Wednesday, October 29, 2008

So My Problems With the Upcoming Election

I'm supposed to be a good little progressive type aren't I? I support rent control laws. I am generally for taxes which make sense. I am pretty liberal when it comes social issues (why should anyone have the right to invalidate or criminalize someone else's way of living when it does not cause an actual harm to another.)

So why can I just not get excited about Senator Obama? Even at this late stage of the campaign, I am having trouble the idea of voting for Senator Obama. (Yes, I know, this must make a racist.)

Part of it has to do with the fact that I can't see the substance to anything he says. Ten years ago, Senator Obama was at the start of his second term as an Illinois State Legislatory, specifically a State Senator. During his eight years as a state senator, Senator Obama proposed approximately 800 pieces of legislation. Almost half of them dealth with either health and human service issues (i.e. health care issues) or bills related to poverty (i.e. public assistance or studies of poverty issues). Now that is a lot more than his record in the Senate.

But what is disturbing about his time in the Illinois State Senate was how he voted. Not so much that he voted the liberal Democrat party line. It is the fact that in a number of cases where the issue was controversial, Senator Obama voted "present". Essentially by voting present, Senator Obama was abdicating making a decision. Now, Senator Obama characterizes these as protest votes, claiming that it was part of a strategy to protest the proposed legislation.

Now, it was my impression, that the correct thing for a legislator to do when faced with a bill that they did not agree with, was to vote against it. Apparently, my civics instructor misinformed me back in the seventh grade.

In his one term as a U.S. Senator, Obama has been present for (by my count) 584 votes. Of those Senator Obama voted present 240 times, or 41% of the time. Yes some of those "present" votes were for resolutions such as "Expressing Support for General Petraeus and All Members of the Armed Forces", but then were instances of his voting "present" for bills such as FISA Amendment Act of 2007, REAL ID Act funding, and consumer protection laws. Then there were his non-votes on issues regarding Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Obama says that he wants to lead. Senator Obama says that he wants to sit in the Oval Office and be the President of the United States. To me, that is a job that requires making a decision more than 59% of the time.

Now, there are other things about Senator Obama that disturb me. He has a tendency to surround himself with people that have made some questionable choices.
First, there is Professor William Ayers. Mr. Ayers has admitted to setting bombs and conspiring with others to conduct a bombing campaign. This is not a case of simply being an anti-war protester. This was a man who planted bombs. He has never fully come clean about his activities, with other former radicals asserting that his memoir riddled with errors. Prior to 9/11, Mr. Ayers claimed that he had no regrets about being a part of a terror organization and that he would do it (be a terrorist) again. However, as soon as the Twin Towers fell, and the climate for would-be terrorists became distinctly unhealthy, he set about on a campaign to retract/explain away those statements. On another occasion, he seems to argue that an apology for what he did would not be right

Then there is a Dr. Rashid Khalidi, of Columbia University. At best, this man is an apologist for terrorism. At worst, he is a member of the PLO, a terrorist organization.

Aside from terrorists, Senator Obama also seems to choose poorly when it comes to his economic advisors. Yes, he does have people listed such as Robert Reich and Paul Volcker. However, he also has taken advice, or hoped to until people in the media finally dared to say something negative about the Obama campaign, Franklin Raines and James A. Johnson. Both Raines and Johnson were former heads of Fannie Mae. Both were forced out of the CEO positions because of accounting scandals.

As far as his foreign policy advisors are concerned, from the articles that I have read which deal with who is actually advising him, he appears to have a mixed bag. Susan E. Rice is apparently the head of Senator Obama's foreign policy advisors which include Anthony Lake, Gregory B. Craig, Richard J. Danzig, and Denis McDonough. From what I can discern, this seems like a foreign policy team that is driven more by humanitarian impulses rather than pragmatism. While we should aspire to see that human rights are respected and upheld, to base a foreign policy on that idea, rather than the interests of the nation, is a dangerous road. It was attempted by the U.S. back in the 1970s, during the Carter Administration and was not very successful.
After looking at who Obama calls friends, and whom he turns to for advice, I look at Obama's record and his actions. Other than proposing bills, or rabble rousing for change as a community organizer, there is very little in the way of a record to go by as to how he will act in a tough spot. His 240 present votes do not exactly fill me with optimism. Furthermore, for a man who claims he wants "change". Such a nebulous word. Is change all good? What kind of change do we need?
To an extent, I hope he means changing many of the things that have gone wrong under the current administration. In a pamphlet ("Obama Bide Blueprint for Change")on his campaign site, he includes portions of a speech where he said, "“There are some who believe that we must try to turn back the clock on this new world; that the only chance to maintain our living standards is to build a fortress around America; to stop trading with other countries, shut down immigration, and rely on old industries. I disagree." Yet, what is his track record on these issues?
He voted for legislation such as the second PATRIOT ACT and the FISA amendments ("build a fortress around America"). On immigration issues he has been saved from making a hard choice with the failure last year to get to the voting stage because cloture was not invoked (i.e. there was not enough people ready to vote whether to enact the bill). Then on the issue of relying on old industries, Obama has expressed a desire to renegotiate portions of NAFTA, which indicates to me that he wants to increase protections for American industries that have not fared so well under the NAFTA regime. Then there is his proposed Patriot Employer Act, with its protectionistic overtones. Then there are his votes against free trade pacts with Central American countries and Peru, and Senator Obama has also voiced his opposition to planned free trade deals with Columbia and South Korea. For all his lipservice to the global economy, his actions indicate something else.
Then there is the war. We are currently fighting two campaigns, separated by thousands of miles, involving different cultures against enemies who are unified primarily in their adherence to an interpretation of Islam. Senator Obama has been very clear about his position: he wants out of Iraq. However, he wants to get further, and more significantly (in terms of numbers) involved in Afghanistan. He has voted against General Petraeus and against the surge. He has called for a timetable for withdrawal. On all of these issues, I cannot be on the same side as the Senator from Illinois.
Whether or not the decision to go into Iraq was the right one, or whether the administration in power lied about the evidence, the fact of the matter is that we are there. We have killed thousands of people and we have lost many of our own over there. We have destroyed countless structures, and ravaged the infrastructure of that land. This is not to say that American and Coalition forces are some rampaging hordes bent on destruction for destruction's sake. Death and destruction are facts of warfare. However, bound up in our actions is a responsibility which I believe that we have. That responsibility is to help to set right what we have caused to go wrong. To leave Iraq before stability (not utopia mind you) is achieved, would be to consign the Iraqi people to another round of violence and the potential for another failed state along the lines of Somalia or Afghanistan. The United States did help the Iraqi people by eliminating the Hussein regime. But unlike movies, where when the villain dies the movie ends, there needs to be something more or else the victory will be lost.
We should have learned this lesson from our actions in 1990s when we abandoned Afghanistan. It seems that Senator Obama has not.
Senator Obama's strategy for Afghanistan seems to be not much better. Instead of pulling out, he wants to drop more troops into that region. Not only does he want to expand our commitment there, Senator Obama has even stated that maybe we should invade Pakistan. Statements like these concern me because they do not have the feel of someone who has a rudimentary understanding of the history of that part of the world, or what it would entail. It also seems to me that he does not even pay attention to the conflict he is most opposed: namely Iraq. Terrorists are essentially insurgents. Insurgencies do not go away simply because you invade the territory where they might be operating from. Large scale operations to reduce insurgencies usually fail (see various operations in Iraq and Vietnam prior to General Abrams taking command of US Forces there).
Furthermore, there is his tax policy. I am all in favor of ensuring that everyone pays their fair share. However, I question how he is going about doing it. Right now, 1 percent of Americans pay 37 percent of the taxes in this country. The top 10 percent of American earns account for 67 percent of taxes paid to the government. And these are the people who are going to see their taxes increased. While at the same time, the people who benefit from those taxes (whether it be through government assistance programs or college tuition grants) will see their taxes cut even more. It seems to me unsustainable to expect a dwindling number of people to pay for everything in this country. It almsot seems like it is penalizing people for being successful. Ideally the tax system in this country should be progressive and not confiscatory. A tax increase, such as proposed by Senator Obama, seems like a move back to a confiscatory taxing scheme.
Finally, in looking at Senator Obama's statements and actions, I look at how he proposes to act in the foreign policy arena. And there, there is more to concern me. First, there is Senator Obama's proposed method for dealing with Iran: directly and without preconditions. To do this would, in my opinion, be a public relations coup for Iran in general and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in particular. After years of trying to curb their nuclear ambitions, it would be as if we surrendered our principles just to talk to them. Part of diplomacy is perception. For the world to perceive us as giving in to rogue states, it would lend credence to the thought that the U.S. is weak willed. Negotiating always gets harder when you come at it from a position of weakness. And that is how we would be if Senator Obama carries through on this plan. Equals can meet without preconditions. The U.S. and Iran are not equal in size, in power, or population. To treat them as equals, raises their stature and the image of their power while it erodes at our own.
Second, there is the question of Israel. Senator Obama has been making the rounds. He has been saying the right things. However, there is just some part of me that concerned about his actual stance. There are those around him who are his friends, Dr. Khalidi and William Ayers, both of who are supporters of the terrorists. There is his pastor, Revrend Wright, whose own views on Israel are well known. Everyone has a racist friend that he excuses, but when more of them keep appearing, you have to wonder where his true heart lies on this topic.
What I have written above, are my intellectual problems with Senator Obama. Intellectually, I applaud a number of Senator Obama's positions. I probably would also be in favor of the people whom he would choose to sit as judges in the Federal Courts. To an extent, I agree with his health care proposals (though some parts I question as being workable).
But they are not my only problems with him. On an emotional level, the Obama campaign has brought about a visceral reaction: I don't like him and am scared of him. And I can pinpoint the exact moment when that reaction started when Senator Obama announced that rather than accept the nomination in the covention hall, he would accept it in a speech at a stadium nearby. The feeling was reinforced when I saw the speech. It was not the words he said, but it was the backdrop and imagery he used. Yes, I know they do not match, but the first thing that popped into my head was "Nuremberg". As I ride the bus to work, I see Obama for President campaing paintings on buildings and in posters that remind me of Fascist propaganda posters of the 1930s. Senator Obama's campaign feel as though it has become, at least to me, demagogic. His followers, so extreme, accusing those who do not agree with Senator Obama's statements and proposals as being racist or worse. I'm not comparing Senator Obama to Hitler, Mao, Stalin or anyone else who has encouraged a cult of personality. But Senator Obama's campaign, at least to me, has that cult of personality feel.
He is a man who has no real record of leadership or accomplishment, just of having a knack for getting himself elected. Some have made comparisons between him and John F. Kennedy in regards to the lack of a record. The problem with that is John F. Kennedy, for all the mistakes he made, had been forced to take responsibility during WWII and acquitted himself well.What I do not see is someone who has a record for assuming responsibility to see something through. He has never owned a business, been a mayor, governor, or had command responsibility. He sounds good, but can he be more than someone who just sounds good?
So there is my problem in a nutshell with Senator Obama. On the issues, I seem him standing on the right side when it comes to judges, healthcare, and civil rights. I see him on the wrong side of foreign policy, Iraq and Afghanistan, and tax policy.

No comments: