Or, where I'm at right now on this presidential race thing and how I got here
Over in the comments on Guy's Sarah Palin post, I mentioned that I was about to start looking more seriously into McCain, and I thought this would be a good time to document the start of that process, for any who might be interested.
First, some context about where I'm coming from. I'm a lifelong lefty. In my 20+ years of voting, I have voted for exclusively Democrats in hundreds of positions at all levels of government.
In addition, my partner is a consultant in Democratic politics, and gave advice to Gore's team during the 2000 "hanging chads" election debacle.
I go into this history not because it has the slightest to do with the validity of my beliefs, but to indicate that whatever you might think about my current beliefs, I come to my positions with a long history of far left thinking and voting as my base. I delved into this a bit in this post, where I explored what I believed then and now on various issues of the day.
Anyone reading my posts over the last few years, first on the developer forums and now here, knows that my current views wouldn't always seem to match up with my staunchly liberal history, so I'm going to try and provide some context for that, and for why I would be giving McCain any consideration at all.
My straight-Democratic-ticket voting streak ended in 2004, when, for the first time I can recall, I voted for a Republican...not only a Republican, but the evilest of all Evil League of Evil Republicans ever, George Bush.
WTF? Had I lost my mind? My household worked hard to try and defeat him in 2000 when everything was at stake during those weeks in Florida, and now we were mired in a Vietnam-style war with no end in sight, and I voted for that guy?
Yup. I was a single-issue voter, and I trusted both candidates at their word. I trusted Kerry when, in his NY Times profile toward the end of the campaign, he said:
''We need to engage more directly and more respectfully with Islam, with the state of Islam, with religious leaders, mullahs, imams, clerics, in a way that proves this is not a clash with the British and the Americans and the old forces they remember from the colonial days,'' Kerry told me during a rare break from campaigning, in Seattle at the end of August. ''And that's all about your diplomacy.''
I suppose this is where I tread on being a mouth-breathing knuckle dragger, but when it comes to engaging with Islam, I'm more in the camp of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie and Mark Steyn in believing that Islam is something to be confronted and reformed, not respected and coddled in its current form. Kerry's talk here scares the crap out of me, especially when I reflect on how our neighbors to the North flirt with introducing Sharia law into a civilized country.
There is a cultural war at work here, and it's one we absolutely cannot lose. Other modern countries have gone down the tubes in recent years by letting the Islamic camel get its nose under the tent, and we can't let that happen to us.
The funny thing is, to my mind, this was and is a profoundly liberal, profoundly Democrat, point of view. I want to protect the status of women as independent beings who can make their own life choices; I want people to have self-determination and freedom of speech, association, and religion. So from my perspective I was intensely interested in pushing forward the agenda that I and my fellow lefties had always believed in, but as I looked around in 2004, I found that my fellow lefties had wandered off to some other field, and I was standing alone.
At this time I don't think I knew the terminology, but I was beginning to understand the difference between a "classic liberal" and a Democrat liberal, and my exploration of that difference led to some deep realizations for me, more of which perhaps later in this post or others.
I also believed Kerry when he said, as paraphrased in that profile:
Kerry has argued that Bush's war in Iraq is a disaster, that troops should be brought home before the end of the next presidential term and that the Iraq war is a ''profound diversion'' from the war on terror and the real showdown with Al Qaeda.
I agreed with him that the war to that point was a disaster, a fact I found depressing and extremely disappointing, but I could not accept pulling out once we had engaged. We broke it, we needed to take responsibility and fix it -- or, more realistically, create the circumstances which would allow the Iraqis to fix it. To invade their country and then leave them helpless to defend themselves against terrorists and surrounding nations was not an option, in my mind.
I could not help but think frequently about what I consider our nation's lowest point in modern history, as chronicled here by PBS (about the first Bush during the first Gulf War):
Bush urges Iraqis to rise up. They do, and within days Saddam has lost control of southern Iraq. But the rebellion is soon overwhelmed by Saddam's forces, which include helicopter gunships, and Bush orders U.S. troops not to intervene. It is estimated that thousands of Shiites were killed.
It's even worse than that. After Bush told the Iraqis (specifically the Kurds) to rise up, he not only stood by and watched them die, he actually let Saddam have the helicopters and the permission to use the airspace so they could be killed.
Never again, I say. We cannot once again offer hope to the Iraqis, or any people, then leave them hanging, quite literally.
I believed Bush when he said he wouldn't pull out of Iraq. In my opinion, both candidates were men of their word on these issues, and, for me at that time, this was the defining issue and therefore determined my vote.
I voted for Bush on his promise that he wouldn't pull out of Iraq.
As such, I may be one of the few people in human history to not only get what he voted for, but more:
- Rumsfeld was finally fired.
- Real military leadership was put in place, and we got serious about dealing with Iraq and the terrorists there.
- When times got tough and everyone including his own party wanted to run, Bush doubled down and committed more by doing the Surge. His most vocal supporter? John McCain.
The Surge may be the most successful military gambit since WWII. Here is what Barack Obama has to say about it:
"I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated," Obama told O'Reilly in an interview taped Thursday in York, PA. "It's succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."
Some translation is in order: When he says "nobody anticipated", he means that he was totally wrong and Bush and McCain were totally right on this, the most important military decision in recent US history since our initial decision to invade. He still defends his call for us to pull out of Iraq in defeat and his condemnation (until this statement, in the face of overwhelming success) of the Surge.
I'm getting a bit sidetracked in time here, but this isn't a minor thing. This is politics at its best and purest. McCain put his campaign on the line to support the Surge at a time when people were sure that guaranteed his loss of the nomination; Obama took the easy route and refused to change his opinion in the face of changing facts and to this day refuses to change his opinion in the face of what he describes as the wild success of the Surge.
Whatever you side you find yourself on in this, there is no better litmus test of the difference between these candidates on which to make your choice.
But back to 2004. Voting for Bush was a shock to my system. I couldn't possibly be voting for someone I disagreed with so fundamentally on so many issues (as is true to this day) if something hadn't changed in me.
This was the impact of 9/11 on my thinking. I was pulled out of the more petty day to day political considerations to look at the bigger picture, and I found that I was no longer a partisan voter. I could no longer vote on party lines regardless of what the party said and did.
Now, for me, I look at the critical issues facing us, and I look for which candidate and which party is most likely to make progress on those issues in the next four to eight years, regardless of how many other things I disagree with them on.
This brings me to my initial consideration of McCain. In 2000 I saw him as some weird intense guy who I didn't understand and didn't feel I could really trust.
Here are the factors I know of right now:
- He is no friend to the First Amendment. Very troubling to me. Unfortunately, the Democrats are no better friends to free speech given their desire to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. Free speech and trade are two pillars of a healthy society that no longer have a major party supporting them in this country.
- He was involved in the "Keating 5" scandal; my vague understanding is that he wasn't really very culpable, but was pulled in because they needed to include a Republican to seem fair. I need to look into this more.
- He believes in confronting and defeating evil, like Gandalf and I do. A point for him.
- His focus on service to the country is worrisome. I need to look into exactly what that translates into.
- He is not, by his own admission, very knowledgeable about economics, but his instincts are for free trade, low taxes, and a market economy. If this is not being knowledgeable, we need more not knowledgeable candidates! Big point in his favor, especially since neither party is willing to support trade any more and Obama can't talk about trade or jobs without saying things I find patently ignorant and dangerous.
Something about that: Obama's economic advisors are quite good in my opinion, but what Obama says doesn't match up with what his advisors believe. People tell me he's just lying about his economic beliefs for public consumption, and the advisors are a signal to those who understand economics of what approach he'll really take.
That may well be, but I have a policy: I accept candidates at their word during the campaign. I don't try to play acrobatic games where I guess which things they are lying about and which not.
On the question of economics, I found it particularly odd that in his major speech on race, Obama included this slam on foreign workers:
This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.
What slam on foreign workers, you ask? Well, the ones who get the jobs that are shipped overseas. Is it really a problem that someone somewhere got a job? Is it really only acceptable if Americans get jobs? This call to xenophobia and protectionism is deeply disturbing to me.
- Related to economics, he is assertively pro-immigration and, as with the Surge, was willing to tank his candidacy if necessary to defy his party and keep true to this. (Yes, he finally signed on to some watered down thing on immigration, but he stayed true to his core). I'm strongly with McCain here.
- He is anti-abortion, but unwilling to do much about it. I'm pro-choice, but not too concerned given his hands-off approach on this.
- He's socially conservative, I'm socially quite liberal. But, as with abortion, his feelings don't appear to translate to actions, and as the GayPatriot site has discussed multiple times, the McCain people and the Republicans have been quite accepting of gays at the convention (unlike, as GayPatriotWest stresses, his gay friends who are almost universally intolerant of him being a Republican).
- He's very close to Joe Leiberman, who I respect quite a lot (though I have the same disagreements with Joe in many areas). If he indicates that Leiberman will be an important part of his administration -- say, Secretary of Defense or State, it'll be a big point in his favor.
- He apparently considered, at least in passing, Huckabee as his VP pick. It's in his favor that he doesn't seem to have taken this seriously; if he had picked Huckabee, that would have made me a guaranteed Obama voter, on the basis of Huckabee's confusion between us and fundamentalist Islamic countries:
"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."
Those are the items I start with. As it happens, most of the blogs I read are anti-McCain. Here are probably the most influential (to me) anti-McCain blogs I read:
- Megan McArdle
- Will Wilkinson
- Andrew Sullivan
Megan McArdle and Will Wilkinson are extremely intelligent, thoughtful libertarians who refuse to vote for McCain for various reasons, his attack on the first amendment probably being the biggest. Their concerns give me pause.
Andrew Sullivan is a formerly-thoughtful-and-independent-conservative and former New Republic editor who is now a full-throated Obama supporter and whose attacks on McCain and Palin actually serve to drive me toward McCain just in reaction to the viciousness (Sullivan was probably the highest-profile pusher of the conspiracy theory that Palin's last child was actually her daughter's child...disgusting stuff.)
I think the only sort-of-pro-McCain blog I'm consistently reading is:
- The Corner, a blog associated with National Review. Unlike Andrew Sullivan, these are a set of thoughtful, conflicted commentators who have been tepid for McCain and who, in response to the Palin pick, range from ecstatic to thinking McCain is nuts.
In other words, this is the perfect sort of blog to help sort through my opinions on the subject.
After all that, where I'm at right now:
Almost everything about Obama scares me.
Many things about McCain scare me.
everything - many things = probable McCain voter from what I know now
This could change as I learn more over the next couple of months, and as we hear more from the candidates.
My rule is that I don't throw away my vote on protest candidates, and I don't try to "choose the winner". I vote for whoever I feel will make the best progress on the most important issues of the day, whether I agree with them on other things or not and whether they are likely to win or not.
As indicated above, there are things McCain can do that would make me an instant Obama voter; at this point it's probably fair to say there's nothing Obama could do to make me an instant Obama voter.
Let me know what you think about all this -- and if you know of thoughtful blogs covering the candidates in an interesting or persuasive manner, please let me know.