Monday, February 4, 2008

Why I support Obama

I have not posted about my politics on this blog before. That has been a conscious decision on my part since politics can be divisive. However, this is an important election cycle and if I can put forth an argument which might persuade some undecided voters in the upcoming elections, then it will worth making a temporary break with the normal content of this literary blog. If you are from outside the US and are curious about our presidential race, this might answer some of your questions.

I support Barack Obama for president of the United States of America because I believe he is the only candidate that can heal our national wounds and repair our standing in the global community.

As a nation, the US has been divided for far too long. The "us versus them" mentality is toxic.

Just because I am a Democrat does not mean that I should automatically disagree with someone just because they are a Republican.

I am weary of the venom and hatred that has passed as political discourse in the last two decades. Or the "winner takes all" mentality where you do not have to listen to the party in the minority because they are "out of power." Enough. Everyone elected official is there as a representative people who all deserve respect.

We all want the same things, which is basically Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

We need to overcome the artificial divisions which have separated us and find ways to work together as a people to solve our problems in productive manner.

Politics is something that we are told we avoid discussing in polite company because it tends to start arguments. Well, you can put forth an argument, but you do not have to be disagreeable in the process.

America was founded on the principle that we do not recognize the divine right of kings. We said we could govern ourselves, and that we would take turns. There would be no permanent head of state and that titles could not be inherited.

Therefore, our ancestors bequeathed to us the responsibility to determine our future by engaging in politics with one another. This can be done in a civil manner.

I would like to share with you examples of conversations I had with two of my Republican relatives. My Uncle Charlie is a man who has been a quiet, but reliable Republican voter his entire adult life.

I remember seeing him a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and we talked at that time about the human disaster being worse than the natural disaster. He did not try to defend the (in)actions of the Bush administration. This past summer we talked again and he said that he was disgusted with his party and would never again vote for a Republican.

I was shocked.

I had never expected that my Uncle Charlie would disavow his political party, but he is a man of integrity and he recognizes that things are desperately wrong in our country and with our government.

I spoke to him about my support of Barack Obama's candidacy, and my uncle was receptive to what I had to say.

He did not share the same receptiveness toward Hillary Clinton. He thought she was smart and tough and other positive adjectives that I have forgotten, but he does not like her and he does not trust her.

He would not vote for her. He would vote for Obama, but not for Hillary.

The other example is my cousin Steve. He and I are twin cousins. We were born on the same day and in the same hospital. If you believe in astrology, then we are almost exactly alike astrologically except for the few hours separating our births. We share many common personality traits, but we are polar opposite politically.

Every year on our birthday we call and wish each other a happy birthday. We have been doing that for about the last twenty years.

In 2000 we started talking politics. Our birthday is at the end of November and that year it was during the prolonged election cycle of Bush v. Gore which finally was ended by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Steve and I talked twice that year. Both calls lasted for over an hour. After hanging up on both occasions, I felt more certain of my position than I had before I spoke with him. I knew he felt the same.

We polarized each other.

If we did not have a strong bond of love for one another, it could have ruined our relationship. We chose to not let that happen.

This past year during our annual birthday call, Steve could not muster up any excitement to discuss politics. His support for Rudy Giuliani from the previous year had evaporated by the myriad of scandals. Steve admitted his disappointment with Bush and the Republican party in general. He told me that he wanted simply to do right by his family and was no longer paying attention to the news.

He did say that he was worried about our national economy. I replied that when the U.S. dollar is trading for less than the Canadian dollar we are in big trouble.

We then talked about Barack Obama and Steve listened. My conservative Republican cousin was receptive to what I had to say. He could not extend such open mindedness toward Hillary Clinton.

That is something I have heard time and again as I talk with people during this election cycle. Republicans and Independents are willing to cross party lines to support Obama's candidacy, but they would not do the same for Hillary Clinton. They may not be excited about any of their candidates, but if she is the Democratic nominee they will be united in voting as a bloc against her.

Barack Obama not only talks eloquently about bringing people together, he has years of experience in doing just that.

His biography impresses me, and since many people are unaware of his extensive lifetime experience, I shall summarize those things that I think are most important.

After graduating from Columbia University, he worked for a short while at a corporate office in New York City making good money. However, that job left him unsatisfied for it did not feed his soul. He felt the need to give back to others, changed his life's path and became a community organizer.

He had no experience in community organizing, but he was an impressive candidate and was hired to work for the Developing Communities Project (DCP) on the south side of Chicago. That community was economically depressed. This was in 1985 and Obama was paid a whopping $13,000 salary and $2,000 for a beat-up used Honda Civic.

That works out to $6.50 an hour (for a 40 hour work week) when minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. That was not a lot of money by any stretch of the imagination. (I remember, because that is about the same time I entered the workforce post-college as well.)

In an article from the Nation Magazine, Obama is quoted as saying:

"I can't say we didn't make mistakes, that I knew what I was doing," Obama recalled three years ago to a boisterous convention of the still-active DCP. "Sometimes I called a meeting, and nobody showed up. Sometimes preachers said, 'Why should I listen to you?' Sometimes we tried to hold politicians accountable, and they didn't show up. I couldn't tell whether I got more out of it than this neighborhood."

But, he continued, "I grew up to be a man, right here, in this area. It's as a consequence of working with this organization and this community that I found my calling. There was something more than making money and getting a fancy degree. The measure of my life would be public service."

Public service. :sigh: I love that. Obama truly seems to have dedicated his life for the betterment of others.

The following is another quote from the Nation Magazine that I feel is important in understanding his approach toward public policy.

Loretta Augustine-Herron, a member of the DCP board that hired him, remembers him as someone who always followed the high road. "You've got to do it right," she recalls him insisting. "Be open with the issues. Include the community instead of going behind the community's back--and he would include people we didn't like sometimes. You've got to bring people together. If you exclude people, you're only weakening yourself. If you meet behind doors and make decisions for them, they'll never take ownership of the issue." (emphasis mine.)

In other words, Obama wanted to make sure that even the cranky people who made things difficult needed to have a seat at the table. Otherwise they wouldn't have any skin in the game and afterwards they would criticize whatever was decided.

In order to build a genuine consensus you need to have a diversity of voices heard and listened to during the process.

You also need to do things in the open and not simply call on someone powerful and ask for strings to be pulled. Because that kind of progress can be undone by another powerful person pulling different strings.

Barack Obama spent three years as a community organizer and realized that there were limits as to how much change he could accomplish for people on that level. He decided to go back to college and become a lawyer.

He went to Harvard Law School and graduated magna cum laude.

Obama was also elected president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. His election is illustrative of his reputation as someone who works well with people of varying philosophical beliefs.

The election for the Law Review is convoluted and it has many, many rounds of balloting. Barack had not planned on running for the position, but was talked into it by others and threw his name into the mix at the last minute.

The committed liberals and conservatives were quickly eliminated.

It was then that the conservatives campaigned for Barack Obama's candidacy.

Because they felt their legal opinions would be treated with greater respect by Obama than by the other remaining candidates.

That is because Obama viewed the Harvard Law Review as a journal that should reflect the wide diversity of legal opinions in Harvard rather than simply the ones he endorsed.

It seems like the principled and obvious way to go, but that is not always what happens.

Since Obama was the first Black to be elected as president of the Harvard Law Review, he was highly sought after when he graduated. He had employment offers from over 300 law firms, as well as a book contract. (That was why he wrote the memoir Dreams from my Father.) Obama could have clerked for the United States Supreme Court. He could have made buckets of cash on Wall Street.

He chose to go back to Chicago.

He chose a civil rights law firm and took on cases such as voting rights. Those are not money making cases, but it is a continuation of his community organizing. He also headed up an effort to register voters. Under his leadership, the project registered 150,000 new voters.

All those things demonstrate to me his strength of character.

Barack Obama also taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago. I like the idea of having someone in the Oval Office who has a deep understanding and respect for the Constitution.

Then in 1996 he was elected to the Illinois State Senate. He served with distinction there for eight years and developed a reputation as someone who could work across party lines to craft legislation. During his tenure, the Democrats were in the minority for the first six years and the majority party his last two years.

In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama describes how he took a bill that was not given any chance of passage and he was able to change the bill's opponents into supporters by building consensus predicated on shared common values.

The bill dealt with the death penalty system which was "ripe for reform." Public confidence in the legal system was low because
"the way capital cases were tried in Illinois at the time was so rife with error, questionable police tactics, racial bias, and shoddy lawyering that thirteen death row inmates had been exonerated and a Republican governor had decided to institute a moratorium on all executions."

Obama wanted to mandate videotaping of interrogations and confessions of suspects in all capital cases. The police organizations and state prosecutors were against it because they thought it would be expensive, cumbersome and might make it difficult for them to close cases. Death penalty opponents were against the bill because they wanted the death penalty overturned completely and did not want anything that might ameliorate the situation. Legislators were "skittish" about supporting something that might be construed as being "soft on crime." And the incoming governor had been asked on the campaign trail about such a proposed bill and he came out against it.

It seems like it would have been a waste of time pursuing such legislation as there was universal opposition and no support. He did not give up.
"(W)e convened sometimes daily meeting between prosecutors, public defenders, police organizations, and death penalty opponents, keeping our negotiations as much as possible out of the press.

Instead of focusing on the serious disagreements around the table, I talked about the common value that I believed everyone shared, regardless of how each of us might feel about the death penatly: that is, the basic principle that no innocent person should end up on death row, and that no person guilty of a capital offense should go free. When police representatives presented concrete problems with the bill's design that would have impeded their investigations, we modified the bill. When police representatives offered to videotape only the confessions, we held firm, pointing out that the whole purpose of the bill was to give the public cofidence that confessions were obtained free of coercion. At the end of the process, the bill had the support of all the parties involved. It passed unanimously in the Illinois Senate and was signed into law."
Excerpted from pages 57-59.

I would like to see that kind of leadership applied to our broken health care system. Bring all the principles together, make them sit down together at the table and using our shared principles find the uniquely American solution to our problems. I understand enough about how legislation is created that you cannot put a pristine bill into the legislative grinder and expect it to look the same coming out. That is why I do not study the various candidates 'perfect ten point plans." It is more important to understand how they approach the legislative process in bringing out consensus, and that is why I mentioned the above anecdote.

We must stop pointing fingers at one another and declare that "they" are the problem. We must all work together.

There are tremendous problems facing us, but I believe that Barack Obama is up to the challenge. He will lead us, but ultimately it is up to us to make our representatives represent our interests and not those of their political party.

Obama has implored people to not just vote in an election, but to become engaged in the political process. Collectively, we have a lot of power.

Rev. Alvin Love from Chicago's DCP, looks at Obama's candidacy and says,
"Everything I see reflects that community organizing experience. I see the consensus-building, his connection to people and listening to their needs and trying to find common ground. I think at his heart Barack is a community organizer. I think what he's doing now is that. It's just a larger community to be organized."

Indeed.

Tomorrow is "Super Tuesday" where elections are being held in 24 states. If you live in California and are registered as a "Decline To State" voter, you can vote in the Democratic Primary, however you must ask for a Democratic ballot. It will not be handed to you if you do not ask.

Voting is the life blood of our democracy. Too many people have struggled, fought and died for us to have the right to cast a ballot. Be sure to honor their legacy and sacrifice by voting.

If you like my words on this subject, please feel free to forward or link to them.

Thank you,

Linda McCabe



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