Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Case for Obama

The Democratic race for President has heated up with the Iowa caucus results and surging momentum of the campaign for Barack Obama. It was always assumed that Hillary Clinton was to inherit the Democratic throne, in part because the Democratic base still is largely loyal to Bill Clinton. The Clinton network is vast, and fund raising capabilities are as strong as one can imagine. But that entrenched network has been shown to be vulnerable by Obama. Of course, immediately after the Iowa results, the attacks came his way. Leading the way is the argument of lack of experience. But what does that mean, exactly?

There is a case to be made that Obama lacks executive experience. What large organization or bureaucracy has he ever led? That is a valid point. The trouble is, look at who is making that argument – Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. They, being lawyers and Senators, also have no executive experience, so their attacks in this venue are simply invalid and hypocritical. Someone like Bill Richardson, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee can legitimately separate themselves from the Senators on this point, as they are Governors and a mayor of one of the largest economies in the world, New York City. John McCain cannot claim executive experience, either, for the same reason as the other Senators. Generally, though, a new President appoints a chief of staff who is largely responsible for day to day running of the administration, so I personally don’t place executive experience as high as ideas/principles or foreign policy experience.

When it comes to foreign policy experience, however, think about the Presidents over the past thirty years, since the days of Jimmy Carter. Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and G.W. Bush were governors. Governors generally have no true experience with foreign policy. The only one with experience in that realm was G.H.W. Bush, who at least had experience as a Vice President and director of the CIA. I would argue that Obama has more experience with thinking about and dealing with foreign policy matters (this includes national security issues, which governors typically don’t deal with directly) in two years of the Senate than four of the five last presidents had when they took office. This holds true for Senators Clinton, Edwards, and McCain, as well. Presidents appoint top experts in foreign policy and national security matters to their cabinet and as advisors, so it is actually more important to have a President who is willing to listen to arguments about a given situation, look at evidence and data, and then make a decision.

On this point, I have to go with Obama. He is known as one who wants to talk with experts in a given field to get the best information and data, and use those data as the basis of a decision. I think back to when the Congress was debating whether to give Bush a blank check and the authority to do as he pleases with the ‘war on terror,’ which of course led to the Iraq War. Clinton and Edwards voted to give Bush the authority, while Obama said as a state senator he opposed such authority. What I have a problem with when it comes to Clinton and Edwards is their lack of identifying and basing their vote on evidence, which points to the two of them as following a political decision to go along with a very popular president (Bush was at something like 80+% approval at that time, following the 9/11/01 attacks). The evidence I mention came from the inspectors who were on the ground in Iraq at the time of the congressional vote. They were given sites to check out by the CIA and other foreign intelligence services as they searched for WMDs. They had access to those sites, including Saddam’s presidential palaces. These were high-probability sites for WMD, as evaluated by intelligence services. The inspectors found nothing at any of the sites. This was direct evidence that our intelligence was flawed at best. The inspectors pleaded for more time to check out more of the country, but once given authority, Bush ordered the inspectors out and the invasion began shortly thereafter. The votes for giving Bush authority, from both Republicans and those Democrats who went along, is unacceptable to me. People who ignored direct evidence that intelligence was flawed, and gave authority to ultimately go to war based on that poor intelligence, are not who I want in the Oval Office making decisions of this magnitude.

What is left? Senators Clinton and Edwards cannot attack Obama on executive experience since they are in the same situation, and the attack on lack of foreign policy experience does not hold water based on presidential history and precedent. In fact, I would also argue that Obama has another important edge because of his expertise with constitutional law, as he has been a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Clinton, Edwards, and McCain cannot make suc a claim.

I also think there is some logic to Obama’s argument to look at where ‘experience’ in Washington has gotten us. We have had no progress with any of the major issues we face. Social security, Medicare, energy policy (let’s face it, going up to 35 mpg by the year 2020 is lame! It should be 50 mpg minimum, if not more, with over a decade of new science and technology development…), infrastructure maintenance, port security, immigration, deficit reduction, and so on, are no different now than years ago when Edwards, Clinton, McCain and others (Biden, Dodd) have been in office.

New ideas, new energy, and a new mindset might just be the true answer to making progress on any of these problems. Obama has those types of characteristics, which is why I think many find him appealing. And he has two years in Washington under his belt, just enough to know how the current system works (or doesn’t work), while still being fresh enough to have better connection with us everyday folks. Remember, he came into all this as one of us…not wealthy, a middle class upbringing, challenges faced by minorities as he came up the ranks, working as a low-paid community activist after Harvard (when he could have had just about any job with a major law firm in the country) and little to no privilege. He may even know what the cost of a gallon of milk is.

I just think if voters really think about all this, the main arguments and attacks Clinton and Edwards have already begun to make to bring down Obama really won’t have the impact they’re intended to make. Obama’s chances of winning in New Hampshire depends greatly on turnout, particularly first time voters and the under-30 portion of the electorate, in order to beat Hillary and the Democratic establishment in the Northeast. It happened in Iowa, and now we will see if New Hampshire follows. After watching the frenzy he had the state Democrats in last night, at the annual dinner where all the remaining candidates spoke, and this morning’s campaign stop at a Nashua high school, where they had to open an entire wing of the school for the overflow crowd, his momentum is still strong and perhaps growing even stronger. What’s more, the polls of likely voters being shown by the press are not good indicators of who will win since the voting blocks Obama dominates will not be included in the polling samples. Those are simply news items to keep the press occupied at this point, as historically low turnout groups are likely to come out in unprecedented numbers with Obama in the race.

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