Several people have asked to hear my reasons for voting for Obama. I’ve already explained my thoughts on the abortion issue, so I won’t repeat those here. And I won’t have much to say about Republicans versus Democrats. In the past I’ve voted for Republicans, third-party candidates and, now, for a Democrat. (I’m not just a swing voter — I’m a crack-addled hamster in a plastic ball.)
You see, I didn’t vote for a party. I voted for a man.
Presidential campaigns are harsh crucibles. Every last skeleton in the closet is dragged out and paraded before the media. Off-the-cuff remarks are deliberately misconstrued. The most tenuous of associations are scrutinized for the sake of making the candidate look worse.
You can learn a lot about a candidate, watching him slog his way through the electoral process. Does he fall apart as the pressure mounts? Or is he sharpened, even improved?
Barack Obama, I think it’s safe to say, was improved.
Consider as just one example Obama’s response to the kerfluffle over the remarks of his former pastor. (I might have something to say about whether the remarks were even very troubling; or about the fact that they were not Obama’s remarks, but someone else’s — but I’ll set all that aside for now.) The politically expedient thing for Obama to do would have been to immediately throw Jeremiah Wright under a bus. To distance himself from his former pastor as much as possible.
This is just what he didn’t do. In fact, for Obama, that crisis became an opportunity to deliver one of the best speeches of his campaign. This is not a man who crumples under pressure.
(After that speech, Wright continued to speak out in ways that damaged Obama in the eyes of voters. It did become necessary for Obama to eventually distance himself; but for that I blame Wright, not Obama.)
While Obama had a record of inspiring audiences, his track record with debates was not so stellar. But by the time the three presidential debates between himself and John McCain rolled around, Obama was a pro. Even in the “town hall” style debate — supposedly McCain’s home turf — Obama came out on top according to the majority view. Whereas McCain seemed uptight and angry, Obama looked like a guy who’d done his homework. He knew what he was talking about, and McCain’s attempts to rattle him simply bounced off.
McCain, on the other hand, is an excellent example of what it looks like to fall apart over the course of a presidential campaign. When the financial crisis became impossible to ignore, McCain’s response was erratic. His decision to suspend his campaign in order to spearhead the congressional effort at a bailout was ill-considered and went nowhere. His campaign message, too, seemed to drift from one issue to another — from “drill here, drill now” to Joe the plumber.
The supreme example of McCain’s spasmodic decision-making was, of course, the selection of Sarah Palin for his vice-presidential candidate. Don’t misunderstand me — Palin is no idiot. She is, however, supremely disinterested in anything unrelated to her immediate experience — such as the existence of foreign countries, what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do, or whose rights the First Amendment actually protects. In this way she is not so very different from many Americans; she is, however, rather unlike the kind of American one would normally consider for election to national office. Sarah Palin was the nail in the coffin of McCain’s chances at garnering my vote.
Obama, by contrast, is someone I trust to make decisions of international import more than I trust myself. He was right to insist on scaling back in Iraq (a largely manufactured war) in order to focus our efforts on Afghanistan (where the U.S.-targeting terrorists actually are). I trust him to restore the United States’ reputation torn to shreds by eight years of unilateralism. I trust him to be skeptical of barely-superintended mercenary organizations like Blackwater. I trust him to concentrate on shoring up the middle class. In short, I trust him to display wisdom and prudence in all the decisions with which he will be confronted over the next four or eight years.
There is another factor here. Fifty years from now, I doubt anyone but the most expert historian will know who John McCain was. But my grandkids will know the story of Barack Obama. This election was that historic; and I can’t imagine not being able to tell them, “Yes, I was there. I voted for that historic man on that historic day. On the night he won the election, people ran through the streets yelling ‘Yes we did!’
“And the world was never quite the same.”