February 3, 2008
Why I Am Voting for Barack Obama
This Tuesday, I will do two things I’ve never done before.
First, I will vote in a primary. (I’ve showed up at the poll during primaries, just never voted in a primary race.)
Second, I will vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate.
I am registered as unaffiliated and, in California, that means I can vote in the Democratic primary if I choose. This year, I will choose to do so in the hopes of doing my part to see to it that Obama, and not Clinton, gets the Democratic nomination.
And if he does, he will get my vote in November, too.
My Political Philosophy in Six Paragraphs
Not to digress too much, but, briefly, here’s where I’m coming from.
What defines a government is its political processes. Do the processes that exist provide some degree of epistemological certainty that its powers are being used legitimately? Are violations of the processes few, brought to light, and corrected for?
That’s not to say that any of its policies are right, necessarily, just that the decisions on how to use that power are sound.
More practically, there are three real problems with the concentration of power. These effect private organizations too, but governments almost always have more power concentrated in them than any private organization.
The first is corruption. Power attracts corruption, and can then be used to increase corruption. People who want power will do anything to get it. So you need a government that exposes corruption and corrects for it. You’re never going to eliminate it, and that’s OK–as long as sound processes are usually followed in using power, some amount of corruption can be tolerated and worked around.
The second is consequence. Any action that a powerful government takes has far-reaching consequences. So you need a deliberation process that takes this into account, and you need to implement your policies in a way that makes all consequences–intended and unintended–as transparent as possible. Then you need to alleviate the negative consequences.
The third is momentum. Once you’ve taken an action, it’s mighty difficult to stop reinforcing that action, and near impossible to take a completely different course even if the consequences are disastrous. And while the market can react quickly to changing circumstances, strong, powerful organizations almost never can.
What I Like About Obama
Barack Obama strikes me as a reasonable person, who will make reasonable decisions given his biases.
He’s engaged with scientific and technical communities early in the formation of his policies.
He advocates for more transparency in government.
He seems to recognize the problem of momentum.
He focuses on ideas and policies.
He seems to grasp that what was so despicable about the Iraq War was that it was executed without following sound political processes.
Contrast this with Clinton. She totally misses (or maybe she really doesn’t) that the stupid policies she’s advocated for–from authorizing force in Iraq because, apparently, she thought she was playing a game of chicken, to her original bologna national health care plan, all the way back to her support of the Clipper Chip–would have any negative consequences at all.
And, let’s face it, she and her hubby campaign like people who want power and will do anything to get it.
Another thing in Obama’s favor is his very real dealings with multicultural, multitheological environments. His religious Faith was really a journey and, seems to be, a good parallel to how he makes political decisions. To quote Wikipedia:
Obama writes that he “was not raised in a religious household.” He describes his mother, raised by non-religious parents, as detached from religion, yet “in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I have ever known.” He describes his Kenyan father as “raised a Muslim,” but a “confirmed atheist” by the time his parents met, and his Indonesian stepfather as “a man who saw religion as not particularly useful.” […] Obama writes: “It was because of these newfound understandings—that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved—that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized.”
I am not voting for Obama because I particularly agree with all of his policies.
For example, I do truly believe that nationalized health care will fail, fail utterly, and fail spectacularly. But I also do truly believe that it’s inevitable because we’re tired of mere philosophizing and need first-hand experience. And the alternatives offered by the Republicans aren’t exactly sound.
What Obama seems to offer for this inevitable expansion of government is that he will, again, follow sound political processes and be transparent about its implementation. Which, by the way, gives it a higher chance of succeeding.
And I think, if any politician today could stop the wave, or keep it from knocking over houses when it crashes, or maybe even keep it working well long enough to find a better alternative, it’s Obama.
Of course, it could all be for show. Given that Obama (a) is a politician, (b) is a Democrat, (c) is a candidate for President, and (d) has raised $130M in the last year … well, the chances are good that it’s all an elaborate con. That’s the trouble with power.
Still, I’m voting Tuesday without hesitation. If the hard-core Democrats are smart enough to nominate him, I will, of course, look for more evidence of his reasonableness before November. I think I’ll find plenty.