Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why I am voting for Barack Obama, and why you should too

Personally, I don't think this post is necessary because barring an unforeseen assassination, Barack Hussein Obama will become our next president of the United States. It's really no contest, so let me start this post to explain why. For those of you who have been paying attention and already know why, skip ahead so I can explain why I will be voting for him. For the rest of you, here is why we are looking at a landslide victory:

First, of course, the disparity between the candidates, when you consider the circumstances involved are as large as the disparity between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. It's as simple as that. We just went through eight painful years of George W. Bush Jr whose approval ratings are completely in the toilet. Of the candidates running for the Republican nomination, John McCain may have been the most capable of shedding himself from the legacy of Bush Jr, but that legacy is still his to bear. He's from the same party of course, and for the past 6 or so years, and especially as he's been trying to appease to the base of the party, John McCain has done a lot to align himself with Bush's policies. Considering most people are as pessimistic about America's economic future as they were in the late 1970's under Jimmy Carter, and how , unfairly or not, (in this case definitely fairly) our current economic slowdown is pinned on Bush Jr in particular and the Republican party in general. The facts on the ground just are not in McCain's favor.

Combine that with the fact that Barack Obama has so much more energy, charisma, and a much more positive, relevant message (remind you of Reagan?) compared to the more dour McCain message who seems to be mainly just against a lot of things but only for one thing, continued American presence in Iraq.

Don't get me wrong, I like and respect John McCain. He's my Senator. I wanted him to win in 2000 against Bush. That was his time to win, but he didn't, and his time has passed. He has a dated message now and quite frankly, he belongs to the wrong party. He will serve his country best as an Arizona Senator providing a voice for economic restraint. This is where he belongs.

Now onto to the man whose time has come, Barack Obama. I wasn't always an Obama supporter. I came into the elections of 2008 with an open mind. When the primaries first began, I believe I came in favoring John McCain actually. I liked him as a person, I liked his attitude, his personality, his courage. But I jumped into the political primaries with both feat, reading and discussing the issues as much as possible with my friends in my private political yahoo group. I watched many of the primary debates for both parties, and there were many, ten? twelve? twenty? There were some weird ones. The weirdest was the religious right debate, where only the second and third tier candidates from the Republican party showed up including some people I had no idea were actually running for president. But none of the people who had an actual shot at winning attended, no Mitt Romney, no Guiliani, no McCain. Mike Huckabee probably showed up, but I don't remember.

Similarly, from the other side of the political spectrum, a debate was hosted by a gay and lesbian organization for the Democrats and the questions consisted primarily of issues of concern for that organization. Of course Dennis Kucinich was the man of the night for that crowd. The highlight was when Bill Richardson was asked if he felt homosexuals were born that way, and he quite seriously answered "no". The questioner asked again, assuming Richardson didn't understand the question (I'm still not sure if he did, believing he answered that question honestly the first time, but strange to be so blunt in a setting like that). But it gave Richardson a chance to give a more sensible answer of "look, I'm not a scientist."

What kind of question was that for a president candidate anyway I would like to know? The only appropriate answer was "I don't know" and "why is this relevant anyway".
But I'm getting way off track.

But the first article I read that got me thinking, "wait a second, maybe Barack Obama is the man" was this one written by a conservative columnist, David Brooks before Obama even declared his intention to run for presidency. It's here.

Here's a nice quote that addresses Obama's lack of experience and incidentally one of the central reasons I am supporting Barack Obama:

"And yet in his new book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama makes a strong counterargument. He notes that it’s time to move beyond the political style of the baby boom generation. This is a style, he said in an interview late Tuesday, that is highly moralistic and personal, dividing people between who is good and who is bad."

And this one:

"Obama himself has a mentality formed by globalization, not the S.D.S. With his multiethnic family and his globe-spanning childhood, there is a little piece of everything in Obama. He is perpetually engaged in an internal discussion between different pieces of his hybrid self — Kenya with Harvard, Kansas with the South Side of Chicago — and he takes that conversation outward into the world."

And this one:

"He has a compulsive tendency to see both sides of any issue. Joe Klein of Time counted 50 instances of extremely judicious on-the-one-hand-on the-other-hand formulations in the book. He seems like the guy who spends his first 15 minutes at a restaurant debating the relative merits of fish versus meat."

And finally this one:

"The third reason Obama should run for president is his worldview. At least in the way he conceptualizes the world, he is not an orthodox liberal. In the book, he harks back to a Hamiltonian tradition that calls not for big government, but for limited yet energetic government to enhance social mobility. The contemporary guru he cites most is Warren Buffett."

This was the first article that got me started, but this was the article that pushed me over the edge and prompted me to purchase bumper stickers and yard signs and to donate money to his campaign:

It's called: "Goodbye To All That" found in my current favorite political website, The Atlantic Monthly.

The central point of the article is that because by the accident of who he is and where he's been, he's uniquely positioned to address the major problems facing our country right now. Here's why:

The Black/White issue
The black/white racial divide that has torn our country apart literally from its inception. Barack Obama has literally been on both sides of this issue. Born to a white mother and a black father, raised by his mother and his mother's grandparents in Hawaii (mainly) he was largely removed from the most bitter racial fights producing the black political anger of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. But he's not like Tiger Woods, this kind of post-racial black person. He turned down more lucrative opportunities and jumped head first into the black neighborhoods in south Chicago, married a black woman, and joined a black Christian church. Obama has taken a lot of heat for being a member of Reverend Wright's church, but its because of that membership, ironically, that has made him a more compelling presidential candidate than if he had not. He understands the black anger and bitterness because he's lived it as an adult, but he's not been damaged by it because he didn't live it as a child.

Because of his past, he has globalization embedded into his bones. He spent time as a child in Jakarta, his father his from Kenya and although his dad left him when he was two, he has connections that leap over an ocean. He was raised and schooled in Hawaii. He not only has seen the world, he's a product of that world. But he also knows and understand Americana, again because of his decision to return home, closer at least to the home of his Kansas born mother. His return to Chicago allowed him to establish roots and friendships with people who have lived here all of their lives.

Muslim and Christianity
Barack Obama gets a lot of flack for his middle name. The loony parts of the far right have attacked Obama's patriotism because of his name and his heritage. They don't trust that he is truly Christian. And engaged as we are in this global war on terror with its strong extremist Muslim bent, they hold it against him. I see things exactly opposite. His name and his heritage is an incredible asset. He spent four years in Jakarta, attended school with Muslims. Although he was young, he understands like few do what it means to be a Muslim. And having the USA elect a president with dark skin and a funny Muslim sounding name, a person with familial connections to the religion (his father was raised Muslim although he abandoned the faith as an adult, so the family connections are not strong enough to invalidate his candidacy but strong enough to strenghten it), sends a powerful message to youth in the Muslim world, of our diversity and our tolerance. It strikes a significant blow to the terrorists recruitment machine. It strikes a blow to the notion that this is a war between Christians and Muslisms because it is not, it is a war between extremism and tolerance and modernity. That difference needs to be made much more clear in the Middle East. Bush Jr. rhetoric, tossing out phrases with words like Crusade, his cowboy Texas persona was the exact opposite of what's needed to win the war on terror.

Christianity verses Secularism
This is at the heart of many of the most insane and unproductive debates between our two major parties. Since the 1960s, the Democratic party has largely been the home for the secularists, the Republican party with the exception of the black church has been the favorite party of the Christian church goers. This religious split has led to some silly and unproductive debates, most notably, should Terry Schiavo be allowed to live (really was this something our president and Congress be involved with), and to a lesser extent, intelligent design, stem cell research, homosexual marriage, abortion. These are all interesting and important issues, sure. But not nearly as important as health care, the war, and the economy, at least not for our federal government, at least not for the president of our country.

And again, Barack Obama understands both sides and transcends the debate completely. He was raised by a secular mother whose naive idealism led her away from Kansas on into Indonesia and Hawaii. But again, Barack Obama, as an adult, converted to Christianity and embraced Jesus, not in some purely charismatic sort of way. It had both religious and intellectual components. He enjoyed and appreciated the community of believers, the chance to leverage religious communities to participate in the broader community.

So, really Barack Obama is a new kind of politician. It has been both humorous and frustrating to see some of the criticism flung at Obama. He has been called the most liberal Senator now serving. He's been called a flip-flopper. Some of this is political opportunism at work. But more of it I believe is that too many people are so used to viewing politics through a lense whose prescription has past. The don't understand Obama because they are still stuck in 1960's and 1970's rhetoric. They want to continue to fight al Qaida or even Iran the same way we fought Russia. These old rules do not apply. And until we re-calibrate our perspective to a world of globalization, rapid technology advancement, and the age of terror (where a single person strike fear into the hearts of an entire nation), we will continue to misinterpret and misunderstand Obama.

One other note. I think its important that a Democrat wins the presidency in this election over a Republican. John McCain is actually the best candidate of the pathetic group they had to choose from this go around, but really the party is in a shambles. Ronald Reagan, in my estimation, was a good and effective president. He had some major blemishes, but largely he succeeded. He succeeded against communism, he opened up trade and helped lead our nation and the world into this current world of globalization. He cut taxes that needed to be cut. Taxes on the most wealthy were incredibly high and needed to be dropped. But those battles have been won by Reagan in the 1980s, but the Republican party has been continuing to try to fight these same battles ever since.

The Republican party continues to support Cold War military technology like missel defense, in fact I heard recently John McCain express his support for this in response to Iran's missle testing. Bush Jr continues to pour money (I have vague memories of reading this so correct me if I'm wrong) into cold war style military technologies. They continue to push tax cuts like its a religious mantra. Just how far do you cut taxes I wonder? You have to stop somewhere, or you completely lose your ability to fund a government. I have never once heard a Republican state the exact percentage our taxes should be at which point we no longer have to cut taxes. No, they just want to keep cutting taxes.

The problem is that Reagan's tax cuts were probably as far as we could legitimately go, so the tax cut debate ever since has been largely about complete nonsense.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have become the party of pragmatists. Watching both side's primary debates, the Democrats were having the more interesting discussions by far, the Democrats also had the more interesting candidates. Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama talking about energy, the environment, the Iraq war, health care. The Democratic party, headlined by the likes of Jim Webb, have become the party of pragmatism and moderation.

Finally, there are so many articles that back up these statements. Barack Obama is a new politican. His message is and has been about change, about consensus, about breaking our divides, about compromise. I think his major initiatives and emphasis will be about Iraq, the economy, health care, and energy. Those are really the only issues that should be getting the majority of our time in debates.

So for all of you who belong to a religious faith, especially those of you who share mine, those of the Mormon faith, one of the most predictively Republican demographic in existence. You should not every become a one issue voter.

This election simply is not about abortion or homosexual marriage or guns or the death penalty. Presidential elections never really are. Those issues are just used to manipulate your vote. Bush Jr. has done very little to directly address any of those issues, nor should he have. Same with Clinton, Bush Sr., Reagan. I admit these are important issues, just not for the president of our dear country.

So, when you make your choice for the president of the USA, think Iraq, the economy, health care, and energy. What president is better suited to lead our country productively, who can bridge the divides that keep us from developing consensus on truly important issues.

That man, my friends is Barack Obama. And he will become the next president of the United States of America.

P.S. Here's a link of some additional articles I read that really helped me to get to know Barack Obama, these are some really in depth articles from the New Yorker archives:

This one is a kind of rebuttal to this post, but puts the notion of Obama as a walk on water, do no wrong saint to rest. He is not, of course, and this article details his toughness, his willingness to do what it takes to win. It does paint him as an opportunist of sorts. But understand, this is one important side of him, not the whole picture.

Obama, the candidate
Obama, the facilitator

Here are two excellent op eds I just ran across, but I come across articles like these all the time:

The Audacity of Listening
Obama admires Bush

And finally, must listen to Obama speeches:

One quick note on speeches. Obama's extraordinary oratory skills should not be underestimated. The ability to inspire, to convince, and to explain through speach delivery is extremely important. Of course, it can't be hallow, but Lincon's presidency would not have been the same without Gettysburg, Roosevelt would have been less effective without his fireside chats. Some of the most signature phrases have been used as rallying cries for change. From Reagan's urgings of "Gorbechev, tear down this wall", to Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" are important. I predict more to come from an Obama presidency.

Ok, here are the speeches:

On patriotism
On race
On religion (this one is broken up into 5 parts)
2004 convention speech, the speech that started it all

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


This past weekend a friend, who is also my neighbor and a member of my church, reached out and performed an incredibly thoughtful, generous act of service for my family for no reason other than he saw a need and he acted on it. It was a completely selfless act because there was no obligation, no past debt he was trying to make up for, no family connection he felt a sense of obligation to. He just did it. This act was significant enough it forced me to think about things a little different, how good am I about receiving such help, how good am I about giving it?

In fact, I have received a lot of help in my life, so many people have looked out for me, reached out to me, nurtured me, helped me pursue my goals, helped me to survive. I definitely would not be where I am without kindness.

Of course, like most people, my family has been the place where I've received the most help from. Right now, my wife is extroardinary for the amount of effort she puts in each day to make my life easier, more pleasant, more beautiful. In fact, she helps me in so many countless ways that she's often afraid I will take (or have taken) advantage of her goodness, generosity and mercy. It's just simply impossible to thank her enough for all of the kind deeds she does for me each day.

Before her, my parents were my primary source of strength, especially growing up. My very survival dependended on their actions. And they nurtured me enough to instill in me a faith in God, a desire to educate myself, to be a good person. But even beyond that, being out of the house and single for so many years, I could always count on them being in my corner, willing to take a phone call if I needed to talk to someone, always rooting for me.

But receiving and giving help from your family is tricky. There's a component of obligation and duty behind it. I go to work each day and work as hard as I can so I can provide an income for my family. I could, I guess, horde every last penny I made because I earned it, it's mine. But of course, it's my duty and legal obligation to provide for my children and my wife. So, it's a service, but I hardly get much credit for giving it. What counts more is what I do above and beyond the service. What do I do after a long day at work? How much extra time and energy do I give to my kids or to my wife. This is a point of struggle for me because I just have too many bad habits, for too long in my single days I could get away with plopping down after work and relaxing for a while, zoning out at the tv or with a book or at the computer. Obviously, those are habits I need to break.

Receiving help from friends is also tricky. If its a good friend where there's been a history of give and take its one thing. I have had friends like that. Roommates in college have helped me maintain and repair my barely functional college cars. They've followed me back to Yuma (they were also heading there) to make sure I made it. I helped them with their Calculus homework as they made attempts to piggyback off of me through engineering school (unfortunately my college car eventually died, each of them eventually changed their major).

Receiving help from more distant friends, or friends where you have a more shallow history with is still trickier. I have noted on this blog that I grew up poor. Its a challenge to grow up that way, especially if you are poor relative to your peer group, something that always seemed so obvious to me. It probably wasn't as true as I thought. I good childhood friend of mine's dad was a manager (I think?) at Safeway. They did ok, I guess, but at best they were marginally in the middle class. Their house was like mine but in better condition. But still, I grew up feeling more disadvantaged than my peers, which is not a comfortable feeling. As a result, we were one of those church families who were always thought of when it came time to do a service project. This was a major source of humiliation for me.

There was a youth service project where they planned to paint our house one Saturday. I did not want to be there, I wanted to figure out some way of being gone that day, I just couldn't face these people, who were roughly my age, coming to my house to do a welfare project. So, I did the completely unsensible thing and slept in as long as I could. I remember hearing them outside my house complaining about me while I pretended to sleep. My parents were pretty passive which is why I got away with this. Finally, though, I was forced out of the house to help, but needless to say I was not a grateful receiver. My pride was hurt.

But really, part of living on this earth is to develop gifts and talents, but its impossible to be good at everything. We will never have enough resources to satisfy every want or need. But our lives are richer when we share. When we give and receive with an open heart we will have much more, we will receive gifts we would never have even thought to pursue on our own.

My older sisters, especially compared to me, are brilliant gift givers, but maybe it was because they had so much practice. My parents were the opposite of brilliant gift givers, they usually just stuck with cold, hard cash. So, my older sisters filled in, making sure me and my little sister were well supplied on Christmas... They were also out of the house well before I was, and just seemed to always have a better sense of the world than me. They have travelled much more widely than I have even now for example. They have opened my world up in so many ways. Given me books or music that I may never have discovered otherwise. Only a few years ago, one sister gave me a subscription to the New Yorker, and as a result, nudged me a little more to the political left. I guess that's a nice gift.

But going back to this July 4th weekend act of service, I want to publicly thank my friend. Let me tell you what he did. I bought this old house in Tempe, my first house ever. I am really deficient in house maintenance, I'm learning, but slowly. It's just not a talent, and I don't seem to have a knack for it. Probably, I don't work hard enough at it either.

Well, anyway, this house has a sprinkler system, but a manual one. So, I would turn on the sprinklers as regularly as I could remember, but obviously not regularly enough. As a result, my grass has never really been green, just kind of yellowish and prickly, hard to walk on without shoes.

My friend is an expert in the landscape arena and had just finished installing this incredibly, professional lawn at his house. As a result of his expertise, I asked him a while back what it would take to install an automatic sprinkling system in my house, and he gave me a few hints, and suggested that he could help me do it sometime.

A lot of time had pass since that conversation, but I made no specific efforts to enlist his help. Really, I'm very, very bad at asking people for help, even when I desperately need it. Well, this past July 4th weekend, I went up to Utah with my family. We left a house key with his wife so that she could to check up on our house (and our newly acquired cat). When I came back from the trip the next Sunday evening, I discovered a brand new, top of the line automatic sprinkler system installed.

My friend took it upon himself to do this for me while I was gone without telling me. He had a spare timer, but he had to buy the valves and the connectors (I'll pay him back, I promise), and he spent significant time that Saturday procuring the parts and installing the system. So, now my grass is as green and as soft as its ever been.

Again, it was a really generous thing for him to do, completely unexpected. It left me wondering what similar thing could I do for someone else. I'm still thinking....