Why I Voted For Obama

02 March 2008

With the Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont primaries coming up on Tuesday, I just wanted to re-post this brief explanation of why I chose Obama over Clinton.

Transparency and Accountability:

  • For me, government transparency is one of the most important issues of the 2008 election. A secretive government is generally bad for a democracy. A transparent government, on the other hand, sets up a check against corrupting influences and brings in an element of accountability. Furthermore, opening up ideas and decisions to public comment allows for the making of better decisions insofar as it allows for a wider range of input.
  • As promised in his Ethics proposals (available online here and in his Blueprint For Change here), Obama will broadcast cabinet meetings on C-SPAN and on the Internet.
  • Obama will connect government agencies to the Internet to open up public comment on important issues.
  • Obama is responsible for creating the Federal Spending Database, so you can now go online and see where the government is spending your money.
  • Obama has pledged not to take contributions from federal lobbyists, and to disclose bundlers working on his campaign. Of course this doesn't completely insulate Obama from undue influence. Anybody else who donates to his campaign could ultimately end up asking the government for a favor somewhere down the line. But this pledge does eliminate the most open and obvious conflict, and it shows a commitment to transparency and accountability.
  • Clinton, on the other hand, put together her Health Care plan in the 90s behind closed doors, where not even the people involved knew how the decisions were made. Some of the papers still have not been released to the public (which President Clinton has lawfully withheld under the Presidential Records Act). Of course this was ten years ago, but I still think that it goes to show how Sen. Clinton goes about making decisions, and it doesn't speak well to her commitment to transparency.
  • Regarding lobbyists, Clinton has made no similar pledge, and has even defended the role of lobbyist contributions at one of the debates. According to Clinton, she is simply not influenced by them at all. We all just have to take her at her word on that. It should be noted, however, that Clinton has by far raised the most money from lobbyists of anyone in the United States Congress. She also frequently uses earmarks to insert funds into appropriations bills. At the very least, one has to admit that this is a systematic problem that is wide open to conflicts of interest. For example, it should be an obvious problem that Clinton earmarks funds to benefit the lobbyists who have donated to her campaign. I'm not accusing her of engaging in any direct quid pro quo, but it is a serious conflict of interests and it is one that I'd like the next President to address.
  • When Obama passed an ethics reform bill, Clinton opposed a measure that would have revealed all of the proposed earmarks, not just the ones that made it to the final bill.
  • Sen. Clinton twice opposed a measure supported by Sen. Obama that would create an independent commission to investigate ethics violations.
  • I think that it's very significant that Clinton, to this day, refuses to release her tax returns for the past eight years. All of the other candidates have done it except for her. When selecting a President, full disclosure is very important. This is particularly the case when the candidate has contributed $5 million to her own campaign. If there is any kind of conflict of interest, we should know sooner rather than later.
  • This point doesn't directly relate to Hillary Clinton, but the Clinton presidential library is, to this day, withholding thousands of papers relating to the pardons Bill Clinton granted at the very end of his presidency. Again, I'm not accusing the Clintons of any direct quid pro quo, but there certainly appears to be a conflict of interest and an appearance of impropriety when a president pardons someone who donated half a million dollars to the Clinton presidential library and $1.1 million to the Democratic party. If you're going to pardon someone in this position, you had better have an extremely compelling reason, and you had better be as open and candid as possible. Otherwise, as a citizen, it looks like you're selling presidential favors.
  • Obama has actively sponsored legislation in this arena, both in Illinois and in the U.S. Senate. I recommend combing through Library of Congress web page to see for yourself the legislation he has sponsored and the amendments he has proposed.
  • You can watch Obama giving a speech on ethics reform here (Part I, Part II, Part III). He really seems to see (and articulate) the big picture better than anyone else in the race.
  • You can read Obama's ethics proposals here.
The First Amendment:
  • Another important issue for me is respect for freedom of speech. On this issue as well, I find Sen. Obama to be the best candidate in the field.
  • Clinton proposed legally restricting the sale of violent video games.
  • Obama has emphasized the role of parents and cautioned against pushing unconstitutional restrictions on speech.
  • Clinton pushed a ban on flag burning.
  • Obama opposed such a restriction on speech.
  • Obama was a professor of Constitutional Law at one of the nation's top law schools. I suspect that he understands First Amendment issues, since that's a part of the job.
  • When evaluating experience, I find two things to be particularly persuasive: (1) public service, and (2) executive experience (generally as a governor). At this point, all of the three remaining viable candidates are Senators. Executive experience just isn't on the menu this year. Therefore, it really comes down to a showing of commitment to public service.
  • Obama has the right kind of experience. He was a Civil Rights attorney, a Constitutional Law professor, a state legislator, and a community organizer. This shows a commitment to public service, standing up for the weak and powerless, organizational skills, negotiation skills, and competence.
  • Clinton's work for the Children's Defense Fund is admirable as well. But her choice of work afterwards does not show the same level of commitment to public service as Obama. I don't begrudge her the fact that she went on to corporate practice for 15 years, or that she served on the board of Wal-Mart. Everybody has to make a living, and this does show a general degree of competence on her part. She even continued to do pro bono work on the side, which is admirable. But in comparison, I'd prefer to pick a president who fought for voting rights to one who defended a corporate entity when it accidentally put a rat's ass in a can of pork and beans.
  • I have heard Sen. Clinton constantly tout her "35 years of experience" as an "agent of change." Fifteen years of corporate practice does not count as time "making change." Working on the corporate board of Wal-Mart and TCBY does not count as time "making change." Being first lady of Arkansas does not count as time "making change." Being first lady of the United States does not count as time "making change." Being a United States Senator does qualify, but I don't exactly know what change she has made during her time in the Senate.
  • Clinton has repeatedly inflated and exaggerated her foreign policy experience. For example, she claims to have been "intimately involved" in the Ireland peace process of the 1990s. In reality, she made a total of 6 trips there (4 of them accompanying her husband, 2 on her own). George Mitchell, the Clinton administration's leading Northern Ireland peace negotiator, says that Hillary Clinton was "not involved directly" in the process. She also embarrassingly claimed to have been involved in the Bosnia accords (video here). For more, see here and here. It should also be noted that Clinton did not have national security clearance as First Lady, and did not attend national security meetings.
Civil Liberties:
  • Clinton voted for the original PATRIOT Act.
  • Once joining the Senate, Obama fought to reform the original PATRIOT Act, and was able to work in more judicial oversight. Although the final compromise bill might not have been perfect, or as good as the one he had pushed, he at least worked to improve it.
  • In the Illinois State Senate, Obama was able to unanimously pass civil lbierties reforms, such as mandating the videotaping of confessions in capital cases.
  • For what it's worth, the ACLU rates Obama higher than Hillary Clinton, and Obama is being supported by the Guantanamo Bay detainees' attorneys.
  • Clinton wants to change the Democratic primary rules halfway into the election. When Michigan and Florida violated DNC rules and moved up their primaries, the DNC stripped them of their delegates. One could have argued at the time that this was too harsh, but all of the candidates accepted the decision and explicitly pledged not to "campaign or participate" in those two states. For some reason, Clinton left her name on the Michigan ballot and won an essentially uncontested election. Now that she has won a victory without any competition, she suddenly has a change of heart and wants those delegates to count. Her appeals to electoral fairness are self-serving, insincere, and transparent. I'm surprised that there is not more outrage over this, because it really doesn't speak well to her character for her honesty and her commitment to fairness.
  • The Clinton campaign distributed flyers to their precinct captains in Nevada instructing them to shut the doors 30 minutes early, and generally instructing them that "It's not illegal unless they tell you so." These kinds of tactics are underhanded and reprehensible. It's not clear how high within the campaign these instructions went, and the Obama campaign has called for an investigation, but a disciplined organization such as the Clinton campaign should have been on guard to make sure that such instructions did not appear under its name and from its employees.
  • When the DNC approved of at-large precincts in Nevada, Clinton did not say a word for months. But within days of the Nevada caucuses, as soon as the Culinary Union endorsed Barack Obama and it looked like those precincts might go his way, Clinton supported a lawsuit to completely shut those precincts down. Clinton and her husband dubiously argued that the at-large precinct were illegal because those votes would allegedly count five times as much as other voters', under the apportionment rules. The judge thought otherwise and dismissed the suit.
  • Obama, on the other hand, was a Civil Rights attorney who actively worked for electoral fairness. He has stood by his pledge not to “campaign or participate” in Michigan and Florida, and he formally filed a complaint against the Clinton campaign's practices in Nevada. I would prefer a president who keeps his word, and doesn’t simply change his positions when it becomes politically advantageous.

  • First, and most obviously, Clinton polls far more poorly against McCain than Obama does.
  • Clinton has run on her "experience" throughout the primary process. I don't find that argument very persuasive, but that argument certainly wouldn't cut it in a general election against John McCain. On the other hand, if Obama were the nominee, McCain's "experience" argument could be turned around into a "we need change from your kind of experience" argument. It's hard to say the same about Clinton.
  • Clinton will find it difficult, if not impossible, to argue forcefully on the issue of Iraq. The obvious retort from McCain is, "Well you voted for it, too."
  • Clinton cannot argue against the role of special interests and lobbyists since she has taken more money from them than anybody else in the entire Congress.
  • Clinton cannot argue forcefully against No Child Left Behind since she voted for it herself.
  • McCain will likely bring up wasteful spending, and make it a centerpiece of his campaign. In that regard, he will point to the $1 million Clinton tried to earmark for a Woodstock museum. I think that was a rather boneheaded move on her part, and it doesn't speak well for her fiscal responsibility.
  • With respect to honesty, McCain has a reputation as a straight-talker whereas Clinton has a reputation for spinning. Whether or not that characterization is accurate, it certainly won't help Clinton in the general election.
  • Clinton has enormous negative ratings, and has trouble getting Independent voters and cross-over Republicans.
So there you have it.

Related Reading:
20 Minute Video: Why I Support Barack Obama (Lawrence Lessig)
I Refuse To Buy Into The Obama Hype
Obama's Senate Accomplishments

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