is elected. It’s quite astonishing, when you think about it; he’s the first global candidate for office. There are many good reasons, to be sure, why a (rational) voter in the United States should ignore the views of the French, the Indians, and the Kenyans etc. when deciding for whom to vote in this (or any) election; presidential elections are and should be about our “self-interest,” and there are plenty of good reasons why we don’t give French, Indian, or Kenyan citizens a vote in our elections. But a world in which hundreds of millions of people are far, far better-disposed to the US is a world in which we are more likely to get a handle of serious global problems, from terrorism to the banking collapse to global warming and the energy crisis. It’s just easier for me to imagine, say, the people of Pakistan actually helping us out in our efforts to protect ourselves from the madmen who are taking refuge in their country if they think we stand for something important and that we deserve protection, rather than because Pervez Musharraf orders them to do so. I know that it’s not all about “hearts and minds” and all that, but it won’t hurt.

Reason 3 is Bush. George W. Bush has, almost single-handedly, destroyed (a) the Republican party, (b) our standing among the nations of the world, and (c) our pride in being Americans. His “compassionate conservatism” turned out to be mean-spirited and exclusionary, his attitude towards the people he was elected to serve contemptuous, and his capacity to lead virtually non-existent. His approval ratings are an accurate indicator of how miserably he has performed. I’m not enough of a historian to know whether he’s the worst president we’ve ever had, but he’s on the short list, and he is certainly the worst I have encountered in the 40-some years I’ve been paying attention to this stuff. The Republicans needs to be punished for allowing it to happen.

Reason 4 is energy policy. For my money, this is the big domestic issue for the next several decades, because pretty much all other important domestic issues will turn on whether or not we can solve it. The sight of 10,000 oil-addicted junkies shouting “Drill, Baby, Drill!!” at the Republican convention (repeated over and over again at campaign rallies this Fall) was chilling. The idea that we can drill ourselves out of the economic and ecological hole in which we find ourselves is as wrong as an idea can be (as McCain, before he began pandering, understood quite well).

So I hope he wins. Ultimately, in a democracy, you take what your fellow-citizens give you, and you accept that whatever answer the democratic process has produced is the “right” one. If a majority of the people in this country think McCain is the man to lead them, then so be it; they must view things very differently than I do. But I’m pretty confident that we’re going to be taking the other course, and that we’ll be better off for having done so.