Frankly, I don’t want either one of them to be president. I suppose that, for the first time since 1968, when I became eligible to vote, I could stay home. Or, for the first time, I could vote Republican. But neither of these choices would be consistent with my most cherished beliefs.
Since the race card is being played, let me state my credentials. In that first election I voted in, I wrote in the name of Eldridge Cleaver, a black radical I believed in at the time. Neither Hubert Humphrey nor, certainly, Richard Nixon, could get my vote. Would I have voted for Cleaver if I had thought he could win? Probably not, but I thought it was a useful protest.
I was by then long involved in the integration movement. In August 1963, a few days before my seventeenth birthday, I defied my parents’ express command, left them a note in the middle of the night, and boarded a bus to Washington to hear the great speech that changed America and the world.
Martin Luther King’s dream has not quite come true, but there are many signs that it is well on the way, not least of which is that our next president may well be black. In the abstract, I will cheer that outcome, as I did when a president I strongly oppose—George W. Bush—appointed Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to two of the highest positions in our government.
I would vote for Colin Powell for president in a heartbeat, at the head of either party, over any other candidate I can think of. He has the experience and maturity to be the world’s most powerful leader. I trust his judgment—despite the fact that he was bamboozled by Bush and Cheney on Iraq—and I believe in him as a man of principle, not a politician. Probably that helps explain why he refused to run for president, but I consider that reluctance one of the great political tragedies of our age.
Obama, I believe, is not ready to be president. He is objectively the least experienced nominee for president in over a century. He has said much, but done very little. He has policies and rhetoric, but no experience. He went to Harvard and excelled there; he gave up a chance at a lucrative law career and did good work in the streets of Chicago. I know many people who fit this and similar descriptions. This doesn’t qualify them to be president.
He served as a state senator and performed acceptably. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in an easy race and he did practically nothing in the Senate before he began the all-consuming run for the White House. His greatest accomplishment by far is winning that race (so far), and I don’t find that reassuring.
As for his eloquence, I find it rather empty. I am not persuaded that he is capable of standing up to the truly evil men in this world, and I am not persuaded that he is a true friend to Israel. With the exception of his initial opposition to the war, I think he has been wrong on Iraq for years now. I think he is foolish to propose negotiations with Iran at the level of the presidency, and I doubt that he has the resolve to do what may be necessary to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
So why will I vote for him?
I won’t, really. I will vote against McCain. I will vote against a Supreme Court that would be reactionary until my children are considerably older than I am now. I will vote against a reversal of Roe vs. Wade, in favor of the rights of gays and lesbians, and against the strong hold the religious right has had on our country for too long.
Although Sarah Palin appeals to me and has more relevant experience than Obama, she is a right-wing fanatic who lacks the intelligence and judgment to be president; McCain is seventy-two and recovering from cancer. So I will be voting against her too.
I will also be voting for some things I have fought for all my life. Universal health care. Funding, not just mandates, for educating our children. Equal rights and opportunities for African-Americans. A unique opportunity for racial healing by electing a biracial man with a multinational history. And a chance to renew America’s stature as a beacon of liberty and reason in the world.
These seem like abstractions compared to the litany of personal and biographical weaknesses I associate with Senator Obama. I feel as if I am taking a big chance with Israel’s fate, among other things dear to me. I don’t think Obama is remotely ready to lead the nation or the world. But I can’t accept the idea of more right-wing ideology, more reactionary “solutions.” And I believe too strongly in voting to stay home.
So, with grave reservations, I will vote for Barack Obama.