Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday Endorsements: Obama and McCain

Emending My Mind endorses Barack Obama and John McCain in the presidential primaries.

Let me preface my remarks by noting my belief that any of the four remaining candidates would make good presidents, all markedly better than the current holder of that office. Hillary Clinton has an impressive mastery of policy issues and a political toughness that is a necessary condition for success in the White House. Some of her views and actions might warrant criticism. But the vitriolic hatred of her in some quarters is, I think, completely misplaced and unfounded (on which, see here). If elected, she would govern well and with the best interests of the country firmly in mind.

While Romney panders a bit too much to satisfy the Republican base--and would be the most likely of the remaining candidates to continue the policies of the current administration--he has a demonstrated competence as an executive. This gives me some measure of confidence that his decisions would be well thought out and that his governing style, if somewhat managerial, could be effective. Moreover, I think his claim that a Washington outsider might make some progress in fixing Washington has merit. The view doesn't seem to have panned out for Bush 43 but it arguably did for Clinton 42.

Despite these strengths, the alternatives in each party more fully merit our support. From my perspective, three main issues are paramount in this election: (1) restoring the image and credibility of America abroad, (2) getting our nation's finances in order, and (3) navigating a course for the nation that isn't held hostage to narrow partisan interests. On all three of these criteria, Obama and McCain score better than their rivals.

Obama has the unparalleled rhetorical ability to inspire the country toward a more non-partisan course and I think his willingness to talk to our enemies is an important step toward re-securing American credibility. Moreover, as James Fallows recently pointed out, we should not underestimate the effect on other nations of having a dark skinned president. People in Africa and Asia may very well be more receptive to a foreign leader who (perhaps somewhat surprisingly, to them) looks "like that" than they might be to a tough-talking white Texan. I suspect that of all the candidates, he would be the best spokesperson for the United States. Obama's ability to clean America's financial house remains to be seen but his discussion of removing tax cuts for the highest income brackets at least indicates an awareness that the status quo is completely unacceptable.

Few politicians have shown more clearly than John McCain that they are not afraid to break away from their party when they believe it is right to do so and few politicians have railed as consistently as McCain against the wasteful spending habits of Congress. With the power of a presidential veto, one hopes that he would be able to trim some significant fat off our nation's budget and move us toward a more secure financial footing. One admittedly wonders about how McCain would be in his capacity as an ambassador to the world. His hawkish tendencies could certainly be off-putting. Nevertheless, I think he has a concern for America's role in the world and, as may be indicated by his proposals regarding immigration, does not want that role to be adversarial unless it has to be.

Don't mistake my emphases. Policy agendas do matter and neither candidate should be allowed to slide by with a lack of specificity on how they propose to handle various issues: immigration, taxes, the war in Iraq, health care, judges, etc. However, we elect people to be president, not position papers. The kinds of people we are electing--their characteristic mode of engaging with other, of approaching issues and solving problems--is at least as important as their legislative agendas, if not more so. To be sure, a choice between Obama and McCain would be a choice between two very different men. But in facing that choice, the country would have to choose between two quality individuals who could make fine presidents. Exactly how fine is up to them.


Foolish Sage said...

Thanks, Adam. Very helpful for me in clarifying some things, particularly your reminder that at the presidential level the person is more important than the list of policy promises (though the latter is not to be ignored.) I also think that Obama could be both a great rallier (sorry for the word creation) for the nation and a healer abroad. That reminder may help me get past some of my nervousness over his lack of specificity in some policy areas.

cory said...

Well done, Dr. K. I agree with your take on three of the four, Romney being the exception. Obama as the great...err...hope, Clinton the shrewdly effective politico, and McCain the master of efficiency and open government (with scary hawkish tendencies). I guess I also agree with your characterization of Romney as the great manager, which is less than inspirational, and in this time of nothing short of national crisis, I don't think management will do. Here's my fantasy executive branch:

1. President Obama (inspiring like JFK)
2. Vice-President (some New England white guy)
3. Atty Gen: John Edwards (reining in corporations)
4. Sec. of State: Joe Biden
5. Sec. of Def: Wes Clark
6. Sec. of Homeland Sec: Richardson (immigration reform here)
7. Sec. HHS: Clinton (with freedom to create real health care reform)

NonVoxPop said...

I'd be interested to hear more of what you think about the three issues you identify as facing the next president, particularly #'s 1 & 3.

AJK said...

Is "Fantasy Politics" the next big fad?

I'm not suggesting that I'd be particularly excited about a Romney presidency--I wouldn't and don't see myself voting for him. I just don't think it would be disastrous and suspect that there would be enough discontinuity between him and Bush to make some progress in the right direction.

AJK said...


I promise a post in the next week addressing those issues (and elaborating on where the war fits into all this).

NonVoxPop said...

Re: The Romney presidency and disaster (aka fantasy politics)- declaring all of Missouri federally protected land to ensure the security of the garden of Eden and using NASA to find Planet Kolob are great ideas. Tom Cruise could be his vice president.

AJK said...

The reference to fantasy politics was to compare Cory's fantasy executive branch with fantasy football and the like. The Romney comments were supposed to be separate. That being said, I like the connection. I find his Mormonism personally off-putting but I confess that I don't really see it figuring all that heavily into his governing.

Foolish Sage said...

I've been shocked, though, by the number of WTS students I've talked to who have told me they couldn't vote for Romney no matter what simply because of his Mormonism. They seem to fear that having a Mormon president would somehow lend credibility to Mormonism. I find that far fetched. Did a lot of people run out and become Catholics when Kennedy was elected?

AJK said...

Well, it looks like no one has to worry about voting for a Mormon anymore since Romney has dropped out of the race. It would have been interesting, though, to see how much of an issue that would have become in a general election. My sense is that while Mormonism's doctrines and historical roots are (from our perspective) somewhat bizzare (and as I said, I find it personally off-putting), they are becoming more and more mainstream in their integration into society. To the degree that they are, it isn't clear to me that we should be any more concerned about them being president than we should about adherents of numerous other religions.

NonVoxPop said...

My only concern about members of a minority religion holding important offices are that, whereas "mainstream" folks subscribe to ridiculous (miraculous) beliefs because they're more or less going with the crowd (did Clinton really believe in the virgin birth?), members of a minority religion are necessarily intentional. That adds an element of crazy that concerns me. It also leaves me in a position of discriminating against people on the basis of their beliefs. It’s uncomfortable either way it’s cut.

AJK said...

I don't think there's anything controversial about judging others on the basis of their beliefs: we do it all the time. The question is whether the beliefs are ones that should make us think someone won't be good at the job we are asking them to do. If Romney thought he was the latest incarnation of the Green Hornet, then we might have good reason to think that such beliefs would affect his ability to function well as a president. But it isn't clear to me that his Mormonism would pose any such problems. What direct effect would it have on presidential decisions?

I guess I just don't buy "creeping irrationality" type arguments: the notion that if someone is defective in one area of thought or practice, they are necessarily defective in others. There are simply too many counterexamples to make that a serious matter of concern.

One last point. It is somewhat odd that you would rather have people believe things (or at least claim to believe them) because they are "just going along with the crowd" rather than because think they are true. I'm inclined to think that poses more of a societal threat than people believing silly things because they actually think they are true.