These past few months following the primaries have been a lot of fun for me, as I’ve found the Democrats running for President this year to be the most interesting in quite a long time. The candidates ran the gamut from middle of the road candidates like Hillary Clinton to traditional liberals like Joe Biden and Bill Richardson to more progressive candidates like Dennis Kucinich, and it was healthy for us to hear the spectrum of ideas within the Democratic Party. Early on I supported Joe Biden because of his experience and his plan of partitioning Iraq. When he dropped out, I briefly supported Bill Richardson but he soon dropped out. When the California primary came along, I settled on supporting Hillary, as I was impressed with her toughness. Now that the primaries are over and Obama is now the Democratic candidate, I wholeheartedly support Barack. I think this was an especially strong Democratic field of candidates, and they all would be better as President than George W. Bush and the Republican field this year. Though I didn’t vote for Barack during the primaries, I’ve always thought of him as being an intelligent and charismatic leader who brings unique gifts to the Presidency.
Coming into the primary season, I was looking for certain qualities that I wanted in the Democratic nominee. In terms of policy, I thought all of the Democratic nominees had political positions that were more progressive than Kerry had in 2004, as I see the political center of this nation having moved farther to the left after 8 years of Bush policies. Kucinich and Edwards, especially, have influenced the field to take more progressive positions on health care and the working poor. With even the more moderate Democrats offering more progressive agenda in health care, immigration, and economic policy, I looked for qualities that a candidate needed to tough out a fight to get those changes enacted. I wanted someone who was tough enough to withstand a Republican onslaught to stall Democratic reforms, the political savy to bring together various groups and cobble the votes to get things through Congress, and the communication skills to educate the public and gain their support. Good ideas don’t mean a thing if a President doesn’t have the political skills to translate those ideas into legislation. We don’t another repeat of the Carter presidency of the 1970s, of a well meaning and intelligent man who struggled to get things done in Washington.
I do not think Obama will become another Carter for a variety of reasons. When Carter became President, he relied on a coterie of Georgia advisers who knew little about Congress and the culture of Washington D.C. and struggled despite having Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Obama, on the other hand, is drawing among his advisers a wide variety of Democratic veterans. As a Senator, Obama has worked to get to know his Senate colleagues and has worked across the aisles to collaborate with moderate Republicans to get bills passed. Carter’s presidency was deeply hurt by sticking too long to Bert Lance, while Obama was able to cut his relations to Reverend Wright after Wright’s comments threatened to overshadow Obama’s message. Obama used the controversy to try to open up a dialogue on race in America. I think Obama has the political skills to overcome his lack of experience, in much the same way that Abraham Lincoln overcame his meager experience with his patience and great political skills in handling a disparate group of people.
Hillary supporters have good reason to vote for Obama in the Fall. If you compare Obama’s position on major issues (http://www.barackobama.com/issues/) with Hillary’s (http://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/), they share similar views on how to help America on the economy, on the environment, on weaning ourselves off of our oil dependency, on departing from Iraq. Obama is a strong proponent of getting universal health care for every American, for getting a cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for a program to give illegal immigrants a chance to gain citizenship, for a middle class tax cut and government stimulus for the economy, for a measured policy in Iraq. When compared to John McCains’ stand on various issues (http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/), Obama is more progressive. And Obama has amog his advisers people who had worked in the Clinton administration: Jeffrey Liebman, a Harvard economist who advises Obama on budget issues, was a top aide to President Clinton’s top economics adviser; Michael Froman, a Citigroup executive who advises Obama on Wall Street issues, was a top aid to former Clinton Treasure secretary Robert Rubin. I voted for Hillary during the California primary, but I’m too young to have lived through the battles that feminists had to go through in the 1960s and 1970s to gain respect for women’s skills and abilities. I understand the disappointment these older feminists feel from not seeing a woman become our chief executive. But we have another candidate breaking ground, as the first African American candidate who could seriously become President. The ground he breaks will benefit all Americans.
For those Progressive Democrats who might be tempted to vote for Ralph Nader, I only have to say that there are good reasons to stay in the fold and vote for Obama. It is true that Obama is not as progressive as Dennis Kucinich or John Edwards. I think though that radicals have to look at Obama’s openness to moving farther left when prodded by new opportunities. I think Obama’s relationship with the more radical progressives will be similar to Lincoln’s relationship with Frederick Douglass and the abolitionists. Though Lincoln was not an abolitionist himself, he was sympathetic to their cause and was himself deeply opposed to slavery. Under the influence of Frederick Douglass and the sacrifice of countless African American soldiers who fought for the Union cause, Lincoln gradually moved towards the abolition of slavery and the protection of African American rights. Howard Zinn, in the article Abolitionists, Freedom Riders and the Tactics of Agitation in The Zinn Reader, wrote:
“In all ages, it has been first the radical, and only later the moderate, who has held out a hand to men knocked to the ground by social order.
The moderate, whose sensitive ears are offended by the wild language of the radical, needs to consider the necessary division of labor in a world full of evil, a division in which agitators for reform play an indispensable role… In Abraham Lincoln we have the prototype of the political man in power, with views so moderate as to require the pressure of radicals to stimulate action. The politician, by the very nature of the electoral process, is a compromiser and a trimmer, who sets his sails by the prevailing breezes, and without the hard blowing of the radical reformer would either drift actionless or sail along with existing injustices…
In the fascinating dialogue- somtimes articulated, sometimes unspoken- between Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists, we have the classic situation of the politician vis-a-vis the radical reformer. It would be wrong to say that Lincoln was completely a politician- his fundamental humanitarianism did not allow that- and wrong to say that some of the abolitionists did not occasionally play politics- but on both sides the aberrations were slight, and they played their respective roles to perfection.”
Though Obama was criticized for this, I thought it was a good sign that Obama was willing to associate with a Reverend Wright or a former 1960s radical. Though he may not be as Progressive as a Ralph Nader, Obama doesn’t shirk from identifying himself with progressive causes and will be more effective than Nader in enacting needed Democratic reforms. I think if progressives do the hard work of agitating and changing people’s opinions and moving the politcal center farther to the left, Obama as President is willing to take advantage of the opportunities that open up for change.
Though I was not an original Obama supporter during the primaries, I happily support Obama now. He is an intelligent and focused man who has shown the ability to inspire the young and disaffected in much the same way that JFK inspired the young in the 1960s. During the primaries, I worried about Obama’s inexperience and toughness. In the last few months fighting Hillary, Barack Obama has shown great resilience and toughness, and I see in his handling of the Reverend Wright controversy a hint of the political savy that he will need to be a successful President. While I saw a Hillary Presidency as being like Harry S Truman, I see an Obama Presidency as being like Abraham Lincoln. It will be a Presidency of great thought and sensitivity to finding common ground among the divisions in our country and around the world.