Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama

I’ve made a very tough decision: I’m voting for Barack Obama. I’m sure that many of my Republican and conservative friends and family will be deeply dismayed to hear this, but I would ask them to hear me out with an open mind before firing up the prayer chains. I would also ask that before contacting me, you read this post in its entirety and take some time to ponder. I would absolutely love to have a logical and well-reasoned discussion with anyone on the things I’ve written below. I am determined to fight to discover the truth and defend it at all costs. I’m absolutely willing to change my mind if the case can be made that I should. However, if you intend to contact me with an emotional diatribe about how I’ve been swayed by the liberal media, how Obama is a baby-killing terrorist sympathizer, how you just know in your heart that the liberal establishment will destroy everything we hold dear, accusations of my faith being in jeopardy, or any other unfounded hysterics, please don’t bother.

Also, please be aware that most of this post is my opinion and is to be treated as such. Also be advised that I am well aware that not all Republicans (or Democrats) feel the same way. I have tried to qualify my statements as much as possible and make it clear that I am speaking about the majority of Republicans and the direction of the Republican party in general, not every single individual.

Before I get into the meat of my post, I should give you a little background on my life. I grew up in a staunchly conservative and Christian family, which in my mind was synonymous with being a Republican. I remember watching the election results in 1992 with a group of people that included my parents and many of their closest friends. I remember the deep dismay and disappointment in that group when Bush lost to Clinton, as if we were at a funeral. I remember it again when Clinton defeated Dole in the 1996 election. I remember the mood among many Republicans (elation?) when Clinton was impeached in the late 1990’s. I remember our excitement when Bush, a no-nonsense Christian conservative (that I voted for) defeated Al Gore in 2000.

I graduated high school and enlisted in the US Navy, graduating boot camp on September 13, 2001. I was sent overseas to Italy, where I was stationed for 2.5 years. The military already tends to lean conservative, and in the years after 9/11, we tended to view Bush as a tenacious defender of freedom and democracy around the world. I argued stridently for the Republican cause, convinced that our actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world were justified in name of defeating terrorism. I voted for Bush again in 2004, though by this time, Iraq was starting to look a little less black-and-white to me.

I got out of the Navy and went back to the University of Colorado for business. I took all the usual business classes, but I also took a few classes which would end up having a huge effect on my perspective, including topics like macro- and micro-economics, formal logic, human anthropology, developmental economics, energy science, and globalization. For some of these classes, I couldn’t get enough, and for others, I was a voice of dissent on much of what I viewed as liberal thought. But being exposed to some very different perspectives than I had grown up with was good for me, especially since the environment there was one that encouraged dialogue, examining the evidence, and forming conclusions based on that evidence.

I’m sure that many conservatives will read this looking for some clue of exactly where I was misled or duped into believing the great lie of liberalism. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but there’s nothing there. I’m not a liberal, and my political views fall much closer to true conservatism (or libertarianism, as some like to call it) than they do to liberalism.

As recently as a couple years ago, I viewed John McCain as a maverick, a man of honor, and someone who was willing to place himself in political peril to follow his conscience. He had a record of crossing the aisle and working with Democrats, and I admired that. He was a war hero, clearly a man of courage, and independently-minded. Though I didn’t agree with his policies or positions in many areas, particularly the war in Iraq, I admired him for being willing to tell it like it is.

But over the last few years, something gradually began to change. McCain started voting with his party and the President more and more. He started changing his positions on things, and he started saying things that didn’t turn out to be true. The trend has worsened over the last six months, but the tipping point was McCain selecting Palin as his running mate. That a man of his experience would select an arrogant, inexperienced, ignorant, and dishonest woman that he had only briefly met twice to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency indicates that McCain is no longer the man of character that I once thought him to be, but rather a man who will do anything to win. The last three weeks have only confirmed it, as Palin has repeatedly demonstrated her ignorance and arrogance, repeating the same discredited lies over and over, often with McCain at her side. It seems as if almost everything either of them say at this point is either a distortion of the truth or just empty words with no meaning.

However, what’s even more troubling to me than McCain’s and Palin’s repeated lies and distortions of the truth is the complete and total unwillingness of a single Republican that I know personally to admit it. Not one Republican that I know has been able to say “That’s not true. I support McCain and his policies, but he’s lying. He should apologize immediately.” Not a single Republican that I know or have talked to has been able to admit that picking Palin was a cheap political trick. Not a single Republican that I have talked to has had a single good thing to say about Obama. Not one. Only one has had anything negative to say about the prospects of a McCain / Palin presidency.

Why is that? Why would so many Republicans, who pride themselves on having the moral high ground and many of whom are people of faith, tolerate (or encourage) such blatant lies and distortions of the truth? Well, I believe it’s because they want to win, more than they want to be champions of truth. Like so many who determine to fight against something worth fighting against, the Republicans have become the very monster they hate, in three ways:

They’ve lost their focus on small government
Traditionally for small, limited government and states’ rights over a large Federal government, the Republicans of today offer not small government and a policy of fiscal conservatism, but big government and a policy of spending far more than we bring in and borrowing the difference. Bush ran in 2000 on a platform of a humble, non-interventionist foreign policy. Now we’re mired in two wars that will cost the taxpayers over a trillion dollars. We have seen the Federal government attempting to consolidate more and more power under Bush. But perhaps the most telling change we’ve seen is the sheer increase in the size of the Federal government combined with a huge decrease in the revenue we bring in. Here’s a quote from an article about the official estimates from the Congressional Budget Office:

In 2001, CBO predicted the federal government would amass surpluses totaling $5.6 trillion over the 2002-2011 period. Now, CBO data show a cumulative deficit of $3.8 trillion over that same period. That’s a $9.4 trillion deterioration, $7.2 trillion of which was caused by policy actions. Tax cuts and security-related spending increases caused 83 percent of that.

They’ve lost their moral compass
Ironically, I believe that the reason that Republicans have lost their moral compass is due to the commingling of the Republican party and Christianity (the Religious Right). Evangelicals in particular, convinced that they needed to save this country from its impending moral downfall, resolved to become more active in politics. This in itself is not a bad thing, but somewhere along the way, Evangelicals began to focus more on political power to defend virtue than the virtue itself. They assured themselves that they could defeat evil through legislation and judicial influence, and pursued those aims with fervor. The results have been disastrous, as Christians and conservatives have fought to change the heart of this country from the top-down via legislation and judicial decisions aimed at defending “traditional values”. Aside from the fact that this approach can never be effective, the greater travesty is that in their pursuit of legislative and judicial influence, Evangelicals have lost sight of the very values they were trying to defend. The pursuit of justice and truth became less important than winning elections and passing laws. Exacerbating the problem has been political strategists like Karl Rove and Steve Schmidt, who have shamelessly exploited the propensity of this demographic to be “single-issue” voters, usually around abortion. These strategists have worked hard behind the scenes to inflame emotions and passions in the party faithful and painted the debate in terms of these moral and social issues. The result today is a party made up largely of Christians and other believers who are unwilling to condemn dishonesty and injustice if they believe the results will be in the favor of their cause. After reading too many accounts of voter purging and other electioneering tactics in the 2000, 2004, and perhaps the 2008 election, almost always at the behest and benefit of Republicans, I am convinced that many in the Republican party no longer care one whit for fairness, democracy, or liberty, but only for the protection and exercise of power at any cost.

They’ve forgotten what makes America great
Republicans over the last eight years have repeatedly shown that they are willing to sacrifice freedom and liberty for the sake of security, with the War on Terror serving as the battleground for this ideological battle. Let me be clear: terrorism is a horrific thing, and deserves our full fury and strength in response. We should never tolerate it, and we should never negotiate with it. But if our response sinks us to a level where we’re no better than the monster we fight, is it worth it? We have stripped away the rights of thousands of terrorism “suspects”, thrown them into secret prisons without explanation or notification to their families, held them for years without charges or trial, tortured them, and then released them without apology or explanation. Many of these people were treated this way on the slimmest of evidence, perhaps only because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. To watch those who claim to follow the teachings of Christ try and justify these actions turns my stomach. Domestically, we have seen the encroachment of more and more of our civil liberties in the name of security, and the executive branch has attempted to lay claim to far more power than it is entitled to, laying waste to the system of checks and balances our founding fathers so carefully crafted. On top of all of this, much of this has been done in secret and in violation of the Constitution. And rather than offering a message of change and accountability, Palin throws out snarky comments about how Obama is too concerned with reading terrorists their rights, to hysterical cheers of the party faithful. No, Ms. Palin, we’re just concerned with making sure that people like you don’t strip away the rights that our founding fathers called inalienable.

The Republican party of today uses fear and the constant threat of a terrible enemy to justify violating the Constitution, impugning the character of their rivals, and attacking the patriotism of any who disagree. One need only spend a few minutes watching the Republican National Convention with an open mind to understand what I’m talking about. How many times have we heard Bush and Cheney tell us about the grave dangers that we’ve been spared as a result of allowing further encroachment of our rights? How many times have we seen Republican pundits imply or claim outright that liberals hate America, hate freedom, tolerate terrorism, or any other despicable nonsense? This sort of ideological terrorism is designed to silence all dissent and appeal to a part of the human psyche that devalues reason and logic in favor of panic and acquiescence for security’s sake. And too often, it is successful, as people cower in fear and refuse to speak out against such propaganda for fear of being labeled unpatriotic or a terrorist sympathizer. The case is often made that if we don’t strip away these rights “just for a little while”, there will be nothing left to protect. So be it! This country was founded on the unquenchable fire of belief by a group of determined men and women who risked everything–their lives, their fortunes, and their reputations, in order that liberty might be bought. As Patrick Henry proclaimed, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Where are the patriots of today in the Republican party who are willing to sacrifice anything for freedom? If the price of security is the loss of liberty, then we as a nation should be willing to lay down our lives, just as the great patriots who came before us were willing to do. As Benjamin Franklin said, if we give up our freedom for the sake of security, we will ultimately end up with neither.

I’m sure many conservatives at this point are wondering why I think Obama is any better. Just like I do with McCain, I disagree with many of Obama’s policies and positions. I don’t care for his trend towards larger government and his views on gun control. I disagree with him on abortion, though not with the vehemence and vitriol that many Republicans do. I disagree with him to some extent on health care, though the health care debate in this country is far more complex than most people understand or are willing to admit. To the extent that his campaign has misrepresented the truth or the positions of their opponent, I strongly disagree. I do agree with him on some very important things, including foreign policy, the War in Iraq, and civil liberties. I am convinced that unlike McCain, Obama will not lead us into another war unless we are attacked.

Policy and positions aside, I deeply admire Obama’s character and background. He seems to be a prudent and temperate man who practices what he preaches. I admire the fact that he attended one of the best colleges in the country (Columbia), despite coming from a background that certainly didn’t predispose him to that. I admire him for being willing to serve some of the poorest parts of Chicago as a community organizer for a cause that he believed in, not for money, fame, or power. I admire him for attending one of the best law schools in the country (Harvard) and graduating Magna Cum Laude. I admire him for using his legal training as a civil rights attorney, helping give a voice to those who have none. I admire him for teaching Constitutional law at another of the best law schools in the country (Chicago) for twelve years, demonstrating a commitment to knowledge and to the Constitution, two qualities that have been sorely lacking over the last eight years. As one conservative who has endorsed Obama put it, it’s comforting to consider having a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

On a side note, I despise the vicious streak in many Republicans today that tend to view all of the above and disregard it. “Community organizer…haha! Civil rights attorney…who cares? Graduate and teacher at some of the world’s best schools…whatever, they’re just liberal institutions.” The worst of these displays was at the Republican convention, when several of the party’s leaders openly mocked Obama’s commitments and accomplishments in these areas. Disgusting.

I’m not sure how much weight this should have on how we vote, but I also admire his personal life. Though wealthy by most standards, his family owns one car (a hybrid, of course). He has been married only once, and by all indications, has a great relationship with his wife and daughters, despite the stress of the national spotlight. You can tell by looking at his children’s faces and the way they interact with their parents that they have grown up in a loving home. I also admire the fact that his wife is well-educated and well-spoken and has served in a leadership role for non-profits for causes she believes in. And I deeply admire their marital relationship, which is a phenomenal model to the nation of what marriage should be, something we’ve not had in the white house for quite some time.

I admire that he has been willing to put himself in political peril to work towards goals he believes in. A good example is the fact that he spoke out against the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003 as a state senator, despite widespread support for the war on both sides of the political spectrum. As a state senator, he had nothing to gain from making such statements; the easy thing would have been to say nothing. And I know this is going to shock people, but I actually admire him for working with Bill Ayers on a cause he believed in. To have refused to work with Ayers on a worthwhile goal for fear of hurting his political image because of something that happened four decades ago, deplorable as it was, would have been a cheap and self-serving political move. Knowing someone and even working with them on a cause does not mean you agree with them on everything.

Finally, I admire his ability to grasp complexity and nuance and wrestle with it appropriately, rather than painting the world in black and white. This propensity has cost him, as trying to explain a balanced position on some complex and emotional issues makes for poor sound-bites, causing people to accuse him of being verbose and waffling. But I do not want another President who shoots from the hip, who makes decisions with his (or her) gut, or who fails to recognize and assess complexity. Increasingly, McCain has shown himself to be that kind of leader, and Palin has no other choice, as she apparently has virtually no experience or knowledge to fall back on.

As I said, I do not agree with many of Obama’s policies, and I think that some of them will eventually do harm to this country. But the Republicans have lost something far more important than having a better policy position: their integrity. They’re so consumed with winning the culture war at any cost that they’ve sacrificed the very morals and values they claim they’re trying to defend. Perhaps one day they’ll realize it and return to the roots of the true conservative movement. Until then, I cannot vote for a candidate who repeatedly lies to the American public and continues to advocate stripping away our freedoms with the hubris that only comes from knowing that his constituency will allow it.

Shame on us all.