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What Decides My Vote (or Silly Experience Arguments)

McCain has just stirred the pot by making an unorthodox choice for his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. Contrary to much of the response on the left, I don’t see this as cynical, though obviously there’s political calculation involved. It’s bold and risky.

It is, in fact, the first thing that’s happened since the end of the primaries that has made me think better of a candidate than I did at that time. It isn’t enough to make me vote for John McCain this time around, but that’s not because I think Palin is stupid, excessively inexperienced, or someone who would make a bad vice-president. The bottom line remains that I disagree with her on a number of matters of policy, insofar as I know what she stands for. We’re certain to find out much more over the next few days.

I think my belief that “experience” is an argument you use in favor of someone you already like for other reasons, and against someone you already dislike, also for other reasons, is confirmed by the Democratic response. Republicans who are trying to argue that Palin has a better resume than Obama need a reality check. Democrats who think that they can successfully make her look so much worse on the basis of her resume need to rethink. If there is one thing that has been used cynically throughout this campaign, it is the experience argument, and it’s at a crescendo (at least I hope!) at the moment.

The most positive thing about this choice, from my point of view is that it shows McCain can still think outside the box. Romney and Pawlenty were candidates that the political commentators would like. Lieberman was to some extent as well, though he had extraordinary negatives as well, being a very recent ex-Democrat, now independent, who had been a VP nominee of the other party, and also one with a substantially liberal voting record would hardly endear him to the Republican party’s right wing.

McCain stepped out of the standard reasoning and picked someone almost out of the blue. Not that she had never been mentioned, but the vast majority of commentators didn’t take that seriously. She’s conservative, she’s vigorous and forceful, she seems intelligent, and she has also shown integrity in an incredibly difficult decision–her decision to carry her current child to term. Skin-deep pro-lifers might have waffled at that point. She’s living up to her convictions and showing that those are not simply things she believes are true, but things that are part of her being.

Obama’s choice, on the other hand, was someone the political commentators were sure to like. It was largely media-safe, but rather boring. I’m not saying that Joe Biden would be a bad vice-president. Rather, he’ll be much the same as other vice-presidents.

Does that change my vote? No, it doesn’t. As I said much earlier in the campaign, all of these other points do impact my vote, but they aren’t at the core. If I was looking at two essentially equal candidates, experience might sway me. If I found one candidate who was consistently honest, that would probably sway me. I count the historic possibility of Obama becoming the first African-American president of the United States as a plus. But if I couldn’t stomach who he is and what he proposes to do, that wouldn’t get me to vote for him. I look with favor on the possibility of having the first woman as Vice-President, but that doesn’t overcome policy disagreements.

Since the primaries, I have been disappointed. Barack Obama has sounded less like an agent of change, and more like he’s under control of Washington insiders. The decision not to engage in town-hall meetings with McCain, while understandable from the political point of view, took away a great opportunity to change the way campaigns are conducted and perceived. Having the two candidates one-on-one in numerous settings would, I think, go a long way to blunting the effect of misleading negative advertising. It was an opportunity for change, but it didn’t happen.

Obama waffled on FISA. He was wrong to vote for that bill. I’m extremely disappointed.

He waffled on campaign finance. Here I agree with the decision, but as best as I can tell, he really approves of public financing, but thinks it is disadvantageous this time around. Now if he would have said that he has proven how the little people can gather the money to overwhelm big money operations in this internet age and thus the value of campaign finance reform has diminished, that would be different. He could then recommend taking the axe to part of the federal bureaucracy.

McCain, of course, has done his waffling as well, on issue after issue, but he did most of it before and during the primary season. I liked him in 2000. I don’t like him now. There’s apparently a little bit of the maverick McCain spark left, but not enough.

Now you could take this as a terribly negative view of the election as a whole, but I really feel pretty good about this election, when seen in comparison to others. Choosing a candidate to support is always an exercise in compromise. I disagree with each candidate on some issues. I am disappointed with each candidate, but largely because they are behaving as politicians generally behave. While I would like to see that change, I know how to relate their behavior to the background noise.

So here are my major issues:

  • Iraq War – I think the Republicans in general have a terrible strategy at all for the war on terror, and McCain is simply following the same. The reality is that our strategy involves invading countries that support terror and retaliating for strikes. I’m amazed that conservatives who recognize the futility of “talking nice” to terrorists because of who they are don’t recognize the fact that retaliatory strikes don’t actually accomplish anything. McCain’s military experience argument is blunted for me by one fact–he apparently doesn’t recognize that we don’t have the resources to fight terror according to the current strategy. Somebody needs to work on a scalpel approach to replace our current sledgehammer.
  • 4th Amendment – I’m still hoping that Obama remembers who he was and will be better than McCain on this point, including warrantless wiretapping, rendition, torture, and all related elements I’m loosely grouping under 4th amendment. McCain has failed to show integrity here, in my view.
  • Supreme Court nominees – Obama is likely to appoint people I don’t like all that much, but they will replace other people and maintain the balance. The idea of a court that is consistently lined up with Scalia and company is horrifying.

Those are not my whole list by any chance, but I rank those highest. Even though the economy has become more important than the Iraq war to most people, it remains my highest concern. I cannot make the fruitless killing less than #1 in my thinking.

I would add that there are third party candidates that are options for those who cannot support either of the two major candidates. I don’t regard voting third party as throwing away your vote. I’m not going to do it this time. Those who say that Nader is siphoning off Obama’s votes or Barr is siphoning off McCain’s seem to have the odd idea that someone “owns” or is “due” particular votes. You earn the vote when you convince the voter. It’s only your vote when that voter pulls the lever.

In summary, I think voting is a matter of priorities and compromise, and I think we do have a field of candidates to work with. I would love to find a year when there was someone out there who thought just like I did. Unfortunately, I’m convinced that candidate would lose, so maybe not so much!

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  1. I would like to comment on the experiance issue. A good president will choose people with strengths to offset their weaknesses. This woman may be very good for Alaska but what does she bring to Washington. I don’t like either candidate or either party. This is going to be a tough choice.
    Fruitless killing? are you talking about the 26,500 children in the world who are going to die today. that equates to 3 every second. Many of these deaths could be prevented.

  2. I agree with your take on experience…it’s not unimportant, but very overrated. Far more important for me is a person’s personal character. I don’t care if they’ve made mistakes through the years, but can they own up to them? It seems to me that regardless of how I feel about the various issues (and you name some important ones – to which I would add Energy and, possibly, Immigration), we have four decent human beings running for national office in Obama, Biden, McCain,and Palin. And that can only be a good thing, I think.

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