politics is to want something

mandag, februar 04, 2008

a letter (or, how I almost learned to stop worrying and love obama)

In lieu of a nice analytical essay, below is an email I sen to a somewhat random list of people who were having the Obama vs. Clinton debate:

Hey everyone,

This has certainly been an interesting conversation to eavesdrop on, and an interesting campaign season overall.

I just wanted to say that I really, really hope that everyone on this list who is excited about the prospect of an Obama nomination is ready and willing to put in the work that it will take to elect him president. This is no less true of Clinton supporters, of course, but, my experience is that Obama supporters seem to underestimate the amount of work it’s going to take to beat John McCain in November. History is full of candidates who excited generally demobilized parts of the Democratic base (especially young people) who rode a wave of excitement to the nomination but were defeated in the general election. So, Micah and Erik I hope to see your names first on the list for trips to Nevada or Colorado or wherever the polls say is the front line.

I was a strong supporter of John Edwards, both because he is the first serious Democratic candidate in my lifetime to articulate the need for a different kind of economy and because I think he was the strongest candidate for the general election. This is for reasons both good (a populist appeal to Reagan Democrats) and bad (racism, sexism). A central demographic challenge for creating and maintaining a Democratic (and progressive) majority in the United States is winning back white working class men (this is what’s “wrong with Kansas”). We’re not going to do that this year, and so I expect that our majority (Insha'Allah that we have one) will be slim.

With Edwards gone, and after a whole lot of hand-wringing, I’ve decided to vote for Obama. It has been a hard decision. We know that a Clinton presidency will be filled with unnecessary concessions and triangulation. However, I find Obama’s anti-partisan rhetoric extremely dangerous even if it is effective in the short run. Also, I agree with others who have pointed out that policy-wise, Obama is not clearly more progressive than Clinton, and on health care is actually worse. There’s also nuclear power and social security, two issues on which Obama has said strangely conservative things. I also think that there is no small bit of sexism in the fact that so much of this race has been about “likability” and charisma, two aspects that socio-semiotically favor male candidates. It’s hard to imagine a female candidate inspiring the kind of savior-worship that surrounds Obama. A lot of the Hillary-bashing I hear makes my stomach turn, even though her policies and those of her coterie are well worth withering critique.

But make no mistake: it will be hard to win in November. We haven’t seen Obama’s negatives. We all know what the Republicans will do to Clinton. But the same is coming for Obama, and all of the post-partisan rhetoric in the world is not going to inoculate voters against the onslaught. This will be especially true versus McCain, who also rides on a wave of maverick non-partisanship. There is a reason that many voters in New Hampshire were torn between McCain and Obama: they are running very similar campaigns. Don’t get me wrong, I like Obama a lot. I met him as a College student and walked precincts for him when I lived in his State Senate district. He is an impeccably moral and serious person, perhaps the most intelligent individual to seek the office, and would make an amazing president. I just don’t think that he is the messiah. Remember that the brother, talented as he is, has never really run for office against a Republican.

I’ve decided to vote for Obama for one reason- all you folks who seem excited and energized by his campaign. I hope that he wins the nomination so that you and everyone like you across the country will hit the streets and the phonebanks this year and turn people out to beat the Republican. I also hope that those of us who do this all the time will be able to convince a few of you to stick around after November and continue in the struggle for a more just and sustainable future. It’s not going to be over in November. Obama is right- yes, we can. But we have to do it.

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