As a South Carolina native during my formative years, I know a thing or two about the Palmetto State. Needless to say, I wasn’t so sure my intuition about the 2008 presidential race would hold up this past week during the primaries. Let me give you a little background first.
I am a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the Republican Party. That will not change this or any other year in the foreseeable future. However, I do not subscribe to the school of thought that says I must vote for a Republican up and down the ballot box. What that means is that I entered the 2008 race with an open mind. I don’t have a preference that says a Republican must win over a Democrat, but I do have a preference about who I would like to see in the Oval Office.
So let me tell you what I like about Barack Obama. I know a lot of my friends gravitate toward his Kennedy-esque qualities. Good looks. Perfect wife. Great orator. He has all kinds of descriptors like “once-in-a-lifetime” and “visionary.” I think all that stuff is fine and dandy, but what I like about Obama is two-parted: he’s willing to play nice with others (i.e. Republicans) and he’s a coalition builder.
My friend Joe recently told me that he was certain that, if-elected, Obama would appoint at least a couple of Republicans on his cabinet. That kind of willingness to work across the aisle made Obama an effective Illinois State Senator and would make him a decent U.S. Senator if he spent more time focusing on legislating than campaigning (though I can’t fault him, we’re all opportunist here in Washington).
Similarly, Obama’s willingness to work with people outside of the typical group of supporters (that a Black person in a national public office relies on, i.e. CBC members) makes him appealing to those that have grown apathetic and tired of the cutthroat partisanship that has plagued Washington for years dating back to Clinton’s tenure and grown tremendously in the last eight or so years. As a student of speechwriting, I must say I was greatly inspired by Obama’s post-South Carolina speech in which he challenged the political ways of past and present that have made the Clinton and Bush families so “successful” in November yet so unappealing to young and otherwise-overlooked voters that don’t fit into groups like “veterans” and “seniors” and “soccer moms” and “evangelicals”.
Now, on to the things I don’t like since they pretty much all play off of what I like about Obama. First of all, it’s tough for me to believe that Obama could lead a cabinet from day one. Maybe I’ve fallen victim to Hillary’s “on-the-job training” message points, but it’s pretty accurate to say Obama doesn’t exactly have a lengthy public service resume. Eight years in the state senate could qualify hundreds of people around the nation for the presidency if that’s what Obama wants to say. Thankfully, he’s not making that argument, instead he’s also relying on his life experiences abroad, experience as a community worker in Chicago and the few years he’s been a U.S. Senator. All in all, I think he’s had a diverse set of life and professional experiences, but I believe he’d have his share of fits and starts were he to win in November.
Likewise, since Obama’s oratory skills are very similar to those of the great leaders of the 1960s…Jack, Bobby, Martin and Malcolm, I must be honest in saying that it’s not exactly inspiring to think about the fact that they were all killed in a five-year span. And John was the only one that ever held the title of President of the United States of America and he didn’t even get to see the third year. Even still, JFK was latent to get on the Civil Rights train and failed to figure out a way, albeit in a bullet-shortened term, to turn all of his forward-looking statements into forward-thinking progress. And let’s not forget, JFK spent 14 years in the U.S. Congress before he stepped into the West Wing.
So while it’s no surprise the Kennedys are set to endorse Obama’s bid for the presidency, it’s also no surprise why some, myself included, believe Obama’s rhetorical skills may not necessarily transfer to effective and realistic policy from the White House. Simply put, my question is whether or not it’s possible to get this “diverse coalition” of his behind such grandiose idea(l)s? Or much worse, will the coalition fall apart under internally competing needs and motivations. Young white people love him, even old Black people are starting to love him, poor people love him, rich people don’t dislike him, college students and GED-holders, alike, love him. He’s pulling together a political rainbow!
They said JFK did some of the same stuff when he won his race against Nixon. Still, what Obama represents is more than what the ‘60s leaders represented. The political (and social) landscape is so different today. We absolutely need change here in Washington, no doubt about it. So Obama has done a great job of positioning himself as the ultimate change candidate. Not only is he talking change…he even looks like change.
But this leads to my last point about what makes me hesitant about fully backing Obama. Every good thing anyone can say about him ends with the word “candidate.” I have yet to hear anyone - not a CNN analyst, not my friend Joe, not Althea, not even John Kerry (who endorsed him last week) - say anything substantive about Obama’s record as a public official. Has he lowered unemployment? Has he brought troops back from Iraq? Has he ended drug abuse? Helped get insurance for the uninsured? Shit, I would even settle for someone telling me he convinced all the Chicago White Sox players not to use steroids. But I still have yet to see or hear anything substantive. Don’t get me wrong, he’s got some unique and principled positions on issues, highlighted by his early-and-ongoing opposition to the war in Iraq (and, no, he’s not a Muslim you Hillary lovers).
If someone can show me a track record of successful leadership and implementation of policy and not just successful speeches, then I’ll be ready to jump in the ring and throw punches on behalf of the #1 contender Barack Obama.
So if Obama is the #1 contender, who’s my title holder? That, my friends and readers, would be John McCain. Principled. Bullish. Proven.
Those three words pretty much sum up my support for McCain as President. I’m not going to try compareingMcCain’s oratory or coalition-building skills to Obama’s because they don’t match up. Not because Obama is far and away the best, but because McCain’s skills are much more aligned with engaging voters on issues than engaging voters on ideas. I’m not attacking Obama for his vision, I’m simply supporting McCain for his realism. The Arizona Senator knows his shit. Just recently, his main Republican rival Mitt Romney has started attacking McCain’s economic policy credentials…saying he couldn’t lead the US economy to better days. McCain, the principled man he is, has chosen to stay out of that battle and focus on what’s really happening. While Romney won Michigan by employing Hillary’s win-at-all-costs tactics and promising he’d restore jobs in Michigan’s flagging economy, McCain pledged to secure funding for re-training programs that would give former factory workers at GM new skills to get jobs in the high-tech industry.
With McCain, you don’t have to guess or worry or think he’ll need on-the-job training. With McCain, you’ll get a hawkish, information-gathering man who says what he believes and believes in what he does. And you’ll get a man that, like Obama, is willing to work with anyone who wants to get something done on behalf of the American people and not a political party. Only with Obama, since he lacks the experience, I’ve only seen the first half of that equation in action. Let’s see him put two decades in as a US Senator, then we’ll know a little more. Shoot, I’d even like to see Obama finish out one full term in the upper chamber.
McCain’s history as a politician is amongst the tops in Washington since the Reagan Administration. Ethics reform, taxation, armed forces, and, most recently, immigration…he’s almost always on the side with better results, more realistic solutions, and hardly ever on the side of this or that popular position. The man has been doing the right thing for years, even before he turned down early release from the Hanoi Hilton as a Vietnam POW.
This is not to say that McCain is not short on faults though. He’s basically admitted to cheating on his first wife even after she waited for five years while he was in a Vietnam POW camp. He’s stood by Bush too often on military and foreign policy. And he’s done a bit of pandering in the last couple of years to gain Republican backing. Still, through it all, you can never say he made a clear-cut bad decision. He obviously had some post-war effects, not to mention being away from the States for five years in his young life, and that contributed to his infidelity. He’s stood ahead of the current president more often than he’s stood behind him on Iraq. And his pandering did have an end-goal…securing the South Carolina primary in order to win the Republican nomination. Call it the cost of doing business in American politics.
In summary, I back Obama’s bid for the Democratic nomination, but I plan to vote for McCain should his name be opposite Obama’s in November. The experience, the track record, and the Party principles that have made McCain one hell of a legislator make me certain he would be an able Commander-in-Chief and timely President. In other words, the right man to fix many of the present-day problems that the Clintons and Bushes didn’t mind creating or ignoring altogether.
That said, when both Obama and McCain won in South Carolina I couldn’t have been more proud of my native state. Not only do we have the best state flag in the US of A. We’re also the first state in the country to get it right twice this primary season!