Sunday, September 16, 2012

why I should have voted for Obama in 2008

I was originally going to write a post entitled "why I should have voted for Obama in 2008, why I hope Romney wins in 2012, and why I will nevertheless vote for Johnson", but it was getting a bit lengthy for a blog post, so I'm cutting it into thirds. Here is part 1. Stay tuned for the sequels.

In 2008 I was definitely rooting for Obama to win, for a number of reasons. First, I couldn't imagine a McCain presidency which did not involve bombing Iran, and quite possibly an invasion. The man was a national greatness conservative, a condition that includes among its symptoms a deeply held belief that war and sacrifice for a higher cause build character and foster, well, a greater nation, which is somehow deemed more important than the collective desires, ambitions, and lives of the individuals who happen to live within a nation's boundaries. But the danger of a belligerent McCain was not the only reason I had to vote for Obama: the candidate of hope and change really did emit civil libertarian rhetoric that was a breath of fresh air during the twilight of Bush's regime of torture and indefinite detention and wars of aggression. Candidate Obama said things like this:
When you suspend habeus corpus, which has been a principle dating before even our country -- it's the foundation of Anglo American law, which says very simply, if the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, 'Why was I grabbed?' and say, 'Maybe you've got the wrong person.' The reason you have that safeguard is because we don't always have the right person. We don't always catch the right person.

We may think this is Mohammed the terrorist. It might be Mohammed the cab driver. You may think it's Barack the bomb thrower. But it might be Barack the guy running for president. So the reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It's because that's who we are. That's what we're protecting. Don't mock the Constitution. Don't make fun of it. Don't suggest that it's unAmerican to abide by what the Founding fathers set up. It's worked pretty well for over 200 years.
And this:
...some have been detained who have no connection to terror whatsoever. We've already had reports from the CIA and various generals over the last few years saying that many of the detainees at Guantanamo shouldn't have been there - as one U.S. commander of Guantanamo told the Wall Street Journal, "Sometimes, we just didn't get the right folks." And we all know about the recent case of the Canadian man who was suspected of terrorist connections, detained in New York, sent to Syria, and tortured, only to find out later that it was all a case of mistaken identity and poor information. 
In the future, people like this may never have a chance to prove their innocence. They may remain locked away forever. And the sad part about all of this is that this betrayal of American values is unnecessary.
Given this promising rhetoric, and the need to signal a firm renunciation of the Bush years, I think voting for Obama was the right thing to do. I think this even though I disagreed with candidate Obama plenty on economic policy. Throughout the 2008 +/- 1 years I had the sneaking suspicion that the health care reform bills under discussion were just monuments to corporatism, and I haven't moved far from that opinion now, even if I have even less confidence in my opinions on the subject now than I did then. Given my uncertainty about domestic economic policies, civil liberties and the body counts of foreign wars are just more important to me.

In 2008 I abstained from voting mostly out of sheer orneriness arising from the remnants of my undergrad-era non-voting anarcho-capitalism. I was no longer an anarchist by 2008, but I continued to abstain from voting because of the near impossibility of my vote ever deciding an election and, more importantly, out of a sense of contrarian self-importance. It is still true that my voting is roughly as likely to make a difference in an election as my spending the same time staring at a ceiling fan, but now I am at least open to the notion that voting--or at least telling people how I will vote and discussing why--is potentially worthwhile for signalling respect for civic norms (kinda like going through the wafer eating motions at communion). Voting--or, again, at least telling people how I'm going to vote, as the act itself is consequentially hollow--is also potentially a persuasive platform for promoting my values and policy preferences.

Now, after four years of Obama continuing the Bush agenda of creating the Unitary Executive, I'm glad I didn't vote for him. But I was right for the wrong reasons.

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