Alright, I've decided who I'm voting for. At least, I've decided for now. I suppose there's a chance I might change my mind in the next week and a half, but I think I'm pretty set.
There are three big things John McCain has going for him in my opinion. First, he's pro-life, and that matters a lot in a Presidential election. Being pro-choice means you either haven't asked the relevant question (when does life begin) or you've come to a wrong answer. So that's big. Second, he embraced a plan that uses the bailout to help people keep their homes. I know it means "rewarding" banks for bad business practices, but I'd rather have that and allow people to keep their homes than punish banks and let people get foreclosed on. Third, I really don't like Obama.
And there's a lot of things I don't like about Obama. First and foremost, I don't believe a word he says. He promised to take public financing because it helped distinguish him from Clinton, then he rejected public financing. He (and McCain is guilty of this too, but that's not an excuse) routinely lies about McCain's positions. He's making all sorts of promises that don't add up. His whole campaign strategy is one of lobbing blame. This is a man who, throughout his career, and throughout this campaign has shown himself to be a mere politician, someone who can look really good while sacrificing his integrity. I don't see the man as a leader, I see him as a party lap-dog, and if you look at his record I think that's a pretty accurate picture.
The second thing I really don't like about Obama is that, when he's trying to point out his more moderate views, he invariably moves towards the center on something I'm more liberal on. His health care policy, although slightly better than McCain, is so far from where it should be that it actually detracts from my view of Obama. His environmental policies also leave a lot to be desired.
The third major detraction for Obama is that I don't think he'll handle the Iraq war as well as McCain. When we supported Afghanistan against Russia during the cold war, and then pulled out all our support when the war was over, it led, a generation later, to the Taliban. I have a very real fear that Obama's policies in Iraq are going to lead to similar problems a generation from now. I have the same fear with McCain, but it's significantly muted, since it's easier to see how he would work to address some of the key issues in Iraq. I do, however, think Obama will be better at fixing the U.S. image abroad. Of course, next to the war on terror, that's minimal.
And yet, despite all of these detractions, I'm planning to vote for Obama. It might seem crazy, but it all crystallized for me with three events:
First, I had a conversation with my friend Joel. After seeing McCain's bailout/mortgage plan, I didn't know if there was a way I could justify voting for Obama. Joel put this question to me: Don't middle-class tax cuts and health care do it for you?
And I answered that they didn't. But as I thought about it, they didn't do it for me because they were too Republican. First, the health care plan is crap. It'll cover slightly more people than McCain's plan, while costing about the same. And, though you shouldn't routinely let the good be the enemy of the perfect, I'm extremely afraid that any health care plan that passes now will eliminate any momentum we've got towards a universal single-payer system. So Obama's plan actually worries me. But it worries me because it isn't liberal enough.
The second part of that question, the middle-class tax cuts, are almost equally worrisome. We've got the largest national debt ever, we're in the middle of a war, and we've quickly slipped into an enormous recession. The last thing we should be doing is giving anybody tax cuts. I dislike McCain's plan to continue the Bush tax cuts even more than I dislike Obama's plan (at least Obama is sticking it to the wealthy!), but ultimately neither of them makes any sense. The best way to cut down national debt is to only spend money you've got, and the best way to do that is to keep a solid tax base. The best way to fund a war is with your own country's money, not borrowed funds, and obviously the best way to do that is to keep taxes at a sustainable level. And the best way to pull the country out of an economic crisis is to create well-paying jobs. And the best way to create well-paying jobs is for the government to hire people. Private industry creates jobs when it is conducive to industry. The government can create jobs when it is conducive to workers. But the only way to do that is to tax the citizenry, so you have something to pay the workers with. In our current situation, tax cuts just don't make sense.
As I thought about these things, it occurred to me once again that I don't believe Obama. He's proposed a tax plan, but I honestly don't believe it's going to happen. The part where he raises taxes for the wealthy might, but I don't think the tax cuts will. First off, he's proposed all sorts of new spending, and he'll have to fund that somehow. Second, the Republicans are going to turn around and nail the Democrats on the federal deficit, just like they did with Clinton. Third, he'll quickly find that he's not going to be able to trim the war budget like he wants to. I just don't see the tax cuts happening. And let's be honest, it's a lot easier to get Congress to spend money they don't have than it is to get them to agree to take less in the first place.
I also believe - or at least hope - that Obama's health care plan won't end up looking like he says, and that the actual manifestation will turn out to be more oriented towards a single-payer system. A Democratic Congress will hopefully move Obama's proposal in that direction, and I think he'd be happy to follow his party. I guess really, to be perfectly honest, an Obama presidency probably means that in actuality we'll have a Reid/Pelosi administration. And I'm more okay with that (at least with the Reid part...).
So in a strange way, the fact that I don't believe Obama, and the fact that I don't see him as a leader, are cutting in his favor here.
The second thing that cut Obama's way was the Supreme Court. I sent around an e-mail asking people who they thought would be named to the SCOTUS when Stevens invariably steps down this coming summer (maybe 1 more term?). Zhubin pointed out that it would likely be a more moderate justice in the Roberts mold, but on the other side of the spectrum. That thought is comforting to me because I'm a big fan of moderate, principled judges. Part of the reason I voted for Bush was because we were looking at replacing conservative judges, and I'd rather keep a balance on the court. Now we're looking at replacing liberal judges (with the two most liberal, Stevens and Ginsburg, set as the two most likely to retire). Even if Obama is able to get a very liberal pick through, there's still a good chance they'll be more moderate than the ones stepping down, and so the balance should remain.
The final thing that pushed me into voting for Obama happened during the last debate. I almost turned the debate off after about an hour, but I still didn't know who I was voting for at that point. I figured I should stick it out, just in case something came up that would help me make up my mind. Sure enough, the very last question was the one that did it; Schieffer's question was about education.
Education has always been one of my biggest issues. I'm a firm believer in public education. I'm a product of a public schools, K-12. A large chunk of my family works in education. An even bigger chunk of them are students. I plan on putting my kids through public schools. I had to pay for college and law school on my own. Education issues have always been at the forefront of my life.
McCain's answer left me cold to him. He talked about competition and vouchers and a vague sense of education being an important issue, with little that was concrete, and nothing that was directed to those involved in education. Obama's answer, although not perfect, highlighted some of the ways he proposed to improve education, and really demonstrated an understanding of what is important to a flourishing school system. Obama talked about early childhood, attracting better teachers (that means money people!), getting parents involved (best course for success), and helping students afford college (Themselves. Because students have to pay their own way a lot more frequently than many of my private college/law school folks realize).
For some reason, on this issue, I believed Obama. It might have been because he wasn't overly concrete with his plans, and instead of speaking about what he was going to do he talked more about his approach. Whatever the case, it struck me that Obama had really gotten this one right.
Obama has missed on some biggies (he should have embraced the same plan McCain did for the bailout/mortgage situation; he should have a better environmental policy; he should be pro-life), and his leadership is lacking. In the end, I think he'll do little harm (SCOTUS stays balanced, taxes won't be reduced) and, for the most part, little good (health care plan, environmental policies both are insufficient). But he also offers a chance for some significant improvement in education, and this time around, for me at least, that's the winning combination.
We've come a long, long way together,
Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you baby
I have to praise you like I should