Why I’m supporting Barack Obama

Barack Obama appears to be a once in a generation candidate: he’s smart, he’s appealing, he speaks well, and he seems to be viewed more positively across the political spectrum than negatively. In addition, his policy positions are closer to mine than I could reasonably hope from a leading candidate. I’ve been supporting his campaign for a while, but haven’t been too vocal about it until now.

I should start off by saying that I think it’s clear that any of the leading Democratic contenders would do a much better job as President than any of the Republicans. In policy, in temperament, in intelligence, all three of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Obama all have the makings of a very good President.

If Hillary Clinton weren’t the former first lady (can we lose that title?), she’d be easier to support; but after a sequence of Bush/Clinton/Bush, the last thing I think this country could use is another Clinton — handing power between two dynasties feels distinctly unamerican. Her early vote for the Iraq war was either too naive, too hawkish, or too cynically political; in any case, she was wrong and it reflects bad judgment. The 1994 health care plan showed her doing a bad job on policy and politics at the same time as holding Cheneyesque views on secrecy. And I think the intense dislike that much of the country feels for her is a problem, both in a general election and, assuming she’s elected, in governing; it could just be too easy for Republican legislators to demonize her and obstruct any of her proposals, with no political consequences.

I keep wanting to like John Edwards, but I find it hard not to fault him in part for the incompetence of the 2004 campaign. As a pro-business liberal, I think his policies on trade and globalization are wrong-headed and short-sighted. And, Edwards, too, has an Iraq war vote that shows poor judgment, even if he’s now willing to call it a “mistake.”

Obama, first and foremost, was right on the Iraq war in his pre-Senate days. At the same time, he isn’t isolationist or always opposed to intervention, as his statements about Pakistan made clear. I find his ability to make his policy a function of the facts appealing. As to details of his policy proposals, I prefer some to those of his opponents, some of his opponents’ to his (Edwards on health care, almost anyone else on ethanol), but, overall, there is not much difference among the Democratic candidates and a lot of difference between the two parties.

What also seems different about Obama, though, is his appeal and lack of negatives across the political spectrum, which makes him feel more like a Kennedy or Reagan than any other active politician. (That sense of Kennedy may only be true in hindsight and not reflect any actual mandate while he was alive; I was born three years after his assassination and have no memories of the time.) Obama’s success in his state senate career in uniting people behind progressive measures is impressive; getting things done counts.

Currently, it looks as though it’s Clinton’s race to lose. It would be a shame if she walks to the nomination without competition — it’s still early (even with this year’s ludicrously accelerated campaign schedule) and it doesn’t seem like much of the country is paying attention yet. Still, the good news is, any one of these three (or several of their competitors) would be as good a President as we’ve had in a long time.