What Today Means

By Jesse Taylor
Tuesday, November 4, 2008 14:38 EDT
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imageA question from a reader:

You are a snarker par excellence, but we seldom get to hear how you really feel about the (probably) first African American president, how you feel about Obama as a person, about his policies, about the POTUS race this year.

No snark, just some cold, honest appraisal…please?

There’s a critical policy reason that I’m voting for Barack Obama this year: I’m racking up tens of thousands of dollars of debt over the next three years in the hopes that I can get a job with a livable wage doing something I believe in. The nation as a whole is going to be going through some severe economic shocks over the next few years, and the last thing I want to find when I rejoin the real world is a McCain-led economy that privileges every type of income I won’t have and punishes the exact kind that I’ll be depending on to, well, live.

Looking at Obama, I believe that he’s going to be a president focused firmly on the infrastructure of the nation – working people, schools, healthcare, security. The Republican Party, and McCain in particular, is focused almost entirely on the superstructure. If America’s a skyscraper, we’ve got water damage, empty tenant spaces, some severe drafts and way too much swaying. Obama may not be the flashiest president, but at the end of his terms, we’re going to be repairing that damage and getting people moving back in – McCain’s going to be planning on adding more floors at the top and fancier sinks in the executive suites.

For all the talk of Obama’s soaring rhetoric and lack of specifics, he’s looking to deal with America in very concrete, real terms, making policy choices that, both literally and figuratively, make the trains run on time. Republican governance seems almost ridiculously focused on pushing big buttons and pulling big levers, and letting everything fall into place, like governance is simply a game of Mouse Trap and the job of our leaders is simply to watch the bright ball tumble into the bathtub and then down the chute.

Ideologically, I think it’s also time for us to realize that we were never a center-right nation. We simply had a much stronger conservative machine than a liberal one, which necessarily pushed our policy and politics to the right in a manner that was largely obscured by the process itself. Obama’s a special candidate, but the trick of his success has been simply doing virtually everything intelligently and correctly. The story of his campaign is transformation, but it’s transformation through aggressive and forceful competence.

Personally, I’ve met Barack Obama twice, both times working as a photographer. He and Hillary Clinton both shared something that few politicians do: the ability to break down the structure of campaigning, understand who surrounded them and what needed to be done, but to not make those around them feel like cogs in their machine. I’m not going to go Peggy Noonan on you and talk about what a fundamentally decent person he is, but…yeah. He is. It’s also the major reason that his race has, for the most part, become another facet of his personality rather than the defining issue of this election. Although I’m sure that conservatives will assail young black men and women who rock Obama haircuts and dress like Michelle as being a part of some fascist cult of personality, conservatives will, as usual, be idiotically and embarrassingly wrong. The Obamas are, in no uncertain terms, heroes. It’s not the heroism of the civil rights movement, and shouldn’t be construed as such, but what he constitutes is a model to a community in search of models, a person we know as deeply as we can know any politician.

This has been a remarkable race, both for Obama’s excellence and McCain’s utter floundering, but most remarkable for the fact we are in a period of crisis and a period of transformation, and about to make a choice which places a man who is a symbol of so much that has gone wrong in our history in a position of supreme trust to ensure that things go right.

Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor is an attorney and blogger from the great state of Ohio. He founded Pandagon in July, 2002, and has also served on the campaign and in the administration of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He focuses on politics, race, law and pop culture, as well as the odd personal digression when the mood strikes.
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