Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Endorse...Barack Obama for President

I'm listening to Bill Clinton talk forcefully about Obama and saying, "get on the internet and say 'vote for Obama.'" And it just occurred to me: I haven't actually written an endorsement. So here it is.

First of all, let's talk about Obama's opponent: John McCain. I once said, "if there's any Republican I'd support for President, it'd be John McCain." That was years ago. The McCain who's campaigned for President in 2008 is completely unrecognizable from the John McCain I once felt warmly about. When George Bush's advisers took over the McCain campaign, McCain morphed into the worst aspects of Bush: divisive, abusive, diversionary, and erratic. There's no need to rehash the travesty of the McCain campaign here. The few ideas he has that I'd want to hear more about: extending the Bush tax cuts during the recession, how to use the free market to fix health care, how to reform our torture apparatus, how to reform immigration and offer a path to citizenship, how we address climate change, how to reform our failed foreign policy - he's been silent on, instead deciding to conduct a smear campaign of his opponent. And in choosing a running mate, he picked someone not only politically toxic, but vastly unqualified. That choice alone should disqualify McCain from the Presidency.

As for Obama, I've always believed he's been a highly skilled politician, not a savior. He's changed positions when it's been politically expedient for him, and glided past the contradictions of opting out of public financing, reversing his positions on FISA, double-talking on support for gay marriage. His stance against the war in Iraq has been more a matter of political convenience than thoughful foresight. His insistence on rolling back the Bush tax cuts during a severe recession is questionable. Some of his best policies - on health care, on the economy - have been lifted from political opponents like Hillary Clinton. And the story of him being "a new JFK" are largely mythology for his political benefit.

But perhaps the ability to adopt the best ideas on offer, no matter the source, is an advantage, not a disadvantage. Obama's skills as a politician are more often those of the better angels of politics, the kinds we haven't seen, admittedly, in a generation. He's run a tough but fair and above-board campaign, one that has justified Democratic hopes in a forceful candidate, while at the same time, reaching across the isle and the political divide in this country to speak about personal responsibility, spirituality, and political unity. Unlike Bush, or McCain, Obama obviously thinks seriously and deeply about the issues facing the country, respects the opinions of experts, processes differing opinions, and knows how to bring together and lead a consensus. He's demonstrated this by unifying the deep rifts in his party after the convention, by running a campaign that has attracted the endorsement of prominent conservatives and Republicans, by keeping his head cool when others around him - including his opponent - have lost theirs.

Obama's choice of a Vice President - Joe Biden - couldn't have been better for the country. Biden is not the best campaigner, but no one in politics will bring more heart and more smarts to that office. Obama has also surrounded himself with some of the best advisors on the economy. Both choices suggest that an Obama administration will be a team of the country's best and brightest - something that our country desperately desperately needs right now.

But more than that, Obama himself has demonstrated that he's more than ready to lead the country. The plans he puts forward to reform health care, create jobs, reform our standing in the world and foreign policy, and actually address our addiction to oil, are dramatically better than his opponent's alternatives, and all urgently critical to the health and security of our country. Over the past 20 months he's demonstrated the rhetorical skills, the political savvy, and the executive organizational discipline that we only rarely see from the very best Presidents. If he can pull off the electoral win that he seems to be headed for, he may demonstrate not only that he can be an exceptional leader, but that he has a broad public mandate to reform and renew our entire political culture. It's a bet, to be sure, and anything can happen after the election is over. But Obama has run his campaign on the idea that hope can be rewarded. If he can get us to believe in this country again, the hopes we have for him may well be justified, and his performance exceed even our best expectations.

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