Monday, September 15, 2008

Why I support Obama for president

I think the recent public discourse about our presidential candidates has been shallow and cynical. At its best, politics is about arguing to define common goals, values, and interests to move our society forward. At its worst, politics involves trading rumors, lies, distortions, and distractions in order to win an election, which trivializes the really vital issues. So I wanted to explain, as clearly and briefly as possible, why I think Barack Obama is the best candidate for president, without talking about lipstick, flag pins, old age, Islam, or pregnant daughters.

What does a President do? He (perhaps eventually she) decides when and how to use our military. He is our highest diplomat to communicate with allies and enemies. He will likely nominate at least one Supreme Court justice. He is ultimately responsible for directing the huge bureaucracy that is the executive branch. He helps set the legislative agenda by sending bills and budgets to Congress, and has the power to veto or sign all national legislation. He influences American and global public opinion. In short, it’s the most important and difficult political office in the world, period.

Why is Barack Obama best qualified to fulfill these duties?

· He is a deliberative, critical thinker. The single most important qualification I look for in a President is how he makes decisions. Public policy is complex; it does not lend itself well to split-second, instinctual, black-and-white thinking. In contrast to his opponents, Barack Obama makes decisions through a deliberative process, listens to arguments from the other side, and is comfortable with nuance even as he holds to his basic values. That is an absolutely essential skill in a complex world.
· He is skilled and knowledgeable in domestic and foreign policy. Some people are concerned that Obama, as a first-term U.S. Senator, does not have the “executive experience” or history in Washington to be president. This is a valid concern that I share (although frankly, rendered a bit moot by McCain’s choice of Gov. Palin). Yet throughout his career, Obama has shown exactly the skills and expertise necessary to be president. His opponents have belittled his career; you can read about it for yourself here. Although he is not as experienced in the U.S. Senate as John McCain, his own considerable qualifications, judgment, and poise more than make up for this.
· He has a vision for change but is pragmatic in his approach. I happen to agree with most of Obama’s core values. Obama has laid out concrete proposals for ending the war in Iraq, making health care affordable for all, and cutting middle class taxes. But even when I disagree with some of his positions, I appreciate Obama’s focus on finding pragmatic solutions rather than settling into rigid ideological camps.
· He knows and respects the Constitution. The first duty of the President is to honor the U.S. Constitution. As a former constitutional law professor and civil rights attorney, Obama knows the Constitution better than any other candidate. Rather than repeating simplistic partisan mantras about “activist judges,” Obama actually understands theories of constitutional interpretation and has a sound approach to judicial nominations. While his opponents mock habeus corpus, Obama understands that defending the Constitution means defending basic American values.
· He will keep the American people safe and increase our influence in the world. Our national security is not best achieved by talking tough, alienating allies, labeling any potential threat as “evil,” spurning international law, and acting unilaterally. It might make us feel patriotic when our leaders do this, but most often it actually reduces America’s power. America gains more power when we follow international law, listen to our friends’ advice, work on problems multilaterally, negotiate with our adversaries, and support moderate populations against extremists. Obama will use force when necessary to protect Americans, but he will ensure that it is indeed necessary by taking soft power and diplomacy seriously. Given the actual and potential crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Burma, Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Sudan, Congo -- and the list goes on -- tough talk and hard power are simply insufficient tools to protect our national interests.
· He has a strong commitment to solving the world’s biggest problems. Every semester I ask my students what they think the world’s biggest problems are, and every semester they say the same two things: global poverty and climate change. It’s hard to argue with them. More people die from extreme poverty than war, crime, or anything else – it’s probably the biggest moral failing of our age. While the other candidates give lip service to poverty, Obama has made concrete proposals to provide $50 billion in aid targeted to the world’s poorest people. On climate change, while his opponents’ approach to energy is centered around drilling for more oil, Obama makes a real commitment ($150 billion over ten years) to developing affordable clean energy – wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels – that holds a real promise of ending our dependence on foreign (or any) oil.
· He appeals to the better angels of our nature. Fear and anger are strong motivators; they are absolutely necessary sometimes. But when fear is used to serve partisan political ends, it divides and weakens the country. The central premise of Obama’s candidacy is that we can move beyond these divisions when it serves the public interest. Opponents have ridiculed Obama’s message of hope and change as empty rhetoric; as I’ve shown above, I think there is quite a bit of substance to the message and the candidate.

1 comment:

Kelley said...

This is great, Dan! I'm so glad you're doing this! I hope everything is going well in Florida!