Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Night Quandary

I probably won’t sleep tonight. I’ve spent the last couple of months vacillating, researching, debating, and ultimately remaining unsatisfied. The reason for my discontent is mostly wondering whether or not Jim and Pam will stay together…and partly because of the election. Some of you may know that I have respected, followed, and supported McCain for the last 8 years. You may also know that the last couple of months have seen a gradual disillusionment with McCain, and that I’ve been considering voting for Obama. Now, after 5 months of spending hours a day researching and thinking, it’s 11 hours before I plan on entering the voting booth, and I still don’t know which button I’m going to push.

My respect for McCain was predicated partly on the campaign that he ran in 2000. Everything that he said and did made it clear that he had a big picture of what was best for the country and what was best according to his principles – the far right reaches of the base be damned. It was ultimately that refusal to pander to the far right that helped lose him the nomination. Even when faced with one of the nastiest smear campaigns in recent memories, McCain refused to play as dirty as would have been necessary to win the primary. His comportment during 2000, his insistence on maintaining his moderate politics, and his repudiation of partisan politics won him an army of admirers that was waiting for him in 2008. I was one of them. I knew that if he ran again with the same honor and dignity that I thought were his hallmarks, that he could garner the bipartisan support that has been lacking for the last 6 and a half years and ride that to the presidency.

Since the general election started, my support for McCain wavered, then diminished, and finally eroded completely. I watched a man who had repudiated smear campaigning hire legions of Karl Rove’s minions and set them to work. I watched someone who worked for immigration reform and voted against tax cuts try to convince us that he was staunchly conservative. I watched a disastrous attempt to appeal to the base disguised as a VP pick. I cringed over his attempts to convince us that, by dint of some trade delegations, her proximity to Russia, and experience as a mayor of a city of 10,000, she was qualified to potentially run the country. I was confused by his comments that William Ayers didn’t matter and his assertions that we needed to know the full extent of the relationship. My support for him was chipped away by 1,000 little things that might not have mattered on their own, but when taken in the aggregate, revealed a man who had sacrificed his principles on the altar of political expediency.

Do I think that’s actually who John McCain is? No. I’ve watched him as he plays the game that he once vilified, and I can see the turmoil in his face and hear it in his voice. He knows that he’s better than the candidate that he’s pretending to be. His supporters will say that he is doing what needs to be done in order to get into office and make the changes he knows need to be made. Regardless of my desire to believe them, I can’t base my vote on an “ends justify the means” mentality.

My disappointment with McCain spurred me to vote for Obama. At first, my vote for Obama was a vote against McCain and not an indicator of any support for Obama. As the months passed and I thought about the meaning of this election, my vote for Obama gradually crystallized into actual, albeit qualified, support for him. I think the role of the next president will be to restore national self-confidence, international prestige, and to provide a steady hand and an open mind to replace the iron grip and constricted worldview that have characterized the executive branch for the last 6 and a half years.

When I see my president, I want to think about something other than torture memos, Guantanamo, illegal wiretapping, and secret renditions. I think that Obama has the temperament and the ability to raise our national spirits and help us move past the abuses that are an integral part of the Bush administration’s legacy. To be frank, I don’t give a damn who Europe (and their ability to fund welfare states because their defenses budgets are so indescribably miniscule thanks to us), China (really, they’re at all qualified to talk about elections?), or Latin America (they’ll resent us no matter who we pick) want to be elected. This is my country and I will vote for the candidate who offers the best hope for me and those I care about. Furthermore, for all the denigration heaped upon us by the rest of the world, countries still fight for bilateral free-trade agreements with us, potential emigrants still flock to American embassies all over the world, and whole regions of the world depend on American military power for security. There is no replacement for America; the choice is between us and relative anarchy. That diatribe out of the way, it is indisputable that our reputation has been horribly tarnished. The moral high ground that we liked to think we had is not resting below sea level, and the phrase “leader of the free world” is wholly inaccurate. Obama’s willingness to make diplomacy a cornerstone of our foreign policy is derided as naïveté, but I find it inspiring. There is little doubt that Obama would go much further than McCain towards regaining the global goodwill that has been squandered by Bush.

So I decided to support Obama. I wanted a president who represented the best that American could offer, and he seemed to do that. I think that from day one, a President Obama would raise the level of our national discourse and would restore the pride that we ought to take in the personification of America’s ideals.

That can only take us so far though. I don’t agree with many of Obama’s policies, policies that will be in place long after the warm-fuzzies have faded. More importantly, I don’t believe that Obama has the substance to match his style. He seems to have based his candidacy on the nebulously defined “hope” and “change” catchphrases without ever fully elucidating to us (or himself) what exactly he means. I don’t believe the “experience” argument – nothing can ever prepare you for the job of president – but I think that Obama’s refusal\inability to delineate his steps for “change” bode ill for our country under his leadership. I have purposefully avoided discussing specific policies, as my turmoil stems from the ineffable concept of “character” that I consider such a vital component of an individual’s ability to lead. This is not a logical and methodically laid-out explanation of my indecision, but is instead an attempt to express the conflict that has characterized my feelings towards this election. So, tomorrow I will enter the voting booth and be forced to make a decision. Whatever button I push will be pressed with trepidation and misgivings; and as I leave the booth I will feel a sense of relief that it is over and a fear that I made the wrong decision.