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Obama’s sticking points

If you’re set on voting for McCain because you agree with him on the issues that matter to you, or because you’re convinced that Obama is unsuited because of his character, then there’s nothing I can say to change your mind. Nor would I want to.

But as I’ve been asking people why they’re not voting for Obama, there seems to be a handful of basic sticking points beyond policy and character. Here’s why they’re not sticking points for me … and in one case, why it’s an argument in favor of Obama.

He’s not experienced enough.” He clearly does not have as much experience as John McCain, if only because he’s younger. Experience counts, but only when it results in knowledge and judgment. Obama has not been found to be weak or superficial in his knowledge of the world. Indeed, there are some areas — such as Constitutional law — where his own experience leaves him more knowledgeable than McCain. And, in terms of judgment, if you think the Iraq war was a mistake, then Obama ought to get marks for the clarity of his judgment. Likewise, I thought Obama exhibited excellent judgment in a choice of a running mate who has all three: experience, knowledge, and judgment.

He’s been unclear on his positions.” On Obama’s Web site, you can find detailed plans and proposals. They are at least as crisp, clear, and thorough as McCain’s. But what this criticism has meant for some of the people I’ve talked with is that McCain gives simple, unambiguous answers, while Obama sometimes seems to waffle. Part of it is that Obama likes to give fuller, more nuanced answers. That’s bad for campaigning but a good trait for a leader. But there’s a bigger issue here that I think gets at the heart of many people’s discomfort with Obama. Let me explain …

Obama was very clear in his book, The Audacity of Hope, that the change he wants to bring is to the process of politics and the tenor of democracy. Obama thinks that beneath the ugly divisions among us are some common values. To heal and to move forward, he proposes that we look for what we have in common and try to come up with positions that are not as polarized. That means he is open to re-thinking the standard Democratic positions, sometimes to the ire of the standard Democrats. Off shore drilling? Generally, it’s a bad idea, but let’s recognize that we all want less dependence on foreign oil (and on oil in general), and if there are some places we can drill that can help (eventually), without disturbing the environment, we should be open to it. But that can be only a tiny part of the solution. Abortion? There can be no compromising a woman’s basic right to control her own bodies, but let’s recognize that everyone wants fewer abortions…

The resulting positions are not compromises in which we give up some of what we want so our oppponents will go along, or “triangulations” in which we forsake principle in pursuit of votes. Compromises are political calculations, and they have their place. But they don’t heal us. For that we need to recognize what we have in common, rather than simply what we disagree about. The positions that emerge can look like compromises or even betrayals — the Left is still furious with Obama about the FISA bill — when they are in fact attempts to listen to others with respect and reset the discussion on the basis of what we share. That is the basis of the hope Obama holds out.

(I hope, by the way, that what I’m writing right now adheres to Obama’s path of listening and responding with respect.)

He’s changed his positions.” Yes, at times he has modified his positions. But I don’t think he’s changed his values or basic proposals. He’s changed as facts have changed. And he’s changed because he not only listens to those with whom he disagrees, he seeks them out. He is a constant learner. McCain, on the other hand, has switched from one side to another on issues as big as the Bush tax cuts, an anti-gay marriage amendment, and Roe v. Wade. The swings seem to me to be much bigger and more fundamental. So, given the two candidates, I don’t see this as an argument against Obama. Am I wrong?

He’s weak.” I find this objection so odd. True, he hasn’t flown a plane in war, but I think Obama is made of steel. He is unflappable. He has remained  true to himself and to his ideals throughout trying circumstances. He has shown tremendous strength as the McCain campaign has untethered itself from issues in order to attack Obama personally. So, this seems to be a matter of perception, and thus I cannot convince you of it. Nevertheless…

Beyond policy disagreements, are there other sticking points I’m missing?

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PS: I’m not sorry to be inconsistent in tone and approach from post to post.

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