2008-11-02

Where I endorse Obama: an ode to pragmatism

On Thursday, after I dropped my daughter off at school, I walked over to the Obama campaign office to volunteer. "Do you have anything for me to do?" "Can you sit at an information table?" "Sure." So for two hours, in 35d weather, I sat on the corner of Chestnut and 15th with Barb, a veteran volunteer. We handed out a ton of Obama buttons (suggested donations accepted), some lawn signs, signed up one lawyer volunteer, answered a few questions about the election, and served as a face for the Obama machine. Along the way we were interviewed by Indonesian TV! And a NYT reporter interviewed me as part of a spread this Sunday about "local color" along the campaign trail. The questions from both can be summed up in the sentence above: "We handed out a ton of Obama buttons . . ." All the interviewers were women, and all the cameramen were people, er, men. I haven't really volunteered that much, but I have volunteered a few times over the past two or three months, so when the Indonesian interviewer asked me how long I had been volunteering, I felt bad about saying: "I showed up this morning," so I lied and said a few months. A lie, an embellishment, or the truth? Depends on whether one is Joe six-pack, a lawyer, or a politician, I suppose.

The Obama campaign would have been just as thrilled to read I was a first-time volunteer, since they have been doing a tremendous job of getting new volunteers out. I've gotten a few calls based on voter rolls, emails from a variety of sources such as AFL, and MoveOn, not just the campaign, and I've seen volunteers from all walks of life, and a well-oiled machine. Some hiccups: a few waits, missed calls I would have expected, but all in all, clock-work. No wonder O'Reilly thinks they are Nazis. The infomercial smoothly transitioning into the last two minutes of a live speech in Florida, spending LESS on staff than McCain, mobilizing thousands of volunteers across the country, their innovative use of the web, text-messaging, twitter, etc. I know a few people who doubt the grass-roots organizing orientation of the campaign, but this morning I can walk into the Obama office and start putting together signs without knowing anyone's name or saying a word to anyone. With a sentence or two I can start making GOTV calls or grab materials to go walk my neighborhood. I think Randy Shaw says it well in Beyond the Fields:
We saw glimpses of the potential for this kind of organizing campaign in MoveOn's 2004 and 2006 volunteer operations, the Dean Campaign and even the Bush and Kerry campaigns. And there are great examples of this kind of organizing if you go back to the social movements of several decades ago. But the Obama campaign is the first in the Internet era to realize the dream of a disciplined, volunteer-driven, bottom-up-AND-top-down, distributed and massively scaleable organizing campaign. For anyone who knows how many times this has failed to happen, this is practically an apocryphal event.
s/t Miss Laura

You can really see how Obama's campaign springs from a perfected community organizing model that was promoted by Cesar Chavez and copied in neighborhoods around the country. If Obama wins, this model will signify a paradigm shift for political campaigns,one with tremendous potential for promoting social change.

But this potential has its limits. Over 20% of the country still thinks Obama is a Muslim. Heck, many Muslims think Obama is a Muslim. The power of the name, I suppose.

I was disappointed reporters just asked about what I was mechanically doing. I wasn't asked why I supported Obama, which would have been a lot harder to answer. I know people who are supporting Obama because he is a Democrat, and they are Democrats, or who would have voted for but not supported other Democrats, but who support Obama because he is black. [Racists! The gall!] I'm a little in the latter camp, but it merits explaining. I hate Democrats as Politicians. I think they're vile, lack principles, convictions, either allow themselves to be portrayed as something they are not, or lie for political gain, and have a glass jaw. They have no balls. That's what I tend to think.

I pride myself on having never voted for a Clinton. I used to think Democrats were no better, or to be exact, Republicans were no worse. I was no fan of Bush, but figured his "compassionate conservatism" and history of bipartisanship in Texas meant he would be no worse than his father and perhaps marginally worse than Clinton. Gore's uninspiring campaign and choice of Lieberman as a running mate cemented any doubts I had. I saw a constant erosion of rights under Clinton, and thought things couldn't get much worse. I considered voting for McCain if he won the nomination. I was a proud Nader voter in 2000.

Immediately, I learned that no matter how bad things are, they can always get worst. This was reinforced time after time over the next eight years. From the Supreme Court committing treason and deciding the President, to immediately eliminating the fiscal surplus, it became clear that extreme partisanship was the name of the game. And when 9-11 provided an opening, they ran with it and proceeded to destroy every established legal norm that they could, both at home and abroad, and opened the treasury to be looted by their rich, well-connected friends in one of the most sickening examples of greed maybe surpassed by the orgy of the oligarchs after the fall of the Soviet Union. We're talking about disappearing truck loads of cash. Hitchens complains we've become a banana republic, but that was the guiding principle of the administration he supported over the last eight years. At the helm of a collapsing empire, Bush and Co. tried to take down as many others with them as possible, while stealing as much as they could. No wonder Rumsfeld was able to turn a blind eye to the looting of Iraq's national treasures. That was no mistake, that was a guiding principle. For these reasons, I held my nose and supported Kerry in 2004.

Since that time, we've seen Obama throw out the political playbook, and show Democrats could fight by mobilizing people on the ground. Obama's deft handling of the caucus system was at the heart of the 50 state strategy paying off today. There are plenty of reasons not to be enamored of Obama. He is a battle-proven politician, which means that he is not bound by his ideals. The FISA sell-out demonstrated that. Although I joined the MyBarackObama group against his FISA decision and was one of the many disenchanted, I don't see how one can argue with that decision now. The last month of the campaign has been dominated by the loudest minority calling Obama a terrorist, but they had not a single piece of legislation they could point to. If they had, I do think it would have swayed the "silent" majority.

I support Obama because I have to live in this empire in decline and want to leave a better country to my child. On just about every issue, Obama is not the best, but much better than his opponent. Wealth redistribution, reigning in capitalism, following the rule of law, seeking to encourage rather than alienate allies, expanding health care, getting out of Iraq, resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, on these and more you can make an argument that Obama is somehow "selling out", but in every case his plan is better than the alternative. The country we live in leaves us the choice of incremental change, or of things continuing their downward spiral. Things can and will get worse. Much much worse. And it is not enough to point to the need for a mass movement to address these issues. The only succesful mass movement of the last eight years is the one created by Obama.

If you are a single issue voter, and your issue is support for Iran, you should vote for McCain because he will continue to isolate the US and strengthen the hand of Iran throughout the Middle East. If your single issue is Israel, you should vote for Obama because he will restore the moral authority of the United States and bring the community of nations together in support of common solutions. McCain, as with the current administration, would be unable to lead any other nation out of a burning building. If your issue is unconceived fetuses, you vote McCain. If your issue is ideological purity, you abstain or vote for a third party candidate. But my concern is tangible incremental change, so I'm voting Obama. Whatever his stance on any particular policy, you can point to him as the candidate that encourages people to believe they can change government and have a stake in deciding the path the country takes, and has actively mobilized people in a massive way towards a common goal. That's a dangerous and commendable message.

Plus he's black. That alone is outstanding in this country, and I am very excited that my daughter might not have to deal with as much of the racial baggage as previous generations. How awesome is that?

3 comments:

jason said...

yeah, i am in the same boat. not thinking that obama will make anything that much better, but he might stop the hemorrhaging. and i agree that his organization is impressive, it will be interesting to see what happens with it post election (whether he wins or loses)

but my cynicism cannot get me to go door to door, hawk memorabilia for obama. instead i am going to work the polls on tuesday. in my head this is supporting more the people voting for obama, rather than obama. i like the idea of people believing they can have a say. don't really think that it is true in this system, but the narrative can be helpful when building movements.

sexyretard said...

"If your issue is unconceived fetuses"

What is an unconceived fetus?

I have a wager for you. I voted third party, incidentally, for president.

My family of 5 makes a total of 33K per year, qualifying us for a slew of EITC payments/excess child tax credits, etc. Right now (not counting programs that we might qualify for as well), our income for tax year 2007 would merit us a tax "rebate" of 3988, including everything.

I believe that, due to the bringing back of the marriage penalty and the eliminated of the 10% bracket, that my "rebate" will go down, even though Obama's calculator showed me getting even more. I believe this will happen by January of 2010, with a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress.

Here's my wager, a breakfast of biscuits and gravy in some backwoods Pennsylvania or Michigan dive, says that my taxes or "rebate" as filing jointly with 3 children making 33K per year will be adversely affected by the Democrats. I think it would be fascinating to see what the Dems actually do, and I should like to be pleasantly surprised or unpleasantly vindicated.

douchashov said...

The "unconceived fetus" comment was my attempt at being rude and snarky based on the stereotype I hold that pro-lifers as a group could care less about ensuring kids are fed, clothed, and educated/raised properly once they're actually born.

I'm not sure how to respond to the wager, other than to say I'd love to share a plate of biscuits and gravy with you, so I hope one of us wins?

I can say, taxes were never an issue for me. I would rather not have to pay more taxes, but I think both candidates were lying about their tax plans. Both the deficit and the debt are huge, and will increase next year, so I can't see how either party could govern without raising taxes. This is a pretty big issue for me, so I might actually be "pro-tax." However, if the past is any indicator of future performance, you might be pleasantly surprised. I certainly hope so.