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What I dislike about Obama

Originally written as a Facebook note
What I dislike about Obama, but why I will probably continue to back him
From the beginning of the election campaign last year, I felt inclined to align myself with a candidate, and when it became clear that the Democratic nomination was between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, I backed Ms Clinton. This was partly because I admired how President Clinton handled the economy managing to eliminate deficits, much better than the supposedly fiscally responsible Republican Party during the Reagan years where there were deficits year after year. I would also be very much a Democrat with regard to my positions on so-called cultural issues, being strongly in favour of church-state separation, abortion rights, extending full marital rights to gay couples and taking the equivalent liberal views on other such issues.

The real question of this election, however, was whether to support Barack Obama. That one was in agreement with the direction of the two Clinton terms was for many no reason not to be enthusiastic about supporting Mr Obama, the new light in politics, the man needed to change the way politics is done in Washington. From the start, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic. At first, what I didn’t like about him was that as early as 2004 when he made his speech to the Democratic National Convention, his aim in being in Washington at all was to get to the White House. Alan Greenspan joked when commenting on Nixon that he would like to propose a constitutional amendment saying, “Anyone willing to do what is required to become president of the United States is thereby barred from taking that office” and given the power one person holds if elected, the apprehension here is understandable. The point about Mr Obama’s lack of experience was that he exemplifies the careerist politician for whom any office is only a step to a higher office, who live in the world of the permanent campaign and who we never get to see what they would do legislating or governing. This is not to fault ambition; we undoubtedly need the brightest and most able politicians not to feel satisfied with lower offices than they are worthy of, but to say that before the people elect someone to a higher office, there should be time to observe them acting and voting outside of the glare of high media scrutiny, outside of the context of a campaign.

Mr Obama claims to represent a new kind of politics, and one might think listening to his eloquent speeches that he is a model of bipartisanship. He emphasizes that politics needs to move away from point-scoring and cross-party rivalry. Yet, he has not acted on this in practice, having sponsored no bill of worth a senator from across the floor, something both his rival for the Democratic nomination and his current rival for the White House in Sen. John McCain have done. On Mr Obama’s part, the reason for this was that as a Freshman Senator, and particularly one looking for presidential endorsements, he needed to get to know the fellow members of his party in the short time he had there since January 2005, so avoided stepping away from the party orthodoxy. In his years in the Senate, Mr McCain has worked with Democrats on particular issues, and provoked the ire of his fellow-party members with the Campaign Reform Act in 2002 which he wrote with the socially democratic Russ Feingold and with the immigration reform bill with Ted Kennedy which he championed into the time of the presidential debates last year. (It was amusing to hear one Republican speaker after another at their convention praise his bravery in standing up to the establishment, particularly the very opponents who had slammed him for those positions in the primaries). Even Sarah Palin in her short time as Governor of Alaska has acted with more bipartisanship in her strongly Republican state than has Mr Obama in his time in the United States Senate.

Then there are Mr Obama’s claims to represent a new kind of politics, without lobbying and special interests. Yet his voting record does not stand up to this. He voted for Bush’s now widely discredited Energy Policy Act in 2005, which cost that United States taxpayer by subsidises the economically and environmentally inefficient ethanol industry as a vain attempt to find a substitute for oil. The inefficiency of this method was not something that was known only in the past three years, and has been recognized for a while that it also compromises food production. The fact, however, that farmers in Mr Obama’s home state of Illinois was a factor in his support for this flawed bill. The question of global free trade is not by a great deal an open one in economics and most educated politicians know this, that the benefits of trade outweight any losses and that it is the country that allows more imports that benefits most. Despite this, in the first half of the year, while debating Ms Clinton, he continually stoked protectionist feelings among voters, while Mr McCain risked elections in Iowa and Michigan by telling them the truth that he should not and would not protect their local industries from outside competition. Now, having secured the nomination, Mr Obama casually dismisses his previous remarks by saying that language got overheated during the primary season.

This brings me on to my next point, about Mr Obama’s lack of honesty. It was Ms Clinton’s “Well, that depends on what your definition of sniper fire” moment that prompted me to stop backing her, as it shows quite an act of desperation to fabricate an entire event to show foreign policy experience. Mr Obama’s dishonesty is of a different sort. Arriving in Chicago to embark on a political career, and as far as I can tell from his second memoir, The Audacity of Hope, fairly much agnostic, he chose to attend Trinity United Church of Christ. Not just a middle-of-the-road episcopalian or methodist church but a megachurch with a slightly unstable pastor, that Mr Obama was able to conveniently cast aside after first claiming that it would be tantamount to disclaiming a family member. He is not open matters that could be divisive, with the weasel answer, “That’s above my pay grade” when asked difficult questions about abortion.

But when it comes to who I hope will be president in January, I have to return to my first paragraph. I wrote this to answer a few comments on my status indicating support for Mr McCain over Mr Obama, and thought writing a note better than a quick response. I am holding Mr Obama to a higher standard in many areas than I would perhaps other politicians, in large part because of the claims he makes for himself. Despite all I have written above, he is the Democratic nominee. I do trust Mr McCain more with the economy, and while I believe they would act largely the same with regard to Iraq, having advocated the surge in the first place, I think he deserves the credit for its success. But the economy will survive and as long as a serious depression is held at bay, in the long run, the policies of one or the other will not be so different in effect. What does matter in the long term are cultural issues. Mr McCain is not religious evangelical that Presidents Reagan or Bush were, but with the Supreme Court in such a delicate balance, where the retirement or death of one liberal Justice and the appointment of a conservative would put in the control of the latter section. In which case, a test case on Roe v. Wade could find it overturned, as well as changes affecting the separation of church and state. Antonin Scalia is the worst example, but when we have him justifying his support for the death penalty by stating that “few doubted the morality of the death penalty in the age that believed in the divine right of kings”, we can see why there is reason to fear the impact such theocrats can have given the influence they have in shaping the state of the culture of the United States. Not while there are far fewer such Justices on the Bench, and until the Republican Party rids itself of its evangelical wing (such a change is not impossible; the Democrats once had a racist and bigoted wing), could I comfortably support the Republicans. Yes, this does not affect me directly, but were I a United States citizen I would not support such government, despite economic concerns, and I do not think I could wish it on them, even if Mr McCain would be more secure for the Irish economy. And yes, in a country with school prayer and no abortion rights, it may seem hypocritical and irrelevant to complain of such changes across the water, but I can hope for the laws and Constitution of the United States to remain as a standard for ours to achieve.

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  1. 15 May, 2012 at 12:10 am

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