Sunday, January 13, 2008

Taking A Step Back

I’m really stuffed…..from all that humble pie I’ve been eating this past week. I thought Obama would cruise in New Hampshire, and he didn’t.

Even so I feel good. As one reader pointed out to me last week, my being a cheerleader for Barack doesn’t really fit with the tenor of this site. Nor does it really mesh with my own outlook. So after a little soul-searching here’s the deal:

I really don’t care much about the personalities in this race, including Obama. He is a fresh face from a young generation, and he represents a cosmopolitan vision of the world that I happen to think will serve America best in the 21st century.

But more than anything I’m sick of the “culture wars”, and really bothered by the notion that the U.S. presidency has become a form of dynastic rule. If Hillary’s name were anything but Clinton or Bush, I might like her a lot more. But it isn’t, and she brings with her a sense of entitlement that truly irks me. If she gets elected I guarantee Jeb Bush will challenge her down the road, and by then Chelsea can come in and try to knock him off. It’s ridiculous and it’s un-American.

That aside, there’s something even more fundamental that last week taught me: I’m as susceptible as anyone to soaring oratory and a warm smile, but what I really care about are ideas and policies.

The ideas and policies that I want from our next president are:

1. A more restrained and humble foreign policy

I don’t want isolationism, but I’ve had enough of the grand rhetoric about remaking the world. I think the worst foreign policy mistake we’ve made has been to elevate bin Laden and al Qaeda to the status of Hitler and Stalin; these cave-dwelling fanatics are dangerous and should be killed, but we have done more to increase their allure across the Muslim world than they could’ve ever dreamed of. This is not WW III; we need targeted policies focused on specific enemies, not sweeping rhetoric about the power of democracy (remember, if you will, that our own democracy tolerated terrorism against a good portion of our own citizens for well over a century).

2. Transparency in government and a commitment to the rule of law

There have been too many days during the Bush presidency when I have been ashamed to be an American. America should not torture, period. We should restore habeus corpus, period. The public has a right to know everything that is not absolutely necessary to be kept secret for national security purposes. If the government wants to spy on American citizens, it needs warrants. I want a president who understands all this without reservation.

3. Protection of minority rights

This includes gay rights, women’s rights, and voting rights. Protecting these rights is not “special-interest” politics; it is the bedrock of American democracy.

4. Science and reality-based governance

Religion is a personal matter and should have no bearing on public policy. Religious doctrines may sometimes takes us to the same place, but religion by itself is no basis for legislation. When it becomes so, we have arrived at a theocracy.

5. Free markets with social safety nets and proper regulation

The free market system is the most incredible wealth-generating system in the world, and every nation that wants to improve its standard of living is embracing it (or should be). But the free market system produces winners and losers and safety nets are necessary, e.g., guaranteed health care and retirement benefits. In addition, as we’ve come to realize, the environment can be a big loser when economies industrialize. This means that effective environmental regulation is crucial as well. I want elected officials who fully embrace capitalism, but who understand that regulations and safeguards are needed and will fight to get them.

There are many more issues that I care about, but these are the main ones. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, the GOP has diverged so far from its roots, and is so dominated by religious fundamentalists, that I simply can’t vote for them at this point. That leaves me in the Democratic camp for ’08.

Until now I have backed Obama. Truth be told, the differences between the Democratic candidates are relatively small: a Clinton, Edwards, or Obama administration would likely be very similar and in line with my priorities outlined above.

I’ve sided with Obama because of what I mentioned above. I don’t like the idea of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton; I don’t like the ferocious left-right partisanship that we’ve been seeing in Washington.

But above all, I want to win. I want a sane and competent government grounded in the real-world.

So I am now torn. If McCain becomes the GOP nominee, I am not so sure that Obama has a better chance at beating him than Hillary. If I knew for sure that Hillary would nominate Barack as the VP if she won, and McCain was definitely the GOP nominee, I might even switch and support her. I think Obama could handily beat anyone else on the GOP side, so I would stick with him if someone other than McCain gets the Republican nod.

I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m leaning heavily to supporting Obama no matter what because I finally want to vote for someone, and not base my support on political calculus and fear. My more pragmatic side isn’t so sure. Either way, I’m glad to be back concentrating on ideas and policies rather than personalities.

Next week: why even centrism requires partisanship these days.

Jason Scorse

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