When I started Red State Diaries more than three years ago, the political atmosphere was even more polluted than it is now.
It was mere days after the 2004 presidential election, a hostile affair that had devolved on each end into barely contained hatred and thinly veiled contempt for the opposing side, and the prospects of healing the nation's 51/49 rift any time soon seemed distant at best. Still, retaining hope that our country could unite again with a common sense of purpose and trying to find others who felt the same way, I added my voice to what was then a relatively small contingent of Alabama bloggers. The site's original tagline said it all: "The musings of an Alabama moderate in a country that isn't as divided as it thinks."
More than 1,300 posts later, the tagline has changed -- I decided moderate
was too subjective and went with the more objective independent
label instead -- but the sentiment hasn't. I still long for leadership that plays not to the base but to everyone, leadership that tries to bring us together instead of trying to tear us apart, leadership that appeals to our best instincts rather than our darkest fears. After decades of bitter division, I believe our country finally has a chance for that sort of leadership, and I believe that leader's name is Barack Obama.
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The slumping economy is the No. 1 issue for a sizable number of Americans, recent national polls have shown
, but for me this election comes down to one word: Iraq
. The war has caused tens of thousands of deaths, distracted from our mission in Afghanistan, tarnished our image in the world community, suffered from the Bush administration's botched planning from the very start, prompted tens of billions of dollars of deficit spending, and -- yes -- contributed in no small part
to the recession that's either already here or will be soon. For all the talk, mostly from Republicans, that "the surge is working," the fact is that the Iraqis have made virtually no progress toward the political stability
vital to any lasting peace, and the surge simply is unsustainable with many soldiers already on their third or fourth tours of duty
Anyone who plans to keep our soldiers in Iraq with no clear end in sight will not get my vote. That measure rules out every Republican candidate except Ron Paul, whose love for the gold standard and sponsorship of legislation
that would strip federal courts of the power to hear cases on gay marriage and state governments' establishment of religion, among other things, must lead me to decline the generous offer to join his revolution.
So that brings it down to a choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, both of whom have spent roughly the same amount of time in elective office. They are veritable mirror images on a range of domestic policy issues, including taxes, health care, energy, and environmental protection. Each also pledges to end the Iraq war as quickly as possible and redirect our efforts toward pursuing al-Qaeda. Despite some minor policy divergences, their websites indicate the similarities far outnumber the differences.
But the presidency is about more than just making promises; it's about making correct decisions. And when the Iraq war debate came around in 2002-03, Obama made the right assessment, while Clinton didn't. Well before any insurgencies or "Mission Accomplished" banners
or dire State of the Union warnings, scores of Middle East experts and other observers publicly warned that the decision to go to war for proffered reasons that, to be generous, turned out to be not quite accurate
, would leave our nation mired in just the sort of difficulties we face now.
Have no doubt that Clinton and Obama -- highly educated, politically astute people -- both heard those analyses. Obama responded with a passionate speech
against the war. Clinton responded with an oscillating speech
and a vote to authorize the war. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but all other things being roughly equal, it sure does make a great tiebreaker.
Intrinsics also make a great tiebreaker, and Obama has a solid edge over Clinton here. Due partly to some controversial campaign tactics and partly to her opponents' unforgiving, otherworldly antipathy for her, Clinton has been a lightning rod for a decade and a half, inspiring intense loyalty among many voters but intense hatred among many others. Fairly or not, her negative ratings are quite sizable
, and if she becomes the Democratic nominee, the country will be well on its way to another 51/49 election that will drag the electorate into another period of destructive, counterproductive "us vs. them" politics.
Obama is a fresh face who hasn't evoked nearly as many fiery negative responses. He also is able to reach out to many people who already have written off Clinton as an option. Obama's stump speeches, laden with rhetorical flourishes and repeated calls for unity and hope, have earned him tremendous support from millions of young voters and independents, and even some old-school conservatives. Among the last category is a lifelong GOP voter who attended a jam-packed rally in Birmingham
last week and put it this way: "I've spent the past few elections voting against a candidate. This time, I'm voting for Obama."
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The very first thing I posted on this site was a mission statement
. I wrote it partly to introduce my writings to a world of strangers, but more importantly to have a reminder of the principles that inspired me to start writing here in the first place. At the risk of sounding too self-absorbed, allow me to quote the 2004 version of myself: "We live in an unhealthy environment where honest political debate has been replaced by a mindless shouting match, where demagogues can win elections with promises to discriminate against an irrationally feared minority, where people are told they hate America if they deviate from the accepted party line. It's a wretched environment for democracy, for basic human decency, and for our future. It has to change."
Indeed it does. That's why my personal endorsement for Tuesday -- and with any luck, for this fall, too -- goes to Barack Obama