Barack Obama’s ascent into American politics is nothing short of remarkable. In 1996, he won his first election to the Illinois State Senate. Four years later, he was shut out of the Democratic National Convention as a failed candidate for the House of Representatives. The year 2004 brought a victorious candidacy for the Senate, and now, Obama is the odds-on favorite for the White House.
However, Obama’s quick rise has not yet won him the title of statesman. I chose to actively support Obama’s candidacy over a year ago because he convinced me that he truly knew the details of policy and because I believed that he could truly represent the ideal of unity articulated in his 2004 keynote to the Democratic National Convention.
When I cast my absentee ballot for Obama earlier this fall, my reasons were quite different. In refusing to meet with John McCain regarding public financing, in choosing not accept the offers to debate Hillary Clinton and then McCain and in reversing the promise he made to support a filibuster against warrantless wiretaps, he showed himself to be much more the conventional politician I had hoped he would not be.
Such choices have ultimately revealed themselves to be the right ones, politically speaking. Obama is outraising and outspending McCain by huge margins and he denied Clinton and McCain the free publicity of such extra debates. If you are a partisan for either side, then you can respect these choices – the end might justify these means. Yet the rest of us without party are left voting “against” with reluctance instead of “for” with enthusiasm.
But let there be no comparison – McCain’s choices in the past few months have destroyed the candidate of 2000 that I had respected so much. He began this race as the clear favorite in 2006, only to see his candidacy nearly destroyed in the debate of immigration. McCain thereafter shunned the actions of a maverick, though he kept the title. Candidate McCain now calls Obama socialist for letting parts of the Bush tax cuts expire that Maverick McCain once opposed. Candidate McCain has embraced the evangelical leaders that Maverick McCain once chose not to “pander” to.
But worst of all is the selection of Sarah Palin. Here was a political move that has had great success – McCain was able to mobilize a dormant volunteer base that he desperately needed. But Candidate McCain picked her after one meeting only because he couldn’t get Joe Lieberman, and it was an uninformed choice. The problem is not one of years in public office – many voted for Perot in 1992, and he had no elected experience. It is a problem of judgment, the same judgment that led to Obama’s underappreciated Iraq War speech in 2002.
Sarah Palin was an Alaskan figure, and justifiably, she didn’t focus much on the affairs of the country. Sarah Palin could have been a national voice on the oil that her state produces. She could have been a national voice on ethics, a field that she deserved credit in until “Troopergate” and this campaign. But she was not, and as a result, McCain’s designated replacement has learned everything that she would need as president within the ideological confines of a campaign – that does not lead to good or independent judgment and keeps a potential president to talk with policy advisors of various viewpoints. When a candidate seriously proclaims her state’s geographical proximity to Russia as a credential, it should indicate a problem in that candidate’s preparedness. The campaign even said that she has visited Ireland, when that stay consisted of her plane’s refueling stop.
In these final days, the choice has become completely clear. McCain and Palin now aim to start up the culture war that once cost him South Carolina. A vote for them is, sadly, a vote for the fear and lies they have sponsored against Obama. It is a vote for a rigid and uninformed foreign policy, a domestic policy of deregulation that had let greed take over in the form of a massive housing bubble and policies that McCain once had reasonably opposed. I cast my vote for Obama not because he is perfect, but instead because his candidacy and vision offer the best way forward between him, McCain, Barr, McKinney and all the rest. We may see an Obama candidacy that truly embraces the ideas I and many others identified with so many months ago, and even if we don’t, an Obama presidency will help pave the way for those who can truly free us from our government’s sadly systemic stupidity.
Will Slack ’11 is from Decatur, Ga. He lives in Morgan.