There's not a liberal America and a conservative America - there's the United States of America.
That's a statement I believe with all my bitter, partisan, bleeding liberal heart. I believe it because I know too many conservatives who, if the chips were down, would come to my rescue in a New York minute. I believe it because I know too many liberals who love their country with a fierce sharp pride that brings tears to their eyes when they see their flag wave. I believe it because there's an awful lot of people out there who don't even know the difference between liberal and conservative, but they do know that America was founded on the concept of freedom and justice for all.
This has been a hard post to write, but one I've known I should. I really, really want Barack Obama to be elected President, as much, if not more, than I wanted Howard Dean to be the Democratic nominee four years ago. And we all know how that turned out.
So I'm a little afraid to jinx his candidacy, to admit how much I really long to see this happen. I've even taken to being flippant on other blogs about my choice of candidates, when the truth is, I'm convinced Barack Obama is the only candidate who will be able to push a progressive agenda (one which includes universal health care, higher taxes on millionaires and most importantly, global warming fixes) through Congress. Not even Howard Dean could have done that.
First, though, I'll say why I'm not supporting the other candidates. For a combination of superficial and substantive reasons, I really don't like John Edwards. First, he has the kind of Southern accent I can't stand. He sounds like a mush mouth good ole boy, not so much nails-on-the-chalkboard grating as gum-on-the-sidewalk cloying. Ewww. Not all Southern accents are as annoying, but his is, and if he becomes president, I'd have to listen to it pretty often. Double ewww.
Second, he was a trial lawyer for most of his life, and while I would be the first to argue that trial lawyers are a necessary part of our legal system (someone I know once referred to them as the lions of a capitalist system, keeping the rest of the savanna on their toes) being an "ambulance chaser", as many people mistakenly think of them, isn't particularly good preparation for being president. He'd be great working in an adversarial system like Congress, but for some reason he quit after one term in the Senate, where, by the way, he didn't take a lot of adversarial positions. And one position in particular really pisses me off. He voted for the war. How could anyone have done that, when there was plenty of evidence then regarding what almost everyone now acknowledges to be the truth. Back then I knew, and plenty of others knew, that invading Iraq was a truly awful idea. John Edwards either didn't believe that, or didn't know, and both positions are inexcusable in a U.S. Senator.
Which brings us to Hillary Clinton. I would actually prefer a HRC presidency to a John Edwards', because I think she's got the talent and skills to be president. Unfortunately, even if she came up with the most progressive and brilliant agenda possible, one I'd heartily endorse, she'd never get it passed, not as long as there were 40 Republicans and conservative Democrats to oppose her. Many people note that she's able to work effectively with Republicans in the Senate, and she is, but you don't hear them bragging about it back home. They want to get re-elected, and working with one of the most hated "liberal" figures in American politics won't help them get re-elected in Alabama. If she were president, they'd almost be honor bound to oppose her, which is a real shame, but there's not much she can do to change that. More importantly, I also don't want to fill the White House with former Clintonites again. They had their day in the sun, and I'm sick to death of people like James Carville pontificating as if the Democratic party he knows hasn't changed. We've come a long way, baby.
And do we really want to start a precedent of giving former presidents a back door into the White House?
The other candidates don't stand a chance of being nominated, but lately Christopher Dodd has been showing a lot of promise. I'd like to see him take a bigger role in the Senate. He could take over from Harry Reid and I'd be happy. As for Bill Richardson, well, take it from me, New Mexico politicos are just not ready for prime time.
But enough negative campaigning. Why am I supporting Obama? It's not just because he was always against the war, and it's not just because he gives a great convention speech. And it's not just because he's the hottest candidate out there, both in looks and in the enormous enthusiasm he generates.
He's a talented politician, yes, but he's been off his game in more than one debate performance. (Fortunately for that, since Americans seem to prefer voting for debate losers.) I can't even say I've agreed with all the choices he's made, that "judgment" question. I'm sure if I looked hard, I'd find one or two votes I disagree with. But as someone (that same someone) once said, if you're looking for a candidate you agree with all the time, then run yourself.
It really comes down to the whole picture, one that's been painted not just by the candidate but by others' reactions to him. I like the way Barack Obama makes other people feel, the way Republicans (real Republicans, not the politicians who've come to represent the Republican party) aren't afraid of him. Once when I was home in Louisiana, I bought a large book with his face on the cover at Barnes and Noble. When my apolitical sister-in-law, who's probably never voted for a Democrat, saw it, she said "Hey, we like him!" That statement has stayed with me, and I've puzzled over it.
Why do Republicans like Barack Obama so much?
I guess I could ask the same question of myself. Most of my friends and acquaintances, in the real world at least, are Republican. That's the sort of circles I live in, and always have. So I think I understand, better than most liberals, how the other side really thinks. Part of this understanding was due to a book someone gave me (that same someone again) called Moral Politics by George Lakoff. A few years ago, Lakoff was all the rage, then Kos and a few other liberal bloggers started to make fun of his ideas on framing, and he sort of disappeared. But while Lakoff didn't have much of a clue how to go about framing progressive (don't use the word liberal, he said, we've already lost that one) policies and ideas, the premise and the thinking behind the concept is sound.
Republicans (and Republican-lever pulling Independents) really want the same things liberals—err, progressives—do, but they think about things differently. As proof—aren't we progressives constantly quoting polls that say a majority of Americans feel the same way we do about budgetary spending—wanting less defense spending, more education spending, and universal health care—yet they still vote Republican, or for unacceptably conservative Democrats.
Our side just doesn't know how to play the game. Or more specifically, we don't know the right language to use.
Knowing how to approach a Republican, and increasing numbers of people who call themselves Independents, is crucial in a successful politician. Not one who is just successful at getting elected, but one who is successful at achieving a mandate (something Bill Clinton never had). One who can get a majority of the country behind his or her general policy goals.
When I saw Barack Obama almost four years ago at the Democratic convention giving his famous "blue America/red America" speech, I knew immediately that he got it. He really knew how to do what George Lakoff could only theorize, how to appeal to people who worked hard all week, who went to Little League games on Saturday and church on Sunday, and voted, most of the time, for rabidly conservative Republicans who did not represent their values! My neighbors. My family. My friends. And most importantly, to sell those same people liberal ideas.
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't care if Barack Obama appeals to the Jonah Goldbergs, the Bill Kristols, even the Andrew Sullivans of the world. I do care if he appeals to a majority of American voters, who, when conservative pundits turn on him, won't stop supporting him, because they like the way Barack Obama sounds. They like his tone. Because it turns out you really do catch more flies with honey, or more specifically, hopeful language that inspires rather than alienates.
A lot of liberals, particularly liberal bloggers, who are fond of thinking too much, seem confused by this. If Republicans like you, you must be wrong. I suspect they have confused my neighbors and friends with people like Jonah Goldberg and Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, people who appeal to the worst instincts and motivations of Americans rather than their best.
That, in its clichéd nutshell, is why I think Barack Obama will be the best president we ever had. Far, far better than Bill Clinton, who cared nothing for progressive values and immediately caved when he got to the White House and found out that with no mandate, he couldn't even sign an executive order allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Barack Obama didn't come from a town called Hope, but he sure does give it to a lot of people. That's what many of us have been looking for. Someone who believes in the fights that are worth fighting, believes that they're winnable on their own merits. Someone who believes that everyone in America wants what's right and good and safe.
Someone who knows that we all, deep down, just want to leave a better world for our children.
We have to have a candidate who appeals to more than the 50-plus-1 percent. We don't need another close election, a continuation of the divided country we began to develop when Bill Clinton was elected, with 43 percent of the vote and a Congress full of conservative Democrats and Republicans who immediately sensed his weakness.
Barack Obama, who instinctively uses language that inspires Democrats, Republicans, Independents, young, old, black, white, and Americans of all stripes, can deliver that mandate in a way that no other candidate I've seen, in all my 30 years of close—and extremely partisan—political observation, can.
He talks about "Obama Republicans," the opposite of "Reagan Democrats." Ronald Reagan wasn't a moderate Republican, far from it, just as Obama is no moderate Democrat. Reagan was, however, adept at speaking to those who might ordinarily disagree with him. The Great Communicator, they called him. Up till now, we've never had a candidate capable of that sort of political realignment, while keeping true to his core Democratic beliefs.
What else? Oh yeah, Barack Obama's a great basketball player, as I joked on Roxanne's site. But there's a serious point there: if you've ever watched, or played, pick up basketball, you know it takes a hard fighter to win. Barack Obama's not afraid to throw a sharp elbow or two, which he'll need to do when he's president. After all, there are still a lot of those rabidly conservative politicians just waiting to block his shot.
And if that's not reason enough to convince you, well, he is the hottest candidate out there. Imagine that handsome smile on the wall of your local Social Security office! Maybe we could even clear a spot on Mt. Rushmore for that chiseled jaw.
If you're an American abroad, you can vote on February 5 in the Democrats Abroad Global Primary.