Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama's Nomination Is Historic, But It Will All Be for Naught If He Doesn't Win

Don't get me wrong: I am very proud today that I live in a country where an African-American man named Barack Obama could secure a major-party nomination for the U.S. presidency. I'm even more proud that it was Americans in my party that elevated Obama to this position. But right now, I am far more concerned with whether Obama actually takes the oath of office in Washington, D.C. in January. If Obama loses to John McCain in November, I will take very little solace in the history-making aspect of the campaign.

The stakes are just too high.

There is an entire generation of Americans who grew up with George W. Bush as president. For these young adults, sadly, having a president treat the office like the headquarters of his party, putting Republican advancement over everything, including governing, competency and the U.S. Constitution, is all they know. In their experience, the way Bush operates is standard procedure.

Unless these young adults do some history reading (unlikely, based on the runaway sales of the latest edition of Grand Theft Auto), they won't realize that Bush fundamentally changed the office. I could write an entire column just on the damage the administration has done, but a partial list of the administration's disasters runs from Iraq to Katrina to the Valerie Plame leak to the politicized firings of U.S. attorneys to the stuffing of Messiah College grads into executive jobs to the embrace of torture to the rejection of global warming to the handing of no-bid contracts to administration friends to the appointment of industry advocates into oversight positions to the editing of scientific findings for political purposes (mostly about global warming) to the placing of our armed forces in the weakest position they have occupied in decades to Walter Reed and other instances of disrespect to the country's veterans to back-door drafting and stop-loss and other instances of disrespect to the country's active troops to the tax cuts for the rich while cutting programs for the poor and middle class to the lies about Pat Tillman's death to sending troops into combat with insufficient equipment to allowing the country's energy policy to be written by companies like Enron (and then refusing to release the names of the companies that participated) to ... I'll stop while I still have some energy in my fingers, but you get the picture.

The election in November is not going to be about the presence of an African-American candidate (although the issue is inescapable). In the long run, the real question is whether a president can come into office in 2009 and start to undo the massive damage inflicted on the government, the U.S. and the world by the Bush administration. That is really the issue.

And John McCain certainly is not the man to make that change. We're talking here about a candidate who has had to fire staff members for their lobbying activities in order to keep the illusion going that he is a reformer. And while the 2000 version of McCain was not afraid to occasionally break with his party on issues he cared about (like campaign finance reform), the 2002-on version of McCain, the one that has been angling to be president, is an entirely different figure.

McCain's recent record and campaign promises make it clear that a McCain administration would, in every major field, continue the failed policies of Bush. As I've written over and over again, a Congressional Quarterly voting study revealed that McCain voted with Bush 95 percent of the time in 2007 (and 89 percent of the time since Bush took office). He also managed to vote with his fellow Republicans on 98 percent of his votes (43 of 44) in 2007, up from a still-high 76 percent in 2006.

McCain's record includes voting with Bush against extending health insurance to poor children, with Bush against extending benefits to veterans, and with Bush shooting down a ban on torture.

On the economy, McCain not only wants to make Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, but his main economic advisor is former senator Phil Gramm, a proponent of deregulation (like the Bush administration) whose deregulation legislation is often pointed to as a factor allowing the mortgage crisis to take place.

On Iraq, McCain seems to ignore the lack of political progress in Iraq and the risk to our abiilty to confront threats from other countries because of the broken state of military preparedness and wants to continue the U.S. involvement there, even famously stating that he would be fine with leaving troops in Iraq for 100 years.

Most importantly, McCain has lost all credibility. His flip-flopping on issues, all to secure the Republican nomination he lost to Bush in 2000, made John Kerry (as painted by the Republicans) look like a rock of stability.

The 2000 version of McCain called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance" and criticized Bob Jones University. The 2007 version of McCain kissed the ring of these same folks, speaking at Falwell's Liberty University and Bob Jones University and courting the support of fundamentalist preachers like John Hagee. The same goes for McCain's views on tax cuts and a host of other issues.

A Web site seeking to show the real McCain constructed a very good video showing the so-called maverick's hypocrisy. Have a look:

While many people will concentrate on the historic nature of Obama's candidacy, I would rather concentrate on why he is the right guy to lead the country now.

Unlike McCain, he hasn't had to fire staff members because they were lobbying for foreign governments. He has the right ideas and views on Iraq, saying often, "We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in." He has vowed to be more fair in his economic policies, working for job growth and preserving middle class tax cuts while rolling back the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. He is committed to health care reform. He understands the importance of fighting global warming and developing alternative sources of energy. Maybe most importantly, Obama will restore respect to the office of the presidency.

I am a big fan of Parag Khanna's January 27 New York Times Magazine article, in which he argues that while the U.S. was mired in Iraq and pursuing a combative foreign policy, the world was changing, and the Bush administration failed to notice. (I discussed this issue at length on February 5.) Khanna believes that the next administration will need to be open-minded and forward-thinking enough to compete in the new world order, and that a foreign policy looking backwards instead of forward could be disastrous.

Applying Khanna's thesis to the November election, I find a clear choice available: McCain's backward-looking, belligerent approach versus Obama's enlightened, forward-thinking point of view. To me, Obama's fresh outlook and intelligent approach to the issues is more important than his race.

It's actually pretty simple, to me: Bush's policies have made us economically worse off, weaker and less safe, and McCain wants to continue those policies. That's not good. Obama, on the other hand, offers a better approach.

So as proud as I am to have a historic nominee for my party, I won't be able to enjoy it until/unless Obama wins the White House in November. After seven-and-a-half years of Bush's disastrous policies, thinking about anything except replacing him with the right candidate is a luxury I don't think we can afford.