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On Why I am Voting for Barack Obama

October 3, 2012 4 comments

This is part 3 of a 3-post, pre-debate series on my feelings about each candidate and why I am voting the way that I am voting this November. Part 1, “On What I Don’t Like About Barack Obama,” can be seen here, and part 2, “On Why I am Not Voting for Mitt Romney,” can be seen here.

Before I really dive into why I’m voting for Barack Obama, I want to comment a bit on the decision-making process in general. I’m going into my third post on the candidates and my voting decision, and I have not mentioned Bain Capital, tax returns, or dogs on cars; I have also not mentioned hope, change, great speeches, dog eating, socialism, or birth certificates. I do not mention this to say that I’m better or above the typical voter, but because I think that most people feel this way. Most people do not want to make decisions based upon rhetoric and superfluous controversies, but it’s the bulk of what they’re fed and hey, they want to eat. I’m trying an alternative diet.

So I’ve already listed why I have some qualms about Barack Obama. And I’ve also explained why I would cast my vote against Mitt Romney. But I also greatly prefer to be voting for something, not just against other things. Despite the rhetoric that Barack Obama cannot run on his record, I actually think he offers a great deal for which I want to cast my vote.

Race to the Top

If someone were to tell you that they wanted to get a large number of schools to improve by only providing funding to a select few schools and they would do so by providing competition among schools and school systems, you’d probably say “that sounds like a pretty good idea, Mr. Republican,” and Barack Obama would say “Thanks, but I’m not a Republican.” I think that education needs to improve, but that we already spend a great deal of money on it–enough to have a much better education system than we currently have in this country. I believe that reforms should be more locally-focused, as different solutions work for different environments. Race to the Top takes all of these things into consideration and lets school systems use their own methodology to reach improvement standards in a competition for national funds to go farther. I like this program so much and I feel that Obama doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it.

The Stimulus/Bailout

This is a strange topic for me because I actually agree that the stimulus didn’t work. If you got an air conditioning system in the summer and set the temperature to 70 degrees and it cooled the house to 80 degrees, you would probably have to call for maintenance and certainly wouldn’t consider it to be a properly-operating machine. Normally, this level of disappointment would be considered a negative for me. However, the difference here is that there were very real calls for each of the following: a) do nothing, b) stimulate only through tax cuts, and/or c) simply take the amount of the stimulus bill and divide it up to American taxpayers and send them each a check. To return to the air conditioning analogy, it’s 110 degrees outside and humid and grandma’s going to die if we don’t get air conditioning, so I’ll take the one that doesn’t do the job as well as it could have or is supposed to. It’s annoying to rely on a counterfactual, but I have no doubt that the economy and the depth of the crisis would be much worse off without the actions taken by Obama.

Centrism

This one may be surprising, but I think that Obama is an ideological liberal who chooses to govern as a centrist. I think that he wants (or wanted) to work with Republicans and find common ground, but the fact is that there really isn’t that much on which they agree. That doesn’t mean that Obama hasn’t tried, though. If you don’t believe me, you should watch his 2011 State of the Union Address or his “pass this jobs bill now” speech. You can’t help but notice a number of times that he touts ideas that are or at some recent point were popular with Republicans, with many of them being Republican proposals.

Gay Rights

Mostly, I’m referring here to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I was in the Army when the repeal was announced and when it was made official, and maybe my unit was a little different, but no one seemed to care at all. Not a single work day was affected. This change was long past due. Standing up to support gay marriage was a nice gesture and many of my friends in the LGBTQ community appreciated it immensely, but I think the accomplishment of making a change to a stubborn institution like the military was incredibly significant. In a second term, I would hope for a continued expansion of rights for this community, and have reason to believe that it will happen.

Military Strategy

Another strange one. Things are not going particularly well in Afghanistan, I know. I have previously written that it is time for the troops to come home, and I wrote just two days ago about my mixed feelings about unmanned drone strikes. However, suffice it to say that I saw real changes made in Afghanistan that I think would have possibly sent the conflict in a different direction if they had been enacted earlier in the process, primarily rules of engagement that addressed the problem of creating new enemies with each attack, the embedding of Special Forces units into Afghan villages, and outreach to the female population who had been completely ignored for the first 9 years of the conflict. It was far too little far too late, but I thought them worth mentioning.

Completion

I will conclude my comments by stating that I want to see Obama’s policies played out through their completion. The rhetoric from the opposition that the president is running this country into the ground ignores the reality that the country had been run into the ground when Obama arrived. In the eight previous years, the country went from peace, surplus, and a dipping but still strong economy to two wars, doubled debt, massive deficits, and a financial crisis. These things may have been part of a broader trend over the past 30-40 years, but nothing was done in those eight years to stop the coming destruction. Barack Obama is moving incrementally in a different direction from the previous eight years–or at least attempting to do so. Before judging or cutting bait, I want to see where these policies lead, and I think that Obama has had enough successes in other arenas to earn the allowance of letting these policies play out.

On Cable News and Big Government

It seems that no matter who is in charge–Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals–the size and reach of the national government has continued to expand. Some people think this is fine, while others find it problematic or even an affront to the Constitution. For the sake of this post, I’m not going to worry about whether or not that is a good thing, and focus instead on one theory to help explain the “why.” Of course we could talk all day about personal, selfish reasons for this expansion as people in power wish to expand that power. But my theory gets to the public as a whole, and why people would allow and even clamor for the expansion of national government, even when cursing the trend out of the other side of their mouths. The answer? Cable News.

I remember the moment when this occurred to me. I was watching Fox News and there was some mild outrage (isn’t there always) about something that was being done by a local school system in Montana. It was something to do with sex education for extremely young children. As I watched, I began to consider where I stood on the issue. How do I feel about kindergarteners in Montana starting to learn about sex organs and second graders in Montana starting to learn about different types of family structures? And it occurred to me that not only don’t I care, but I shouldn’t care.

The key words here are “in Montana.” Education has always been somewhat of a bastion local government. In fact, the school district in question is not even a state level, but a single municipality within that state. Thirty years ago, I couldn’t imagine that the sex education program of a single Montana municipality would make national headlines. It certainly would not have appeared on the nightly local news shows around the rest of the country.

But local forms of news are slowly being pushed aside. Nightly news ratings have fallen; newspaper circulations have dropped. People are getting their news from more universal sources: cable news and the internet. In this setting, every story is a national story, and thus every problem requires a national solution. If you were upset about Vermont legalizing same-sex marriage, you stood up to support the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Local issue: federal solution.

I’m using conservative examples here not because this trend is only true of Fox News and of conservative people, but because it is conservatives who vehemently demand smaller government. And yet, with each passing fire set by Fox News over a local issue, even conservatives begin to seek national water to douse the flames. Some states are legalizing gay marriage? Many conservatives want a Constitutional Amendment to stop it. And the scope and the range and the power of the government grows.

Cable news is by no means the only reason that the national government continues to expand. Of course increased spending due to entitlement programs plays a part. Of course the egos and the desire for power among lawmakers and/or presidents play a part. Of course the national security situation and the expanded powers of the executive play a part. Of course lobbying plays a part. But as long as we are getting our news from national sources, rather than local, the logical next step will  be to seek national solutions.