June 16, 2008

Am I An Obamacan?

Here's the thing. I've never voted for a Democrat for President, ever. I always thought Michael Dukakis was a bigger doof that George Bush the Elder; I never, ever trusted a word that came out of Bill Clinton's mouth; Al Gore was too close to Clinton to be trusted but not nearly as interesting; and as for John Kerry, see above viz. Michael Dukakis.

That's not to say I liked the Republicans all that much, either. But each Democratic candidate managed to do and say enough things to alienate me that I just couldn't sign on to them. Twice in my life I've been so fed up with the awful results of the primary process that I voted Libertarian.

But I'm not looking at Bob Barr real closely. John McCain is different from the current administration. He is willing to consider different sorts of ideas and he is well-positioned to deliver on the promise of a strong America. He impresses me as a generally ethical man in a generally unethical business; one who early in his career got into a little bit of ethical trouble but learned from his experience. I really like the idea that the President can learn from experience.

So why am I still tempted to vote for Obama?

The answer is, I think Obama takes the Constitution seriously. And I think that's very important after eight years of an Administration admittedly intent on expanding executive power to the broadest degree possible. He would undo the damage that has been done -- or at least attempted -- to the concept of separation of powers over the past eight years. I'm unconvinced that McCain fully appreciates how important it is to have a President whose powers are limited. McCain understands that torturing our prisoners is wrong -- at a deep, personal level, he understands that, in a way I hope to never understand it. But I think McCain thinks the solution to the problem of a powerful chief executive abusing that power is not building structural limitations into the power inherent in the office, but rather for voters to elect good men (and in the future, women) to that office so they will use that power wisely and with moral rectitude.

I think McCain is such a man. I think Obama is such a man, also. But I Obama clearly understands that it's not enough to have a good man as President. Obama understands the need to have a President and not a Commander; he understands that there is a Congress for a reason and a judicial system for a reason. He understands this because before going to Congress, he's moved lawsuits and clients through the judicial system. McCain's pre-Congressional experience was in the military.

Not to slight McCain's military experience. Far from it. It surely taught McCain how to lead people. That counts for a lot. It surely taught McCain how to achieve things, both as an individual and as a member (and leader) of a large group of people. It surely taught McCain honor -- no surfeit of honor resides with the Senator from Arizona. It surely taught McCain the value and cost of lives defending America and her allies, a lesson that he would keep close to the front of his mind as commander-in-chief. But a military background does not necessarily lend itself to the suggestion that President McCain would restrain executive power.

But I've been wondering if I haven't put too much emphasis on military and security matters, and not enough attention on issues of civil liberties and the rule of law. Obama has the edge there, I think.

It's a matter of degree, of course. Obama will not eviscerate the military or leave America's friends overseas without a strong and ready ally by their side. Nor, I think, will McCain conduct a full-frontal legal assault on the Constitution the way that Bush has done. Both mens' actions and statements need to be considered through the lens of the campaign, too -- McCain condemned the Boudemiene case, for instance, but he could hardly do otherwise and he hasn't really pressed the issue, either.

I'm not dissatisfied with either choice. It's refreshing to be able to actually make a choice using a criterion other than "least bad available option." Obama is the most appealing Democrat I can remember running (Paul Tsongas was appealing to me, too), and McCain is about the most appealing Republican I can remember being nominated. I'm still leaning McCain, I guess, but I can be convinced otherwise.

1 comment:

Michael Reynolds said...

There are only two important criteria for picking a president: reverence for the Constitution, and the relative hotness of their wives.

Cindy and MIchelle are very different. Both are hot, but Cindy, inevitably, pays a bit of a price for having some years on MIchelle. And I'm a leg man. So, I think this issue favors Obama.

Plus the Constitution thing. Go Obama!