I posted my vote via twitter a few hours ago, and I’ve already gotten several inquiries from both sides of the aisle wanting some elaboration. What exactly did lead me to vote (for the first time ever) for a Republican Presidential Candidate, with whom I disagree with on a number of issues? What exactly led me–a lifelong liberal democrat–NOT to vote for one of the most viable, historic, and articulate democratic candidates we’ve seen in many years? Honestly, it’s been the culmination of an eight-year long decision making process, and it hasn’t been easy. Regardless of who wins tonight, I’ll be glad this is over. But, for those who *really* are interested, here’s the story…
My first vote for a presidential candidate was Bill Clinton, but the first campaign I ever worked was for a democratic gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi, in 1987, when I was 12. In college, I was the founding president of ORU Young Democrats, as well as the President of Tulsa Young Democrats, and for short time, the Parliamentarian for Oklahoma Young Democrats. In those capacities and beyond, I’ve volunteered for countless democratic campaigns–senatorial, gubernatorial, congressional, mayoral, etc. So, it really pisses me off when people question my commitment or contributions to the Democratic party.
That said, as my views on theology, education, and technology have evolved over the past decade, so have my views on politics. I now consider myself a liberal libertarian. That may sound like a contradiction, but if you want to know more about what that looks like, try here. I still tend to agree with the democrats more than republicans, but I also realize that neither party (nor any candidate) is perfect, nor is either one evil incarnate, though they often toss that accusation at one another.
2000 Republican Primaries and Beyond: Enter John McCain
Although I eventually voted for Al Gore, I was never that enthusiastic about him. He seemed like a smart guy, but devoid of heart and passion. I’ve since seen a little more of that side of him, but I didn’t see it in 2000. And while my ears pricked up at Gov. George Bush’s call for “compassionate conservatism,” I didn’t really buy into the “conservatism” part of that equation. But then there was John McCain, who, at one political rally in the primary season, waved a lightsaber in the air to the background music of Star Wars, and talked about the Bush campaign in terms of the “Evil Empire.” That got my attention. Through the primary season, I listened to him talk a little more, and he didn’t sound like any Republican I’d ever heard. It’s now become a way-overused cliche, but he really did (then) come across as a Maverick. If you know me at all, you’ll understand why that appealed to me.
When he lost the primaries, I kept following his words and actions in the Senate. Every time McCain made the news, it was for doing something bold, bipartisan, and often something that said “screw you” to the powers-that-be, whether they were democratic or republican ones. The one exception to this, of course, was his stance on the war in Iraq. Despite this, I grew to admire McCain, and often found myself saying to others, “now there’s a Republican I could actually vote for…if he ever got the nomination.” I was pretty certain that the mere fact that I liked him so much meant he never would.
2008 Primaries: They ALL suck!
When the 2008 primaries rolled around, like everyone else, I was ready for anyone but GW Bush. Because of my sympathies to illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico, and the primacy of that one issue in my thoughts, I evaluated all the candidates in both primaries on that one issue alone. They all sucked, especially the democrats. Nevertheless, I voted for Hillary Clinton in the democratic primary–her “official” stance on the issue was just as bad as the others, but several Latino friends I talked with said they trusted her more on immigration issues than the others, as she had actually been working for and among them for most of her adult career. Around that time, I also read a very unflattering magazine article about Obama by a reporter who had covered him as a state legislator. He painted a picture of an arrogant, self-centered Obama motivated primarily by ambition to rise to the top, and overly concerned with his image. I didn’t really put much stock in the article (the same things have been written about all the candidates) but over the next months, I began to notice little things here and there that did seem to hint at an “elitist” attitude in Obama. I say “attitude” because I don’t think his background makes him an elitist. John McCain is more subject to that criticism. But there are times when Obama seems condescending. It’s more of a gut feeling than something verifiable, but if we’re honest, I think we all rely to some extent on those feelings.
2008 General Election: Back and Forth
When it became clear that Obama and McCain would be the nominees, I leaned in the direction of McCain, but decided to hold out for awhile longer before making a decision. Let me also say that at this point, I was disappointed with the way both were running their campaigns, and with the issues they both were staking out as “central.” Personally, I think tax cuts are stupid in this kind of economy (sorry Trait), and both of them pander to the popular vote on this one. Neither of them are talking much about immigration.
Barack Obama did two things that deeply, deeply disappointed me, however:
- He broke his promise to rely on public financing for his campaign. I understand all the arguments he made in favor of doing this, but to me it said that at the end of the day, politics is still all about the money. I suspect that will be the same when and if he is elected.
- He chose in a running mate the most boring, safe, white-milk-toast, uninspiring person he possibly could have chosen. I realize that it was politically expedient of him to do so, but I was really hoping he would be bold and choose someone like Bill Richardson. Or even Hillary. Had he done so, I probably would have come around and voted for him.
Meanwhile, McCain wasn’t doing much better. In fact, the McCain I remembered from 2000 seemed largely gone, but did rear up in at least one issue that I think was greatly mis-understood and mis-cast by my liberal friends: his selection of a running mate. Now, bear in mind that politically, I disagree with Sarah Palin almost across the board on most issues. But I do think it was a bold choice. Liberals dismissed it as him playing to the conservative base. It was indeed that, but it was more. If he just wanted to accomplish that, he could have nominated Mike Huckabee. I don’t think Democrats truly understand that John McCain is about the only Republican in the world who could get away with nominating a woman as a VP candidate. He did change the nature of the game in conservative land forever. I also genuinely believe he chose someone with an “outsider” mentality–even if I disagree with her positions. Biden, on the other hand, is the ultimate insider. McCain is an outsider who happened to sneak “inside.” But once he got in, he lost a lot of his appeal.
This was compounded a week or so ago when some ultra fundamentalists on facebook who told one of my Obama-supporting friends that she couldn’t be a Christian and vote for Obama. I engaged in a (useless) argument with them, and even got some flack on my own profile, and for awhile really toyed with the idea of voting for Obama just out of spite. That’s when I changed my facebook “middle name” to “Hussein” in solidarity with the many intelligent Christians I now who are passionate Obama supporters.
In the end, though, spite is not a reason to vote for someone. I voted for McCain crossing my fingers and hoping that if he’s elected, the McCain I knew eight years ago would show up for the job. I voted for him because of the many times I found myself saying “there’s a Republican I could vote for.” I disagree with McCain on a lot of things, but I feel much more of a kindred spirit with him than with Obama. I kept going back to this silly little game I play in my head: If I were stranded on a deserted island, who would I rather spend a few days in conversation with, McCain or Obama? To me, from what I’ve observed over the past decade, there’s just a little bit more of a well-rounded human personality to McCain, where Obama still seems to me just a candidate for office. I really don’t know Obama. If he’s elected, maybe that will change, and I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.