Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Is it appropriate to vote for Obama because he is black?"

Again the exact wording of the question was,

"In your opinion is it appropriate to vote for Obama, even in part, because he is African-American?"

Nicholas Kristof, the W/M, 50's, liberal D columnist at The New York Times chimed in on this question this past Wednesday.  I have edited out parts of Mr. Kristof's column.

Rebranding the U.S. With Obama

Published: October 22, 2008

The other day I had a conversation with a Beijing friend and I mentioned that Barack Obama was leading in the presidential race:

She: Obama? But he’s the black man, isn’t he?

Me: Yes, exactly.

She: But surely a black man couldn’t become president of the United States?

Me: It looks as if he’ll be elected.

She: But president? That’s such an important job! In America, I thought blacks were janitors and laborers.

Me: No, blacks have all kinds of jobs.

She: What do white people think about that, about getting a black president? Are they upset? Are they angry?

Me: No, of course not! If Obama is elected, it’ll be because white people voted for him.

[Long pause.]

She: Really? Unbelievable! What an amazing country!

We’re beginning to get a sense of how Barack Obama’s political success could change global perceptions of the United States, redefining the American “brand” to be less about Guantánamo and more about equality. This change in perceptions would help rebuild American political capital in the way that the Marshall Plan did in the 1950s or that John Kennedy’s presidency did in the early 1960s.

In his endorsement of Mr. Obama, Colin Powell noted that “the new president is going to have to fix the reputation that we’ve left with the rest of the world.” That’s not because we crave admiration, but because cooperation is essential to address 21st-century challenges...

In his endorsement, Mr. Powell added that an Obama election “will also not only electrify our country, I think it’ll electrify the world.” You can already see that. A 22-nation survey by the BBC found that voters abroad preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. McCain in every single country — by four to one over all. Nearly half of those in the BBC poll said that the election of Mr. Obama, an African-American, would “fundamentally change” their perceptions of the United States.

Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which conducted the BBC poll, said that at a recent international conference he attended in Malaysia, many Muslims voiced astonishment at Mr. Obama’s rise because it was so much at odds with their assumptions about the United States...To them, Mr. Obama’s rise triggers severe cognitive dissonance.

As for Africa, Mr. Obama’s Kenyan father was of the Luo tribe, a minority that has long suffered brutal discrimination... The bitter joke in East Africa is that a Luo has more of a chance of becoming president in the United States than in Kenya.
Look, Mr. Obama’s skin color is a bad reason to vote for him or against him. Substance should always trump symbolism.

Yet if this election goes as the polls suggest, we may find a path to restore America’s global influence — and thus to achieve some of our international objectives — in part because the world is concluding that Americans can, after all, see beyond a person’s epidermis...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Is it appropriate to vote for Obama because he is black"

I posed that question to several friends after one of them, a Republican, said that he didn't think it right that McCain supporters were being accused of basing their decision on race, and another friend, a Democrat, worried about the reverse, the so-called "Bradley Effect."  

The exact question was,

 "In your opinion is it appropriate to vote for Obama, even in part, because he is African-American?"  

To my knowledge none of the respondents knew how any others had answered before answering themselves.

Below are the initial responses, verbatim, as well as basic demographic info.

W/M, 40's, liberal D:

All of Western Pennsylvania is NOT voting for him for this reason... so it seems only fair to me.

Sorry. Was this a serious question?

My opinion is that the Presidency is no place for affirmative action policy. However, the fact that Obama is African-American has IMMENSE benefits to US interests. In Europe and much of the Third World, he's so well-liked that just by electing him we would erase a lot of the enmity we've accrued over the last 8 years. Also, to elect a Black guy in a country that's only 12% Af-American reinforces what I think the rest of the world (and we) like to believe about America: that we're a progressive country that values merit above all else.

So yes.

W/M, 50's, moderate D:

Clearly it's racist to vote against him for that reason, but your question, taken in a general sense, has troubled me for a long time. I THINK the answer is no for a number of reasons. 1) One can vote for him, IN PART, for that reason and not be a racist in fact. It doesn't work the other way. 2) I believe that voting for him IN PART because of his race serves a greater purpose than the race issue itself. 3) There are more reasons, but my brain is too small to articulate them.

W/F, 50's, liberal D:

Since he's so clearly the most intelligent, least calcified, person running, I don't need to get to color, for or against it. This guy in the last 21 months has debated the best people in the US Senate, taken on and won the Clinton machine, them the Repulican machine, and has made 1 real gaffe in 21 months (cling to guns and religion). He's surrounded himself with the best people and has never, never, lost his cool, nor his eye on the ultimate prize during all the vagaries and ups and downs of two intense campaigns.

However, if all things were equal (they are not in my opinion--McCain is a B actor and needs to remain 1 of a 100, at best) I would definitely take into account that my vote would advance diversity, send a signal to the mostly non white world that this, too, is America, uplift present Americans of that color, race, gender, ethnic group, and thus reinforce their pact with the American experiment, etc etc. I got no problem including factors such as color as part of my overall decision. It's all a cost benefit analysis and the benefit of a woman, Black, Hispanic, Muslim, Jew, Catholic, Atheist, Asian, president would break us from this historical tyranny of maintaining power for a certain model, and free just a little more from our definition of power and who should be trusted with it. All that advances my country's best principles and reinforces a nation of laws, and not men.

What's your answer! Email

W/M, 50's, I:

This question troubles me.  I've been thinking about it and it hurts my head.

Jeremy's afraid of a "Bradley effect" but I think the reverse may be more important this election and I KNOW that there are some people who ARE voting for Obama, at least in part, based on race.

I'm having trouble wrapping my pea brain around this one but it strikes me as similar to the arguments over affirmative action. The intent of a.a. was to do a good thing, to help a.a.'s. To attempt to do a good thing is...good! But in doing so a.a. did discriminate against all other races and ethnicities and that was bad and the courts cut it way back. The first time I ever broke with my party on an issue was this one. I wrote against it (in my dad's paper) in 1978 and I've never changed my mind.

I reserve the right to change my mind on this variant but at this point in my "thinking" I believe it would be wrong to have race play any part in this vote. I can't get around this simplistic (simple is sometimes good) point: if it's ok to vote FOR Obama because of his race, is it ok to vote for McCain because of his race? My answer to both is no.

W/M, 40's, liberal D:

Have to think about it and I am going crazy right now at work and am leaving on vacation tomorrow. in sum, I don’t see a black voting for  ob because he is black as the same as I do if a white voting against ob because he is black. Double standard? Maybe? Do I give a shit? No

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Presidential Campaign

We are now about three weeks from election day.  For a couple of weeks it has seemed very likely that Barack Obama will be our next president. For me, and apparently some other independent voters, Sarah Palin is the reason that we will vote for Senator Obama.

The American presidential election process is justifiably derided as too long, as giving inordinate weight to small states, as concentrating on irrelevancies to leadership like fund-raising ability, campaign organization, gaffes, and oratorical flourishes.

Defenders of the process say that it tests the candidates, that over the two years that the campaign season now stretches, voters get opportunity after opportunity to know the candidates. This is especially important when one of the candidates is a complete unknown. 

Senator Obama was an unknown but it says here that he benefited by this marathon, as did we voters.  He is much better versed in the issues now than he was at the beginning, when he was an accidental senator halfway through his first term.  For many of us, there has been no evidence that this lack of experience at the beginning has left him uninformed now.

For Senator John McCain the campaign has done the opposite.  A good man who would make a good president, Senator McCain has given two alarming insights into the way that he would make decisions as president.

The selection of Governor Palin took everyone, including those within his own campaign, by surprise.  By all accounts it was a gut pick, not one completely thought through.

Then his decision to suspend his campaign to hurry back to Washington to deal with the financial crisis occurred.  Supporter William Kristol in an otherwise favorable column characterized the move as "impetuous."  Impetuous means acting without having thought things through.  It is close in meaning to reckless.

By contrast Senator Obama's initial response to the financial crisis was to call for "calm."  That, in a panic-filled environment, is just what was needed.

By contrast Senator Obama more thoroughly vetted his vice presidential selection and noone can gainsay Senator Biden's qualifications for the office.

Then there is the matter of the decisions that will be the product of these different decision-making processes.  I am probably more sanguine with those of Senator McCain.  Senator Obama has a very liberal voting record, to the extent that he has any voting record.  His positions, when articulated, are liberal.  More often than not though, his positions are so vaguely articulated that it is hard to know what they really are.  

The most notorious example is his Green Bay speech in which he laid out his "plan" for dealing with the financial crisis.  It was almost a parody of the political speech.  It was as if Bill Murray or Professor Irwin Corey had written it.  Senator Obama's policies remain inexcusably vague.  

By contrast, Senator MCain has been by far more specific--on Iraq, on the financial crisis, on energy policy, on foreign policy in general.  To some extent, I and other independents who will cast our votes for Obama, do so on faith.  I hope that President Obama will learn and not fear to change his policies when facts on the ground conflict with his instincts.  He has given evidence that he will do that.  He makes decisions rationally, not at a gut level as does Senator McCain.

The McCain campaign is in critical condition at this time because of the financial crisis.  I make no pretension to understanding it but my sense is that we are in this pickle in some significant part because of the cumulative effect of years and years of deregulation of the economy under the Republicans.

I share an American character trait that makes me wary of Bigness in every form.  In governmental structure I wish that there were "sunset" laws on, for example, new legislation, new taxes, new government financed benefits, programs, and cabinet departments.  The most pernicious development in my political life was the War Powers Act which gave to the president powers previously reserved by the Constitution for Congress.  It has led to what others have described as the "Imperial Presidency."

Likewise, and I get back to the point here, I have been disturbed by the growth of huge corporations which grow bigger by buying up competitors, as if the U.S. had no anti-trust laws.

A McCain administration, with economic advisors like former Senator Phil Gramm and all of those Republicans who voted against the $700 billion "bailout" will only increase the bigness of Big Business while my sense is that we have to go--and significantly so--in the opposite direction: toward more regulation and more stringent enforcement of the anti-trust laws.

And so, on both the process of decision-making and on perhaps the most serious policy issue that will confront our new president, I believe that Senator Obama is the better choice.  But personally, I feel fortunate to have two men of such quality to choose between.  I am Benjamin Harris.