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2008 Political Support

As a kind of sequel to this entry, the reasoning behind my support of Barack Obama as US President and expectations for him:

I hold that Barack Obama is the better of the two choices for US President by a wide margin for a number of reasons - he does not much resemble my ideal president (or political leader of any sort), but I believe that his ticket is better enough than the alternative that it is important to vote for/support him.

There is much to dislike about Obama - he is relatively centrist within the Democratic party, does not support gay rights to the extent I would like, has been blunt in describing consequences of his foreign affairs policy, is not socialist (despite puzzling claims from the Republican part otherwise), is deeply religious, supports engagement with the Taliban in Afghenistan (further weakening Karzai), shows little vision on how to handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (even BushJr showed some promise here), and has not offered substantial vision for campaign finance reform and other matters of corruption. I believe his campaign catchphrase of "Change" has not enough substance.

There are things to like about Obama - he is quite intelligent (as Bill Clinton was) and willing to show some of it (which Bill Clinton did not do much of in his public persona). He takes a more cooperative approach on international politics, showing none of the "OMG the UN is taking over the country! Black helicopters are coming to kidnap my cows!" attitude that a certain portion of the Republican party represents. I believe his reaching out to all voters in all states is the right thing to do in a semi-democratic country like ours (beyond just being pragmatic angling for happy surprises).

In some ways, the most important type of "Change" I expect from Obama is mostly a return to the status quo - a removal of the neoconservative power grab's results, a restoration of diplomacy and an attempt to be a better citizen in the community of nations (the US does not have a particularly good record in this, but these last 8 years have been blatantly bad). The interesting change that's been happening so far has mainly been from Howard Dean's handling of the DNC (and perhaps from Lawrence Lessig's 「Change Congress」 efforts) and the soul-searching in the RNC running the line from Bob Dole to Arnold Schwartzenegger.

There's also the Palin factor - McCain is relatively centrist within the Republican party (distinction: political centrism in the context of national perspectives, like Lieberman and Powell, and centrism within a party), has indicated strong disapproval of the neoconservative faction of that party and how they ran the country, and has interest in poltical reforms that I would like to see. Even if I were conservative, Palin ruins his ticket (in the way that Lieberman ruined Al Gore's ticket for me) - she is not strongly affiliated with a faction of the Republican party, but the impression I get is that she is not at all diplomatic (her jingoism is blatant and offensive) or interested in diplomacy - a lack of interest or actual disdain for international relations is one of the chief failings of the BushJr administration (see John Bolton) and to have it continue would do great damage to our ability to relate/negotiate with others apart from through pure power politics. Her understanding of government is deeply flawed (from the role of vice president and the function of branches of government, at least), and she's eerily poorly-informed. She's about as fake as politicians come, and as close to an average american as we've ever seen running on a national ticket. I expected a lot better from McCain (whom I have a highly nuanced admiration for despite the broad dislike of many of his positions), and believe it would be disasterous were McCain to fall ill or die and her to get the presidency. Palin (unfortunately) reminds me of what my mum would look like in politics if she were surrounded by the "handlers" McCain has surrounded Palin with.

The third parties all have some permutation of either sucking or having no chance of doing anything useful (largely because of our electoral system). Bob Barr, as with so many LP candidates before him, fits the "simple, neat, and wrong" quip - like the go-back-to-gold-backing folk, their plan is only attractive because it makes the system/philosophy simple enough for anyone to grasp, and with very negative consequences. Ralph Nader.. was actually quite funny in how pathetic his commercials made him look (moping to a parrot for 5 minutes is only a bit less bizarre than Nancy Reagan's love of astrologers). Can the greens make a difference? Probably not yet (although I like their platform more than Obama's) - maybe someday their focus on local-elections-first can make a difference, or maybe the rules of the game will change. Likewise with the rest. I hold that voting for a third party, even though many of them are a better match for my values, would be a wasted vote - the difference between Obama and McCain is not as large as I'd like it to be, but it is important, and third party votes are not useful in any measurable sense at this time. A refusal to take the lesser of two offers when what one wants is not on the table is not betraying principles so long as one does not forget one's actual principles and become complacent with the choice. I do not consent to capitalism nor to the other positions both candidates have, but I cannot opt out of the consequences - using the vote as best I can is practically a duty, even though I would not think twice to do things many people would call treason in support of the public good.

There is some actual change I would like to see that's plausible under Obama anyhow - the beginnings of a move towards national health care. It will be messy, mismanaged, and inefficient at first, but I believe it eventually can be done well enough to better the most vulnerable of our society, and hope that eventually it will better the majority.

Is race important? Is gender important? Somewhat. We've already crossed the Rubicon on that front, and I don't think American presidential politics will ever be the same - WASP versus WASP (Al Gore's choice of Lieberman and JFK were the beginnings of this change, although very early presidents also did not fit this mold). While we do want the best person for the job, the fact that who was selected (or nominated) has been so homogenous for so long suggests a number of possibly ugly conclusions about american society, and if the realities are changing, that's interesting and inspiring for those disaffected before.

In sum, I don't expect a lot of change from Obama, but I believe in many ways we'll return to a status quo that's much better than what we've gotten from the neoconservatives and better than we would get from McCain (who is, taken alone, not terrible but much further from what I want). In a few areas, Obama might bring us actual worthwhile and important change. Not voting or voting for a third party is a waste of a potential to better the world, and beyond all this, the nation should be screaming "no" to Palin as being incredibly unsuitable in as effective and loud a way as possible.

On another note, I'm somewhat weirded out to recently notice some voices I never noticed before in songs I've heard many times before (same music file, even). I am also very tired, but will probably spend tonight at the 61c café anyhow unless something better turns up.



Agree to most of this. What I especially like about Obama, specific issues aside, is that I feel based on his writings that he is genuinely open-minded and is likely to listen to activists and their arguments more than previous presidents have done. He displays, empathy for those who are upset or hurt by positions he currently supports, rather than discounting them.

I was surprised by this one: "engagement with the Taliban in Afghenistan (further weakening Karzai)"

One thing I like LEAST about Obama is that I was hoping at the outset he'd be more of a dove. He seems to have gone from "Bring the troops home from Iraq within 16 months" to "ship the troops from Iraq to Afghanistan within 16 months, no going home for you, sorry kids." I hope to see him better recognize the big-picture concept that the U.S. repeatedly harms its interests by running about killing people in foreign countries.
I don't think a pacifistic attitude towards any theocratic movement is a good idea, regardless of whether it's theoprimitivist (e.g. Taliban) or something as sophisticated as Iran (which is quite moderate) - in the case of the latter, friendly engagement seems sensible (because despite being a theocracy, substantial other similarities in norms exist between us and Iran) provided we're willing to act to contain spread of that kind of system, with the less similar countries we should be fairly skeptical (I would want to see far looser ties with Saudi Arabia, for example), and movements and states that are theoprimitivist should suffer very cold relations and possible intervention if it seems like it could be successful without great cost (this intervention could just take the form of strengthening one side of an inner conflict, such as providing very significant aid to Karzai and Mubarak and continuing to treat the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood as hostis humani generis).

As a general principle, anything permitting the expansion of Shari'a into new areas/countries or drastic changes in its form/implementation either to strengthen it or make it more primitivist is something I believe we should be willing to prevent, potentially using military force if pragmatic.

Afghenistan was a mess before the US invaded, and it may have been unwise to invade were it purely about toppling a theoprimitivist regime but I don't believe, having temporarily played kingmaker in the low-grade civil war in the country and placed Karzai at the head, that permitting those changes to revert would be conscionable. It would've been far better to permit the Soviet Union to occupy the country (which may have effectively secularised society, at least moreso than it is now), but that opportunity is past and Northern Alliance rule is the best we can hope for in terms of alliance with basic western values.