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Sunday, February 3, 2008

On Super Tuesday, I'm voting for Barack Obama.

Barack Obama 2008For the first time, I've been watching the presidential primaries with the sense that I have to make up my mind not just as a dedicated political observer, but as a voter in a genuinely contested election. (My primary votes in Utah in 1992 and in Massachusetts in 2000 and 2004 came after the Democratic nominations were effectively decided; I was moving from Utah to Massachusetts in 1996 and didn't vote in the irrelevant primaries that year.) After a lot of reading and conversation, I've concluded that Barack Obama would be the best Democratic nominee — and that he's the best choice for president. I'm excited to cast my vote for him on Tuesday. Here's why:

Obama changes the national political dynamic. He presents liberalism in a way that Americans who wouldn't call themselves liberals find compelling. He expands the Democratic coalition. He attracts independents — and even conservatives. He unmistakably represents America's diversity. And, perhaps most importantly, his vision is aspirational but deeply rooted in his own story and in the hopes and experiences of millions of others; it's not just talk.

As much as I admire Bill and Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton would govern a polarized nation. Hillary Clinton simply can't overcome the deep divisions sown by Bush's Rovean politics, even if she can stitch together an electoral victory. Although Democrats adore the Clintons, other Americans are much more ambivalent about them — and the Clintons' enemies (who make up the entire conservative establishment) are eager for a no-holds-barred war against them. It certainly doesn't help Clinton that political reporters tend to find her calculating and manipulative, but like John McCain. And even though Clinton and a Democratic Congress could begin to repair some of the damage of the Bush years, she'd have to do it in a highly polarized political climate. And it wouldn't only be conservatives' fault: As George Packer writes in his not especially flattering profile in the New Yorker, Clinton has a with-me-or-against-me disposition. (Also worrying: perpetual newsmaker Bill Clinton. Do we really want two for the price of one? Or is Clinton fatigue catching?)

Obama, however, appeals to people who aren't already part of the Democratic base. Both Obama and McCain show real strengths in drawing moderate and independent voters; Clinton does not, especially against McCain. What really strikes me is that Obama has more endorsements from Democratic senators and governors in Republican-dominated states (Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia). This suggests that red-state Democrats believe they'll fare better if Obama is the head of the ticket. He can expand the Democratic Party; she can only rally its base.

Republicans know it, too. They're quite sure they know how to defeat Clinton; they're not so sure about Obama.

Obama premises his campaign on the belief that Americans want to come together, and that they can. He radiates conviction on this point. He doesn't just reframe liberal ideals; he embodies them. (With help from pop star, he even makes liberalism sing.) Clinton, a master of policy and strategy, may be a brilliant technocrat, but she does not offer a compelling story about America's meaning or an overarching vision for the country. "Experience" is not a vision. Her supporters might shoot back that hope is not a plan. In Obama's case, however, hope is most definitely a tactic — a way to build a movement that can demand real change.

Watch Obama's January 9 speech in New Hampshire and his January 26 speech in South Carolina.

(More: "Why Obama matters," Andrew Sullivan, Atlantic Monthly 12.07; "The choice," George Packer, New Yorker 1.28.08; "In chase game with Bill, media's 'it,'" Michael Calderone, Politico 2.1.08; "Two presidents are worse than one," Garry Wills, New York Times 1.26.08; "Over-Billed," Noam Scheiber, New Republic 2.13.08; "Political consensus or political orthodoxy?" Michael Oreskes, New York Times 2.3.08; "Red-state Dems sour on Clinton," Josh Kraushaar and John F. Harris , Politico 1.15.08; "GOP doubts, fears 'post-partisan' Obama," Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post 1.7.08; "Why Republicans fear Obama," Byron York, National Review 1.22.08; The 'theory of change' primary," Mark Schmitt, American Prospect 12.21.07; "Ask not what J.F.K. can do for Obama," Frank Rich, New York Times 2.3.08)

Copyright © 2008 by Philocrites | Posted 3 February 2008 at 2:49 PM

Previous: Philocrites in the pulpit Feb. 10, Jamaica Plain.
Next: Barack Obama, poetry set to music.





February 3, 2008 03:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

Okay readers, who are you voting for and why?

Adam Tierney-Eliot:

February 3, 2008 03:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

The reasons I am voting for Obama have already been beaten to death by yours truly on my Blog. I think your reasons are also good and, perhaps, a bit more rational than mine. It's nice to know that you, too are on board... Go Pats!

Jeff W.:

February 3, 2008 04:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm an independent, but since I'm living outside the U.S. I had to register with a party in order to participate in the primaries (according to the rules of my state, North Carolina). I had to think about it but I choose the Democratic Party as my nominal affiliation.

Right now I'm leaning Clinton, but I'm not fully decided yet. Clinton is someone I know: I voted for her in 2000 when I was living in NYC. I don't really know enough about Obama, who is from a place I've never lived and has a shorter national record. I appreciate vision, but I appreciate experience more, and I feel that Clinton bests Obama in that area. I _know_ that Clinton would make a good president; I only _think_ that Obama _might_ make a good president--right now all I really know is that he's good at running for office, not whether he's good at governing. I would feel a lot more confident if this were the 2012 campaign.

I don't feel I can really trust campaign speeches, sites, etc--Obama's or otherwise. They are advertisements, not promises, and if there is one thing I'm sure of it's that all politicians lie (and that their publicity staff lies overtime). I only trust actions, and Clinton has more to go on, enough that I feel confident that I know what I'm buying (for better and worse) when I choose her.

In the end, I don't really believe this contest is about Obama. I believe it is about Clinton. People have strong opinions about her. I think much of Obama's support comes not from who he really is, but from the fact that he isn't Clinton. He is fresh, without as much heavy baggage, so people who are turned off by the Clinton saga can project their hopes and dreams onto him. Maybe they're justified, but politics has taught me suspicion.

I'm not saying I like Clinton more than Obama. Obama is clearly more charismatic, I think I'd rather have the proverbial beer with him. But Clinton is smart--really smart. She is tough. She has been dragged through the mud for sixteen years, largely because of her gender rather than any justifiable reason, and she can still fight with the best of them. She has been around Washington a long time and knows what it takes to get the job done. I feel like I can trust her to take care of national security, the economy, natural disasters, social services, and a whole host of areas that Bush has really dropped the ball on. Maybe Obama can too, but so far he doesn't make me feel like he can in anything approaching the degree that Clinton does.

It may be that Obama can win and that maybe Clinton can't, or that if she did win she'd have way more opposition. I am tired of polarized politics, that's for sure. But going purely on the two of them, without too much thought on strategy (because, frankly, I've seen so many strategies turn out to be half-baked in the end), I have to go with Clinton for now.

Really, I'm pleased that it's come down to two candidates that I think I could support. In taking Clinton over Obama I feel like I'm getting the better or two goods, rather than the lesser of two evils for once, and that Obama would probably be a good successor down the line.

On the other side of the aisle, Romney strikes me as one of the biggest phonies I've ever seen in politics, and that is really saying something. I almost feel like he'd hardly be an improvement over Bush, whom I honestly think is among the worst presidents we've ever had. McCain seems decent enough but I have a lot of policy disagreements with him. So regardless of whether it is Clinton or Obama (or Gore) on the ballot in November, I expect to vote Democratic in the big race.

Since you asked.

Go Pats!

Charlie Talbert:

February 3, 2008 04:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

It’s interesting to me that the vast majority of Unitarian Universalists I know favor Obama over Clinton. Of course the people I know do not necessarily comprise a valid sample of the UUniverse. Interesting nonetheless.

I favor him for the reasons you have explained. Also, I like that both Clinton and Obama are not white males, who have had a pretty long run in the President’s office.

Either one being elected would boost the spirits, hope and confidence of women (Clinton) or Blacks (Obama). In my observation, which includes 12 years’ experience mentoring grade school boys, Blacks need this more.


February 3, 2008 07:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

Obama all the way. I articulate most of my reasoning starting here.

Kim Hampton:

February 3, 2008 08:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

I made my choice months ago, but only my family knows. Part of the reason that I won't tell is that I have dear friends who are strongly for the other person and I love them too much to say that that person doesn't do it for me.

I will say that I continue to be surprised that Barack Obama doesn't point out that he actually has more legislative experience than Hillary Clinton.(I lived in St. Louis until last month and have relatives in Chicago, so I knew who Obama was before he hit the US Senate) And there does seem to be a denigration of state level politics as something unworthy of the President that is very weird to me.

This race has been much more interesting than it seemed it would be at the beginning.

oh well....time to see what the score is....

Stephen Retherford:

February 3, 2008 08:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

Good choice for all the right reasons.


February 4, 2008 12:31 AM | Permalink for this comment

At church this morning out of about three hundred people I saw two wearing political buttons, both new members. Our state votes on Tuesday and our congregation has plenty of political junkies and activists. Yet in the many church meetings I have attended recently there has been zero discussion about the election. I think everyone has decided that the issue is too sensitive and has therefore shut up.

Personally, I will vote for Obama and I am pretty sure most of the church feels the same way. But we have definitely gone out of our way to avoid making the Clinton supporters among us feel uncomfortable. I don't know if we are mature, or just repressed. But there has certainly been an unusual level of self-censorship.

Scott McNeill:

February 4, 2008 01:22 AM | Permalink for this comment

Obama here, too. Of the UU ministers who donated more than 250 dollars in this cycle - the majority have donated to Obama. Interesting tidbit. I agree with most of your points and there are more but you did well articulating them.


February 4, 2008 08:10 AM | Permalink for this comment

Not being a fan of identity politics — after all, my ethnic background is Utah Mormon ;) — I'd have to say that my reasons really don't involve any calculus quite like Charlie's.

Jeff makes a valiant case for Clinton. He's unusually smart, but when I went around looking for what all the smart people I respect think, a lot more of 'em sided with Obama (another incredibly smart person). Clinton's liabilities in a general election are huge, however, and I really am concerned about what exactly Bill Clinton would do in the White House. I think Garry Wills's essay in the Times sealed the deal for me.

I should also call attention to Hendrik Hertzberg's essay on the Democratic candidates in the New Yorker and this piece from a GOP insider: "Why Republicans like Obama" (Washington Post 2.3.08).

Jeff W.:

February 4, 2008 09:14 AM | Permalink for this comment

I thank you for the compliment, Chris, but just let me clarify a tiny matter. I'm not trying to make the case for Clinton--a lot of folks have made up their minds at this point and Obama seems great, I'm not trying to persuade anyone. If Obama wins I will be perfectly happy. Rather, all I'm doing is trying to express is why, in the face of what seems like a mad rush among UUs to gather around Obama, some other UUs aren't yet on board with the blogging consensus. There's just so many pro-Obama UU blog statements this week that it seemed worthwhile to point out that folks who aren't pro-Obama (I ain't anti-Obama either) have perfectly decent reasons, fully functioning minds and hearts, and aren't the enemy. Especially because pro-Obama support often seems to have a strong emotional component, this seemed worth pointing out.

My perspective is probably different than most people's here. I don't live in the U.S. so I'm not subjected to same sort of advertisements, nor the same kind of 24-7 news coverage. Nor do I encounter a lot of coffee hour fervor. People don't spend a lot of time writing editorials about why Clinton is the anti-Christ or Obama is the messiah or vice versa. Rather, we get BBC and very moderate Canadian newscasting about the candidates and campaigns, with no need to fill air-time, push agendas, craft dramatic storylines, or such. The reporting seems _truly_ fair and balanced, something I'm not prepared to say about any American network. So my perspective is bound to be somewhat different. From up here, Clinton and Obama both look good, Clinton looks like the victim of an organized 16-year media smear campaign, Obama looks like a fresh young guy that charms the reporters, Romney looks like a waffler, McCain looks like an old throwback to moderate Republicanism, and Huckabee looks like a nice guy who hasn't read a textbook since the early 1900s and probably has already risen higher than he ought to. Meanwhile, I bet a majority of readers cannot name the prime minister of Canada without looking it up:)

Heather Janules:

February 4, 2008 10:57 AM | Permalink for this comment

Regardless of one's final choice, I would recommend that folks check out:

Politics into preaching into music - a new cultural phenomenon?

While I treasure the separation of church and state, I would LOVE to include this as part of a worship service at my congregation. (Only in the UU Congregation of My Dreams.)

Yes we can!

Charlie Talbert:

February 4, 2008 11:28 AM | Permalink for this comment

I’m not a fan of identity politics, either, Chris.

I am grateful that both Obama and Clinton have publicly disavowed it, despite former President Clinton’s ploys to insert it into the campaign. (So many of his problems have been insertion-related!)

Regardless of how much a President will represent ALL the people, and I believe both Obama and Clinton would do a good job of that, pride in one’s “own” is a fact of life. Unitarian Universalists to this day trumpet William H. Taft, who became president almost 100 years ago.


February 4, 2008 11:57 AM | Permalink for this comment

I shared my thoughts last night at my blog, Outta Jo, Onto You.

And I liked your statement so much that I added a link to it from my own. Obama '08!


February 4, 2008 02:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

when I went around looking for what all the smart people I respect think, a lot more of 'em sided with Obama (another incredibly smart person).

A similar experience here. Bill Bradley had been my first choice in 2000, so his endorsement of Obama effectively sealed my decision.

John-Eric Robinson:

February 5, 2008 02:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

Dear Chris,

I hope things are well with you.

I've never contributed to a political campaign before, and this one has me so fired up, I donated the remainder of my giving budget to help out.

I've felt upset by my sense of division here in Vermont and across the nation ever since Bush came into office and especially since the last election. What I respond most strongly to in Obama is his message of reconciliation.

I'll be voting for Obama in the Vermont primary on March 4.


John-Eric Robinson:

February 5, 2008 04:01 PM | Permalink for this comment

One more thing. Here in Vermont, Senator Clinton is remembered for a recent controversy. International Paper, a company on the New York side of Lake Champlain, announced a couple of years ago that it was planning on burning tons of tires a day in its paper plant without using adequate pollution controls. The prevailing wind from the plant takes the emissions into Vermont. Despite active protests from Vermonters and others in New England, including New Hampshire (e.g.,, the company went ahead with a test burn after receiving a New York State permit to do so. And who was lobbying for International Paper? Senator Hillary Clinton:
That incident more than anything else has turned me off to Senator Clinton as a potential presidential candidate. To me, her lobbying for a company in her state at the expense of surrounding citizens in her state and its neighbors was reprehensible and bespeaks the poverty of her principles.

Jeff W.:

February 5, 2008 09:54 PM | Permalink for this comment

Just got back from driving my wife to the polling station (located in the First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo, no less). She was intent on getting out to vote even though it meant taking the baby out past his bedtime. She voted for Clinton, so there's a non-Obama UU for you. We hadn't discussed the race so I didn't know ahead of time what she was planning. Turns out she was a one-issue voter: she felt Obama and Clinton were pretty close on a lot of issues, too close for her to really make a choice, but on her one big issue she felt there was a stark difference: she felt Clinton's healthcare plan was much the superior one, and she is passionate about universal healthcare. She also thought it was nice to vote for Clinton since she voted for her in NY back in 2000. But like me, she felt that either Obama or Clinton would be good candidates in the general election and she'd feeling pretty good about the race.

Voting in a foreign country was new to us (I didn't vote when I was living in Japan). The Democrats have something called Democrats Abroad that actually has 22 delegates, so that's what her vote will go towards (rather than California, her last residence). They were pretty well-organized, in a low-key way, and I wasn't at all shocked to find the polling station was our local UU church. Meanwhile the Republicans don't do anything near to this for their out-of-the-country primary voters.

I didn't vote today--I vote as a North Carolina resident so my primary isn't until May, when it'll be more or less over. Hope everyone enjoyed their experience and is satisfied with however it turns out.


February 28, 2008 10:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

I guess I'll be bucking the crowd here but I will be voting for Hillary. She has way more diplomatic experience than Obama. Her experience is internationally and not just in Illinois or Chicago.

I also want to point out that it is against the US tax codes for people to be getting their political ideas from church and everyone of those churches that Barack "preached" in while he has been campaigning could get their tax exempt status revoked. I don't think that Barack or any of the churches thought about that.

Barack is a good man, and I like him but I think Hillary is a better person for our next President.
I can't say that I will support Barack if he gets the nomination... I probably just won't vote...or write in Hillary's name.

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