Friday, August 29, 2008

Barack Obama: It's About Time!

Barack Obama is as "American" as a political candidate can possibly be and painting him as anything other than a patriotic American is a blind alley. His story is an American success story because of his varied background and heartfelt desire to help the underdog. Republicans, no doubt, will attempt to portray him as something other than one who intends to preserve the rule of law as expressed in the Constitution, although he has sworn to do so. He took the oath as did John McCain.

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."

I’ve heard that after a presumptive candidate accepts a party’s nomination he or she is subject to a briefing that outlines party goals and reveals certain details regarding national security that aren’t provided beforehand, because the candidate is considered officially in the game and therefore provided with a higher security clearance. This is conjecture, but the rationale that a candidate should be as knowledgeable as possible before the debates is a no-brainer. Often I’ve heard friends or relatives comment that political figures cannot reveal their true intentions because they have the national security of the United States to consider and nothing is more important, and that average citizens would not understand. We’ll never have a truly transparent government, but the level of contempt for honesty shown by Bush and Cheney reached new lows. As we’ve all seen with Iraq, when the American people are misled then our “blood and treasure” is squandered, which destroys our credibility and hinders our ability to drum up support among our allies when we truly need their help in a genuinely dire situation. This is what has nearly run us aground. Obama seems ready to provide new solutions to the disproportionate influence of the military-industrial complex that put us into a situation like Iraq and nearly crippled our economy. It may be years before we really understand the billions lost in Iraq on a nation that doesn't even appreciate, or want, our influence.

In his speech last night Obama proved to be sympathetic to the plight of middle-class Americans struggling through recession by providing real-life examples. This is a great thing, because for the last eight years it’s been obvious that George W. Bush, with trickle-down economics, is not sympathetic to the needs of those who aren’t millionaires. McCain seems poised to take up this myopic neo-con mantle by his recent comments that those who make $250,000 a year are still middle class. This puts him in the category of those who are completely blind to the struggles of average people in this country.

What Obama seemed to focus on the most was the idea of restoring “America’s promise.” He’ll be attacked by the Republican smear machine on his perceived lack of experience (although Bush had zero experience in Washington before his presidency, a fact that doesn’t seem to be heralded often enough by Democrats) and he may be able to defend himself against that by the force and experience of Joe Biden. By choosing Biden, Obama bolstered his position in that department and it seems certain that Biden will bring a working-man’s perspective to the ticket, as well as years of hard-won, foreign-policy experience.

The real question is how Obama will sell the idea of change to the American people. His die-hard supporters seem ready for an Obama presidency no matter what that might mean, but those on the fence are listening closely to the details offered. Middle-class, Bible-belt Americans for example who have experienced the downside of Bush’s misguided policies would seem to be an easy sell, but they will not like the idea of any government interference in their daily lives. The key issue raised by Senator Clinton--healthcare--seems to have been put on the back burner somewhat by Obama. This may work in his favor because, although it’s obvious that change is necessary to jump start the vitality of our economy and to bolster our position on the world stage, middle-class Americans will not appreciate a government program that doesn’t allow them to choose healthcare providers. When Obama says

“Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work.”

I’m glad to hear that someone who may possibly win the presidency is attuned to the needs of regular people, but it will be difficult for him to sell the idea of change to fence-sitters if he presents his idea in a way that can be labeled as “big government” by his opponent. It’s ironic that the Republicans gleefully strip away our privacy rights while championing themselves as supporters of small government, but that irony is lost on the masses. Obama will probably defend himself well against accusations that his perceived inexperience is a liability, but he should tread very carefully when explaining how his brand of change would affect average Americans in their day-to-day lives. Tax cuts are a great start, as long as Obama repeats this mantra tirelessly--that he won’t raise taxes on the middle class. This illumines the fact that there is a huge chasm between how the super-privileged (e.g., McCain) perceive the definition of what’s “middle class” and how Obama perceives it. Obama’s version rings true, while McCain is living in a fantasy land of the fabulously wealthy. McCain can't remember how many homes he owns. Where Obama could lose much ground, however, is in the area of social programs. If he hammers home the idea that conversion to green energy will create job growth through “green collar” jobs then he’s got a winner. That would involve a transition that would be somewhat painful but entirely possible. Any job losses experienced as fossil fuel companies switch to promoting wind, solar, and electric power could be balanced by new jobs created as a result of these new technologies. And it’s clear that we must get out of Iraq--a huge money pit. The Iraqis themselves are clamoring for our departure.

It’s the idea of change that could present the real problem, which is another irony. It’s obvious that we are in need of change, but middle America is historically resistant to it, unless they’ve witnessed it and can see that it works. Convincing this huge cross section of voters that Obama's brand of change is what’s needed will be difficult, and last night’s speech probably wasn’t the appropriate time to do so, but I hope that Obama and his advisers realize that there are probably many of those suffering from the economic aftershock of eight years of a Bush presidency who would vote for him if his plan provides genuine relief--without government intrusion. Younger voters embrace change but older voters on both sides of the aisle typically won’t.

Obama’s vision of America might put us on equal footing with the European Union who realized early on that social programs can help workers, but the wealthiest 2% of America, with their deregulation and hands-off economic policies will do what they can to stop the leveling of the playing field because they are directly profiting from the policies that have created our current economic fiasco. By “closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow”, Obama is putting himself in direct opposition to corporate America. (Although it’s been so bad lately that Wall St. has embraced Obama knowing that change of any kind is needed now.)

So, Obama 1) is a patriotic American, 2) with Biden he has the experience necessary to do the job, 3) he was right on Iraq from day one, and 4) he’s sympathetic to average Americans.

It will be how he explains his plan to change America that will either give him the momentum to win or sink his aspirations entirely. He made it clear last night that he is decidedly pro-choice, which was no surprise. Expect McCain to use this as a wedge as he caters to the evangelicals who already dislike him intensely. So, that point can’t be used to persuade any fence-sitters. Once again, it’s the economy, stupid. If Obama can find some middle ground on issues like abortion (implement a plan to reduce teen pregnancy) and gun control (by considering the issue on a case-by-case basis, what works for Cleveland might not be necessary for Scranton, Penn.) and present himself as tough on national security with a genuine intent to “cut taxes for 95% of all working families” then we may be on the verge of witnessing the election of the first African-American U.S. president.

It’s about time!