20 October 2008

Why I will vote for Obama

My sister has had some questions about Obama, and said in her most recent message that in conversations about him with liberals, her questions (like whether Obama has a legal birth certificate and can prove his citizenship) had been met with anger. This is an open letter in response to some of her comments and questions.

I suppose the anger you are encountering could be anger that Obama's citizenship is even in question, and that the real issues facing us are being obscured by petty and easily disproved technicalities. As a liberal, I have been feeling a lot of frustration, disbelief, and embarrassment around politics. I'm angry with myself for not having done everything I could to get people to vote in the last two elections; I never dreamed things would get this bad this fast. I do get indignant when I imagine four more years of Republican tax cuts for fat-cats and not for the folks who really need the breaks right now. (Especially since so many among us swallowed the fiction that we deserved more and therefore could just put it all on our credit card to come due some day and now holy shit it's that freaking day right now, a whole lot sooner than expected.) Some people thought we'd all be making more money by then, still cranking out more goods and services that the rest of the world couldn't match or live without. But now, at the end of Bush's reign, we are seeing a "talk-to-the-hand" free-market capitalist who has enriched a few and impoverished many, a lot of our skilled labor now being bought and sold overseas, and the rest of us picking over a much smaller, meaner range of jobs. We see a total believer in the trickle-down theory of economics (look it up on Wikipedia -- it's worth understanding, to know how these guys think). At the end of Bush's two terms, with a national debt of a gazillion dollars (see http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/ for the current amount) and a campaign of senseless destruction in Iraq waged on false pretenses, I can't say I see someone who has the good of his country in mind.

When I hear that McCain has voted with Bush 90 percent of the time, I don't have a lot of confidence that he is all about change. (And here are a few of my thoughts on Sarah Palin.) In my humble opinion, if McCain really stood for something new and different, I believe he should have started differentiating himself long ago so that by now he could have a real story to tell, something a little more current and relevant than "I survived the 'Hanoi Hilton' (and yet still support waterboarding)."

This summer, I went to Mount Rushmore with my family. As we listened to the stories they told about the legacies of the four presidents (Roosevelt, Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson), I was angry at how far from their ideals our current administration has fallen. I have enough patriotic feeling for this country to take that offense personally; I feel completely let down by our current leadership. I knew when Bush took office that he would not be the best representative of my ideals, but I feel much more betrayed by his policies and attitudes than I ever believed I would or could.

These days, as you know, I get a lot of my information about the world around me from films. A couple of documentary films from the past couple of years made strong impressions and meshed with the feelings I am describing here. One was the one about the antimalarial drug, Lariam, called Taken As Directed. The other was Taxi to the Dark Side, which is about our government's policy and practice of putting people suspected who are suspected but never convicted of being terrorists (or merely associating with them) in places like Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Bagram in Afghanistan and torturing them, sometimes to death. I was furious when I saw that. It made me feel that the current administration's powers are out of control. I can't help being angry at myself now, since I have been one of the many people who has allowed this to pass unprotested. I feel a terrible responsibility for our nation having lost face in the world. We used to be a free and democratic people, tolerant and moral; with Bush & Co. as our chosen representatives, however, we seem fearful, reactionary, and willing to bend any rule for an immediate advantage. We seem just as capable of launching some kind of first strike as any of those "rogue nations" I used to feel threatened by after the Cold War ended.

Those are some of the reasons Obama's messages about hope and unity have great appeal for me. I would like to support a national leader who is interested in rebuilding something positive, who has a charitable interest in not just his fellow humans in this country but in his humans around the world. Too much of our country's current policy seems to be about getting and spending all we can now, and not enough is about building something sustainable and nurturing that will lift all boats here at home and by extension those abroad as well.

You can choose to believe those who would have you believe Obama is not a citizen, or is a Muslim, or is "just" a community organizer, but after having looked into some of those claims (and seen how easily debunked they are) I have concluded that they are all about fearmongering and are only distractions from the real issues at hand: namely, what are we going to do to fix this economic mess we're in? And how can we return to being a society with a leadership that treats everyone with respect and dignity?

This discussion you initiated seems like a good example of how effective that kind of fearmongering is: You didn't ask whether any of the candidates were taking stands on issues that were critical to your well being, but whether they were technically qualified to hold the office to which they aspire. I can't imagine that Obama could have come this far and spent this much of his and other people's money on his candidacy without all his papers being checked -- surely the man has a high-level security clearance by now, or we would have heard a lot more about it. You cited some figures about Chicago that carried the inference that Obama is personally responsible for Cook County crime rates; if you look at the history of that area, I think you'll find the picture is more complex than that. (Plus, crime rates are one of those things that always confound economists; they don't predictably correlate with any single factor but are influenced by a constellation of wildly differing variables in each community.) What I noticed was that you didn't say what your priorities are in a leader, nor what issues you would want to see tackled by the next administration. What would you vote for and why? And who do you think will be most likely to represent your interests?

I feel so fortunate as citizens of this country we have choices, and that we can solicit and receive a variety of opinions about those choices from everyone around us. I hope you'll spend some time considering your own beliefs and hopes for the future and cast your vote accordingly, after having done your own soul-searching (and internet-searching).

I have found some of the discussions and ideas on blogs about denialism a good resource for understanding rhetorical tactics in discussions like these. It really helps to be able to sort out researchable truths from fear-inducing disinformation.

May you vote thoughtfully and well, and for something/someone you truly believe in.

Peace be with you.

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