Monday, February 04, 2008

Endorsing Obama

Friends of mine wrote this endorsement and are trying to spread it around. If it speaks to you, please email it to those voting tomorrow (or thereafter), or even post it to your own blog -- they are trying to spread it as widely as possible.

We are supporting Barack Obama for president and we want to urge you to consider voting for him in the primary in your state. There are many reasons we support Obama, but we focus here on what we take to be the most important considerations. We would like very much to hear your views too, whether you agree with us or not.

This is a pivotal time for the United States. The last few years have seen us go down the wrong path on many issues of national and global importance. It is vital that we now choose a president who can bring us back to the right and reasonable path, restoring what we know can be great about our country and repairing the world we live in.

Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have very similar policy platforms. Either candidate's policies could in principle deliver what we need -- if they can get it done. "Getting it done" will require four things. First, they must be able to win the presidential election against the Republican nominee. Second, they must be able to forge an effective governing coalition in Congress. Third, they must be able to win the respect of people and leaders around the world. Fourth -- and this may be the most important if elusive factor -- they must be able to inspire all Americans to come together with a sense of common purpose, shared sacrifice, and dedication, to work to make the country and the world a better place.

Obama is our choice because he alone appears likely to succeed on these four criteria. We admit we were first drawn to him because of the "inspiration" factor. When we watch his speeches, or read his books, we are inspired in a way that we have not been by any candidate in our lifetimes. We highly recommend his first book, "Dreams from my Father", written years ago, before he entered national politics. It is actually a good book! When we read it, we couldn't help but feel astonished that someone who writes and thinks so clearly and honestly could actually be running for president. If you haven't watched any of his speeches, watch his South Carolina victory speech:

What's important is not how we feel, though, but how Obama makes people feel across the country. You can search on Google with the query "Why I support Barack Obama" (make sure to use quotes) and you will find about 108,000 hits telling similar stories. You will see stories not just from stereotypical Democratic party constituents, but from lifelong Republicans, libertarians, evangelical Christians... people from across the full range of the American political spectrum. You can see video testimonials at (we particularly recommend "Why Lorna switched from Clinton to Obama", currently #3 on their most popular list). Obama's impact on the youngest adults is most striking and significant. He is inspiring a whole generation to become active in setting the direction of their country, and this is the best hope we have.

In contrast, if you search Google with "Why I support Hillary Clinton" you will find fewer than 5,000 hits. (Variations on the phrases yield much smaller numbers.) The statements for Clinton are impassioned and genuine, but they are almost all from the stereotypical Democratic base. We have no doubt that many people will vote for Clinton and support her if the choice is between her and a Republican, just because they are committed to the Democratic party. Clinton has fought long and hard for core Democratic party issues, and she is respected as a tireless partisan. But that's the problem: she is the consummate partisan at a time when most Americans feel we need to move beyond the partisanship of the last 15 years. Clinton does not have the potential to transform our political landscape. As Obama has said, and many have said about him, on the day he is inaugurated, our country will see itself differently, and the rest of the world will see us differently too.

Obama's potential as a transformative political force is fundamentally why he is best positioned to succeed on the other points above.

1) Who is most likely to win in the general election? It now seems very likely that John McCain will be the Republican nominee for president in 2008. McCain is a strong candidate, appealing to free-thinking voters (such as ourselves) who are not committed to a particular party. National polls currently show a close race between him and either Clinton or Obama. In the most recent poll we have seen (Washington Post-ABC News), McCain beats Clinton 49-46, but Obama beats McCain 49-46. And yet, more Democratic-leaning voters view Clinton as the stronger candidate in the general election. This perception of her greater "electability" seems to be the source of some of her support, but it is simply mistaken. Obama has a much wider reach into the independents and swing voters who will decide this election. Most importantly, he has received an astonishing degree of support from Republicans,

which will be vital in winning the general election and building a new national consensus for how to set our country back on track.

2) Who is most likely to forge an effective governing coalition in Congress, in order to implement the changes we so desperately need?

While Clinton's main strength is as a partisan, Obama's strength is as a coalition builder.

A central theme in Clinton's campaign against Obama is his lack of "experience". Yet Obama has held elected office for longer than Clinton has; and he spent his formative years as a community organizer, which is all about getting people to talk to each other and getting things done against the odds. As an example of how he has been able to apply these skills in political office, look at his work on reforming the death penalty in Illinois (as a state senator). You can read about it at

Here's a summary of just one aspect of Obama's contribution: he sponsored a bill that would require all interrogations in capital cases to be videotaped. The bill was initially opposed by police unions and the majority of the legislature, and the Illinois governor said he would not sign it even if it passed. Obama got all the parties to talk to each other and to figure out what they could agree on. He compromised on some implementation issues, but not on the core. The bill ended up passing unanimously and was signed into law.

3) Who is best able to win the respect of people and leaders around
the world?

Here is an excerpt from a New York Times magazine article from last November:

"There are maybe 200 people on the Democratic side who think about foreign policy for a living," as one such figure, himself unaffiliated with a campaign, estimates. "The vast majority have thrown in their lot with Obama." ... Most of them served in the Clinton administration, too, and thus might be expected to support Hillary Clinton. But many of these younger and generally more liberal figures
have decamped to Obama. And they are ardent. As Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council official under President Clinton who now heads up a team advising Obama on nonproliferation issues, puts it, "There's a feeling that this is a guy who's going to help us transform the way America deals with the world."

Clinton's election, in contrast, would signal "more of the same" to the rest of the world. In part this comes from how she handled her role in the Senate votes authorizing Bush to go to war. She did not project visionary leadership or raise the hard questions that some other Democrats, less concerned about polls and popularity, did at that crucial time. Rather Clinton seemed like someone trying to protect her national electability in a climate of fear. She did not show courage at a time when our country most needed it. Obama did.

In late 2002, while Clinton was voting to authorize Bush's move towards war, Obama was speaking out at anti-war rallies. At a rally in Chicago, he said: "I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined costs, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida." Of course Obama was not in the Senate at that time; he was not under the same kind of national scrutiny that Clinton was. Yet time and again, Obama has shown that he is willing to speak the truth as he sees it even when it might be unpopular with his audience.

Speaking at Martin Luther King's church in Atlanta, he called on his mostly black audience to recognize homophobia, anti-semitism, and xenophobia as genuine problems in the Black community.

Speaking to a strongly pro-Israel group of American Jews, he recognized that both Israelis and Palestinians have suffered greatly from the failures of peace efforts, and that both sides will have to make heavy sacrifices to achieve peace.

Speaking to auto workers and executives in Detroit, he talked about the "oil addiction" that jeopardizes our national security and about the need for tougher fuel economy standards in US auto manufacturing.

Speaking to teachers' unions, he has endorsed "merit pay", a position the unions are strongly opposed to but which he feels may be essential for bringing better teachers to public schools.

We could go on, but we have probably already worn out your patience. Here is the bottom line for us. This election presents a once-in-a-generation chance to choose a president who can truly make us feel proud to be Americans, who can inspire the full range of Americans to come together to fix our country and achieve its greatest possibilities, and who has the vision and skills needed to make these changes real. It is a chance to say to ourselves and the rest of the world, "Look, we got it right this time!" It felt like that chance would never come, but here it is. Seize it.

Your friends,

Josh Tenenbaum
Mira Bernstein

P.S. If you live in a state that votes on February 5th or later, please go to the polls and vote regardless of how prospects look in your state. Unlike in the general presidential election, every vote counts as delegates are awarded in rough proportion to the number of votes a candidate receives. Every vote can make a difference!
I'm the blogger here at Attempts, and I approve this message.

Another good Obama endorsement can be found here.

Get the word out!


Update: I also recommend Hilzoy's Obama endorsement, which addresses the oft-peddled falsehood that Obama has no substance to him -- and does so with terrific positions that I didn't know he'd taken on not-so-high-profile issues (as well as other stuff). Worth a read.

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