Now that Barack Obama has wrapped up the Democratic nomination, the American people are in store for a historic election. Obama is truly a phenomenon: a man who has swiftly risen through the ranks of Democratic politics though a combination of rhetorical skills, his tranquil and composed demeanor, and the nature of this unique historical moment. He doesn’t have McCain’s long history in government and military service nor Clinton’s political stature, but he is no doubt formidable.
With Obama and McCain as the nominees, the U.S. electorate will truly get a choice between two very different approaches to both domestic and foreign policy. While much was made of the small policy differences between Clinton and Obama, it is Obama’s initial and unwavering opposition to the Iraq War that helps to solidify the contrast between the Democratic and Republican candidates for president in 2008.
As readers of this site know, I have never subscribed to the Thomas Franks school of thought. In his book What’s The Matter With Kansas?, Franks posits that many working-class Americans have been duped into voting for the GOP all these years against their own economic interests. While Americans may be genuinely ignorant about many aspects of foreign affairs and public policy, they do know the basic differences between the major political parties.
When Americans go to the ballot box, those whose greatest desires are to see abortion criminalized and gays denied civil rights will correctly choose the Republican candidate; those who want the estate tax eliminated and corporate tax rates slashed are also correct to pull the lever for the GOP, the same as those who prefer a more militaristic and hard-nosed approach to foreign policy. I find these reasons not only wrong-headed, but largely immoral and foolish; but they are not irrational based on the values these voters profess.
Bush’s reelection in 2004 (and GOP gains in both houses of Congress) represented something of an anomaly; Americans were still reeling from the shock of 9/11, and the Iraq War was still supported by a majority of the population. It seemed to me at the time that the incompetence and pettiness of the Bush Administration were clear for all to see, but I understand how many Americans wanted, and chose, to give the president the benefit of the doubt.
Fast forward to 2008.
It is now obvious to almost everyone that these past eight years are likely to be remembered as a “lost decade,” one in which Americans were led by the worst president in our history. America is weaker, poorer, more fractured, less competitive, and less respected than it was in 2000; it will take years to reverse the damage that has been wrought by ideologues who put loyalty over expertise, and turned the U.S. government into a system of allegiance to cronies over competence.
While John McCain would likely represent an improvement over the Bush Administration (which isn’t really saying much), his positions on foreign policy, fiscal policy, and executive power are almost identical. Barack Obama, on the other hand, offers significantly different proposals on all fronts: a more diplomatic and focused strategy for combating terrorism, a more progressive tax system, universal healthcare, transparency in government, and a serious alternative energy policy.
It is no secret who I think would be the better president. But in the event Obama doesn’t win, it will be an extremely illuminating moment nonetheless.
If the American people choose John McCain for president, I will have to conclude that the majority of Americans do not share my values or my vision for the future.
Given how much energy I invest in national politics, this will be hard news for me to accept, but I will do so. I will turn my attention to more local issues and the international stage. I will not move to Canada or bemoan America, but I will realize that on the national level America is not the country I hoped it would be.
I do not think this will happen. I look forward to many years of discussing an Obama Administration: its many achievements as well as its missteps.
Either way, November 2008 will be a major clarifying moment in American history. I look forward to it.