I voted for John McCain.
That is, I voted for McCain in 2000, when he was part of a slate of candidates that was lined up to oppose the vulnerable, eloquent but awkward Gore, who was funny and smart in person but robotic on camera. If you’ll recall, there was a huge slate of Republicans running that year, from Elizabeth Dole (a less-acknowledged groundbreaker in her own way) to our future president, Gee-Dubya. Even Dan Quayle ran that year, briefly. McCain was widely seen as the only serious challenger to Bush, and he was certainly one of the more likable ones — in 2000, he was on the campaign trail fresh with fire from campaign finance reform and working on torture legislation. He was older but biting, sarcastic and righteous. In contrast, Bush was already showing signs of the moral corruption and linguistic incompetence that would plague all of us for the next eight years.
Gore was a shoe-in in California, where I had recently moved; Bradley, though I liked him very much, didn’t have a snowball’s chance, and the Green ticket, so fateful later, was also predetermined. So I registered Republican, for the first and only time in my life, so I could get a Republican primary ballot and vote McCain, the lesser of two evils.
In this election, of course, McCain is up against someone genuinely different from himself, and for one of the few times in my lifetime, it is not a choice between the lesser of two evils. Though I suspect in the end that, like all people willing to give it their all on the world political stage, Obama and McCain have a fair bit in common — charisma, and a sense of the scope of the world, a grand egotism and a powerful streak of stubbornness — it cannot be said that they are simply different manifestations of the same political world-view.
Obama has come out of relative nowhere, running a race (it seems some days) on the sheer force of hard work and intellect alone; though of course the ridiculous amount of money he’s raised doesn’t hurt either (something that actually makes McCain’s continued scrappiness and occasional good humor all the more remarkable — like SJ, I still sometimes genuinely like the guy). In this final week, as Obama’s poll numbers raise higher, it seems this combination of spending and sweat and charisma may well pay off. And it seems incredible, watching Obama give speeches and debate, that we might actually have a chance of getting a president who is genuinely smart and eloquent, armed with social and community-based values, and with a healthy respect for the abilities of communities to organize and get work done. Obama’s organization to get out the vote says more about him, perhaps, than his speeches do — this is a candidate who either believes himself, or who has hired people who believe, in a solid organization that gives a healthy respect to workers on the ground, and which operates on the theory that anyone can get involved and help out. This is a quality we desperately need in government.
Obama brings other important qualities to the table, as well; a well-read conversance with constitutional law and the laws of our land, hand in hand with a willingness to get advice from and collaborate with other people and other nations. No president or leader can go it alone; Bush and Mugabe have proven that in the modern era. So a person’s judgment in how and who they seek advice from is crucial, and Obama seems measured and thoughtful in this respect. He brings liberal political views to the job, which I am thankful for; but I think that he would listen to the points of view of everyone, and he is young and energetic enough to process this huge amount of incoming information and work to make something of it.
Let’s think about this for a moment. This election is not about where any particular candidate has come from, the reason that I voted McCain eight years ago. This is about where someone might be able to go. No president will be able to “fix” our country in the next four or eight years; the economy won’t recover that quickly, the wars will still be a mess on the ground, and our environmental catastrophes certainly aren’t going anywhere. But many smart people have ideas for fixing small parts of all of these things, and I think that Obama would listen to them, and work carefully towards good solutions.
Of course Obama’s not flawless; how could he possibly be? The man is running for president, after all; which is an embodiment of pridefulness the likes of which are rarely seen in public. But he has done a good job so far at keeping his cool, and I am hopeful that he will continue to remember that he doesn’t know everything, and will seek the advice of people far and wide while exercising grace and levelheaded judgment, in this enterprise of running our country.
Regardless of who wins, certain things have to change about electioneering; we must take the lessons of what the punditry are calling this extraordinary (extraordinary because people finally care? How depressing) election and put them to good use. There will be dozens and dozens of stories in the upcoming weeks about the historic turnout in this election. How did it happen? Let’s remember how, and put those lessons to use in future elections. The imbalance of money in this election is a downside to Obama’s bid (though the fact that it mostly came from small donors is remarkable); campaign finance reform should stay on the table. And finally the electoral system must change. Today, it could and should be truly one-person-one-vote; the technical challenges are not too overwhelming, and the gains to our democracy could be immense.
Other reasons to vote Democratic: Obama has far better taste in music than McCain does. WE CANNOT ELECT A PRESIDENT WHO LOVES ABBA THAT MUCH. The world will implode. Also, Obama made me laugh when he went to talk at Google. C’mon, people, we need a president who doesn’t think the internet is made out of tubes. Really.