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What Would People Think?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Who I Voted For And Why

I voted for Democrat Jim Powell for Georgia's Public Service Commission because his opponent is a guy named "Bubba."

Okay, I realize that's not what you were curious about. But I'm at least half-proud of the fact that Christy and I took the time to do a little research and vote on stuff like Public Service Commission and state ballot initiatives that will likely have a more direct effect on our lives than whether the next President is named Barack or John or (in somebody's fantasy world - not mine) Bob. But if you're curious why Bubba's a terrible candidate for Georgia's PSC, click here. When the outgoing Republican endorses the Democrat to win her former seat, you know something's seriously wrong with Bubba the Republican. (Note: Bubba the Republican is no relation to Joe the Plumber...that I know of.)

Anyways, on to what you were really thinking.

No surprise here: I voted Obama.

The main reason is, of course, that I'm a liberal. When the Wall Street Journal warned of the Coming Leftist Supermajority (see some blog copying the article here), I laughed at how they warned of such horrors as expanded union membership, a cap-and-trade system for limiting carbon emissions and - the horror! the horror! - a voting representative in Congress for the District of Columbia. That's EXACTLY the kind of thing I'm voting for! I'm also voting for a government that's more likely to look out for the interests of the poor than the super-rich. And I'm voting for a foreign policy that is focused more on diplomacy than bombing away our problems. (I think the articles Jacob's been pointing to painting Obama as a warmonger of a different political stripe have been way off base - taking a few statements and policy positions out of context and missing the overall tenor of the kind of foreign policy Obama proposes.)

Among my friends in the blogosphere, I've seen a lot of skepticism about Obama. Matt Novak, while saying he will vote for Obama, seems to be holding his nose while doing so even more than he did for his 2 Bush votes. He sees Obama as a party yes-man, except when he's not liberal enough. Jacob Grier fears the rise of dictatorship - a popular, charismatic President who will grab more power for the federal government. He actually longs for the days of bitter partisan rancor under the Bush administration because it means the federal government isn't doing anything. (In case you can't tell, Jacob and I have very different philosophies of the proper role of government and of....well, just about everything else.)

As for me - I've never been part of the Cult of Obama. I never thought he was going to save American politics from itself, usher in racial harmony (though it's still momentous to have our first non-White Male president and that's worth noting, if not a reason for voting for him), and bring about world peace. I'm disappointed that he broke his promise about only accepting public financing. I'm deeply disturbed by his vote to gut FISA. And, obviously (if you know me), I'm highly conflicted about voting for a person who believes it's a matter of personal opinion whether murdering an unborn child is okay.

So - aside from general political philosophy - why vote for the guy? Because, in his answers to questions, in the way he has run his campaign, and in many of the policy proposals he has made, he has displayed the kind of temprement I want in our next president - disciplined, thoughtful, deliberate. I do NOT want another President who shoots from the hip or speaks from the gut or whatever other mid-level body part metaphor you want to employ. Obama's tightly disciplined campaign shows me that he has a measure of self-control John McCain (and before him George W. Bush) lacks. When he answers questions about issues like abortion, his answers sound like he's really thought through these issues...why he believes the way he does....what common ground can be found with those who disagree with him. It looks to me like Obama's the type who doesn't like reacting instantaneously to situations, but likes to step back and assess them and then make a deliberate choice. Sometimes, there's not time to do that and I'm not sure how he'd handle that. But usually, it's better to choose your words carefully, to think through what you're going to do and why, and only decide after giving it careful and thorough thought.

Maybe I'm reading the tea leaves too much. Maybe I'm projecting the kind of lawyer I strive to be onto the kind of President I want Obama to be. But I don't think so.

One left wing writer - I think it was on Slate - accused Obama of running a campaign of "Cunning, Calculation, and Compromise." He meant it as an insult. Actually, that's exactly what I want in my next President.

[Oh yeah, and he also had me when he cited Reinhold Niebuhr, one of my favorite theologians. And he cited him for one of my favorite insights. See the Wikipedia article.]

[I note how little I mentioned John McCain in this post. I'll say this for him: I'm scared about what he'll do in foreign policy, but - recent campaign antics aside - I generally respect the man and think he wouldn't make a terrible president. In other words, I won't weep and shudder in fear should our next President be named John.]


  • You know, I think I probably come across as holding my nose more on Obama than on Bush for three reasons. 1. I'm writing about the Obama stuff a lot more than I wrote about Bush, and, had I written more about my Bush vote, my hesitations there would have been obvious too. 2. I'm holding my nose with respect to the person, not the policy, and it's a lot easier to sound bitter about a person than it is a policy. If you look at where I disagreed with Obama on policy (like the bailout/mortgage bit) I don't think I sound nearly as upset as I do when I talk about him personally. 3. Bush is a charmer. Hate him for his policy all you want, most people seem to agree that there's something very personally likable about the guy. It feels a lot easier to target Obama for being a snake than it does to target Bush for being an idiot.

    So I might be holding my nose, but ultimately, make no mistake, my Bush votes frightened me a lot more than this one (and I do regret the 2000 vote).

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 10/29/2008 1:27 AM  

  • If I'm the "somebody" whose "fantasy world" you're referring to, you will hopefully be interested in my upcoming post describing my vote. All will be made clear.

    By Blogger Mike, at 10/29/2008 10:15 AM  

  • Oh yeah, I missed a really obvious reason for why it seems like I'm so anti-Obama. It's because I'm so anti-cult of Obama. I've gotta be a little louder in my criticism because so many people refuse to hear any of it.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 10/29/2008 12:34 PM  

  • I'm still smarting from your implication on your blog that I am part of the cult of Obama. I'm not. I think there are legitimate criticims of his failings and policy ideas. I just also think he's got good potential.

    I guess what I'm saying is I don't consider myself part of the Cult of Obama or a member of the Backlash Against Obama.

    By Blogger Ben, at 10/29/2008 5:09 PM  

  • To be fair, I don't actually fear a dictatorship. What I fear is an extremely popular president backed by a majority in the House and filibuster-proof majority in the Senate coming to power in a time financial crisis in which there is a perceived need for the government to "do something." That turned out to be a disastrous situation after 9/11 and I don't have any faith that it will work out any better in our current crisis. I plan to spell this out in a blog post though, so I'll hold off for now.

    For what it's worth, I would gladly give Obama the presidency if I could get a Republican House or Senate in exchange. All else equal I'd rather see him in office than McCain. Alas, given the way Congressional elections are going, things are far from equal.

    By Anonymous Jacob, at 10/29/2008 7:10 PM  

  • Interesting post. Obviously we tend to disagree politically, but I'll contain my response to one supportive comment and one narrowly-focused disagreement. First, thank you for supporting Obama for two of the best reasons -- the pragmatic case and the ideological case. I hope it is no surprise that I recoil against the hyperbolic wing of any party, and living in DC, I'm particularly disturbed by how many people I personally know who will literally curl up on their kitchen floor in tears for days if McCain somehow wins. And if someone is willing to self-identify as a modern American liberal, I don't see any good reason why they would vote for a candidate other than Obama. I'm getting particularly sick of people who pick their candidate and then back into their rationale (pulling a bait-and-switch in every debate) and I appreciate that you're having none of that.

    My substantive disagreement is regarding your support for the union bill the Democrats are certain to pass under an Obama presidency. Eliminating the secret ballot requirement for unionization strikes me as a truly horrible idea. I don’t agree that unions have it all that bad as is, and I especially don’t think that changing the law is even the slightest bit pro-worker.

    As you probably already know, if a group of workers wants to try and unionize, there isn’t much they can’t do beyond the restriction from actively campaigning on company property. By contrast, company managers are prohibited from attending pro-union meetings or rallies (or from asking friends or non-management colleagues to do so), from asking employees what the union is telling them about the company, from offering any historical information about the results of unionization in other companies, or from offering any information about how life might be better for the employees in a non-union environment. Union organizers, by contrast, can literally say anything they want about the company, including any threat about what the company will do to them if the workers don’t unionize or any promise about what companies will be forced to deliver if the workers do unionize, regardless of truth value. Unions are nearly impossible to eliminate once they are formed. Most states are not right-to-work, forcing new employees to join the union and pay dues as a condition of working, which is a vastly more harsh restriction of employment choices than, say, having to choose whether to work at a restaurant that allows smoking. And any union that fails to get enough votes can just resubmit their bid to unionize after a year and the process starts all over again.

    So one would think, given those facts, that putting just a little scrutiny on how the union is created in the first place is a pretty reasonable thing to ask. But even if you generally support unions – even if you think the above restrictions are still too slanted in favor of the company – eliminating the secret ballot union vote is still a truly terrible idea. It's an even worse idea even than eliminating the secret ballot for a presidential election. Unions only gain traction when some employees get really pissed off and demand a vote, either of their own accord or as a result of a charismatic local union leader getting them all worked up. Think about what happens to "scabs" when they cross a picket line; sometimes their cars get vandalized, sometimes they get beat up, sometimes their families receive unpleasant visits at their homes. If you think life is bad working in a non-union environment, picture life for the guy who isn’t that thrilled about a union and tries to mount enough resistance to prevent the organizers from getting enough petition signatures – and unlike voting in a presidential election with a bunch of strangers in the room, that guy is gonna have to work with all his pissed-off colleagues day in and day out. The secret ballot provision exists to protect the safety of free-thinking workers and their families.

    Really, the only logically consistent defense I can come up with to support “card check” is to argue that unionization is intrinsically good for workers in all cases, regardless of whether the individual workers in a particular company agree or not. And preventing workers from exercising their preferences in a peaceful, democratic manner doesn’t sound like a very liberal idea to me, or a very pro-worker idea.

    Curious to hear if I’ve missed anything.

    By Blogger Chad, at 10/30/2008 11:06 PM  

  • O/T, but great seeing you on Friday.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 10/31/2008 12:05 PM  

  • Chad, what do you mean by "backing into their choice"? Not sure I follow you.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 10/31/2008 2:20 PM  

  • Chad, I'd love to continue the discussion about unions. I spent all morning thinking about a response instead of getting ready for work. So, naturally, I'm further behind on work and chores than ever. So I hope to respond as you've given a thoughtful comment that I respect and entirely disagree with.

    Similarly, my apologies to Dave for bailing in the middle of the debate what a proper Christian understanding of the role of government is re: wealth and redistribution.

    I hope to get back to both of you.

    Zhubin - it was great seeing you, as well. Wish we could have talked longer. Send me a facebook message if you want to further discuss the contrast between being a mildly overworked government lawyer and an insanely overworked New York firm lawyer.

    Jeff - it was sad not seeing you. You free, say....early 2009? Between now and Christmas my life is sheer crazy. But I really, really want to meet Selah and see you and Danielle. Christy does, too. (Also, I think Chad was referring to people who basically choose a candidate because they like him on some personal level...or because he's a Democrat/Republican....and then come up with some after-the-fact rationale....and then change that rationale after the candidate doesn't live up to the first rationale. But I'm speaking for Chad when he's perfectly free to speak for himself without run-on sentences.)

    By Blogger Ben, at 10/31/2008 2:31 PM  

  • Ben -

    Sorry about the implication you were cult of Obama. Until this post I didn't feel like I'd seen any criticism or hesitation on Obama from you, and that's pretty much the hallmark of cult of Obama. Plus I raised some fair criticisms that you initially rejected (including the campaign finance promise reneging issue).

    Anyway, I don't lump you with the cult of Obama, and sorry if I seem to. This post also goes a long way to divorcing you from the cult of Obama. I wish there were more discerning Obama supporters like yourself.

    As for Backlash against Obama... I'm more of a backlash against the cult of Obama guy. Of course, I also think the cult of Obama is in large part Obama's fault, so maybe it is just backlash against Obama. I'm still voting for him though, so that's what counts, right?

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 10/31/2008 3:00 PM  

  • Jeff -- by bait-and-switch, I mean essentially choosing a candidate to support for particular conscious or subconscious reasons, and then picking up alternate justifications as they go along. Example: people who say "I was considering voting for [McCain/Obama] until I heard about [position/incident] but now there's just no way I can support them." Sure, this happens sometimes with truly undecided voters, but 90% of the people who do this are not really undecided and are just experimenting with retroactive justifications in order to try and win debates at the bar.

    Ben -- looking forward to it. And sorry I distracted you from the other relevant things in life, these pesky blogs screw up the priority lists of the best of us :)

    By Blogger Chad, at 10/31/2008 7:13 PM  

  • Matt - My disagreement with your take on the public financing thing remains. While I don't like at all that he broke his promise (makes me wonder what other promises he'll break when it suits his purposes), I still believe that - in general - the Obama candidacy goes a long way toward addressing the issues public financing was created to address. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe small doners make up the vast majority of Obama's doner base, instead of the "$1,000-a-plate" power brokers. That means - thanks to the Internet - the financing of candidates is much more democratic than it once was.

    But anyways, enough on that. Chad brought up the union thing first. So I should respond to him first. Which I will certainly do at some time...right after doing that thing and that other thing. And perhaps eating and sleeping. I'm fully in favor of eating and sleeping when I can fit them into my schedule.

    By Blogger Ben, at 11/01/2008 12:53 AM  

  • Well since I know you aren't going to respond to it for quite a time, I can be reasonably confident that I can get in the last word on this issue. I'd be crazy not to take that opportunity:

    Sure Obama's has raised a lot of funds from small donors (don't be decieved, there's a lot from large donors too), but he's the exception to the rule. Most candidates are not going to be able to fundraise like Obama, and history bears this out. Private financing, with rare exception (and Obama is one of those exceptions) disproportionately benefits the wealthy. That can't be something you're in favor of, can it? You know that almost every time the Republicans are going to be outraising the Democrats, and that most of the money on both sides is going to come from the $1,000 donors. I'm certainly not comfortable with that.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 11/01/2008 1:26 AM  

  • Since Ben's busy, I'll chime in on the campaign finance issue: I think it would be fantastic if we had lots of rich people donating trucks of money to get their views out.

    Matt, you're worried about the relative ability of Republicans and Democrats to raise money from $2,000 "big" donors. But what about the third parties? What about the political outsiders within the Big Two that don't have the fundraising machines to support their campaigns? Libertarians, Greens, and other independents face huge obstacles trying to compete under our current campaign finance laws, despite the fact that there are multi-millionaires of all political stripes willing to support them. If outsider candidates didn't have to spend their time groveling for $20 donations and could just find an ideological patron to get their campaigns started, I bet we'd have a much more robust and substantive political debate than we do today.

    By Anonymous Jacob, at 11/01/2008 2:59 AM  

  • Jacob -

    I'd really like to see a system that publicly funds campaigns with a cap on spending, and if you can propose an effective way to get the money to alternative party candidates, I've got no real opposition to that. I'm not so convinced by this two party system, and I think alternative models could be just as effective. But I'd be wary about just handing out money to anyone who wants to run for office. Perhaps a two-tiered system would make sense. Set a minimum floor based on some objective level (like percentage of votes in the previous election) for a party to get the full amount of funds (say, if you got at least 10% of the votes you can have the full amount) and anything below that gets you a corresponding cut of full amount (so if you had only 9% you get something like 90% of the full amount, 5% gets you half of the full amount, etc.)?

    This is just off the top of my head, but it doesn't seem unreasonable at first blush, right? If it does, well, it's late and I reserve my right to disown this idea in the future. The basic point is: public financing is better than private, and giving everyone a fair shake is important, but must be tempered by some reasonable level of legitimacy.

    My verification word is "mullited", which is awfully close to "mulletted" which I assume is an adjective describing a redneck and/or hockey player.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 11/01/2008 4:28 AM  

  • I have all sorts of problems with public financing, not the least of which is that it forces people to fund speech they don't support. But my biggest objection is not to public financing per se, but to the restrictions on private financing that presumably would accompany it (and currently do under our current campaign finance laws).

    For starters, current restrictions do benefit the rich in some ways. We have a little thing called the First Amendment, thankfully, and the Supreme Court has ruled that restrictions on political speech are justified only to avoid corruption or the appearance of corruption. This means that the government can't stop a guy from spending his own money on speech. So if Mr. Wealthy wants to drop $50,000 on ads blasting the liberal Democrat running in his House district, he can do so. But if 9 middle class people in the same area want to counter his ads by pooling their resources and donating $5,500 each to run their own ads, they can't legally do so. The rich guy can speak all he wants, the middle class people are silenced.

    Another problem is that forbidding private financing puts the campaigns themselves in control of the message. Take abortion, for example. This year neither presidential candidate wants to talk much about it: Obama because he doesn't have to, McCain because his record on the issue is kind of spotty. Let's say you're pro-life and think the public needs to know more about where the candidates stand on abortion. You can't count on the campaigns to cover it. You have to be able to pool your resources with other like-minded people and fund your own political speech or else your concerns are shut out of the political debate.

    Lastly, I don't think it's that obvious that rich people are always going to be donating to campaigns that protect their wealth at the expense of the poor. One of the perks of being rich is that you can afford to piss away your money on whatever causes you feel like, including causes like taxing your other wealthy friends and spreading the money around. That's pretty much what we're seeing with George Soros and other wealthy donors who are increasingly turned off by the right's social conservatism and giving to the left. In any case, it strikes me as far riskier to trust incumbents to write their own election laws than it does to trust the wealthy to contribute to a variety of causes.

    You've said you prefer public financing, but you haven't made it clear what restrictions on private funding you would put into place. My preference is for none. Because when you get right down to it, "Congress shall make no law" isn't refuted by the desire to make campaign ads more balanced or reflective of the population or whatever criterion you want to choose. The second you start telling people that they can't spend their own money on political speech you're violating First Amendment protections to free speech and freedom of association. If that's what you're proposing, then there's no way in hell I can get on board.

    By Anonymous Jacob, at 11/01/2008 5:11 PM  

  • Jacob -

    Ah, I see your point. My guess is that we probably have less disagreement over this point that it has seemed. Personally, free speech is pretty much an inviolable right in my view, and that being the case I'd like to see as few restrictions on speech as possible. In my mind there's a reasonable distinction to be made between individual political speech (the guy who buys his own ad, or the group that pools their money and buys one) and the campaigns themselves. I'd like to see the campaigns themselves on as equal a footing as possible, with a cap on their spending. So my restrictions would be more on the campaigns than on individuals. Does that make any sense?

    I admit, too, that this isn't an issue I've spend a ton of time thinking about, so I'm probably much more persuadable here than I would be with regard to other issues.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 11/01/2008 8:26 PM  

  • Cool, glad we agree, at least on independent expenditures. There's actually a case on this subject working its way through the courts right now. Google "Speech Now" if you want to look into it.

    By Anonymous Jacob, at 11/01/2008 10:45 PM  

  • Independent expenditures is one thing. That is speech in that people are creating their own content. The CONTENT is the speech, really, and the money a means to it.

    To say that money donated to a campaign is the same thing - and is also speech - is simply incorrect. As you yourself said, the campaigns control the message. Donating money to a candidate simply gives them the freedom to broadcast whatever message they come up with, which you may or may not agree with. (Say, I donate to Obama because I like his foreign policy, and then he uses that money to broadcast ads blasting McCain for being pro-life. Not that I have. Not that he has...to my knowledge.) You see, I, too believe free speech is inviolate. I have pretty much the same opinion on the First Amendment as Justice Black. Or, at the very least, any restriction on free speech should be subject to Strict Scrutiny (the same harsh doctrine used to evaluate whether particular racial discrimination is allowed under the 14th Amendment). It's just that I don't see money as speech.

    Honestly, Jacob, for someone who's so cynical, you seem remarkably willing to reject the idea that those with great wealth will use that wealth to buy candidates if allowed.

    By Blogger Ben, at 11/02/2008 1:56 AM  

  • Anyways, enough about campaign finance.

    Tomorrow afternoon, after church and some volunteer work, I may have time to talk about unions. I hope.

    Now, it's time for sleep.

    By Blogger Ben, at 11/02/2008 1:57 AM  

  • Ben -

    I'm looking forward to your bit on unions, since you know a heck of a lot more about that than I do (and yet, I'm staunchly pro-union, because I've seen how good they can be first hand (my dad is a UPS teamster)).

    Also, I have seen some Obama ads where he blasts McCain for being pro-life. I don't think I've seen one devoted solely to that issue, but I've seen it brought up as a negative in more than one.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 11/02/2008 10:19 AM  

  • Ben,

    I don't see any tenable distinctions there. Money is an essential means to speech, so by limiting donations you're limiting speech. It's as if the government decided to cap the amount of ink and paper any one newspaper could use to prevent any one paper from dominating the market. It could say it's just enforcing laws on ink and paper, but that'd clearly violate the freedom of the press. How is it any different to cap the money people can give in support of campaign ads?

    The same goes for your distinction between campaigns and independent expenditures. Except in the rare case that one person writes, produces, and buys the airtime for an ad, any group is going to rely on members donating to it without full control of the message. How specific does the group have to be? Texas Pro-Lifers for McCain? Pro-Lifers for McCain? Christians for McCain? Conservatives for McCain? Americans for McCain? There's no clear distinctions here.

    And of course I expect people to try to buy candidates. That's why I support scrapping our current campaign finance laws and replacing them with unlimited direct donations with disclosure for large donors. That would be far better than hiding the money in 527s and other groups disconnected from the campaign while removing some of the protections that give incumbents such a huge advantage over challengers.

    By Anonymous Jacb, at 11/02/2008 1:31 PM  

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