Confession time: I voted for Barack Obama yesterday, and this is the first time I have ever voted for a democrat for president. Have I changed? Maybe. Have Republicans changed? Definitely. Now that Republicans, at least at the presidential level, are no longer the party of limited government, everything is up for grabs. So, as a service to my North Carolina friends who are on the fence, here are the 10 reasons I voted for Obama - some are good, and some are lame, but maybe it will help you make up your mind:
1) He's an honorary Tarheel - He's the only candidate with the moxy to have laced it up with the Tarheel basketball team for some pick-up hoops, and Dean Smith endorsed him. Some of you won't need to read on, and can head over to the polling place on this point alone - and I applaud you.
2) Inspiration vs. Manipulation - In general, Obama's campaign seeks to inspire; McCain's campaign seeks to manipulate. Yes, this is politics, and both campaigns have said ugly things. But even McCain's Vice Presidential pick was largely, in my eyes, an effort to manipulate a reluctant conservative Republican base to vote for him. Labeling Obama as a socialist or terrorist's pal is a manipulative tactic, because it stirs up fear in order to get a certain behavior. Obama's message is about who we can be. McCain's message is about preserving who we are. I'm not satisfied with who we are, as a country. We can do better.
3) Taxes - Never in our country's history have we prosecuted a war and lowered income taxes at the same time... that is, until George W. Bush's administration. During World War I, congress raised the top marginal tax rate to 77%! During World War II, the top marginal tax rate was in the 90% range, and stayed that way until the 1960's, when it was lowered to a more palatable 70% range. These tax rates included both the wars in Vietnam and Korea. In the 80's, under Reagan, the top marginal tax rate was lowered to its lowest rate of 28%, but went back up to 40% during the first Gulf war (was the first George Bush a socialist?). So to say that Obama's tax plan, which raises the top marginal rate back to 39%, and cuts taxes for most people, is anything close to "socialist" is absurd in the context of history - and McCain's plan is downright irresponsible. The federal income tax in the US has always been a "progressive" system that taxes higher income at a higher rate, so we need to either change the tax system - or stop arguing that 39% is somehow more socialist than 35%. As a country, we spend more than we take in and 10% of our Federal budget is interest payments. Neither candidate will make a positive dent in the deficit, but at least Obama's plan has the right trajectory.
4) Leadership - If Obama runs the White House anything like he has run his campaign, he can accomplish great things. The Obama campaign machine is one of the most inventive, effective and efficient enterprises that I have ever seen. He has surrounded himself with smart, capable, creative people who have redefined the idea and tactics of a presidential campaign, created an amazing brand, and utilized online and social media in amazing ways to engage and energize people. True leaders are humble enough to know that they can't know everything, and Obama clearly surrounds himself with people who can challenge him and help him figure out the tough problems. His measured selection of Joe Biden as his running mate is a good example.
5) Open Communication - Obama has used social media, like Twitter, along with online video and e-mail to keep his supporters informed and energized. I have high hopes that President Obama will do some of the same things, creating a new "civics graph" that leverages social technologies to enable the citizens and government to work more collaboratively to solve this country's problems. The current administration has been secretive and deterministic, rather than open and collaborative. I'm not so naive as to think that many of a President's decisions and concerns should remain inside the Oval Office, but I would like to see more communication and collaboration. Remember folks, Twitter doesn't kill people. People kill people.
6) The Hearts and Minds of our Youth - The next president will be the president of my children's youth... the one around whom they will shape their view of national leadership and America's place in this world. The president of my youth was Ronald Reagan - despite whether you agree or disagree with his politics, he was the hopeful face and spokesperson for the end of the Cold War and inspired the world. Obama has inspired the youth of this country like no candidate in recent history. Through his example, he has the real opportunity to help shape a generation of Americans into people who are civic-minded, thoughtful, and hopeful about their country, as opposed to ambivalent or, worse yet, cynical. I would hate to see us miss this opportunity to engage and inspire our young people by resisting change and retrenching around the status quo.
7) World Reputation - My ideal of America's standing in the world was largely shaped by an image I have of Ronald Reagan smiling (and probably joking) with Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan was tough and uncompromising about important ideas, but in an inclusive and inviting way. That's how I see America at its best: tough and uncompromising about the things that matter (freedom of our people, the American dream, helping our friends and allies), but inclusive and inviting to willing allies who want to benefit from friendship with America. Reagan's America invited people living in oppressive communist regimes to join-in to the opportunity of freedom - and then the people of those countries did the rest of the work. I was e-mailing recently with my college roommate, who now lives in Zambia helping to fight Malaria, who said: "All of Africa is excited about Obama.... We see t-shirts and bumper stickers everywhere. No one here cares who he is running against." Obama is exciting the world about the potential for an American leader who embodies freedom and opportunity, instead of imposing it.
8) Religion & Character - I'm a Christian, and I believe that God's purposes will be carried out no matter who is president. So, like Martin Luther, I would rather have a wise non-Christian leader than a stupid Christian leader (not his exact words, but that's the gist). The good news here is that neither candidate is stupid (or the anti-christ, as some e-mails will try to convince you) and both claim to be Christians - with equivalent evidence on each side that they indeed practice their faith. So, I take them at their word. But what put me over the edge on this one is Obama's wailing wall prayer that was printed by an Israeli newspaper (some will say this was "staged" - you make your own determination). He wrote, "Lord—Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will." If that prayer is sincere, he is exactly the type of person I want in the White House.
9) History - I read a blog recently that recounted a story of a man who changed his vote at the last minute to Obama because, "...I didn't want to tell my grandchildren some day that I had an opportunity to vote for the first black president, but I missed my chance at history and voted for the other guy." I actually don't care about Obama's race or social standing or other demographic attribute. No, for me, I think Obama has what it takes to be a transformational world leader, and, if it works out that way, I want to be able to tell my kids that I indeed DID vote for that guy.
10) I'm a sucker for a great brand - Obama is like Apple, and McCain is like Vista. 'Nuf said.
As always, comments are open and welcome.