Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why I'm Leaning Toward Obama

Leaning, mind you. Much can change in the next few weeks.

There is an axiom that goes, “Show me a young conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains.” (And it was not Winston Churchill who said it, though he’s frequently given credit.) If it’s true, that axiom, then like most of my life, my politics are backwards.

I’ve been a lifelong Republican. I think, for the most part, I still agree with most Republican principles, though these days, I consider myself an Independent, sick to death of the false dichotomies which rule two-party politics. Politicians of either major party I find to be a lot like too many evangelical Christians I know, backed by a philosophy and principles I can understand and appreciate, but that have too little effect on their daily conduct.

I know that some people stress that a vote for party rather than person is, in effect, a proper vote for those principles. I’ve bellied up and bought into that in the past. I don’t think I can this year. As much as I find myself on the side of Republican principles, I don’t think I can find myself on the side of Senator John McCain. I think that probably, once upon a time, there was a man and warrior named John McCain who would say exactly the same thing about the person the politician has become.

The reason an ad hominem argument is considered a logical fallacy is that it substitutes attacks on an opponent’s character for worthwhile disputation on the issue(s). Admittedly, in a presidential race, character is an issue. Sadly though, every attack I’ve seen thus far (in mainstream ads or chain mails) on Obama’s character has done more to turn me against the attacker than against Obama. The end result has been to make me a somewhat reluctant Obama defender. And in those instances where the attacks have come from the official McCain campaign apparatus—the ones that finish with “I’m John McCain, and I approved this message”—those have convinced me, in the end, that McCain made a conscious decision at some point that honor was a thing he could dispense with in order to win the White House.

Earlier today, I got a link to a video from a good friend. I’ve not hyperlinked the foregoing phrase because I want to qualify the video before anyone heads off to it. About the most insightful thing you’ll find on the page with the video may be this comment left by someone who had seen the video earlier: “Just one more proof that racist, idiotic ideas are not the province of one race or gender. This guy is a nutcase and his momma was a nutcase if she instilled vicious racism into her son. Sickening.” I couldn't have said it better. While certain historical facts contained in the video rant you’ll find there may be truthful, the interpretation of them, laden with prejudice, name calling, and utterly despicable inferences about the character of a woman the speaker never knew, are worse than sickening.

And, as near as I can tell, a number of the historical assertions made about specific events are true, but the conclusions one draws from those events can vary widely. I don’t recommend watching the video, but if you do, and if you’re curious to know more about the facts behind it, I would suggest going here, to a January 2007 article in the Daily Mail. The gist of that article is that most of the assertions in the more recent video are true. So? (Of course, the Daily Mail itself deserves some qualification as a source. I had thought of lamenting that journalism is not what it used to be, but then I decided, more likely, it is exactly what it has always been. See here for information on the Daily Mail, including details of more than one episode of its having been sued for running stories that were less than factual. So it goes.)

I can hear some of my friends already protesting a double standard. “How can I take McCain to task,” they ask, “for furthering falsehoods about Obama, and yet let Obama off the hook for being less than truthful about his father?” Well, how shall I answer? Like so: In the one case the falsehoods are designed to make a political opponent appear a less decent, less admirable person than he probably is, and to attribute to him actions he didn’t take and views he doesn’t hold; in the other, the falsehoods are designed to cast a family member, the teller’s own father, in a better light than he probably deserves. Can you seriously question the difference in degree of these two falsehoods? For me, they are telling.

The argument can also be made that, in some ways, the somewhat mythical construct of father that Obama has offered to the public has more relevance to his character than does his true sire with all of his human flaws. Obama appears to have had a loving mother who, for whatever temptation she may have had to give Obama the brutal truth about the man who sired him (and I’m sure there were moments when she was tempted), gave him instead an image of a father that gave us the Obama whose fate voters will decide in November. The truth is that both are relevant: the real Barack Sr. and the maternally constructed absent-but-better man each had a role to play in the creation of Barack II.

The Daily Mail article offers two good reasons to suspect this, both equally related to the roots of Obama’s ambition:

A family friend said: "He is haunted by his father's failures. He grew up thinking of his father as a brilliant intellectual and pioneer of African independence only to learn that in Western terms he was basically a drunken lecher."

This ugly truth, say friends, has made Mr Obama ruthlessly determined to use every weapon that he has to succeed, including the glossily edited version of his father's story.
And the article's observation on a passage from The Audacity of Hope:
This tome contains one telling paragraph, in a section in which he fumbles to try to justify his abrupt leap into the national political arena: he is, he says, chronically 'restless'.

"Someone once said that every man is trying to either live up to his father's expectations or make up for his father's mistakes, and I suppose that may explain my particular malady."
So, bottom line, while I might be a Republican at heart, in another month, I’m likely to cast a vote for character, and I find Obama’s more admirable, in the end, than McCain’s, or, more accurately, less suspect than what McCain, whatever he may once have been, has become. Because let’s face it, American politics of late has become even more a science of what to vote against than what to vote for.

Perhaps it was always so.