2008 - Where I'm At

Mike and Steve have both shared their insights on the presidential election.

And so it's my turn.

First, I've come a long way since 2004.  In that November, back on the University of Wisconsin campus, I was out waving signs for Bush with the College Republicans as a junior.  Running excessively on the inertia of my youth, I gave the man I had met in The Blue Room in 2001 the benefit of the doubt in the wake of 911, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the new war in Iraq.  I grimaced a bit privately as the party soured, I carried water.

But Bush did not revert to what I considered conservatism after re-election, after the trials subsided.  Not at all.  I've grown increasingly disgusted by the bloated government spending, domestic spying, religious trappings, and sheer lack of intelligence of the administration.  Bush has acted antithetically to conservatism, but his actions have been taken as conservatism.  He has driven the term off a cliff.

I grew as well in the intervening years, determining who I was, learning to apply a greater deal of skepticism to all things political.

What am I looking for in a president at this juncture?  I've spent an almost absurd amount of time and energy keeping abreast of the election in the past two years, trying to see the thing from as many perspectives and angles as possible.  I've encountered Obama, McCain, and Barr in person at some point this election season.  Still, I approach the ballot with some trepidation.

I am looking for a president who will refrain from and reverse increased government spending and government growth, which I believe is fundamental to maintaining some semblance of meaningful individual liberty.  I am looking for a president who will bring respect back to the office with competence, basic intelligence, a thorough understanding of history, and a sense of governing as something other than pure politics.  I am looking for a president who will be cognizant of foreign affairs concerns, treating our chief rival states as more important than terrorism, recognizing and dealing with threats in a firm, but nuanced manner, ultimately refusing to cede America's place in the world as the better option of possible hegemons.

What a refreshingly intelligent, measured candidate.  Barack Obama alone recognizes the nature of China's threat to the United States' preeminence in the world.  He is eloquent and by and large positive.  He is able to call upon an impressive array of respected, well-known advisors.  He has proven incredibly even-keeled and resilient on the long slog of the campaign trail.  And he seems reasonable, drawn to stability.

But Barack Obama coupled with a Democratic supermajority congress in the wake of a financial crisis is a recipe for reversing any of the efforts to untangle the more nefarious aspects of the New Deal from American life.  He plays his cards close to the chest (see his repeated present votes).  He promises everyone everything (see his tax plan).  He fundamentally views government as a force for good.  He is fine with federal government involvement in traditional state prerogatives such as education and healthcare.  His judicial nominees would likely be decidedly, nay very, very liberal (see his failure to vote for John Roberts).  Big labor would likely dictate too many of his policy choices.  He does not seem to have a solid grasp of non-urban life in America.  His own inability to handle media criticism makes me suspicious of his commitment to robust free speech.

Barack Obama would likely improve America's image in the world.  But half of his promise, the quality that mesmerizes far too many people, is rhetorical vagary and platitude.  He is comparatively inexperienced for a presidential candidate.  Yet his choice of Biden shows he is not the new politics, but the (safely) calculating old.  And many of his rabid supporters, unfortunately, tap into the old, venomous anti-Bush emotions, giving off an air of haughty, condescending, inevitability that rankles.  I fear Obama will be given carte blanche by adoring fans at precisely the moment it would be most inappropriate.  In the wake of eight years of the Bush administration, the hurdle for Obama couldn't be lower.

This is the candidate who most closely aligns, I think, with my most pressing concerns.  He, too, has seen and been involved in some of the worst aspects of Bush conservatism and distanced himself from them.  He emphasizes smaller government, reduced government spending, a more modest foreign policy, and a profound attention to the strictures of the Constitution.  He has a sense of history.  He actually focuses on individual liberty as an ends to the American experiment in government.  He has been a vocal critic of the bailout plan.  He was reasonable, knowledgeable, accessible, and personal when I met him earlier this fall.

Still, Barr has failed to make himself more than a footnote in this election.  He has not garnered sufficient attention, perhaps in part because of media focus on the Olympian contest in the primaries and now the general between candidates of great starpower.  He has not managed to secure the backing of Ron Paul - his one shot at capitalizing on the libertarian dynamo that invigorated the earlier months of the election.  

As McCain's chances fade back in Wisconsin, a Barr vote looks less and less unreasonable for someone choosing between McCain and Barr.

I feel as though I should begin this portion with a tragic quote from MacBeth.  This is not the same John McCain I cheered for in 2000.  Admittedly, in the wake of Bush, John McCain had no right getting to this point in the campaign.  His unlikely rise from the dead to win the GOP primary showed the weakness of the Republican position this year - only the party's most unorthodox character would have a chance.  But McCain the candidate has grown frantic, embracing tax cuts he opposed, gambling on dramatic surprise moves (see Hurricane cancellation, Palin nomination, and return to Washington).  The maverickness wore thin.  The Palin pick, its flimsiness, and Palin's cringe-inducing weakness in the Couric interviews reflected most poorly on McCain's judgment.  And many of the issues he's commendably bipartisan on...are not so hot (see campaign finance reform, etc.).  He backed the bailout and supports buying up mortgages.

Still, McCain's record stands.  He has been bipartisan on high profile issues, giving him more credence on unifying than Obama (e.g., voting for Breyer and Ginsburg).  Bailout support aside, he has kept up a running attack on government spending for decades.  He is pro-life, yet he is not a religious extremist or fundamentalist - it is simply not what drives him.  His stance on gay marriage, deferring to the states, is noteworthy for a Republican, and no worse than Obama's tepid take on the topic.  He was right on the surge.  While his age has been a concern, it hasn't noticeably limited him in any major way on the campaign trail.  And, as mocked and dismissed as it is at this stage in the game, McCain did serve in the military.  His crucible moment as an individual is still relevant in a consideration of his overall character and what makes him tick.  He is his own man.  And he would likely work to thwart a Democratic congress on some key issues in a divided government.

McCain has been slaughtered by the media - which, by and large, has repeatedly accepted the framing the Obama camp disseminates (100 years in Iraq, etc.).  His desperation in recent weeks and his failure to change the tenor and direction of the race in the debates has hurt him.  Colin Powell's endorsement of his rival bespeaks the crippled nature of the Republican Party and the unfortunate effect it has had on McCain, forcing him to walk a tightrope that has slowly sliced him in half as he sought to appease the base and the moderates.

The window to mail my ballot grows short.