I’ve had a lot of conversations over the past few months where I’ve informed people of my decision to support Barack Obama over the rest of the Democratic candidates. The field has since narrowed to two final contenders (three if you still count Mike Gravel), and so I want to outline why I continue to strongly support Obama over Hillary Clinton. After writing down all the reasons I could think of, I was able to group them into three main statements, and on this eve of another important ‘Super Tuesday’ primary, I think it’s appropriate to spell them out below.
Why I Voted For Barack Obama
Or, Why I Didn’t Vote For Hillary Clinton
1) I’m tired of divisiveness. For the past 16 to 20 years or more (some say since Kennedy) we’ve had Presidents in office who have by their very nature split the country in two. Even when they’ve been willing to work together with “the other side”, the other side won’t consider it for fear of being seen as commiserating with a polarizing figure. I believe Hillary provides much of the same in this way.
Her campaign has shown flashes of intense anxiety and instability, with her lashing out in strategic swipes and reigning it in for desired effect. She seems unconcerned about how she comes across, in total, so long as she can somehow win. Here’s what Tucker Carlson, the well-known conservative/libertarian pundit had to say about it on Joe Scarborough’s morning show last week (thank God for DVR, letting me rewind the TV over and over so I could get this quote down).
Joe Scarborough: Tucker, Tim Russert asked you, “Why do Republicans like Barack Obama?” and you said, “It’s the first time we see a Democratic candidate who may disagree with us, but doesn’t think we’re evil.”
Tucker: Yeah, well people actually don’t like you if you hate them, openly, which is one of the reasons Hillary Clinton will never be able to get a single vote from anyone who doesn’t already agree with her, and Barack Obama has a shot. He approaches political conversations on a political level – a lot of liberals approach politics as theology. If you deviate from the one true faith, if you stray from the catechism, you’re going to hell buddy. You’re a bad man. And I don’t think Barack Obama, at least by his tone, approaches politics that way. It’s like look, you know, there’s an answer, we’re all struggling to find it, I believe I know what it is, you believe you know what it is, let’s talk about it. That’s completely different from Hillary Clinton, whose contempt for her opponents, she doesn’t even bother to hide it. There’s a curling of the lip, a baring of the teeth, and you know how she feels about it — she hates you.
Tucker is obviously biased by his well-known hatred of Clinton, but there’s an element of truth in what he says about the difference in their styles. And while “bitches get stuff done” as Tina Fey told us in her SNL endorsement of Clinton, it’s not the style of getting things done that I want to support this election year. Rather, I want to throw all my support behind someone who can argue with respect and who can stand firm but engage the opposite side. An appropriate (and timely) example of Obama’s style is found in this exchange with Senator McCain, found on SourceWatch.org’s Congresspedia.
Obama had started the exchange with a letter that read:
- “I know you have expressed an interest in creating a task force to further study and discuss these matters, but I and others in the Democratic Caucus believe the more effective and timely course is to allow the committees of jurisdiction to roll up their sleeves and get to work on writing ethics and lobbying reform legislation that a majority of the Senate can support.” 
- “I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere. . . . “I’m embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss . . . “I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party’s effort to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness.” 
Obama wrote back, “puzzled”:
- “I confess that I have no idea what has prompted your response. But let me assure you that I am not interested in typical partisan rhetoric or posturing. The fact that you have now questioned my sincerity and my desire to put aside politics for the public interest is regrettable but does not in any way diminish my deep respect for you nor my willingness to find a bipartisan solution to this problem.”
Two days later while sitting at the same table to present reform proposals to the Senate Rules Committee McCain and Obama publicly made up with each other. McCain stated, “Sen. Obama and I are moving on.” And Obama, used some humor to defuse the situation by referring to McCain as “my pen pal.” 
It’s the kind of style, respect, and firm but gentle attitude I want in a President. In fact, I expect it, and I don’t expect anything of value to ever get accomplished without it.
2) The experience argument is bogus. Hillary certainly has some admirable experience behind her, but many of the best parts are from her time before being in politics, much like Obama. But add to that her failed healthcare campaign in 1993-94, which didn’t receive enough support for a floor vote in either the House or the Senate, despite both chambers being controlled by Democrats. Add her history of lofty promises, including the 200,000 new jobs she pledged to upstate New York that she now calls “a little exuberant” (there’s been a net loss of 30,000 jobs there since she took office). And add her Presidential campaign, which she was so sure would be over by February 5th that she didn’t bother to schedule any campaign events for the following week. A campaign during which she’s been outspent and outworked all across America and yet was still forced to loan her own campaign $5 million to stay competitive. All of it adds up to a shaky resume of experience at best.
Compare all of that to an independent Democrat who rose up through the ranks of Illinois politics without being propped up by the Chicago Democratic machine, who served 8 years in the Illinois legislature and was eventually elected to the U.S. Senate. His experience is far from perfect, being young and somewhat new (less than 20 years) to the life of a U.S. politician, but to say that Clinton is far more experienced is misleading. They are about equally qualified in terms of political experience, making other qualifications matter most when deciding between the two.
3) Vision and inspiration are underrated. Robert Creamer wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled “To Vilify Obama for his Ability to Inspire is to Ignore the Principal Lesson of the Last Three Decades of American Politics.” Which is a very long title for a very short article, the main thrust of which can be summarized by the three paragraphs quoted below.
Once in office, a new president must in fact deliver on real, concrete policy. But to change policy in a fundamental way requires more than good programs….
In 1993 we had a Democratic President and Democratic Congress, but we lost the battle for universal health care. What we needed then, and what we need now, is a massive national mobilization to pass universal health care, change our labor laws, enact campaign finance reform, provide universal access to higher education and preschool, end global warming and change our foreign policy.
Leadership, more than anything else, is about mobilizing people into action. People take action when they feel empowered — when they are inspired. They will not take action simply because they are “convinced” we are right. They will take action when they are motivated by inspiration to be a part of an historic endeavor.
This is probably the most important reason I am so excited to see Obama as President. For all of his liberal voting records and policy proposals, his greatest strength is the ability to inspire people to take action themselves. One of the biggest criticisms of liberal/progressive policy is that it enables and cripples Americans who should otherwise be working harder to fix problems on their own instead of waiting for Big Government to come and fix them. But a President who can introduce policies that help the struggling and the poor while at the same time inspiring the surrounding communities to take action and begin to fix things without the help of government is almost too much to imagine.
Take a look at the fundraising record. Obama is nearing a record 1,000,000 unique contributors to his campaign (not dollars), which is a record that tells us a lot more than any amount of money raised. The support he receives is not only from celebrities and elite “latte-liberals” but from people who can only afford a $15 donation but who have been convinced that even their $15 is helpful and appreciated. And it’s not just Americans who have been so inspired by Obama’s surge, either. Hooman Majd, in his article for Salon.com entitled “A New Face For American Diplomacy,” writes
Obama would not carry the same kind of baggage into U.S. attempts at mediation. And the basic perception, right or wrong, of him as someone with sympathies for oppressed people, and for Muslims in particular, will give him a tremendous negotiating advantage, whether with Palestinians, other Arabs or Iranians, for that matter, who largely view themselves as oppressed. There is a natural empathy in the Muslim world for anyone who carries a sacred Muslim name, such as there was for Muhammad Ali… But while Muslim and third-world leaders will have little doubt about Obama’s allegiance to American principles and American interests…, they also will have little doubt as to his compassion for and understanding of their grievances. They may believe Obama’s mantra of “change” even more than Americans do.
It’s not just his name or his father’s heritage that gets him this foreign credibility, though. Majd also writes
In effect, Clinton’s posture signals to much of the world that although she is smarter, more likable and far less threatening than Bush, U.S. foreign policy under her would continue to be one of arrogance and dominance.
Rightly or wrongly, Obama, who opposed the Iraq war from the start, simply will not be viewed as having the same attitude. This is not just because he’s the son of an African immigrant or that he’s black, although those elements certainly factor in, but also because he does not come across as (nor is he) someone from the privileged American class who believes America should impose its wishes on the rest of the world.
With the events of the past 6 years something America will have to overcome for decades, having a President who can inspire his own people while rebuilding relationships with the rest of the world will be a tremendous advantage and a good start to a long process ahead of us.
A faster way to say all of that is: Clinton is too divisive, her divisiveness hurts her ability to inspire both at home and abroad, and her experience is lacking the credibility that her campaign has tried to convey. These are the three main reasons why I am compelled to support Barack Obama for the Democratic nominee.