In a few days, Ellie and I will cast our ballot by mail for Barack Obama in the Ohio Democratic presidential primary. I know some of you out there will be able to vote soon on "Super Tuesday," so I thought it would be an appropriate time to write about this. Obama is the first politician we have ever given money to. Why do we like Barack so much?
I can't speak for Ellie, but here are my thoughts. I first heard Obama speak when I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois. I brushed shoulders with him briefly. He was surrounded by reporters talking about farm policy, and I stood with the reporters listening to him speak. He seemed articulate and sincere, and I decided to vote for him in his Senate race. At that time, I didn't know anything about his life and only a little about his policy inclinations. As I've learned more about him, my respect has only increased.
Obama's personal biography is impressive. His father left him at an early age and his mother moved the family to Indonesia, where Obama experienced relative poverty (they didn't have a refrigerator, for instance). He also learned what it was like outside the U.S.A., in a very intimate way, by attending the local schools in Jakarta. He returned to the States, eventually graduating from Columbia University and Harvard Law School (he graduated magna cum laude and was the first Black editor of the Harvard Law Review). After that, instead of going to a powerful law firm where he could have made big money, he used his talents as a community organizer in Chicago and, by all accounts, did some really good things there. What I like about all this is simple: He has first hand experience with real life in a way that the other presidential contenders do not have. People question his "experience," but I think he has the sort of real experience that really matters.
His character and thoughtfulness are praised by people everywhere, even if they don't agree with his policies. He is not afraid to talk to people who disagree with him -- at the University of Chicago, where he taught, he was famous for respectfully engaging with people across the political spectrum. I've pasted below some of what people say about Obama. I've tried to list conservatives here, so you know this isn't just Democratic hype. Here is conservative writer Dean Barnett who went out and tried to dig up some dirt on Obama:
MY PREVIOUS PROFESSIONAL life, I had reason to be in contact with dozens of Barack Obama's classmates at Harvard Law School. When he entered the presidential race, I dusted off my Rolodex and began making some calls to get the off-the-record skinny on the Democrats' potential savior.Consider also what conservative commentator Peggy Noonan had to say about him. Noonan is no fan of Obama's policies, I imagine, but even she can sense the difference:
The results surprised me. Regardless of his classmates' politics, they all said pretty much the same thing. They adored him. The only thing that varied was the intensity with which they adored him. Some spoke like they were eager to bear his children. And those were the guys. Others merely professed a profound fondness and respect for their former classmate. Even more interesting was what wasn't said. In dozens of conversations, not a single person said anything negative about him, and some were hardly the senator's political fellow travelers. Also noteworthy is that virtually everyone seemed to know Obama. Usually people who have such a high profile on law school campuses have their detractors. Obama apparently didn't....
[His academic success], along with his presidency of the Law Review, makes his uniform popularity all the more impressive. Law schools are intensely competitive places. People who thrive to an unseemly extent, as Obama did, are usually subject to an array of resentments. After all, the lawyers of tomorrow populate law schools; pettiness and insecurity reign supreme. The people that Obama so thoroughly charmed generally weren't the charm-prone types. I say the following as a well known Republican partisan--the fact that his classmates so universally held him in the highest regard suggests that Barack Obama may truly be a special person.
Barack Obama has a great thinking look. I mean the look he gets on his face when he's thinking, not the look he presents in debate, where they all control their faces knowing they may be in the reaction shot and fearing they'll look shrewd and clever, as opposed to open and strong. I mean the look he gets in an interview or conversation when he's listening and not conscious of his expression. It's a very present look. He seems more in the moment than handling the moment. I've noticed this the past few months, since he entered the national stage. I wonder if I'm watching him more closely than his fellow Democrats are.More than his personal character, I think Obama he can help rectify what, for me, was the unforgivable sin of the Bush administration. After 9/11, Americans were ready to do something -- to do anything -- to come together to help solve our country's problem. We were dependent on oil, our foreign policy wasn't what it should have been, and we as a people had become materialistic and shallow. In such an environment, Bush did the absolutely unforgivable. He and Karl Rove turned 9/11 into a partisan weapon. Senators who wanted worker protections in the new Department of Home Land Security were said to be working with Osama Bin Laden. Presidential hopefuls were accused of being in league with Al Quaeda. Instead of asking for sacrifice, Bush asked us to go shopping. What could have been a key moment for lasting change was lost. American is now widely mistrusted around the world.
Mr. Obama often seems to be thinking when he speaks, too, and this comes somehow as a relief, in comparison, say, to Hillary Clinton and President Bush, both of whom often seem to be trying to remember the answer they'd agreed upon with staff.
You get the impression Mr. Obama trusts himself to think, as if something good might happen if he does. What a concept. Anyway, I've started to lean forward a little when he talks.
Obama can help solve these problems. He really does bring people together. I went to a campaign event in October and what impressed me most was the variety of people who were there. There were blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians. There were young people and old people, men and women. There were people who looked like professionals and those that looked like farmers. I challenge you to go to any other candidate's campaign event. You won't see anything like this. With respect to the international community, people outside of the United State really seem to respect and admire him. Here I am thinking of his recent trip to Africa, where he received a hero's welcome.
What American needs, more than anything else, is to restore the world's respect for America. Only then, will we be able to solve the big problems we are facing, like terrorism. Having Obama as president would do wonders for American credibility abroad.
And just briefly: Obama's policy positions are exciting. He has proposed a meaningful healthcare plan that has drawn praise from a wide variety of circles (it is, in many ways, similar to Mitt Romney's -- I just wish it had a universal mandate, but that is a different story). His energy plan is also widely praised and will actually do something to overcome our addiction to oil. And so forth. Frankly, I just wish he was a little more to the left!
Even if you are Republican, and you are in a state with an open primary, I urge you to vote in the Democratic primary for Obama. Here are some highlights from Obama. Follow your goosebumps!
Worried that Obama is a secret Muslim? See here. Worried about the Rezko business? See here.