R. Justin Shepherd | PART-TIME PUNDIT


OBAMA FOR PRESIDENT: A pragmatic endorsement
4.June.2008, 11.07 am
Filed under: faith, politics | Tags:

This post is meant to foster discussion. Please add your thoughts, disputes, etc. at bottom.

Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable…the art of the next best.

— Otto von Bismarck, 1867

Short Version: Barring any unforeseen revelations about his character, criminal history or secret policy positions, I will be voting for Barack Obama in November. I suggest you do too. However, unless you read the Long Version, which immediately follows, do not email, call or otherwise bug me and try to argue why I should vote otherwise.

Long Version: First things first. I’m a 27-year-old white male. My family lives near the technical poverty line, although you wouldn’t know it to look at us. We have nice vehicles, a nice house, cable, Internet access, etc. I have a pretty good job and my wife, Shelley, is fortunate to be able to stay home with our child (and soon to be children). I was raised in a somewhat Baptist household, and now belong to a Presbyterian (PCA) church. I’m college educated, though not quite a college grad.

In November, I will be voting for the Democratic nominee for president, Barack Obama.

Working in journalism, I’ve spent much of my time in the past few years keeping up with current events, and with a particular appetite for politics and a root word, policy. (I could, in fact, boast that I’ve read more contemporary history in these past few years than the average person will read in his/her entire lifetime—but my Moses-esque humility won’t allow it.) Through that reading, I’ve come to my current political leanings, which are as follows:

•Libertarian socially (let people do what they want if it doesn’t hurt me or my kids)
•Conservative fiscally (let me keep as much of my income as possible, to do with it what I wish)
•Hyperlocal bureaucratically (let the smallest possible group decide on its own what it wishes its piece of society to look like).
•Noninterventionist in foreign policy (stay out of other nations’ business when it does not directly harm national interests)

Sounds like a Ron Paul voter, no? But there one’s more crucial point:

•Pragmatic when necessary—and that moment is now.

If this were 1992, I’d be rooting for Pat Buchanan, or possibly crazy uncle Perot. If this year’s GOP nominee were Paul, Pat Buchanan, or possibly even Mike “The Huckster” Huckabee (one of the daring who, despite other inadequacies, supports The FairTax, which would make a huge difference to our economy and to small-business owners like myself), I’d likely vote for any of these.

Put another way, I don’t like Obama’s general policy stances on taxes, abortion, immigration, entitlements, government interference, and probably a host of other issues. That said, I don’t like John McCain’s stances on the war in Iraq—or war in general—or taxes, immigration, entitlements, government interference… but most disturbingly, his blazing globalism.

Not only does McCain support continuing the war in Iraq indefinitely, but he endorses the idea of a “League of Democracies,” a liberal position that even Obama does not hold. He mocks Obama for considering the diplomatic route in regards to Iran—despite the fact that this same diplomatic route, as practiced by conservative icon Ronald Reagan, is what won the Cold War. Nor do I appreciate the way George W. Bush’s “conservative” administration has spent and spent and spent our tax dollars, while cutting tax rates and allowing the American economy to fall into the gutter.

“Tax and spend liberal” has been a scare tactic used to great effect over the past 30 years… that and the newer claim that Democrats are “soft” on national security. Yet our nation is far less solvent since Bush took office, and our nation is certainly no more secure than it ever was.

Then there’s the issue of “free trade,” which is an Orwellian oxymoron. Anyone who will spend a bit of time reading Buchanan (or any host of other “paleoconservative” or “traditional conservative” authors) will find out that protectionism—the practice of imposing tariffs on imports and other measures designed to reward Americans for buying local and American industry for staying in America—was common course until the last 50 years, and America’s economy steadily rose during that time, making it far the most dominant the world has ever known. Contrast that with today, when so-called conservatives tout “free trade” as if it were a religion, neglecting to notice that American industry is quickly drying up, the Chinese economy is skyrocketing (and they hold the majority of our TRILLIONS in debt), and that other nations are taxing our exports to their countries, while giving manufacturers in their countries tax REBATES on their exports to us—meaning a double-edged punishment that makes buying Japanese cheap here and buying American nearly impossible there.

Obama? He’s spoken out against NAFTA and might possibly rework these disastrous trade policies. McCain? He’s a “Kool-Aid” drinker on free trade, and on the flawed notion of globalism in general.

“But,” you may say, “Obama is far to the left of Ted Kennedy!” I think that statement a bit much, but I won’t argue the point that Obama is going to be some miraculous “uniter”… his voting record is solidly left-leaning, and he has no practical evidence of being a “bridge-builder,” save for his smooth rhetoric.

Yet, practically speaking and using actual evidence, not rhetoric, as a standard, shows the lie. As a strongly conservative blogger recently noted,

“(The GOP voters’) grandstanding leaders never deliver, their fury mounts and mounts, and nevertheless they turn out every two years to return their right-wing heroes to office for a second, a third, or a twentieth try,” observed leftist Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas? “The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes.”

Republican appointees to federal courts far outnumber Democratic ones, yet the GOP continues to trot out “judicial reform” as the thing they’re going to aim for above all. It hasn’t fleshed out—the majority of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, which has no intention of overturning Roe, are GOP appointees; the judge who ruled California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional? Lifelong Republican.

And consider:

•The number of women undergoing abortions went DOWN overall during the Clinton administration, and UP dramatically throughout the Bush II years
•Unemployment went DOWN overall during Clinton years, UP overall during Bush II
•Real value of wages has gone steadily down during Bush II
•Federal funds went from surplus during Clinton to MASSIVE, RECORD DEFICITS during Bush II
•Federal government spending has gone WAY UP during Bush II

McCain shows no signs of changing many of these metrics… abortion rates have been shown to be very much linked to economics. So-called “conservative” GOP government has spent more than any Democratic administration ever did. And a globalist viewpoint, which looks at America as the biggest member of a global community, instead of looking at AMERICANS and their well-being as the crucial deciding factor in every single decision, has proven harsh over the short term and could likely prove fatal if allowed to go unchecked.

The millions we’re spending PER DAY in Iraq—a nation which did not attack us, had no capacity to attack us, and was NOT a state sponsor of terrorism—would be better spent here. The lives we’re losing won’t spread democracy across the globe—and no one asked us to do it in the first place! As most honest brokers understand, al-Qaida (and all radical Islamists) don’t hate us for who we are, but for what we do, which is meddle in the affairs of the Middle East.

Four years ago, I listened to Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention—and here I promise, no exaggeration—and after hearing him, I told Shelley, “This guy will be the first black president.” It is increasingly looking like I was right.

What was in that speech were some things I hadn’t heard from any politician before… seemingly genuine talk of faith, genuine talk of an America that didn’t want to hear about hot-button issues, but who shared more than they disagreed on… the signature mood of “Hope” (has he trademarked that word yet?) was there on display.

Once Obama is president—and that’s not a sure thing, by any means—I will be as critical of him as I have been of pretty much every politician I’ve ever heard. One thing I know is that politicians are flawed just as politics are flawed, and the American people are often not well served by either party.

But what it ultimately comes down to, to me, is the war. I don’t support it because it wasn’t right; I don’t support it because it was far from necessary. Saddam was a bad guy—but there are 50 others the world over, in Sudan and Shanghai and Minsk and Moscow. This war has destroyed our credibility, left thousands of our troops (and tens of thousands of Iraqis, if you care) dead, obliterated our nation’s wallet and left us digging deeper and deeper into debt with China, a nation we should truly be scared of in this new cold war—waged with economic weapons.

I don’t know that I want nationalized health care… but my company’s plan isn’t so hot. I don’t know that government should force carmakers to make what they want… but I do know $4 a gallon for stuff we rely on our “enemies” for isn’t working. I don’t know what Obama’s education cabinet or health cabinet will look like… but I’m frightened of a hothead like McCain, who (it’s been widely reported) rips the heads off of those who disagree with him. Our country’s had enough of a president that “goes with his gut”—I think we’re ready to elect someone who will surround himself with intelligent people, not ideologues, and then listen to those people. (This is how most presidents govern—Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, all surrounded themselves with experts, not ideologues.)

If I were to stand on principle, I’d probably vote Libertarian. Their party stances, though far from perfect, are far closer to my own than either Democratic or Republican platforms. But this is not a time for hollow principle… this is, in my judgment, a time for pragmatism. And my pragmatic side tells me that, hands down, in THIS MOMENT, an Obama presidency (as contrasted with a McCain presidency) is the best choice we have. My vote may not make a difference; of all 50-some primaries, Obama got by far the fewest votes in Kentucky (carried only two counties, and got mere double-digit individual vote totals in many in the eastern part of the state), so I’m pretty sure McCain’s a lock for our electoral votes. But maybe this post will raise some questions, not only on who to vote for, but on what exactly voting is meant to accomplish in the first place.

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11 Comments so far
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Good post, Justin. I think we are feeling a lot of the same things, even if our own personal philosophies are not identical.

Comment by cort

Justin,

Like Cort said, good post. Thoughtful. I agree with most of it. One of the things that has bothered me about Obama (and I cannot remember where I read this) is that he at one point said that “the first thing he’d do as President” (or possibly “one of the first things” he woud do) was to relax abortion restrictions on young girls who did not want to notify their parents. Just the fact that he would rank that at the top of his list of priorities bothers me greatly in regard to his ethical foundation. That he has been ranked as possibly the most pro-abortion candidate EVER by some of the largest abortion rights groups is also telling.

I am not a one issue voter, and I think you raise other very pertinent points that are also moral issues. But, this is a big issue, and his stance troubles me.

The fact that my vote for Obama would likely not be heard in the KY electorate, may be the reason I choose ultimately to write in a candidate or vote Libertarian.

Comment by kevinburt

Kevin,

I too have “heard” this but have not seen it anywhere… What I have heard is his somewhat telling statement that he wouldn’t want his daughter, if she got pregnant as a teen, “to be punished” for the mistake of sexuality… the punishment apparently being the child. That sounds harsh and is certainly not a pro-life sentiment, although it is a lot more honest than saying “a woman should have a right to choose what happens to her body,” which I’ve always found ridiculous and avoiding the real issue.

Something I did not note, but which I’ve long felt, is that “ethics” (those issues that are up for debate, whether they should be or not, because of a society’s leanings or philosophies) simply cannot be a primary judgment of a politician’s character. Why? Because though, say, pro-life sentiment may seem entirely right to you and me, it is up for debate within the community at large in a way that, say, adultery is not. Most everyone still agrees that adultery is wrong, even if they think it a wrong that many commit and that can be easily forgiven/hidden/justified… whereas there is a substantial part of the populace that argues an unborn child simply is NOT a child… and though that pains me, I recognize that it is a debate that has at least a tiny bit of merit on the other side (i.e. some of the basic reasonings make sense, though not good sense).

Instead, give me a leader/representative who is thoughtful, intelligent and aware of the will of the people… we who live in a representative democracy must argue strongly for our views, but when those views are not adopted by a majority of the electorate, we can only attempt to argue more loudly or with more skill. The pro-choice politician is oftentimes following his/her electorate to his/her decision. Besides which, as I noted above, no single president has the kind of impact on abortion law as is commonly imagined, while societal/economic/tribal factors have a much more profound impact, and it is reasonable for a pro-lifer to attempt to enact change by this method, of improving those factors, instead of through the rewarding of rhetoric, which hardly comes to fruition.

Your other point is well taken… since we’re not a “battleground” state, why NOT vote lib? I suppose it’s because, in a few months (or years), I will look back on this and consider, what did I do? If Obama wins and turns out to be a disaster, I may regret the vote. If I don’t vote, and McCain wins and our nation’s brave troops keep dying for ideology, and our economy continues to crumble, I will regret the inaction—not to mention being ashamed, decades down the road, if my children ask me what my part was when the first (and in that case likely only) black candidate got defeated.

Comment by R. Justin

I’ve heard the charge as “most liberal on abortion ever” leveled as well. This may or may not be technically true, but it is a sticking point for me with Obama, too. But he also said this at the Faith Forum in April:

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0804/13/se.01.html
“…we’ve actually made progress over the last several years in reducing teen pregnancies, for example. And what I have consistently talked about is to take a comprehensive approach where we focus on abstinence, where we are teaching the sacredness of sexuality to our children.”

Abortion will not go away entirely, so where candidates score points with me is on this question: do their values and actions help create an environment that reduces unwanted pregnancy? Fewer unwanted pregnancies means fewer abortion.

Comment by Cort

Thanks for the post, JSheez. I will no doubt reference it in my future quests to convert Repuglicans to…common sense. I am a 29 year old white, hardworking, college-educated, near-poverty line, latte-drinking (when I can afford it) far Lefty woman (who enjoys having a personal choice over what happens to her body) supporting Barack Obama for President of the United States. I encourage EVERYONE, even though your vote may not translate into an electoral count, to vote Obama. Come on, it’s history we’re making. And the future. I am not one to reference Plato often, but this paraphrase applies: Those who are too smart to be engaged in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumb.
Use your votes wisely.

Comment by Joy

Joy: Stop fornicating! Use birth control! Drink more coffee! 🙂

Comment by rjustin

Ah, but sir, you forget–it’s only fornicatin’ if you call it such. Me? I call it “drinkin’ coffee.” As in, “hey, baby, let’s go back to my place and…drink some coffee.”–cue Barry White.
(This post does not represent the views of the blog host nor presidential candidate Barack Obama.)

Comment by Joy

Or just stop supporting the murder of babies. Fornicate all you want (though it’s a screwy way to find pleasure). I’m a hardworking 30ish male who also wants personal choice over what happens to my body. Like whether it becomes a slave with ever diminishing civil liberties to a state that overtaxes me and forces me to pay for programs I may not agree with (like the murder of unborn babies, which are not my body, nor the body of the woman carrying them). I say give us true freedom like the constitution of 1787 demanded. It’s why I supported Ron Paul, and neither of the two pandering politicians now on the ticket.

Comment by kevinburt

Hmm… everybody cool down, eh? 🙂

Kevin, the question is, have we veered quite as far from the founders’ intentions as Paul argues? After all, we simply elected representatives who have changed things… maybe we should’ve chosen better ones, eh? But this is the way our system was set up—love it or leave it.

And, while we’re on the subject, why is it that “the founders’ intent” is always this huge keystone argument… the founders were flawed men just like us, and what’s to say we should follow their intent, all these years later?

However, having played devil’s advocate for a moment, there is an argument to make for reigning in government and looking backward for some wise council. The problem, as I see it and have mentioned above, is that no one running is going to do that. Obama’s generally liberal, McCain’s generally neo-conservative, with the exception of caring about Israel in an apoco-religious way. What else have you got? The opportunistic Mr. Barr, whose sudden change to Libertarian seems (to me anyway) is clearly an attempt to stay relevant in a nation that’s increasingly ignoring “compassionate conservatism”?

I’m for less government and less taxation, but not at the expense of creating more poverty… and that may just happen, if McCain’s brand of fiscal policy is allowed to take the day. Obama, at least, sees through the fog of “free trade” and might actually impose some protectionist policies, which did our country a lot of good.

Kevin, check out Eunomia, if you haven’t already, for a view you’d love to see: The Orthodox Christian conservative view! Seriously, I find a lot of food for thought through this guy, and he’s got plenty of links to take you outside his particular opinion and into a world of political thought that’s not getting play in ANY media, mainstream or otherwise.

P.S.: As a pro-lifer, I don’t think it’s useful to call abortion “murder,” especially considering “murder” technically means illegal killing, and abortion is obviously quite legal. Though I’ve noticed that the only listing under “abortion” in the Bowling Green yellow pages is for the Pregnancy Support Center. Anywho, we’re getting a little off-topic. The point is not to argue whether abortion is OK or not, but to talk about the presidential race at hand, which gives no indication of being about abortion in any meaningful way.

Comment by rjustin

Joy and Justin,
My apologies; I overreacted. For the record, I will likely vote Obama too, despite some of my misgivings. Its better than more war and hegemony. I’ll leave the abortion issue alone; I didn’t mean to derail the thread. Again, especially to Joy, pardon my abruptness. Its easier to be an ass online than in person. :-/
kevin

Comment by kevin b

Justin,

On the issue of whether we should follow the “founders’ intent,” I think it’s a reasonable question. There can be no doubt that things have changed since 1787. But, our Constitution has served very well (arguably better than any in the history of humanity), and it has built into it the means to change the laws when needed. What I — and Paul — take issue with is when people decide they can do things illegally without going through proper channels, i.e., the amendment process. Our current administration has broken so many laws it is hard to even keep count. If laws are outdated, by all means change them; but do it legally. None of us really want anarchy.

I think your point the rates of abortion correlating to economic indicators is very true. It’s a point many “religious conservatives” miss altogether. And, I understand your hesitation in calling abortion “murder,” on purely legal terms; however, we don’t live on purely legal principles, and therein lies the problem.

Just as an aside, I find it remarkable that our country is able to remain as united as it is given the abortion debate. If any other form of “murder” (currently recognized as such) were made “legal,” we would a potential breakdown of society. Think of the millions who would refuse to pay taxes to a government that sanctioned the killing off of retarded children, or unwanted 2 month old “postnatal fetuses.” Or the millions who would perhaps view taking up arms to protect these lives?

Anyway, I didn’t want to derail your thoughtful post… it’s not a one issue race. Eunomia is a great site, I agree.

Kevin

Comment by kevinburt




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