We Democrats are getting close to having a nominee for President. I made no secret of my vigorous support for John Edwards’ candidacy. I wrote several articles in the past attacking his rivals for the nomination, including Obama. In the last few weeks, I’ve reached out to members of some of those rivals’ campaigns. I realized after Iowa that there was a chance Edwards would not win the nomination and if he dropped out, I wanted to be well informed about both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama so I would know who I wanted to support in a post-Edwards race.
In an intellectual exercise, I cleared my mind of all past knowledge of what I knew about either Hillary or Obama and I researched their accomplishments, their speeches and tried to find out who they were as people. It’s a challenging thing to try to start from scratch about things or people you know so much about. I imagine that renowned Zoologist Desmond Morris, who wrote “The Naked Ape” had similar difficulties ignoring what he knew about human beings and writing about them from the perspective of a Zoologist cataloguing and examining a never before seen species.
A few things stand out about Barack Obama. First, his whole life has been about diversity. Born to a Kenyan father and a white American mother, he looks like the picture of diversity. His mother and father divorced when he was two and then Barack later had an Indonesian stepfather with whom he and his mother moved to Indonesia. Wikipedia’s entry on Obama quotes him at an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show when he said
"Michelle will tell you that when we get together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, it's like a little mini-United Nations… I've got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I've got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher. We've got it all."
In an America where many Republicans seem determined to divide us on issues like race, religion and immigration status, Obama’s candidacy and Presidency would be like a miracle cure. That isn’t to say that I think that such issues would magically disappear overnight in an Obama Presidency, but he could speak to and deal with such issues from a perspective and with the authority that few others could and as a result would be a nearly irresistible force for positive change. Hillary Clinton not only cannot offer this, the way she has conducted her campaign over the last six weeks has been like putting salt in the wounds of America’s ethnic divisions.
Second, despite having a very progressive voting record, Obama has made a point of reaching out to and dialoguing with Republicans and the religious right. At the same time, he hasn’t shrunk from challenging Republican groups to be less divisive. According to Wikipedia:
In December 2006, he joined Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) at the "Global Summit on AIDS and the Church" organized by church leaders Kay and Rick Warren. Together with Warren and Brownback, Obama took an HIV test, as he had done in Kenya less than four months earlier. He encouraged "others in public life to do the same" to show "there is no shame in going for an HIV test."… Addressing over 8,000 United Church of Christ members in June 2007, Obama challenged "so-called leaders of the Christian Right" for being "all too eager to exploit what divides us."
This example is just one of many times where Obama reached out to the right without sacrificing his principles. Again, Hillary Clinton does not have this capacity to reach out to Republicans and speak the truth to them and have it come across in positive way. Even if she suddenly developed the ability to do this overnight, it would no longer matter. She and her husband have such a reservoir of ill-will with the ideological right in this country that it would not matter how much and in what way she reached out, the country would remain starkly divided under a Hillary Clinton Presidency, if she somehow managed to get that far, which I doubt.
Third, an impressive aspect of Barack Obama has been his unwavering commitment to peace and diplomacy. As an Edwards supporter, I used to hate it when Obama supporters would remind me that he made the right choice on the Iraq war resolution. I hated it because you cannot deny that he had the foresight few others had at the time that the Bush administration viewed the passage of the resolution as a blank check to go to war. About this, Obama has said:
“But conventional thinking in Washington lined up for war. The pundits judged the political winds to be blowing in the direction of the President. Despite - or perhaps because of how much experience they had in Washington, too many politicians feared looking weak and failed to ask hard questions. Too many took the President at his word instead of reading the intelligence for themselves. Congress gave the President the authority to go to war. Our only opportunity to stop the war was lost.”
Some other highlights about Obama’s opposition to the war:
- In 2003 and 2004, he spoke out against the war on the campaign trail;
- In 2005, he called for a phased withdrawal of our troops;
- In 2006, he called for a timetable to remove our troops, a political solution within Iraq, and aggressive diplomacy with all of Iraq’s neighbors;
- In January 2007, he introduced legislation in the Senate to remove all of our combat troops from Iraq by March 2008.
- In September 2007, he laid out a detailed plan for how he will end the war as president.