Reinventing Fire

Obama Phenomena

January 27, 2008

Filed under: Politics,Real Life — Magister @ 3:04 am

I was skeptical of Obama at first. I thought his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention was great, but even then people were ready to crown him as the next Democratic nominee. I didn’t think we knew enough about him, that he had a track record to back up his admitted charm and eloquence, even after a couple of years in the Senate.

I think I was wrong.

I’m ambivalent about Hillary Clinton; she did seem to have her heart in the right place regarding health care and several other civic matters; but she’s gotten rather conservative in the intervening years, and yet is still divisive (whether that’s her fault, or her detractors, it doesn’t matter). And I really don’t like the idea of a 24-28 year Bush-Clinton dynastic monarchy; I think we should amend the Constitution to limit not only the number of terms a President can hold office, but extend that to their immediate family, to guard against oligarchies in powerful families. I dreaded her getting the nomination, since I think it would mean 4 more years of a Republican. So I felt a little schadenfreude when Obama defeated her in Iowa.

But then it really struck me… the implications for America, and the power of his victory speech. Over the course of the next day or so, it really sunk in. I still don’t know if the guy means what says, or if he could pull it off in practice… but I believe him, and believe in him. He really does seem to be a unifier, across parties and races and ages. Everybody promises change when that’s what the public seems to want to hear, but I think he really means it.

But still, there is that lack of experience, right? Well, I really thought about what that means, and I realized that nobody has experience being President in the current climate (George W. Bush included, since a component of experience is learning from past mistakes). Hillary helped run the White house in a very different time, with a very different economy and geopolitical stage. Obama can draw on precisely the same body of expert cabinet members she could. So, it comes down to will and to vision, to relying on the best of resources you have at hand, and approaching problems the right way, and from what I’ve seen of Obama, he has just as much of that as Hillary. And he has something else, an indefinable leadership quality. He just kinda rocks.

There’s other stuff, too… he’s not yet in the pocket of special interests, he preaches a doctrine of governmental reform, he has all the same policies, more or less, as the other Democratic hopefuls… but offers a lot more hope. (No offense to Edwards, who seems like a good guy, and who would make a great Attorney General.)

So M and I got more excited about him, and donated money to his campaign, and then decided to join a couple friends to canvass for him in South Carolina (since NC pretty much has no say in the primaries, happening well after Super Tuesday). We drove down today (yesterday now, I guess) at 6:00 to help get the word and the voters out in Florence, SC. That experience was less than inspiring, to be frank. We were shuffled around to different canvassing centers before we actually got to work, and by the time we hit the streets, it was already 11:00; the canvassing lists were really poorly designed and hard to read, and many of the houses and people (all registered voters, supposedly) simply didn’t exist. After 3 hours of driving and walking around the sprawling rural district, we had arranged for all of 3 or 4 people to get out to vote for Obama. I know every little bit helps, but it seemed like an awful little bit.

We did meet 2 cool people, a couple that just moved to Raleigh from California, both programmers, and we drove them around, and had great conversation. They planned to drive on to Columbia to see Obama’s victory or concession speech after canvassing, and we decided to join them.

Wow.

We had to wait in line for a while, and hadn’t gotten tickets from our canvass station, so we weren’t sure we’d get in. As it turned out, we got right up front, about 20 feet from the podium. We saw Obama speak, and it felt like history. Astounding. Invigorating. Inspiring. A feeling of camaraderie, and yes, hope for a better America. Shouting and cheering and chanting.

I hope Obama is our next President.

14 Comments

  1. Having followed the ideals/beliefs of the republican party most of my life, I never thought I would say this…

    I too hope Obama will be our next President.

    I feel the current republican administration has become detatched from main stream america and is now nothing more than a step & fetch boy for special interest groups. There isn’t a single republican canidate on the ballot that I feel could do the job better than Obama.

    Hillary? What about Hillary? I really believe that woman is wacko. I don’t have a problem with a woman being president, just THAT woman being president.

    Obama ’08

    Comment by Jimmuh — February 11, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

  2. I have to say that all three currently viable options seem pretty poor. We have a new PM here in Australia who is working out pretty well so far, and we’re really kind of short of states here compared to you guys. We could use a North Carolina. I recommend you and join us.

    Comment by Dr Clam — February 17, 2008 @ 4:06 pm

  3. Dr. Clam, I’m afraid that with only 37% Clam Nature, I wouldn’t fit in well with you Ozymandiates (or whatever people from Australia are called).

    Comment by Schepers — February 24, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  4. Jimmuh, I think that the modern Republican party was a Frankenstein’s monster of ideologically disparate groups that joined together for the sake of political clout, and it’s coming apart at the seams. The three main groups –fiscally conservative and free-market ideologues, hawks both security minded and expansionist (themselves two competing concerns), and the socially conservatives and religious right– are splitting apart, realizing they weren’t necessarily homologous or harmonious, and their elected officials weren’t serving any of their goals. The three last men standing, Romney, McCain, and Huckabee, are exemplars of each group.

    I actually blame the two-party monopoly for the current dualistic oversimplification of politics. There’s no way that two parties can encompass the whole range of opinions and interests of 300 million citizens. We really need a more representational system of election. I seriously doubt the Founding Fathers would have approved of this oligarchical kludge. (Then again, they did put the Electoral College in the Constitution, so who knows…)

    Comment by Schepers — February 25, 2008 @ 4:02 am

  5. Doug and Jimmuh,

    Seeing as how the government has handled “Free Retirement for Everyone” via social security which seems doomed to bankrupcy in the very near future, do you all really think it is a good idea to let these same knuckleheads take over our healthcare? Maybe we should force them to make social security solvent before even allowing them the option of putting universal heath care on the table.

    Comment by The Big C — February 27, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  6. Hey, Big C, whether Universal Heath Care (note the Platonic Ideal Caps) is financially possible is an open question. It may be that the right recipe –with the most coverage for the largest number of people, seasoned with the lowest cost for preventative care at the lowest waiting-list length, with a soupçon of high-quality diagnostics and treatment (excellent surgical skill and facilities, effective pharmaceutical research and application, etc.), and a pinch of post-treatment rehabilitation to taste– is not a single system (be it single-payer, subsidized, employer-based, individual plans, or what have you). What is certain is that the current system is screwed, and skewed toward concentration of wealth over concentration on health. I seriously doubt that with the power of lobbyists and no-tax idealogues in Washington, any universal health care system is going to be achieved in the next four or eight or sixteen years. But we don’t need an all-or-nothing pitched battle to make thing substantially better. Incremental steps toward better and better health care, with clear indicators along the way of progress and benefit, and correctional measures considered and implemented periodically. Nobody ever wrote a great computer program the first time they sat down at a computer. Government, like all other processes, is an eternal balancing act with no absolutes, and we have to pick the best solutions for the present moment. But the present moment is the time to start acting for the ideal of universal kick-ass health care.

    For what it’s worth, of the two plans on the table (since McCain doesn’t have a plan), I prefer Obama’s, which is only mandatory for children. Clinton’s hard-line on the “universal” part, with mandatory opt-in, is less likely to fit the bill right now… especially since many people would choose to forgo insurance coverage, and prefer to pay the penalty, for whatever reason. Though I earn a reasonable salary, I don’t have insurance myself, in effect gambling that any costs of covering the health care will be smaller than the unreasonable costs of insurance over many years; but I don’t have any chronic health problems. I certainly hope that some health care plan under Obama makes it a better bet for me to opt-in than opt-out… I ain’t getting any younger!

    As for it being the “same knuckleheads”, there is almost no continuity between Democrats or Republicans, as far as policies or rhetoric, going back more than a few decades at most. Some of Nixon’s legacy is more liberal than anyone in the Democratic party today. And let’s hope it keeps changing, but in a direction more beneficial for all citizens.

    Comment by Schepers — February 27, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

  7. I think your well written statement here is exactly why we should not open the Government Healthcare can of worms:

    “Incremental steps toward better and better health care, with clear indicators along the way of progress and benefit, and correctional measures considered and implemented periodically. Nobody ever wrote a great computer program the first time they sat down at a computer.”

    If a logical, methodical system like this had been set up for social security, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re currently in.

    Sadly, our Government isn’t that good. Programs get funding, then 4 or 8 years later someone else with other totally different Big Ideas to Make Our Lives Better gets elected, and the original program is ignored, but continues to grow randomly, wether or not it is really workable, efficient, or helping anyone.

    The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and with the short term, instant gratification pandering that most politicians use to get elected to our system of government, taking on a project of that expense and complexity seems, simply put, beyond them.

    Comment by The Big C — February 28, 2008 @ 9:16 am

  8. Hey, Big C, your point is well taken. However, the consequences of inaction based on your model are far too high.

    Consider that, while social security is falling apart now, it did serve us very well, operating with budget surpluses, for 40 years, until it started going south in the late 70s. Even today, it supplies vital life expenses to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to pay their bills (though of course, it’s not enough); that it will run out by the time I’m eligible to draw my share sucks, but doesn’t invalidate the good it’s doing today, and I don’t begrudge paying into it to increase the quality of life for those who need it.

    40 years. That’s an awfully long time for a system to be unequivocally effective. That’s at least 5-10 administration changes. Add to that another 30 years (3-7 administrations) of moderate effectiveness. I don’t think that’s a very bad record at all. Universal health care would actually breathe more life into social security, too, because it would lower health-care costs and emphasize preventative care.

    But you’re right that policy ping-pong is an issue. Part of the solution is in decreasing corruption in government, and part is in getting multiple parties to see how it’s in their best interest, as well as the interest of their constituents and the nation as a whole, to work on a system that is sustainable across administrations and ideologies. Obama seems to have that inclination, and hopefully the skills to do it. No other candidate does. If we can lay a solid groundwork for a health care solution, to some degree momentum will sustain it through party changes… social security, while widely reviled by conservatives since at least the 60s, has nonetheless survived through a handful of conservative administrations (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Good Bush, and Bad Bush).

    The current health care system is so foully controlled by special interests that any disruption of their momentum and influence (in the computer industry, we call their tactics FUD… Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) would be a big win. We’d still need to implement the solution gradually (even once a bill is passed, it will take a decade or so to really implement it properly), but I suspect we’d start seeing small wins right away.

    Comment by Schepers — February 28, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  9. I don’t think 30 years is a good run at all – it lasted less than 1/2 the normal human lifespan before bankrupcy became inenevitable.

    The thing I don’t like about it other than it’s fiscal irresponsibility, is the fact that is taking peoples money from them short term to do something for them long term. People could be taking all the money going into social security today and invest it in a retirement fund, but instead the government is stealing it from them so that when they finally retire, they will all be Dependent on the Government to give them their benefits.

    And any time along the way, politicians or parties can change the rules and totally rip us off. Which is a great way of scaring people into voting for them.

    These programs are a lot like credit cards or loan sharks– they can keep you afloat for a while, but they are going to catch up with you as long as your expenditures outweigh your income. Very short term thinking like this plays well with those who ‘don’t get math’ and ‘want to help people’, but if it’s unsustainable it is suicide. Policies like these are like industrial pollution — quick gains today at the expense of future generations.

    Comment by The Big C — March 2, 2008 @ 10:08 am

  10. You know if it werent for people that are conservative trying to preserve our God given rights in this country, you liberal bitches like Schepers would already have had us complete every aspect of the Communist Manifesto. What in the hell do you think any democrat is after? Or half the Republicans that call themselves conservative? More contol over the people. The days of freedom are over because of you son of a bitches that have for the “Common Good”.

    Comment by to the rite — March 3, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

  11. Hey, Big C, that’s not quite a fair statement… back in the 60s, it wasn’t that insolvency was inevitable, but rather that it became politically unfashionable among conservatives. The system continued to run well for another few years, and less and less well from the late 70s until today. Most of that time, as I mentioned, it was under the stewardship of conservatives who actively wanted to kill it… even in the 90s, a NeoCon congress prevented reasonable course corrections a moderately liberal White House would have wanted. To use a business analogy, that’s like a CEO of one company predicting that a competitor’s product would fail in the marketplace, then staging a hostile takeover of that company and driving it into the dirt, then claiming their prediction as prescient. So, you’re right that we should learn from mistakes of the past… using social security’s history as a predictor of how well government-organized health-care reform might work, we need to come up with a robust system that can appeal to multiple ideologies, and which proves its effectiveness, as I stated above.

    But let’s analyze your proposed model. Let’s say that we had no medicare or social security, and that people paid only taxes on other budget functions (national defense, general government, net interest on debt, etc.). The dollar amount of their federal tithes that most people (that is, people making less than 100K a year) would see back is actually rather small. Still, they could then could use that money to buy into retirement funds, based on the stock market, I presume. Most people are not very savvy when it comes to the stock market, so they will go through money managers and investors (let’s let alone the fact that those people themselves are hardly unimpeachable), which costs some (probably small) percentage of the money. But even if they made what seems to be a good choice in stocks (by their own research, or though money managers), the stock market is quite risky. On the average, it tends to be fairly even… but individuals can win big or lose big playing the stocks. The big winners, we don’t need to worry about; likewise the big losers who nevertheless have a good stockpile of wealth; but there will be a fairly significant number of people of modest means who, through no fault of their own, lose big and have no chance of recovery. What do we do under your plan? Do we let them go under, or do we help them? If we help them, where does the money come from? Not from the people who were already doing well financially. And let’s be realistic, many people simply don’t plan successfully for retirement; what do we do about them?

    All that said, the models for health-care reform and social security are completely different, so you’re carrying the analogy way too far. Social security did indeed turn into a policy of one generation supporting the one before (though that’s not how it started), and that is only sustainable as long as each successive generation does a well enough to cover the kitty for their generation of dependents. I’m not going to dwell on the simple idea that taking care of our elderly is a worthy goal (though I think it is). But the health-care plans Hillary and Obama are putting forth work much more like the insurance industry, averaging the medical needs of all payers in a multi-generational, not inter-generational, manner… it’s just a little less cutthroat and greedy than insurance companies.

    But universal health care is only one thing I like about Obama. His plans for education are great, regarding the failed No Child Left Behind, and providing tuition programs for colleges. His early and continued opposition to the Iraq war, and his reasons behind it, are sensible. And, of course, the fact that he isn’t yet in the pocket of lobbyists and special interests will give him flexibility in how he can approach solutions.

    The advantage to a populist politician like Obama is that he may be more subject to the will of his constituency. But the very real danger is that that constituency reads into him what they want to see, that they follow him without thinking, and that they don’t subject him to oversight. I agree that should he be the nominee, we need to extract real promises from him, and hold his feet to the fire should he be elected.

    Comment by Schepers — March 3, 2008 @ 6:51 pm

  12. Actually, the thing that I thought would deter you from being an Obama supporter was not the politics, but his affiliation with that Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. I mean, you’re pretty disdainful of all mainline christianity to begin with, but add to it the creepy, radicalized, Louis Farrakhan aggrandizing, race-obsessed spin of this outfit, and I would have been sure that would have been a deal breaker, regardless of how well he speaks or what he is promising…

    Comment by The Big C — March 4, 2008 @ 7:04 pm

  13. Whiny pinko.

    Comment by Bug — March 4, 2008 @ 10:59 pm

  14. Hey, Big C, I still see religion (all religion, not just “mainline christianity”) as a major problem in our society. It introduces a dangerous and extreme irrationality into discourse and policy, and relies on the interpretation of the will of an unimpeachable but unknowable authority. But like any emotional force, it can be used positively, and it’s been the engine of social change in black urban Chicago. The way for Obama to accomplish his goals of helping the people there was to hook into the community and use its momentum. I don’t have any prospect of seeing someone elected to office who isn’t under the sway of religion –all the candidates try to upstage the others in talking up how religious they are, a disquieting recent trend– but I am willing to give him credit for using it for good ends in the past, and expect him to continue to think for himself, as he’s known to do. I haven’t seen any other candidate explicitly mentioning atheism in a positive light, as Obama has done in his speeches and his books, so at least he has the political bravery to acknowledge that there are other ways of looking at the world… just what I’d expect of the child of an anthropologist, someone who grew up in very diverse surroundings. Naturally, I think Wright is a bombastic, inflammatory figure, but assuming that Obama shares all of Wright’s views (he’s stated that he doesn’t) is like assuming that I share your views because we’re friends.

    Comment by Schepers — March 14, 2008 @ 6:22 am

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