Hogan's Alley

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting With My Heart and My Head

I have just returned from voting. For the record, I voted for Barack Obama.

It felt very satisfying. It felt like crossing a major river in our still short journey as a nation. From our beginnings as a republic of slave owners and disenfranchised slaves and former slaves to the probable election of an African American man as our President. Have we confronted our national original sin, acknowledged it and now put it behind us? I hope so. In any event, it is a moment well worthy of celebration.

This year I got the election I asked for. Of all the potential candidates who presented themselves over the last seemingly endless two years Obama and McCain were the finest people available. McCain is one of the most honorable men to have survived a political career with the better part of his integrity in tact. His personal history of bravery is unimpeachable.

Obama is perhaps the best spoken and, apparently, the most intelligent man to run for the office in my lifetime. His calmness and analytical coherence are impressive and much needed. His campaign, the only substantive clue we have of his leadership skills, has been the best in generations. Be honest, who among us believed two years ago that he could get past the vaunted Clinton machine to the Democratic nomination, much less be on the cusp of history tonight. This did not happen by accident.

Early in the primary season, Obama made noises that were calculated to endear him to the "progressive" wing of the Democratic electorate and blogosphere. But over time the careful listener could detect a clear tack to center. Troops would be withdrawn from Iraq in 16 months, but only responsibly and with the advise of the military on the ground. Health care, which was initially presented as a thrust for universality and justice, was later amended to more closely resemble those changes that will actually be achievable and affordable.

The bottom line for me is that I have placed my hopes in this man. My gut about him is that he will be calm and sound and thoughtful and inspiring and strong as President. Soon we will begin to see the early signs of his Presidential style. Who makes up his transition team, how they operate and who his early appointments are will tell us a good deal. Will he choose a rabid partisan like Rahm Emanuel for his Chief of Staff, or a more balanced person to manage the White House? Perhaps a person like Emanuel is better taken off the stage afforded him in Congress and better put to work focusing on making Obama's program happen and taking steps behind the scenes to assure his reelection. Only Obama can judge if he can be loyal to his President or can only exercise his hatred of Republicans to the detriment of a unifying presidency.

Notice I absolutely assume an Obama victory. All the numbers and my gut instincts point in that direction. I also am assuming an Obama presidency that will try to bring Americans together on the many things we agree about rather than continue to tear us apart in some bizzaro Rovian counterpoint.

Those, I confess, are my hopes. More than that, it is what I demand of the next President. I have not imbibed the koolaid. Obama is a human being. For the next four years I will be watchful as well as hopeful.

Finally, voting against John McCain was not easy. He is one of the people I admire most in public life. Sadly, his campaign was not very competent. It lurched in fits and starts from one attempt to pull a rabbit out of a hat to another. Sara Palin, suspension of the campaign to deal with the economic crisis, "Billy" Ayers (as he was called in a Weather Underground manifesto from the 60's), and others. But more than any other event, it was his apparent inability to lead in the Senate or Congress as a whole in the development of the economic "rescue" plan and his sloppy assertion that the fundamentals of the economy were sound. The old maverick McCain would have sounded an alarm. He would have looked at that legislation and its endless list of added pork for what it was and voted against it. McCain the candidate for President lacked the courage to do so or to stand for any but the commonly held wisdom on the subject. For that matter, what was to be the guiding ethos of a McCain presidency? I have no idea. Vetoing pork and taxing existing health benefits do not an overarching philosophy make. Sad but true.

Yet he does deserve our great admiration for choosing not to use the Rev. Wright against Obama. He could have done so very easily. It is reasonable to question Obama's twenty years of membership and close relationship to his minister. But what festering sores of our racial history would such a campaign tactic have picked at. Would it have taught us anything about Sen. Obama except that he worked the political base he needed to have credibility with in order to get elected in Chicago. John McCain's finest act of service to America may well have been his decision to not take that road. We owe him a great debt for this.

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