After a few recent comments on my previous post, I decided to review it and see if I wanted to update it now that I've had a few weeks for Obamania to subside. Am I still an Obamican? Have I slide back to my cynical self? Read on.
My previous entry focused more on my surprise that I was supporting Sen. Barack Obama, and didn't really talk much about the process of how I got there. Having had more time to think about it, and having had more time to review various criticisms about him, I find that I am even more firmly lodged in his camp.
I guess the best place to start is an examination of what I am looking for in a Presidential candidate. If I had to boil my criteria down, and rank them, I suppose it would look like this:
- Ability to Lead and Inspire
- Ability to Communicate
- Policy Positions
In 2004, my ranking would have been a bit different. Number 4 wouldn't even be on the list, and Number 5 would probably have been Number 1. In evaluating my criteria for the 2008 election, I had to face the reality that my 2004 list produced a vote for George W. Bush. It's hard to imagine me being any less satisfied with that choice. One of the main outcomes of the Bush years is that I am faced with having to abandon my long-held belief that the federal government should be minimized. Both parties appear to lack any controls when it comes to spending, so deciding based on the rhetoric of less spending seems like a lost cause.
Character and Judgment have risen to the top of the pile because I think that the greatest tests of a President are the events that will happen that cannot be foreseen in the course of an election. The success or failure of the next President of the United States will not hinge on outcome of Health Care legislation or whether or not we freeze foreclosures. The success or failure of the next President will be determined by how they respond to the unknown. And my only way to gauge your ability to respond to the unknown is to get comfortable with the strength of your character and the quality of your judgment.
So with that criteria in hand, let me examine my decision in terms of the three candidates remaining.
Bill Clinton taught me that I need to have an appreciation for the quality of the character of the person that we elect to the office of the President of the United States. Machiavellian candidates seem to me to have a lot of skeletons in their closets, and will always run the risk of having their Presidency ultimately usurped by scandal. I consider Bill Clinton to be one of the most do-nothing Presidents in our history. In part, I feel that it was because so much energy had to be expended to combat scandal after ridiculous scandal.
Character matters. But it is not sufficient. Unlike many, I don't question the quality of George Bush's character. Within the context of his belief system, I think that he is consistent and fundamentally believes that he is doing what is right for this country. I don't agree with his belief system, and would thus argue the quality of the results – but I don't believe that he is a disingenuous human being. Narrow-minded? Sure. But I digress – that was 2004. George Bush isn't running for re-election.
Of the three remaining candidates, I find that only two of them are candidates that I would consider to have character. There is an honesty projected from Obama that I cannot ignore. To me, there is a sincerity in his belief that things can be different. That they can be better. With regard to McCain, I don't think that you will find many that doubt the quality of this man. There are lots of things to disagree with him about, but this man has experienced things that few have had to endure. I certainly will not disparage the man on this count.
Hillary Clinton is an altogether different matter. She follows the Machiavellian pattern of her husband, to do anything necessary to get elected President of the United States. There is no moral compass. There is no regret. There is no shame. There is only the potential to acquire power. That I cannot abide in a candidate for President.
Verdict: McCain > Obama (Clinton doesn't even rate)
I typically tend to view judgment as the combination of intellect and wisdom. I'll deal with them separately, and then offer a final determination. When it comes to raw intellect, it's hard to not give the advantage to the two Ivy League-educated Democrats. I certainly don't believe that John McCain is stupid, but he's not nearly as academically-credentialed as his potential adversaries. At this point, I've seen nothing from either of the Democrats to rate one over the other. Both are no joke when it comes to intellect in my book. I think it manifests itself differently in each of them, but both appear to me to take the intellect crown from Sen McCain.
Wisdom is something that comes from long years of experience, and in that respect, I automatically give the nod to McCain. In my view, this is where I automatically rate Senators Obama and Clinton below McCain, though for different reasons. Part of it is ideological differences, and perhaps not examples of a lack of wisdom. Sen. Obama and I might disagree on the wisdom of raiding NASA's budget to pay for an education plan, but much of that is perhaps rooted in the way we subjectively prioritize the needs of the country. I guess I tend to measure wisdom based on the number of critical blunders or errors in judgment I've seen in you. Obama is too fresh to have any prime examples. Hillary will forever be saddled with HillaryCare (and yet, here she is, once again ready to force Universal Health Care on a country that doesn't want it).
Combine these qualities, and I think you have a measure of the judgment of each individual. I've seen too much that I don't like from Hillary to not put her at the bottom of the list. And while I think that Obama outclasses McCain in terms of raw intellect, I think that McCain has a much larger reservoir of experience to draw from that will influence his decision-making ability.
Verdict: McCain > Obama > Hillary
ABILITY TO LEAD AND INSPIRE
This is one where I generally lose a lot of people, so perhaps it requires a bit of explanation. There seems to be a belief in many people that we are hiring a Chief Legislator when we go to the polls in November. That getting things done in Washington is about which lobby groups own you, and which legislators you can manipulate behind the scenes. Washington is manipulated by special interests and politicians, with little regard for the People. And the result is an almost mythical ability to not actually accomplish anything.
The only way to really make an impact on the system is through the People. As a country, we cannot solve the health care crisis in this country unless we understand, as a country, that there is a health care problem to solve. We cannot hope to have an impact on climate change unless we understand that we need to try to make an impact on climate change.
The power to get things done rests with public's demand to solve problems. A huge part of the appeal (to me) of Sen. Obama is in the generality of his message. His message is about us needing to solve health care issues. He has a list of ideas for how to solve the health care issues we face (from his website), but when examining his blueprint for change, one the first paragraphs is to let you know that if you don't agree with his proposals – you can email him and tell him your ideas. Can anyone imagine Hillary soliciting my opinion on how to solve the health care issues in this country?
Anyway – I feel that at this time, with the set of problems facing us, it is critical that our next President is one that can define a vision for a better America, and sell it. It is critical that our next President is able to inspire us to take back the reins of government. Government isn't an entity that was put in place to save us. It's a vehicle for us to get involved in the process of saving and maintaining ourselves.
We don't need to fight each other to implement ideologically pure solutions. We don't need someone whose goal is implementing THEIR solution. We need someone that is more interested in simply getting the problem solved. In this race, there is only one candidate with the charisma and personality to inspire and lead.
ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE
This is a new entrant to my voting criteria. In previous elections, I felt that the ability to speak with eloquence was far too superficial for something as important as selecting the leader of our country. The bar for me on this one is actually pretty low, as it's been set by my current President. All I really want from our next President is for him (or her) to not smirk constantly while delivering a speech. It's irritating as all hell.
The three candidates still in the race represent three completely different oratorical styles. Obviously, Sen. Obama has revealed himself to be almost legendary in this respect. Even a cynic like me has found himself swept up in the moment of an Obama victory speech. Bill Clinton was an equally gifted communicator, but in a very different way. Bill Clinton had the ability to convince you that he would take care of you and everything would be alright. He felt our pain. His charisma was such that it convinced you to believe in him (even if you didn't want to). Barack Obama has the ability to inspire people to believe in themselves. That is incredibly powerful (or dangerous, depending on perspective :) ).
Sen McCain is practically the definition of a "meh" speaker. I've seen him speak dozens of times, but couldn't tell you a single word he said, or even a single topic that he talked about. Meh.
Sen. Clinton is the anti-matter to Sen. Obama's matter. Her speaking style is combative, strident, and memorable for all the wrong reasons. When she falls back into her "passionate" speaking voice (I finally heard it yesterday in Ohio), I want to stab small children. I just can't take it, it's like nails on a chalkboard.
Verdict: Obama >>>> McCain >>>> Clinton
This is the topic that I receive the most criticism on. For some, this is the only criteria, and the fact that I relegate it to the end of my list, and the fact that it carries so little weight this year is mind-boggling to them. My quick reply is that basing my decision primarily on policy positions yielded George W. Bush in 2004. Do they really want me to vote based on policy positions?
One of the main reasons for pushing this so low on my list is that I am not real big on hiring a Chief Legislator. To me, Senators Clinton and McCain are legislators. They will always be legislators. I don't get any sense from either of them that they are capable of being leaders, that they are capable of being Executives. Beyond that, Presidents don't get to rule by fiat (unless they have a working super-majority). Telling me that you support Universal Health Care is meaningless, because you don't get to just wave a magic wand so that we can have your vision of Universal Health Care.
There are hundreds of people that we send to Washington for the sole purpose of crafting legislation (and to interrogate MLB pitchers about what they stick in their butts apparently). The details of the solution to the health care problems we face will be in their hands. The Presidents job is to get them to work on solving the problem in the first place. Not to ram through an ideological solution that half the country hates. Solving problems for a nation of 300+ million people requires ideological compromise, not ideological warfare.
We don't need an ideological fighter. We need a problem-solver. Sen. Clinton is the former. Sen. Obama comes across as the latter. And Sen. McCain seems to have a little bit of both. Any problem-solver is going to have an ideological bias – and I'm ok with that as long as that bias is ultimately trumped by the desire to actually solve the problem.
Years ago, I was far more concerned with getting the problem solved MY way. Now I just want it solved. If raising my taxes will actually solve the health care crisis in this country, than raise my taxes and solve it. However, ideologically, I'm closer to John McCain than either Democrat. I rate myself closer to Obama than Clinton because his solutions seem more pragmatic to me than Hillary's (using Health Care as an example, I agree with Obama that making it mandatory for adults is suicide).
Verdict: McCain > Obama > Clinton
As a father with two small children, I do like the fact that the Democratic Party is prepared to nominate an African-American or a woman to run for the Presidency. I grew up in a world where that seemed like an impossibility, and it will be nice for my kids to grow up without ever having that concept. However, as I've explained to some – when nominating either a woman or an African-American it is far more important to nominate the RIGHT woman, or the RIGHT African-American.
In my opinion, Hillary Clinton is exactly the wrong kind of woman. It's hard to describe the reasoning here, and to avoid sounding sexist – but in large part it's because I don't think that Hillary Clinton is running to be the President of the United States. I think that she is running to be the first woman President of the United States. She tries too hard.
On the other hand, Barack Obama is exactly the right kind of African-American. He isn't running to be the first black President. If he wins, he will happen to be the first black President – but there is no sense that this is a goal for him, in and of itself. He transcends racial politics in a way that Hillary doesn't transcend gender politics.
Anyway, when I roll the factors together and spit it out the back of the machine, the result is that I currently favor one candidate (with some reservations), and I eliminate another. There is no set of circumstances that will result in me not voting for John McCain in the general election if Hillary is the Democratic nominee. I don't care who McCain's running mate is. I don't even care if McCain dies during the campaign. Hillary is a completely unacceptable option. I can't take four or eight more years of ideological warfare and personal destruction (from both sides).
The Obama campaign currently enjoys my rhetorical and financial support (or at least they get it, whether they enjoy it or not). And with any hope, in November I will be faced with the choice between Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama. For the first time in my life, I feel like I will be in a situation where I can accept either candidate. I will still support Sen. Obama whole-heartedly, but will not feel at all bad about McCain winning should that happen.
I guess that's it. Hopefully that's a more reasoned argument than my previous post which was written in the after glow of the "Yes We Can" video. :)