Why independents and undecided voters should vote for Barack Obama over John McCain

Monday, September 08, 2008

Apparently the number of undecideds has dropped quite a bit since the two party conventions to about 7%, but seven percent is still a large enough section of the population to make a huge difference in the upcoming election, so I've decided to write up a number of reasons why independents and undecided voters should go for Barack Obama and Joe Biden this time around instead of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

The reason I've chosen to write this is because there seems to be way too much attention paid to individual events and tiny one-day stories. That's fine for keeping track of the horse race of the election and it's very addictive to watch, but there's a bit of a lack of articles with the focus on the election as a whole, what the candidates are like, and what they would be like as president. I think it's possible that a large number of people are still undecided because it's so hard to find information presented in a manner that doesn't turn off voters that aren't already convinced - negative personal attacks and information that has nothing to do with how the country will be run after 2009.

A bit on my political views in case anyone is curious (skip down two paragraphs or so to the main text if it's irrelevant):

Politically I'm mostly fiscally conservative in that I don't believe in running a deficit, and that in most cases the government should be smaller. I do think that universals (health care, education for example) should be completely funded though because this increases productivity: not having to worry about health care and being able to go back to school at any time removes a large stumbling block to a nation's productivity, as without universal health care a person's or a family's plans can be disrupted at any time by a chance accident, and without universal education it can take a long time to save up enough to go to or go back to college, and this makes retraining harder than it should be. If a person has gone to college for four years for example and later on realizes that the labour market is harder than expected and he or she needs another year or two to get the job originally wanted, it's almost impossible to go back when post-secondary education is so expensive and this person has to pay student loans off, so this will often result in people working below their education, spending years and years just making a little and paying off student loans when all they need is another two or so years in college to get the position they should be working in. All of this ends up being a burden to the country in the end.

On the other hand, fiscal conservatism is very important, and I don't think the government should be involved in funding unnecessary areas that regular people and the free market already do on their own: funding cultural events, propping up private companies to keep them from going bankrupt, etc. My favourite politician from recent times from where I'm from (Calgary, Canada) was Preston Manning, and anyone who knows who he is knows he was a true fiscal conservative: he started a party in the late 1980s based on fiscal responsibility and grassroots democracy, and getting rid of government waste. His party believed for example that the pensions MPs received were a waste of taxpayer money because they paid much more than a job in the private sector would, and so party members protested for a number of years by refusing to take any pension whatsoever, calling it a "gold-plated pension plan". (Later they merged with another party, the name changed and this policy disappeared.) They also railed against the unelected Canadian Senate (it's still unelected) and anything else they perceived to be waste. One Senator for example only came to work some three times or so a year, spending most of his time at his house in sunny Mexico instead. They called him "Senator Siesta" when they brought the issue to light, embarrassed the ruling government and eventually he was suspended and then resigned. This is the type of conservatism I like.

So in short, I'm an independent myself. If I were American I would be either a Democrat- or Libertarian-leaning one, but would have no problem voting for the GOP if the candidate were the right one.

Now to the main text. Here are the reasons why independent and undecided voters should vote for Obama this year and not McCain.

  • Reason #1: After selecting VP candidates the McCain-Palin ticket has emerged as the risky option, while Obama-Biden is a safe bet.
The reason for this is quite simple: the role that a president and a vice president plays. The Obama-Biden ticket is a relatively less experienced candidate backed by an extremely experienced vice president, whereas McCain-Palin is an experienced candidate backed by an unexperienced VP. In the event of the death of the president the vice president immediately becomes president, and if this were McCain (who is much older and has a history of health problems) the country would be heading into a very uncertain period with a sudden President Palin, whereas if it were Obama the U.S. would have a President Biden, which would be no problem given his experience and knowledge of foreign affairs. Because of this there's no reason to compare Obama and Palin in terms of experience, because the two positions are very different. If the two positions were switched and Biden had won the nomination while Barack Obama only got a few thousand votes, it would be irresponsible for Biden to choose Barack Obama as his VP, because Barack Obama would have still been a largely unvetted candidate that would be a step away from the presidency.

Obama has also said that he chose Biden in order to have somebody that would be able to challenge his decisions and point out anything he may miss as a person, whereas McCain definitely has not chosen Palin to get advice from her on foreign affairs or anything else, except perhaps energy policy. This is also the reason why Palin is generally avoiding hard questions from the media for the time being, because she needs time to brush up on McCain's positions in order to not make a mistake in front of the media.

This article here makes the point a bit better than I could:
The pick is also the first presidential-level decision a candidate has to make. You learn a lot about the candidate. And with Obama and McCain, we have two men who have never been executives - just legislators, book-writers and celebrities. So the decision is the first time we can compare the two men on a presidential decision level.

In Joe Biden, Obama revealed his core temperamental conservatism. It was a safe choice of someone deeply versed in foreign policy, and with roots that connected to the working class white ethnics he needed. It wasn't flashy; and was even a little underwhelming; but it was highly professional.

What we have learned about John McCain from his selection of Sarah Palin is that he is as impulsive and reckless a decision-maker as George W. Bush...so last week, McCain picked someone he had only met once before. I repeat: he picked someone he had only met once before. His vetting chief sat Palin down for a face-to-face interview the Wednesday before last. It's very hard to overstate how nutty and irresponsible this is. Would any corporate chieftain pick a number two on those grounds and not be dismissed by his board for recklessness?
In short: an Obama-Biden ticket is a stable one, whereas McCain-Palin is a bit of a gamble. The former gives a relatively clear idea of what the next four years are going to be like; the latter is a roll of the dice.
  • Reason #2: McCain and Palin have recently gone from simple stretching the truth into actual full-out lying.
Stretching the truth is a part of politics, and most everybody does it to a certain extent. Stretching the truth is actually just an extension of showing a difference between oneself and one's opponent, and doesn't necessarily mean that a politician is dishonest. An example of stretching the truth on both sides:

*"100 years in Iraq" - McCain said back in the primaries that he wouldn't mind if the U.S. were to stay in Iraq for 100 years...as long as there were no military casualties. McCain was making a point at the time that if Iraq were to become a country like the present Japan or Korea that there would be no reason to leave the country straight away. Merely saying "John McCain wants to spend the next 100 years in Iraq" therefore is stretching the truth.
*"Barack Obama is opposed to offshore drilling" - this is stretching the truth because though Obama is generally opposed to offshore drilling, he has left it open as a possibility.

The two examples above are certainly stretching the truth, but they are both based on truth: that Barack Obama plans to leave Iraq faster than McCain does, and McCain is more in favour of offshore drilling than Barack Obama is. People can figure out the nuances of their positions themselves if they feel so inclined. It's perhaps a bit dishonest, but also part and parcel of presenting oneself to the public as the better candidate.

However, recently the McCain-Palin camp has decided to go from stretching the truth into straight-out lying. This should be offensive to voters. One example is Palin's speech where she said the following:
Listening to [Obama] speak, it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or even a reform, not even in the state senate.
Well, that's just a lie. It's also quite odd that they thought they could get away with a statement like that, since saying that "not a single (something) exists" need only be disproven by a single example. I believe McCain also said in his speech to the convention or on the stump the next day that Barack Obama has never worked with Republicans to pass a bill, and that's a lie too, as Obama has. The difference between stretching the truth and telling a lie is that when you hear someone stretching the truth about someone you agree with your first reaction is to think "Well, that's not what they meant..." whereas when you hear someone telling a complete lie your reaction is a much simpler "Uh, no. That's just wrong." In the second case there's no explanation required except a demonstration that the statement is a lie, whereas the first carries at least a bit of acknowledgment that the statement is based on something.
  • Reason #3: The GOP needs to renew. A McCain victory would reinforce the idea among the Republican Party that tactics as usual are successful and need to continue.
This is an especially valid reason because it's something beyond McCain's control, even if we were to assume that he is the maverick reformer he claims to be. Anyone who paid attention to the GOP convention has probably noticed that it was full of cheap attacks on Barack Obama, and very short on policy. The largest reason for the focus on negative attacks and little policy is because it works; for the past eight years this has largely been successful, and it has become a habit. A McCain victory this year would mean a reaffirmation of this policy, and will mean that we will see it again for the next four years as well. McCain was not even able (or willing) to keep the negative attacks out of his own nomination, so there's little reason to take it on faith that he will suddenly change upon becoming president.

A loss, however, drives a political party out into the wilderness for a while where they generally nurse their wounds for a bit, regroup, focus on policy and appealing to average voters. This is one reason why a lot of Republicans were so excited in 1994 when they took control of Congress and the Senate, because they had done well in promoting their ideas to average voters, and this resulted in Bill Clinton's declaration of "the era of big government is over", a shrinking of government and pretty good financial policy for the next few years. The GOP of 2008 bears almost no resemblance to the GOP of 1994, and I think both Democrats and Republicans would like to see it return to a party like the one it was 14 years ago. To do that, however, they need to lose this year.

By the way, there's one other related danger here if McCain wins. The Democrats went with John Kerry as their candidate in 2004 based on the idea that military and electability would be the way to go, and that didn't work. This year they're going with Barack Obama who is campaigning on the idea of change in Washington. Well, if military service and electability doesn't work, and change and grassroots organization doesn't work, the party may come to conclude that the hard, cold reality is that the only way to win in an election is to be as negative as possible, to focus on character alone (building up the character of one's own candidate, knocking down the character of the other), and avoid issues. A McCain victory could end up bringing about an even more negative campaign in 2012 from both parties as a result of this.
  • Reason #4: Neither party has a monopoly on energy policy, and energy independence comes about from average citizens and municipalities as much as the federal government.
There has been a lot of talk about energy lately thanks to high oil prices and terrorism, and both parties are giving it a lot of attention as well. The Democratic and the Republican parties have somewhat different attitudes on how best to achieve energy independence, but the good thing is that both of them seem to be willing to take up parts of the other party's platform if it would be good for the country. Obama has said he would be willing to look into nuclear power and limited offshore drilling; the GOP has said it would invest in alternative energy. The truth of the matter is that a solution for energy independence will take a comprehensive plan, and either party will have to use part of the other party's platform if they are serious.

The other thing to note here is that energy independence really has as much to do with average people and grassroots activity as with government. This is the point that Barack Obama made when he talked about proper tire pressure that was lost in a flurry of media attention and negative ads: that the government can actually do a lot simply by drawing attention to what the average individual should do. This includes proper tire pressure, simply removing junk from your car (= extra weight, more fuel), car pooling, buying a bike, all that. For example, proper tire pressure alone has the following effect:
The Bush Administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 bbl. per day by 2030. We use about 20 million bbl. per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone did, we could immediately reduce demand several percentage points. In other words: Obama is right.
Most pollution is emitted from cities as well, so it's actually municipal government upon which should be exerted the most pressure. Take a look at this article:
If you fix the cities, do you fix the problem? With 50 percent of the entire human race currently living in cities and responsible for emitting up to 80 percent of all global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions every year, they certainly don't seem a bad place to start.
So in fact, energy independence is something that needs to be done on the personal and municipal level, and the federal government can help out as well. Energy independence is possible only if average citizens are willing to make an effort. The federal government can help out through national programs and raising national awareness (imagine the president holding a press conference every week instructing people what to do to reduce their energy consumption, a tactic that costs nothing and ends up being an important part of an overall plan). On this issue then the two parties are actually not that relevant. Energy independence isn't something that the federal government alone is going to bring about.
  • Reason #5: Passive-aggressive sarcasm, too much focus on character and little on issues from the McCain camp is a warning sign on what the next four years would be like.
The former characteristic is unpresidential and wears thin very quickly (Palin's "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities"), the latter is a bluff disguising a lack of real planning. How far can you go on sarcasm and appeals to character? It may look good over a four-day convention, but imagine this going on for the next four years, a sarcastic and spiteful vice-president and a president who believes that one's own character and a gut instinct is enough to get the country through just about anything. Be vary wary when you see this coming from a candidate.

Note: McCain's speech at the Republican National Convention also contained twice the number of personal references as Obama's did. This constant focus on his own personal story and interpretation of the world is another red flag.
  • Reason #6: The fight against terrorism.
The fight against terrorism is a complex and multi-pronged one, and needs to be resolved through both military strength as well as intelligence gathering and cultural influence. Even the Bush administration anknowledges this with their "winning hearts and minds" tactic, so it's not any sort of limp-wristed liberal idea that terrorism is fought through diplomatic might as well as military. Joe Biden made the very good point during a Democratic primary debate (video here, go about 1:44 in) about how decisions on national security are not made in a vacuum:
The late Tim Russert: Would you pledge to the American people that Iran would not build a nuclear bomb on your watch?

Joe Biden: I would pledge to keep us safe. If you told me, Tim, and this is not, this is complicated stuff. We talk about this in isolation. The fact of the matter is that the Iranians may get 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. The Pakistanis have hundreds, thousands of kilograms of highly enriched uranium. If by attacking Iran to stop them from getting 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium the government of Pakistan falls, who has missiles already deployed, with nuclear weapons on them that can already reach Israel, already reach India, then that's a bad bargain. Presidents make wise decisions informed not by a vacuum in which they operate, (but) by the situation they find themselves in the world. I will do all in my power to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but I will never take my eye off the ball. What is the greatest threat to the United States of America? 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in Tehran, or an out-of-control Pakistan? It's not close.
The United States needs an administration that understands the complexities involved in the fight against terrorism. The argument could be made that McCain understands these as well after all his years of experience, but remember the first point about how a McCain administration includes an inexperienced VP to take power should anything happen to the President (and the VP takes control in the event of a surgery as well, not just death, so it's very realistic that we could see Palin taking over for a week or two), and also an Obama-Biden administration would be no pushover in terms of terrorism and foreign policy, so here as well the safe choice is Obama-Biden.

Also, even Bill O'Reilly is convinced that Obama is tough on foreign policy:
After going mano-a-mano with Obama on television, I am also persuaded that he is a sincere guy—that he wants the best for all Americans. He's an ideologue, but not a blind one. He understands that his story is incredible, and, I have come to believe, he is grateful to the American system for allowing it happen.

  • Reason #7: An Obama presidency would have a positive influence on democracy around the world.
This reason doesn't have so much to do with Obama being half black, so much as the fact that he was an unknown until 2004 and has been able to get to this point in so short a time. To give one example of how this positive influence would work, let's take South Korea where I live. The last presidential election (2007) was one of the least inspiring presidential elections the country has ever witnesed, ten old men (or was it twelve?) that weren't able to excite voters at all, resulting in the lowest voter turnout ever. The person that won was the former mayor of Seoul and a bit of a Mitt Romney-type businessman, the guy in second was all about labour and unions, the rest were boring, and one was just hilarious:
He became famous for making extremely bizzare claims, such as that he had the IQ of 430, or that he possessed supernatural powers and can teleport or heal the sick with his power. In addition, he claimed that he was a secret adviser of South Korea's former military ruler, president Park Chung Hee and said that he would like to marry Park Geun Hye, his daughter.

He was recently accused of defrauding his party members and defaming Park Geun Hye. During the elections, Huh had spread a photo of himself, allegedly taken with U.S. President George W. Bush. The photo was later proven to be doctored.

He also planned to give everybody in the country that got married a huge sum of money (I think it was something like $200,000) and wanted to move the UN (yes, the whole UN) to the Panmunjeom, which is the militarized border between North and South Korea.

So that's the state of democracy here in South Korea. There are also physical fights in the National Assembly (the House), and there's an even stronger revulsion for politicians here than in North America. Japan is pretty dry and boring too, and so are a lot of countries. A McCain presidency would further cement the notion that one becomes president by spending decades in government and compromising one's views to suit one's base until finally the chance comes. An Obama presidency would show the opposite, that a person with enough intelligence, ambition and a message that appeals to the average person can become president if the people make it happen, and I suspect this would make the difference in a lot of countries in convincing some really good potential candidates to make a go for it as well, people that perhaps never would have thought it possible before.
  • Reason #8: Admit it, you'd find Barack Obama being elected far more interesting than John McCain.
Okay, maybe this isn't the most persuasive reason for some, but I see a lot more of the United States in a person like Barack Obama than John McCain, because the United States is a country that is willing to go with candidates like Ronald Reagon (the former actor), Jesse Ventura (the former wrestler), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (the Austrian former bodybuilder and actor). On the other hand, John McCain's story as the son of an admiral that was in the military and eventually became a politican is actually a pretty common one, and can be found in just about every country around the world. The other three above and Barack Obama, however, are candidates that just wouldn't happen in a lot of countries, but can happen in the United States.

So those are some of the main reasons I believe independent and undecided voters should go for Barack Obama instead of John McCain this November 4th. Here's hoping that enough voters on election day will avoid the personality-centrism and uncertainty of a McCain-Palin ticket and instead cast a vote for the stability and long-term vision that the Obama-Biden ticket represents.

Oh, and by the way (last point, I promise), the economy over the past 50 years has grown faster under a Democratic administration than a Republican one. Keep that in mind as well when making the choice.
The stark contrast between the whiz-bang Clinton years and the dreary Bush years is familiar because it is so recent. But while it is extreme, it is not atypical. Data for the whole period from 1948 to 2007, during which Republicans occupied the White House for 34 years and Democrats for 26, show average annual growth of real gross national product of 1.64 percent per capita under Republican presidents versus 2.78 percent under Democrats.

That 1.14-point difference, if maintained for eight years, would yield 9.33 percent more income per person, which is a lot more than almost anyone can expect from a tax cut.


Unknown said...

Government funding of cultural events is actually a very good idea *IF* this attracts a lot of foreign tourists with their pockets full of dollars to spend. This improves the local economies of many regions, helps increasing the income of many families, and creates a lot of temporary jobs for people who would be otherwise unemployed.

Anonymous said...

Barack Obama who is running as an agent of change is part of the "old boy" network as evidenced by his vote on the Wall Street Bailout. He misrepresented Henry Kissenger's position on preconditions for dialogue with Iran. Arrogance combined with inexperience is a lethal combination. His economics is the capstone of the New Deal. It won't work in an economy overburdened by eccessive spending. He is a risk and I don't trust him to navigate through the morass of challenges in the third millenium. His connection with unsavory elements in his grassroots experience show him to be an opportunist of the worst political stripe. My impression is that a vote for Obama is a vote for Huey Long going national. Disaster looming.

Anonymous said...

The overwhelming majority of undecideds will break for McCain on election because they are not really undecided as to the vote but are undecided about telling anyone about it for a variety of reasons. obama is not a compelling agent of change given his penchant to associate with unsavories. America will remember who she is on election day and send him back to the Chicago bario from whence he came.

Me said...

Anonymous: luckily Sarah Palin changed all that, making the McCain ticket the risky one. If he had chosen someone like Olympia Snowe independents would likely have broken his way but by choosing someone even more inexperienced and unsuited for the position McCain has undermined this.

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