Photograph by Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America
This should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone anywhere, but to make it official: I will be voting for Barack Obama to have a second term as President of the United States, and I think you should too.
There are, generally speaking, two reasons to give your vote to someone as president. The first is because you are inclined to vote for that person. The second is that you actively wish to deny another person the presidency. In this case, I am voting for Obama because I wish to do both: Vote for him, and vote against Mitt Romney.
Let me attend to the first of these now, and let me preface further explanation by pointing to a piece I wrote the day after the 2008 election, called “Reality Check,” in which I warned everyone who was expecting Obama to magically make everything better that, in fact, it wasn’t going to go like that. One specific thing I mentioned, which I will highlight here:
Your next president is going to disappoint you. Barack Obama does not fart cinnamon-scented rainbows. He is not trailed by angels and unicorns. Reality does not reshape itself to his wishes. Dude’s a human being, and a politician, and he’s going to have to work with other human beings who are also politicians. Per point 2, some things you want him to do he won’t be able to do, and some of the things you want him to do he won’t want to do, so they won’t get done. He will make mistakes. He will make errors. He will be caught flat-footed from time to time. He will be challenged by antagonists, foreign and domestic, who will have an interest in seeing him faceplant. He will piss most people off. His approval rating will drop below 50%. He is going to disappoint you. Get used to the idea.
Obama came into office with a burden of expectation absolutely unlike any other president, in no small part because he’s black. For the United States to have elected a black man to the presidency seemed like it had to herald a new era in our country. That made Obama a repository of a lot of hope and desire and a lot of people projected some frankly unachievable expectations on the man. The most ridiculous example of this was when Obama woke up one morning and found himself a Nobel Laureate, given the peace prize not for anything he’d done, but for who the prize committee apparently hoped he would be.
Which was nonsense. It’s not the most embarrassing Nobel Peace Prize ever given, but it’s probably in the top five, and I think crystalizes the problem Obama was saddled with, in terms of being an icon even before he was a president. To be clear, he didn’t exactly run away from the iconography that sprung up around him, because why would he? He was running to be president, and every bit helps. He was a participant in the cult of personality. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a problem.
Obama has other problems as well: the caricature of him as Spock, the emotionless and cerebral Star Trek character, is not necessarily intended to be a flattering one. I think some of people who expected him to be some sort of North American analogue to Nelson Mandela got a shock to their system when he turned out to be a prickly wonk; it also apparently didn’t help him in the chummy go-along-to-get-along world of Washington DC. Obama’s own party, which held both the House and Senate in the first two years of his presidency, was splintery and balky, which helped contribute to it losing the House in the 2010 election cycle.
And as for the Republicans, well. They’ve made it their policy to be against anything the man is for. If Obama said he liked the sunrise, the Republicans would have gone on Fox to explain how it was socialist to have sunlight distributed freely to all. The modern GOP has got a Stage IV case of Gingrichitis, in which Democrats are not just as seen as the opposing party, but the enemy of all that is good and pure in the world. This would be a problem at any point but it’s especially bad in the case of the modern GOP, for reasons I will get to later.
Obama came in burdened with unrealistic expectations, didn’t necessarily help himself on the ingratiation front, and faced both disorganized allies and a vehemently angry opposition. For all that, he managed to do a number of things that I approve of, including taking the first steps to universal health care, ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and choosing not to defend DOMA, killing Bin Laden, drawing down our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and also (and this is significant) working to keep the American economy from entirely collapsing into a hole after the economic meltdown of four years ago. Yes, things got bad. Things could have been so very much worse.
Ironically, I’ve never been notably disappointed with Obama. His policies and political inclinations are largely in line with my own, I don’t mind and indeed kind of prefer a Vulcan president, and I voted for him in 2008 cognizant of the political realities into which he was being elected. I generally like his deliberative style and his willingness to take a half a loaf rather than nothing if half loaf is realistically what’s going to be able to get. Which is to say I find him and his politics to be pragmatic, thoughtful and largely practical. The right likes to foam about how the man is a socialist, but I’m not obliged to pay attention to nonsense. Obama’s politics are “careful centrist,” and I’m fine with that.
Given what he’s accomplished in the context in which he’s had to work, I’m satisfied with Obama as president so far. That alone would enough in most election years to allow him to keep my vote in his tally. Is this the glowing, ringing endorsement that Obamaites can shout to the hills? I suppose it’s not, but this should not be confused with a lukewarm or half-hearted endorsement. This is not “you’ll do.” It’s “you’ve done well. Keep going.”
Now, to Mitt Romney. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t see Romney as an ideologue, I see him as an administrator, and in a different time, and against a different opponent, he might be a more compelling candidate to me. I don’t mind politicians who have a few core values but are also able to take the temperature of a room and say, “okay, let’s work with this.” However, I’ve already got a presidential candidate like that, whose core values are closer to mine. And there’s the little matter of the room Romney has to work in, which is to say, the modern national Republican party.
Look: The modern national Republican party is a hot mess, a simmering pot of angry reactionaries driven by selfishness and willful ignorance, whose guiding star is not governance but power, and whose policies and practices are tuned to build an oligarchy, not nurture a democracy. Its economic policies are charitably described as nonsense and its social policies are vicious; for a party which parades its association with Jesus around like a fetish, it is notably lacking in the simple compassion of the Christ. There is so little I find good or useful in the current national GOP, intellectually, philosophically or politically, that I genuinely look on it with despair and wonder when or if the grown-ups are ever going to come back to it. Before anyone leaps up to say that the modern Democratic Party has problems of its own, know that I do not disagree. But if your practical choices for governance of the country are between the marginally competent and the actively malicious, you go with the marginally competent.
In his campaign for president, Romney has embraced many of the worst elements of the modern national GOP policy thinking, up to and including choosing Paul Ryan, architect of a ruinously idiotic budget plan, as his vice-president. Romney’s run on this nonsense, and despite a late burst of tacking to the center, I think he’s beholden to it, and will be as president. I think it’s obvious that I believe it’s the wrong course for the country, economically, socially and politically.
More to the point, I think the real problem is that the actively malicious, awful and small-minded politics of the modern GOP have to be stopped. The modern GOP, simply put, has no moral center; it pays superficial obeisance to “traditional values” while yearning to implement policies whose highest moral achievement is consolidating wealth for the very few, and is perfectly happy to be as cynical as it needs to be to achieve that goal. If the GOP wins this election, it will simply become further untethered from the common good of the nation, because why shouldn’t it? There is no political reason for it to be otherwise. If mendacity continues to be rewarded, then mendacity is a legitimate strategy of power.
I would like for the GOP to be better than it is now; I’m pretty sure it was, once, and I’m pretty sure it can be again. I would like to actually feel that I can ethically give my vote to a Republican candidate at a national level. I can’t do it now. I don’t think I’ll be able to until it becomes clear to the GOP that to continue on the path it’s on now is a path to political extinction.
I have problems with Romney as a candidate — his lack of transparency regarding his taxes, his tendency to say “elect me, then I’ll tell you my plans,” his choice of VP, and the overarching sense that he wants to be president mostly because he feels like he should get to be president, and gets cross when it’s suggested that’s not a sufficient reason — but my biggest problem with Romney is the party he’s a candidate of. I can’t support it; I won’t support its candidate because of it.
So those are my reasons for Obama, and against Romney.
(And you may ask: What about a third party candidate? My answer: Dude, I’m in Ohio. Ask me to be capricious with my vote some other time. That said, of all the candidates on my electoral ballot, Obama’s the closest to my own politics. He would get my vote this year in any event.)
Update: Want to make your own presidential endorsement for 2012? I’ve created a thread for you to do it in.