Sunday, August 31, 2008

Why I Trust Obama over McCain

I wrote this little blurb for a friend who is concerned about Obama's lack of experience to sit on the "global throne," as she put it. This was my quickly churned out reply:

That's a legit concern just looking at his resume, but one thing I really do like and appreciate about Obama is his intelligence and the way he so carefully morally deliberates. I think that's on display any time he answers questions. Instead of blurting out an overly simplistic black-and-white answer, he weighs both sides and seeks to see all angles. He'll have good people around him, like Biden, who bring the in-depth analysis and practical experience that he might lack. All things equal, sure, it'd be great if he had more experience in certain things. But no measure of experience can save someone who has a bad decision-making process and who oversimplifies complex things. Abraham Lincoln was an inexperienced politician, but he was wise. So with Obama, after watching him all these months, I like how he thinks and the level at which he deliberates. After 8 years of certainty headed in entirely the wrong direction, I think this country could use a little more wisdom and deliberation and a lot less running full speed ahead into the sea. Obama is a super smart dude and can learn facts about issues that might be out of his realm of experience, but you can't teach wisdom. I don't disagree with McCain on all issues, but what worries me more about him is how he seems cut from the same "black and white" worldview of Bush. It's not that I won't agree with McCain on some issues, but in what I've seen, he's a lot of tough talk and not much intellectualism. And if I may, I'm super pissed at how this country seems to want a president like the boy or girl next door (read: Bush) and not someone super smart. What's wrong with being an intellectual when we're talking about the most important job in the world?! I WANT someone smarter than me in there! McCain may seem surer, but to me, I want wisdom, not simple certitudes. Obama, to me, oozes reflection, deliberation, and thoughtfulness.

Reply to "Should pro-life voters vote for Obama?"

To your post, I guess in some ways I've forgotten how much of a stumbling block abortion remains for many Christians. To that end, thanks for reasoning out your piece.

If I may add my own conclusion on the abortion issue, I actually find myself standing in the camp of reduce but not criminalize. Safe, legal, rare. I think pro-life and pro-choice are both worn out and rather useless monikers, and it reinforces the misperceptions that those who support Roe V. Wade somehow glory in abortions and are not pro-life. (I'd argue for a consistent ethic of life, likely not an uncommon phrase to you.) I'd rather talk about those who want to criminalize vs. those who don't.

First of all, as Obama has articulated, when life begins is a moral and theological question, not a political one. In my opinion, good politicians are those who acknowledge this complexity, not spout empty, black-and-white declarations designed to continue to lock down the votes of certain unnamed demographics. Whenever one believes life begins, there is good reason to believe that criminalizing abortion will in no way end it. In fact, if I correctly recall, a recent study found that the abortion rate didn't statistically vary between countries where it was legal or illegal (sorry I don't have the citation off the top of my head). As you mention, abortions are as old as time itself, so do we want a system that criminalizes women and that will ultimately lead to abuse and desperation, or do we want a legal channel for abortions in some cases combined with a comprehensive approach to reducing unwanted pregnancies and the need for abortions? I certainly think the latter. (I understand this won't sound tenable to folks who believe absolutely that abortion at any stage for any reason is murder, but again, that is a theological position that is - in my opinion - hard to legislate in a pluralistic democracy. And actually, I think Pew has some good data that the percentage of Americans who actually favor criminalizing abortion w/o exceptions is super tiny; they just often are the loudest, as my time at the DNC last week bears out.)

This leads to a couple other thoughts. First, I think one reason the GOP position on this is so infuriating is the fact that all other policies of that party, in my opinion, wash their hands of the mothers most likely to get abortions and of their babies once they are born. According to their policies, life begins and conception and ends at birth. But they do nothing to support women at risk and nothing to support these very children once born into the world. I think this understanding is undergirded by an overly simplistic and, in my opinion, wrong notion about who is having abortions and why. This very line of reasoning was recently echoed in remarks by Bishop Charles Blake, head of the 6-million member pentecostal Church of God in Christ. Even while pro-life, he identifies openly and proudly as a Democrat because he'd rather be with a party with whom he agrees on 99% of issues than with one with whom he agrees on 1% (namely, abortion, and I'd argue that the GOP stance on this issue is political, not moral).

Second, I think the Religious Right has done a fine job brainwashing the country into binary thinking on this issue, namely, if you believe in God or are a Christian, then you must favor criminalization. If fact, a large number of church denominations have official "safe, legal, rare" stances, theologically argued and grounded. The Methodist Church is one, which is why one can say that Hillary Clinton was actually in line with her church's teaching on this issue (despite the vehemence against her from so many Christian conservatives). Another is my church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I encourage anyone to check out their abortion statement and truly follow it's theological reasoning and level of moral deliberation and discourse:

Whether or not one is convinced, I'd hope that the space can be created to acknowledge that sincere Christians who take their faith and the Bible seriously can support Roe v. Wade.

To this last point, I'd also like to point out something Randall Balmer dug up in his recent book (Thy Kingdom Come) about the issue of abortion. As a historian, he argues that the catalyzing factor for the Moral Majority was not Roe V. Wade, but rather, a lower court decision against Bob Jones' discrimination against non-white students. Balmer argues that abortion was only added to the agenda in the late 1970s, years after Roe v. Wade. As part of the case he makes, he points out that the Southern Baptist Convention actually passed resolutions several times in the 1970s affirming Roe v. Wade. Again, this fact might not change minds, but I'm of the opinion that the Religious Right has damaged this issue almost beyond repair by making political hay off of it for the last 30 years. It was begun as a political ploy, not out of moral outrage.

Forgive the long post, and thanks again for your note. Comments welcome!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

First Thoughts on Palin as McCain's VP

I was utterly shocked when this was announced. Upon further review, I can see more and more how it makes sense on paper for McCain, but the fact remains that he just put someone unqualified within arms reach of the presidency of the free world. For all the hay McCain just made of Obama's inexperience, how can he then pick someone younger with less experienced than Obama by his side? That leads me to conclude that all of the "not ready to lead" stuff was sheer hot air, mere political calculation to win an election, not sincere concern or critique. So I'm to believe from McCain that Obama is "not ready to lead," but Palin is a "maverick outsider" with the ability to theoretically step into the presidency in 4 months? I call that two-faced, McCain. You lose all credibility. You're another Rovian hack guided solely by political calculation, not America's security or best interests. Even if Obama's choice was also calculated, I feel good about Biden because he has substantial national and international experience and I feel could comfortably step into the top job. Palin seems like pure political pandering designed to get past Nov. 4, not someone who stands out among others as ready to lead on the world's biggest stage tomorrow. How else can we explain how Palin was picked over Romney, Ridge, Pawlenty, Hutchinson, Snowe, or Huckabee? "Outsider" is not synonymous with "qualified."

But what bothers me the most about this pick is that McCain only met her once. It's clear to me this was a purely political calculation, designed to give McCain the best shot at winning and reaching key demographics. Was that slogan "Country First" or "Pander to Win an Election at All Costs," John? Apparently, appealing to key demographics now substitutes for knowing someone and their judgment personally. Having a strategic resume is secondary to actually being qualified. Would you hire a corporate CEO after one in-person meeting? And I'm to believe that someone whose greatest experience is 18 months as a small-state governor and mayor of a town with less people than my neighborhood is the most qualified person to potentially lead the free world. I saw it reported today that it only took her 112,000 votes to win the governorship of Alaska, and moreover, Karl Rove called Tim Kaine (governor of Virginia and mayor of Richmond, 103rd largest U.S. city) too inexperienced for the VP slot on the Dem side. Hmmm... so where does that put having a journalism degree, being a hockey Mom, and being mayor of a town of 9,000 on Rove's grid? I know Obama has limited legislative experience compared to some, but the dude graduated from Harvard Law, edited the Harvard Law Review, and was a constitutional law professor before his legislating days, and he served in the STATE legislature and CONGRESS. And 18 million people saw his resume and chose him.

Let's applaud her life and accomplishments, but while this might be sleek political calculation to win in November, I shudder to think that someone with less experience than some of my 30-something friends might be leader of free world and have the reins of the world's largest economy and the most complicated foreign policy position in the history of the world. Being a small town mayor, mom, and journalism student don't qualify you to be on the world's biggest stage.

We'll see what reaction is to this pick, but I fear that Americans are so eager for a candidate like the boy or girl next door that they'll forget that the boys and girls next door are not qualified to be president of the United States. This job takes a million types of skills and savvy, and I want someone super qualified for it, not someone with less education and experience than people I know.

The danger for Obama-Biden in all of this is that any attacks might be taken along gender lines. Even after re-reading this post, I fear that some might say that I'm thinking she's unqualified b/c she's a woman. I can hear the angry retorts now - don't I think woman can make good judgments? Don't you think women are smart and capable? Doesn't being a Mom count for anything? There's a real danger here for Obama, and I'm actually glad to see that the first post-Palin ad doesn't even mention her by name. For the record, I'd happily vote for an Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama ticket. I believe Clinton is qualified, and I trust her judgment on a national and international stage. I hope that people can separate out gender and see that we are looking at one of the most inexperienced politicians nominated for this post in history. It makes for good media for a day or so, but I'm not sure I want the guy who's the mayor of the town where I went to high school (pop. 6,500) brokering trade deals with China (pop. 1.3 billion) or peace deals with Russia (pop. 142 million). It seems farcical to me that people are touting her executive experience, as though less than 2 years of governing Alaska is supposed to put my mind at ease. And people are saying that her lack of experience doesn't matter as much since she's the VP, but folks, VPs are meant to take over for the President (which might happen with a 72-year old McCain with a history of health issues), not secure some women voters and sure up the pro-life base. In fact, one woman I've talked with has even said that this pick actually disrespects women, for it seems clear that this pick is much less about her qualifications and much more about her gender and appeal to certain demographics. The question isn't about whether or not she is qualified, but about a buzz factor, a shake-up. My friend questions whether this is a great day for woman; is this a signal that accomplished, qualified women are now seen as equals to accomplished, qualified men, or is this just the work of cynical, calculating politicians using a woman to win an election? Are we to believe that Sarah Palin is the most qualified person or woman for this post?

I'm very interested to see how this plays out in the press and among the electorate. Part of me thinks that the Dems should now win 40 states, but then I pull back and worry that this might make it more competitive even yet. Time will tell.