Why I Trust Barack Obama

I recently received an email from my dad saying, “I must say that as you explained Obama and his thinking I could really get on board and support the thoughts you expressed!  But my concern is that what you say he is thinking or implying may be different from his real intent.”

I responded by telling him I share his cynicism of politicians but that there are five main things about Obama that lead me to trust him (and not to trust John McCain). Here they are:

1. Barack Obama is disclosing a lot more than McCain and other politicians I’ve seen. Beyond voluntarily disclosing his earmarks record and being open and honest about his past, he has a vision for this country and a plan to achieve it. You can read about it in his Blueprint for Change. McCain has made promises, but he hasn’t articulated how he will meet them. Nor has he given us any sort of vision for his presidency. This leads me to believe that McCain’s promises are empty. Because Obama has taken the time to lay out how he will achieve everything he seeks to achieve, it says to me that he has put a lot of thought into it and that he very much believes in it. Thus, I think he will actually follow through, to the best of his ability, on everything he says he will.

2a. Barack Obama is consistent, and this shows impeccable character. His record is consistent, and he has been consistent throughout this campaign. Sure, he hasn’t voted the same way for everything all the time. He has evolved. His stance on off-shore drilling (he is now open to it but still sees it as a stop-gap measure, not a solution to our energy problem) is but one example. I think there is a big different between watching a politician’s views change over time and watching them change all at once. When I see a politician’s views evolve over time, it tells me that he is open to new information, is able to learn,  and is willing to change his views (perhaps admitting he was wrong?) in light of new information. McCain has done this in his career, and I don’t see it as a sign of flip-flopping. However, when a politician changes his views on a significant number of important issues in a short period of time, red flags go up for me. Changing a lot in a short period of time (as McCain has done with his 74 policy stance reversals in the last 18 months) tells me that these changes are for political reasons, not the result of learning. In this respect, Obama’s record is consistent, and McCain’s is not.

2b. Obama’s campaign has also been consistent. He has stuck to his message of change and his focus on economic issues throughout his campaign. He has never once attacked McCain or Palin personally, despite the fact that they regularly slander him and belittle him in very personal attacks. This says to me that Obama is a man of character. He isn’t allowing himself to be dragged into the gutter in this election. Whenever he is asked to make personal comments about his opponents, he says, “I respect him/She has a very compelling story, etc.” and then he immediately refocuses the interview back to the issues in this election. He didn’t change his campaign when McCain made the “game-changing” move of nominating Palin. He’s sticking to the issues. McCain, on the other hand, really never talks about the issues. He promised to run a “respectful” campaign against Obama and has done the opposite. He ran his campaign against Obama on the argument that he has no experience. Then he chose a running mate who has no more experience than Obama and who has zero foreign policy experience. Further, when he saw that Obama’s message of change was working more than his message of “no experience,” he co-opted Obama’s message, and now his campaign is all about change (although he still hasn’t articulated what he will change or how he will change it). The inconsistencies in McCain’s recent record and his campaign make me question his motives, but the consistencies in Obama’s record and campaign give me confidence that he will do what he says he will do.

3. Barack Obama is a critical thinker. I think he is the first politician I’ve seen who actually answers the questions people ask him instead of just regurgitating talking points. One reporter said of him, “When you ask him a question, you get a six-minute answer. And it’s well-thought-out and brilliant as all get-out. But it doesn’t make for a good sound bite.” I think that’s a good thing. I want a president who thinks critically and at length about the issues of our time as opposed to acting on his gut. I can see in his interviews (and I think we’ll see in the debates) that he has thought very critically (and is still doing so, still learning, as all good politicians do) about the issues facing our country. Just last night I watched the first part of an interview he did with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. That part of the interview focused on terrorism and international security. In the interview, O’Reilly asked Obama how he would handle terrorism, and the first thing Obama did was to illuminate the complexities of the issue. He talked about how the “terrorists” are not just one big army. They are small, disparate groups, and it is unwise to just lump them all together. O’Reilly also pressed him on the surge in Iraq since it is largely thought that the surge worked, but he had yet to admit it. In effect, he said that, yes, the surge has worked in the sense that it has reduced the violence in Iraq. But it has not yet accomplished its other goal of creating political stability in Iraq. So the word is still out on whether the surge worked. Iraq is not yet politically stable. I really appreciated the thought he put into his answer and the fact that he didn’t just rattle off his campaign’s talking points. His thoughtfulness says to me that he has a lot invested in this country and in what he’s running his campaign on. This gives me confidence in him.

4. He is well-educated. I highly value education. I think that formal education (particularly grad school) trains people to think critically and analyze problems. Thanks to my education, I can evaluate a problem or issue from several different angles before deciding on a course of action. I can separate myself emotionally from the problem or issue and look at it rationally and dispassionately. The fact that Obama was educated in political science and economic law  at two of the best schools in the country (B.S. from Columbia, J.D. from Harvard) gives me great confidence in his ability to do this as well. Further, he graduated at the top of his class both times. While I recognize that the Naval Academy, McCain’s alma mater, is a very good school, I hardly think it qualifies as a well-rounded education. Besides, the only reason McCain got into the school was because of his father and grandfather, not of his own accord. McCain majored in military engineering and graduated 5th from the bottom of his class. I realize this isn’t going to be a sticking point for hardly anyone in this election. But to me, a person who finished my undergrad with a 4.0 and my grad degree with a 3.9 (damn that B in statistics!), a person’s GPA says a lot. The fact that Obama graduated at the top of his class says to me that he is a hard worker, that he is smart, and that he respects the institution of education. The fact that McCain graduated at the bottom of his class says to me that he isn’t a hard worker and that he either isn’t smart or doesn’t value or respect education (or maybe both). Obama’s education is what gave him the ability to think so critically about the issues of our time. I know that it is impossible to not be invested in things that you spend so much time on. I was heavily invested in my thesis. It’s clear to me that Obama has spent a lot of time studying the issues of our time, thinking critically about them, and formulating a plan for addressing them. I seriously doubt he would drop them for an entirely different agenda. This helps me trust what he says.

5. Obama has surrounded himself with the best thinkers of our time on the issues of today. He received a degree in economic law from Harvard and went on to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago is recognized for housing the best economic thinkers of our time. He formed relationships with them, learned from them, and sparred with them. His policy advisors are not lobbyists (unlike the McCain campaign…seven of his campaign advisors are former lobbyists). They are experts. A New York Times article came out not long ago that I think provides a glimpse into how Obama’s brain works, and after reading it, I was more confident in Obama than ever before. Here’s a quote: “As anyone who has spent time with Obama knows, he likes experts, and his choice of advisers stems in part from his interest in empirical research. (James Heckman, a Nobel laureate who critiqued the campaign’s education plan at Goolsbee’s request, said, “I’ve never worked with a campaign that was more interested in what the research shows.”)” As someone who highly values empirical research and facts, he shot up about a thousand points in my book after I read that. Who he surrounds himself with shows me that he is interested in what’s best for this country, not what’s best for him politically. His choice of advisors isn’t politically motivated. It’s motivated by a desire to know the facts and make the best decision or best policy proposal based on those facts. This also shows that he doesn’t adhere to a strict ideology. He’s not attaching himself to advisors who are buried deep in their own ideologies. He is pragmatic (again, I think, due to his education) and is interested in solutions over ideology. I think he has shown this in who he’s surrounded himself with…academics, not lobbyists. Because his choice of advisors hasn’t been “politics as usual,” I trust that his administration will also not be “politics as usual,” i.e. he will actually do what he says.

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