I support Barack Obama for President, with more enthusiasm and excitement than I’ve ever had for any politician. Those who know me know this already, but I’ve been asked “why?” enough times that I thought it worthwhile to write up.
Politicians use two methods to achieve their goals: the carrot and the stick. Need Iran to stop enriching uranium? You can threaten war, or you can incentivize with improved trade and aid packages. Want every American to have health coverage? You can threaten fines to employers or to individuals themselves if they’re not covered, or you can provide incentives such as tax cuts to employers. Obama knows how to work both the carrot and the stick. His desire for diplomacy with Iran, his strong words on Pakistan (he talked about it before the Bhutto assassination), and his clear distinction between the stupid war in Iraq and the necessary war in Afghanistan make that very clear.
But Obama doesn’t simply set a goal and then figure out whether to apply the carrot or the stick. He thinks about the best process by which his policy goals can be achieved. He doesn’t want to mandate health care for everyone, because the problem is not that people don’t want health care, it’s that they can’t afford it. So his focus is on making health care affordable, and then trusting that most Americans will do what’s in their best interest and purchase health care. The stick is not the right solution here, and the carrot isn’t what Obama’s offering either. The right solution is empowerment: enabling Americans to make the decision that’s right for them.
You can see the same pattern at work in Obama’s work on transparency in government. How do you stop pork-barrel politics, earmarks, secret holds on bills, bill amendments that benefit specific corporations by name without a trace as to which legislator introduced it? There really isn’t much of a carrot solution to this one, but you could try a very big stick. Instead, Obama sponsored legislation that forces significantly more politician accountability by publishing, on the web, how every tax dollar is spent: go see for yourself at http://www.USAspending.gov/. In his campaign, Obama has proposed opening up to the public all bill debates and negotiations with lobbyists, via TV and the Internet. Why? Because he trusts that Americans, when given the tools to see and understand what their legislators are doing, will apply pressure to keep their government honest.
And last night, during the California debate, Obama was asked about violence and sex in the entertainment industry. Not the most important topic on my mind right now, but his answer is telling. He gave the clearest and smartest response I’ve ever heard a politician give on the topic: “I’m against any kind of censorship. Responsibility lies with parents, but you have to give parents the tools they need to control what their kids see on TV and over the Internet.” Again, not a carrot, not a stick, rather empowerment. The means necessary to make your own decisions about your kids.
Obama inspires because he believes in us. He believes that, given the right tools, we know how to make our own decisions. We don’t need the government to tell us what to do, we need the government to give us the tools so we can make our own decisions.
There are real problems only the government can fix, which is why I believe we need a progressive Democrat in office. But to get to those policy goals, we need the government to stop treating us like donkeys who can only be bribed or punished. We need a President who believes in us and who will empower us, as individuals. The government is there to help maintain a level playing field and create opportunities. The rest is up to us.
One More Thing…
After Obama said he wouldn’t censor Hollywood, he added that he would “urge the entertainment industry to consider the choices they make when they advertise a slasher film in the middle of American Idol.” This is a powerful message. It says that Obama isn’t going to regulate the entertainment industry, but he is certainly going to appeal to their better judgment. And that’s the power of an Obama Presidency: because he empowers you, he can also inspire you to be better, not because you have to, but because you want to. I don’t believe that most people are inherently good or bad, I believe they can be led and inspired to be either. Bush brought out the worst in all of us: because we were scared, a majority of us (myself included) initially supported the War in Iraq. An Obama Presidency would bring out the best in all of us, and by a wide majority, we are a good people who want justice and equal opportunity. We need a President who will give us the tools to help ourselves, and more importantly, a President who believes in us and who will inspire us to be better people. Obama is that President.