06 June 2008

You can Barack me tonight

Now that the dust has settled I've been trying to figure out why Barack Obama appeals to me. On the 16th January 2007, on the occasion of my 34th birthday, I made my first financial contribution to a political candidate, giving $100 to the Obama Exploratory Committee. At the time, with Hillary Clinton the presumptive nominee and Obama an unknown and untested quantity, just one of a half dozen other minor players, I think I was as motivated by the novelty of the occasion, as much as by the man himself.

With Bush's ratings declining and the near certainty of a Democrat in the White House in 2008, I thought that Obama's presence would raise uncomfortable questions about race that America needed to ask itself, much in the way that Hillary's presence would almost certainly ask much needed questions on gender equality, and this would be a good thing in and of itself. He had said little thus far on his vision for America, and at that stage I was quite comfortable with the thought of a Clinton victory, believing the Clinton machine to be unstoppable and that any Democrat in the White House would be a good thing. The best that Obama could hope for in those early days was a place on the VP ticket, with the prospect of serious run in 2016. With little concrete information on his political ideals, and no hope of him securing the nomination, why then did I contribute to his exploratory committee?

Because it wasn't going to hurt anybody. Obama would test the waters, provoke a bit of debate, but would fade into the background pretty quickly and Hillary would be crowned on or before Super Tuesday and would storm to the White House. My $100 could do no harm.

Then a funny thing happened; Obama decided to run, and started talking about what he believed in. Then Hillary started to run, and talk about what she believed in. The more they talked, the more I took an interest in Obama, and the more I started to worry about a Clinton White House. I gave again on 12th June, almost a year ago, and six months before the first primary. His immediate opposition to the war in Iraq contrasted sharply with her continued support for it. His refusal to accept campaign contributions from corporations and lobbyists contrasted sharply with her fundamental belief in the lobbying system, justifying her acceptance of their money on a number of occasions by saying "A lot of those Lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans" as she did at the Yearly Kos debate in August. The fact that her contributions came from companies such as WalMart, with whom she had served as a board member, seemed incongruous with her portrayal of lobbyists as champions of the common man.

As the campaign went on Obama stayed constantly on message, contrasting sharply with Hillary, who's positions changed, attitude towards the electorate changed (from accepting the will of the voters before SuperTuesday to focusing on the Super Delegates to overturn that will by the end of the campaign) and who constantly reinvented herself to court Republicans and the uneducated poor who were afraid of an African-American in power. I grew more and more concerned over the prospect of a candidate who would say anything and do anything to be in power, was greatly beholden to corporate America, and at times was difficult to distinguish from the Republicans she sought to compete against. For me it was a matter of integrity, who had it, and who had lost it. On January 11th, after the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary I made my 3rd and final contribution to the Obama campaign. The momentum had built, he was a strong and viable candidate, and all that was left for me was to stand up and have my vote counted in the Democrats Abroad Primary.

At 3am on Wednesday morning I got up to watch US political history being made, and see Barack Obama clinch the nomination. I also saw Hillary give what has to be regarded as the most ungracious speech in defeat in modern discourse, a final confirmation if one was needed that my choices were right at every stage over the last 18 months.

However now that the Primaries are over, and Barack is the presumptive candidate, my happiness is tinged with a guilty feeling of being caught up in the drama, energy and historicity of the moment, and of having perhaps paid insufficient attention to the actual details. Obama is the best Democratic candidate, perhaps in a generation, but is still a flawed candidate because the political system itself is fundamentally flawed.

The trouble with a two party system is that all candidates are pulled towards the center, and have little to distinguish themselves. This is why there is rarely great debate and political oration in the campaign, because there are not enough differences of philosophy between the candidates to stimulate such discourse. Where there are such differences candidates are afraid to voice them for fear of upsetting the electorate. Reading Obama's 'Blueprint for America' again, wherein he outlines the major issues of his campaign, there are many proposals that would not look out of place in a Clinton campaign, or even a McCain. This move to the center is prompted by the fear of offending the electorate, and scaring away their votes, and thus candidates of both parties compete to show the electorate just how like the voter they are, and the electorate responds. In exit poll after exit poll, "Shares my Values" comes out as the primary decider for most voters, and George W. Bush was elected twice by appealing to this, by appearing folksy and just like an average-Joe, the type of guy you could have a beer with, they type of guy who would be your buddy.

I don't want a buddy, I want someone who inspires me. I don't want to be pandered to, I want someone who will tell me I am wrong. I don't want someone who is just like me, I want someone who challenges me to be better than I am. I'm not looking for a "leader", nor am I'm looking to be told what to do, but if you have to have an administration then I want at it's head someone that causes me to look deep inside my being and ask myself uncomfortable questions about my relationship with the rest of the planet and everyone and everything in it.

But in the absence of that, I'll continue to vote for Obama.

2 Comments:

At 1:03 am, Anonymous belgravy said...

can my poltical pa\rty have a 100$

 
At 12:26 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

Need to see your manifesto first I'm afraid.

 

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