Saturday, January 05, 2008

I'm Endorsing Barack Obama in the NH Primary

Crossposted from MyDD and Daily Kos.

Until Thursday night, I was a member of the Biden for President New Hampshire Steering Committee and leader of Dartmouth for Biden. On Friday morning, I received a call from the Obama campaign asking to include my endorsement in a Biden/Dodd press release. I agreed. Update, Jan. 6 2:50am: I want to make it clear that I wouldn't consider my support important enough to be considered an "endorsment." That was the Obama campaign's word, not mine, when they asked to include me in a list of high profile local Biden and Dodd suporters. I would have never chosen that word on my own. End update.

Last night, I wrote my final thoughts on Biden for the MyDD frontpage and announced my support of Obama. I still firmly believe that Joe Biden was not only a good candidate but a good role model, and that my second-choice Dodd may be the most impressive politician anywhere on Constitutional issues. I stand by everything critical I’ve written of Obama’s inexperience, and there’s been quite a lot. But at the same time, whenever I have said he doesn’t have enough experience, I have also said that his is the greatest message I have ever heard.

Experience and past accomplishment matter, but so do competence, vision, inspiration, and policy. I’m going to enjoy these final few days of intense campaigning as a junkie rather than an activist, but I am putting an Obama sign in my window and writing a few Letters to the Editor. This is New Hampshire, and my vote counts – but before I explain why that vote will be for Obama, I’d like to take a final look at our party’s other candidates. They are all strong, fine individuals who would make good presidents, and I salute all the bloggers and activists working so hard for them.

John Edwards was my second choice in 2004, behind Howard Dean. Biden is my guy on policy, but when it comes to priorities, no one tops Edwards. His focus on climate change and poverty matches my own. I have long been a Katrina recovery activist, and while I think Edwards’ reputation on the issue is a little overblown, he has show real commitment to the city of New Orleans. If I remember correctly, he was the first top-tier candidate, behind only Biden, to push the issues of nuclear proliferation and loose nukes. I think Edwards would be a good president, but an even better Secretary of the Interior or HUD. He has the same experience issues as Obama and quite frankly just doesn’t sit well with me when I talk to him (hey, this is New Hampshire). I’ve written far too many pessimistic thoughts about Edwards to feel right giving him my support. But I will say this: before Iowa, I was 80% sure Obama came after Biden and Dodd. Edwards was that other 20%.

Bill Richardson was initially my second choice behind Biden. He has one of the most amazing resumes you’ll ever come across, perhaps better even than the first President Bush’s. He’s also a Western Democrat, and I am so excited by the Mountain West’s reshaping of our party. (I’m only in NH for school; I originally hail from Texas and Idaho.) I would love to see Richardson run for the open NM-Sen seat, or perhaps return to the United Nations, but I’m just not convinced he’s competent enough to be President. Whenever he’s asked about Katrina recovery, whether by me on CSPAN or Tavis Smiley on PBS, it’s clear he has no clue what he’s talking about and doesn’t even know what he doesn’t know. And of course, we all remember the LOGO forum gaffe. Worst of all was that back in March, during the pitched Congressional battle over Iraq funding, he told a reporter he didn’t know what the Iraq supplemental was. This is just as bad as Huckabee not knowing about the Iran NIE. I like Richardson, but not in a presidential context.

Hillary Clinton has done amazing work in the Senate, where she submitted herself to Robert Byrd’s tutelage. She plays well with others, having won over Republican colleagues like Sam Brownback, wooed over upstate New York conservatives (including my uncle), and impressed the voters of Arkansas where she wins head-to-head polls. Unfortunately, all that success was achieved through intimate settings like personal meetings and listening sessions that just can’t be replicated on the national stage. Hillary can reach 51% in the Electoral College to win, but she can’t reach 60% in the approval polls to unite and lead. Say what you will about Reagan’s policies, and I’ll join you, but the man could lead. We need another uniter. I am also very disappointed in her refusal to answer questions – she ducks reporters more blatantly than anyone I’ve ever seen. The prime example is her Social Security fight with Tim Russert here at Dartmouth College.

Like many others, I used to consider Dennis Kucinich an absolute nutcase. That has changed over the last few months. I met him unexpectedly at a Hanover bookstore, and found him to be one of the most charming people I’ve ever met. He even signed my copy of Stephen Colbert’s book, writing “Colbert for VP!” We talked for a few minutes, and he answered my questions about the Department of Peace. I don’t think that’s a good name for it, but I now endorse the idea. And last night, Kucinich gave a better speech than either Richardson or Clinton at the NHDP’s 100 Club Dinner – I was shocked. And hey, standing next to Mike Gravel in the debates will make anyone look good (and let me tell you, Gravel is just as crazy in person as he is on stage). In the end, however, I disagree with Kucinich on too many issues, Iraq and trade among them, and he doesn’t reach out enough to folks who disagree with him the way Biden, Clinton, and Obama have done.

These are all great people and great candidates, but I just can’t see them as presidents. Which brings me to Barack Obama. Like I say, he has the greatest message I have ever heard. Many middle aged voters liken him to Robert Kennedy. RFK is my hero, and those comparisons matter a lot to me. I have seen Obama in person five times, and it will likely be seven by Wednesday morning. I’ve met him once, with another meeting coming. Every time, he talks about hope and change, but not in a merely rhetorical way. It’s clear that this message runs very deep. As a Christian and an Episcopalian, I am deeply concerned with the issue of reconciliation. It is a central value to my personal identity, and it is something I think Obama can accomplish. At last night’s 100 Club Dinner, my friend Mike Heslin, the president of the College Democrats of New Hampshire, was very impressed by Obama’s line that every generation has a moment, and this is ours. I was more impressed by his comment that if a politician knows who he is and is secure in his values, he can reach across the aisle and work with opponents without worrying about having his integrity compromised. That’s not a popular message in a partisan primary, but cooperation and political reconciliation is what gets things done and makes things last. The speech started out tired and hoarse, and while his voice stayed hoarse, Obama clearly fed off the crowd’s energy. The Clinton supporters were loud, but I’ve never seen a more charged crowd than the 1000 or so Obama supporters – a third of the room, at least. Obama finished still hoarse but no longer looking so fatigued. He’s clearly a people-powered person.

It was very odd for me to dine and cheer as an Obama supporter. I’ve spent the past year working hard for Joe Biden and harping on Obama’s inexperience. But it’s a good thing, because this really is history in the making. One of the speakers – I think it was NHDP chair Ray Buckley – said if Martin Luther King could look at our field of a woman, a Latino, and an African-American, he would be shocked, and thrilled. The speaker was right. Just 40 years ago – just 10 years ago! – who would have thought that a black man would be so well positioned to win the Presidency? We’ve come a long way. And think about what this means: we could have a President who not only cares about minority issues, but actually understands them, who knows their salience and their details. And once we start moving on African-American affairs, it won’t be long before issues like Native American sovereignty and the human rights of migrant workers follow.

Think also about what this election would mean for the larger world. I’m not sure who made this argument before, but I admit it’s not original. Somewhere overseas, a young 13-year old fundamentalist Islamic Arab or Persian might be picking up a rocket launcher, considering a future career as a jihadist like his father. Imagine that boy looking at the United States, and seeing as its leader not a white man, but a multiracial black man with a Kenyan father, raised partially in an Islamic nation. It will be a lot harder for that boy to accept this nation as the Great Satan. John Edwards is right to say we need a JFK-like world tour to improve our international reputation, but for Obama, that process will start even before the tour.

Any of our candidates will bring change. All will improve our international standing, and all promise to fight for universal health care, something we’ve never had before. But with Biden out, it is Obama who has the greatest ability to bring Americans together with his rhetoric and vision. It is also Obama who would be the most historic, even more than Clinton. Right now, when a little girl or a young black child looks at politics, they see a monolith of white men. That must be discouraging when considering their future. For women, that is slowly changing. We have more and more female Governors and Senators all the time. That can’t be said for the African American community; with the exception of Powell, Patrick, and Obama, their political role models and inspirations are largely relegated to gerrymandered Congressional districts. Women are making progress – certainly not fast enough, but at least its measurable. For true reconciliation to happen, America needs a man like Obama.

I also like him on the issues more than his competitors. Unlike Edwards, he’s not a protectionist. Unlike Richardson, he is firm in his Iraq views, never altering his timeline. With Biden and Dodd out, he is now the strongest candidate on the Constitution. He is a former Constitutional law professor, and includes assertive talk about the document in his stump speech. (Biden has solid views on executive power and is also a Constitutional law professor, and Dodd was pure gold on the issue). And yes, maybe Edwards or Clinton does have a better plan for climate change or health care, but I really don’t care. The details of the plans will be altered by Congress, so nothing specific proposed now really matters. Case in point, 1993: the Clintons could have passed a health care bill, but it wasn’t their own. They refused to compromise, and they went down in flames. Compromise matters, and early details don’t. Heck, I can’t even tell you what Biden’s plan was – what I can tell you is that he had one. What matters is the commitment to universal health care, something all our candidates, including Obama, share.

I admit, the inexperience bothers me, and I’ve written before why none of Obama’s counterpoints on that issue satisfy me. But perhaps he can overcome this weakness by surrounding himself with party sages and policy wisemen. Bush tried this with Cheney and Rumsfeld, and it failed, but Obama’s campaign gives me hope. Compare it to Dean: Obama is barely out of the state senate, yet picked campaign aides who have helped him to run a nearly mistake-free campaign. Dean was a Governor for 11 years, chaired the NGA, and worked with Clinton on health care issues, yes his aides were inexperienced and his campaign crashed. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dr. Dean and was thrilled to hear from him at last night’s dinner, but the comparison suggests that Obama might just be able to overcome his one major weakness. And as he himself implied last night, yes, he could wait another decade, but our country doesn’t need to heal in ten years; it needs to heal NOW.

I am now in junkie mode, not activist mode, and I look forward to the day our party crowns its nominee, because all four of the viable options are good people with strong records who will make fine presidents. But I have hope, and I want change and reconciliation. This New Hampshire Biden supporter endorses Barack Obama for President.

No comments: