I’ve been supporting Barack Obama in the Democratic primary, but I haven’t been extremely enthusiastic. Here’s why.
If we look at Obama’s and Hillary’s basic policy ideas, they’re not terribly different. The difference in their health policies everyone is talking about, i.e. forcing everyone to join the new plan (Clinton) vs. simply offering a new plan and making it affordable (Obama), is blown out of all proportion. Please, people, let’s focus on getting health care for 95 percent of the country before we freak out about that last 5 percent.
But if we look at what kind of people they are, and how they would govern, Obama, for all his faults, looks way better. So much better it’s not even funny.
And I’m not talking about his rockstar charisma. I’m talking about how he has at least a little bit of common decency and integrity. He’s willing, at least sometimes, to stand up for what he believes in even when it’s inconvenient (e.g. that Iraq was a huge mistake). And he seems to be sincere in his desire to make government more open, transparent, and responsive. By contrast, the Clintons had no problem in South Carolina resorting to dirty smear tactics as soon as they got worried about losing. Hillary only seems a few notches more sincere than Mitt Romney when she says what she believes. And worst of all, I can easily envision her being just as controlling, secretive, and egomaniaical as Dubya.
(And no, that doesn’t bother me because she’s a woman. I like strong women, just not strong Presidents! And I’d love to see a female president — but why can’t it be someone like Kathleen Sebelius?)
And finally, he stands a much better chance of winning the general election, as Andrew Sullivan argued yesterday, because he appeals to moderates, and demoralizes conservatives, who are embarrassed to find they harbor secret crushes on him. Hillary alienates moderates and energizes conservatives; we couldn’t give a bigger gift to GOP fundraisers.
So why am I not terribly enthusiastic?
Partly because they differ not so much in kind, but in degree. Obama may have more integrity, but I don’t think he totally lives up to that image (much like McCain). He may have more backbone, but it hasn’t always been apparent in his senate term — like when he didn’t have the guts to stand up against Bush’s illegal spying until other people beat him to it and made him look bad.
But I’m enough of a realist these days that I’m not letting that completely deter me. I’ve phone banked a little, I’ve given him $50 so far, and tomorrow after work I’m helping get out the vote. Tomorrow morning, I’m getting up at 6 am to put up signs at the local polling location, and check the machines are working properly (armed with an official letter from the campaign!). And at the end of the night, if he doesn’t win, I’m going to be depressed.
So I strongly encourage you to support Obama!
(Or, you know, whatever.)
[cross-posted to Kos]
Update: Lawrence Lessig made a similar argument in a video you should see.