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Why I'll Be Voting for Barack Obama

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As you may know, I’m running for the United States Senate in Oregon because I’m really worried about the direction of the country. We face an awe-inspiring quintuple challenge of ending the war, stopping global warming, combating runaway economic inequality, reforming the health care system, and preventing the national debt from soaring out of control. We need to get moving on all of those issues – and we needed to do so yesterday. To meet those challenges, we need political leaders who will be willing to take risks, willing to call for sacrifice, and be able to persuade the American people that their sacrifices will not be in vain.

That’s why I’m voting for Barack Obama.

Oh, I know there are darned good arguments on the other side. Hey, I was an Edwards guy; I can recite the arguments against Obama in my sleep. No, his health care plan isn’t as good as Hillary’s; we do have to require everyone to have health insurance (or go with single payer), or the math doesn’t work. He’s voted for at least one ugly “tort reform” bill, and has made unnerving comments about the civil justice system. And yes, he did say very disturbing things about Ronald Reagan. Sure, the Clintons exaggerated it – but what does it mean to say that for years, the Republicans were the party of “ideas”? Slashing taxes for rich people is an original idea? And what does it mean to say people welcomed Reagan as a response to “the excesses of the ‘60’s and ‘70s”? What “excesses”? Medicare? The Clean Air Act?

But Barack Obama has been willing to take risks. He did, in fact, oppose the war from the beginning. No, he wasn’t in or even running for the Senate in 2002, but I bet he was already thinking about it. He recently made some dangerously sensible remarks about Iran, “I think it is important for us to send a signal that we are not hellbent on regime change, just for the sake of regime change, but expect changes in behavior. And there are both carrots and there are sticks available to them for those changes in behavior.” He’s been willing to risk the Republican battle-cry of “no new taxes” by emphasizing the need to start applying the Social Security tax to incomes above $100,000 (though perhaps with a sort of doughnut hole for incomes below $200,000.)

Finally, I think the very fact that he has inspired such an impassioned following increases the likelihood that he will take the risks that have to be taken. People from cross-sections of society that have been disillusioned by conventional politics are inspiring by his campaign. Leaders respond to their followers. If Obama’s elected, he’ll know that millions of voters are counting on him, not just to do a decent job, but to make a big, thumping difference. He won’t want to let them down.

Now, I know there are excellent arguments for Hillary Clinton. She knows, possibly better than Obama, what’s wrong with the country, and she knows what we need to do to fix it; January 21 New York Times article made that very clear. I will quote reproduce much of the article below, because I think it is worth reading, partly because I agree with every word she says (and every thought attributed to her) in these passages:

Mrs. Clinton put her emphasis on issues like inequality and the role of institutions like government, rather than market forces, in addressing them.

She said that economic excesses — including executive-pay packages she characterized as often “offensive” and “wrong” and a tax code that had become “so far out of whack” in favoring the wealthy — were holding down middle-class living standards.

Interviewed between campaign appearances in Los Angeles on Thursday, she said those problems were also keeping the United States economy from growing as quickly as it could.

“If you go back and look at our history, we were most successful when we had that balance between an effective, vigorous government and a dynamic, appropriately regulated market,” Mrs. Clinton said. “And we have systematically diminished the role and the responsibility of our government, and we have watched our market become imbalanced.”

She added: “I want to get back to the appropriate balance of power between government and the market.”


“Inequality is growing,” Mrs. Clinton said. “The middle class is stalled. The American dream is premised on a growing economy where people are in a meritocracy and, if they’re willing to work hard, they will realize the fruits of their labor.”


Mrs. Clinton, whose campaign initiated the interview, can speak in both fine detail and sweeping historical terms about the economy — almost as would a policy adviser, which she essentially was for a long time. When talking about the middle class, she divides the decades since World War II into two periods, using the same cutoff point that many economists do.

In the first period, from 1946 to 1973, the pay of most workers rose steadily. The income of the median family — the one earning less than half of all other families and more than half of all others — more than doubled during those years, to almost $50,000, in inflation-adjusted terms, according to Census Bureau data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal group in Washington.

Since 1973, the income of the median family has grown only about 25 percent.

During the earlier period, Mrs. Clinton said, the share of workers in labor unions grew, allowing workers to win raises and benefits that they can rarely win on their own. Marginal tax rates on the affluent were “confiscatory” by today’s standards, she said. (In the early 1970s, the top rate, which applied to income above $1 million in today’s terms, was 70 percent; the top rate now is 35 percent.)

Jobs once paid enough that only one parent in many families needed to work, saving them from expenses like day care. And not only did the federal government invest in public goods like the highway system, but companies also invested more in communities than they do today. In Rochester, for example, Kodak helped build hospitals and schools.

“You had a corporate ethos, that, because of the more self-contained American economy, was really focused on community,” Mrs. Clinton said. “There was a sense of multiple obligations. It wasn’t just to one’s shareholders. It was also to one’s employees, to one’s community.”

Rarely have I read anything so impressive about an American politician. I felt completely at home with that Hillary Clinton. She’s read the same history I have. (Since she’s a bit older than I am, and she has directly experienced more of it too.) She’s come to the same conclusions. She knows this stuff. She could be a great President.

So why am I voting for Barack Obama?

I’m voting for Barack Obama largely because I wonder whether Hillary Clinton is willing to take the political risks she’d need to take to act on what she knows.

Let’s look at the subject of tax policy. Hillary Clinton acknowledges that wealthy Americans used to pay staggeringly high tax rates. She knows that the activist government we used to have was funded by those taxes. But in this campaign, she has offered nothing bolder on the tax front than repealing Bush’s tax cuts for the richest 1% - something we all know won’t be enough to pay for the kind of investments we’ll need in renewable energy, in health care for the uninisured, and for Medicare and Social Security when the baby boomers retire. In fact, she has viciously attacked Obama for suggesting – as Peter DeFazio does, as John Edwards did, as I do – that people who make over $1 million a year should pay Social Security taxes on all their income, rather than just the first $100,000.

Yes, I know there is a technical argument against lifting the cap. Technically, Social Security itself, if it were truly a self-contained system, would be in good shape for decades. But it’s hard to see how the Federal government is going to repay what it has borrowed from Social Security. Since much of the borrowing from Social Security was for the purpose of giving tax cuts to the wealthy, asking the wealthy to pay Social Security taxes is a reasonable way to ensure that promised benefits are actually paid.

And anyway, Clinton didn’t make a technical argument against Obama. She just screamed “trillion-dollar tax increase!” – ignoring the fact that it would only affect people who make over $100,000, ignoring the huge obligations we have to fulfill.

And let’s look at that troublesome subject of the war. I can’t really excuse anyone for voting for the war. Even if you believed Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction,” did you believe they would use them while U.N. weapons inspectors were on the ground? And if the idea was that we were supposed to invade any hostile country with weapons of mass destruction, why not invade North Korea first? Those are among the questions the Democrats should have asked George Bush, and they should have voted against the war unless and until they got good answers.

Then there’s her vote for the resolution characterizing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Anyone who cast that vote was taking a huge risk that George Bush would see it as a green light for war. Jim Webb understood that. Hillary Clinton ignored that risk, in the interests of wanting to look “tough on Iran.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” I fear Hillary Clinton’s fear. I fear that her actions as President would too often be based on fear – fear of losing the next election, fear of the next Republicans attack, fear of whatever goblins Mark Penn has conjured up in his latest poll.

I am voting for Barack Obama because I believe that he has the self-confidence to base his Presidency on hope, rather than fear. And because, even if I might ultimately be disappointed, I’d rather be disappointed in new ways, rather than the same old ways.

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Steve Novick was raised in Cottage Grove Oregon. Due to failure of a budget levy in 1976, he enrolled at the University of Oregon and graduated at age 18. He then went on to Harvard Law school where he graduated at age 21. After stops in law (more...)
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