Countdown to the Primary: 1 day

The Massachusetts Democratic Primary is tomorrow. Vote from 7am – 8pm at the Gosman Gym.

Cross-posted to Blue Mass Group

Why I support Barack Obama in his quest for the Presidency:

My endorsement of Barack has little to do with the man himself. As he is fond of saying, it’s not about him. It’s about us. Furthermore, thanks to the work of John Edwards, there’s little daylight between Obama and Hillary in policy terms, since they both raced to join Edwards on the fresh, smart ideological ground he had broken open. In effect, I will cast my vote tomorrow for the Barack Obama *campaign* and the movement it nurtured.

I support the Obama movement because it represents people who I believe should run the Democratic party: high-information activists and passionate “rank and file” Democrats.

I support the Obama coalition: youth, liberals, and African-Americans. I like Barack’s message of community empowerment. A lot of ink has been spilled (what’s the online equivalent of that phrase? A lot of pixels have been displayed?) over the significance of his time as a community organizer. I am in no position to judge how he brings those principles to his campaign, so I’ll ignore that chapter of his life. I will say that Barack’s campaign has distinguished itself from the outset by its reliance on what those in the business call “field”, i.e. boots on the ground, peer contact, etc, rather than advertising. That’s important for several reasons. In The Assault on Reason, Al Gore lays out many reasons why relying on television (and Television advertising) is bad. Long story short, TV ads are increasingly ineffective, they give tons of money to gigantic media corporations who run the ads and donate that money to Republicans. TV ads are one-way messages, and are reduced to sound-bytes and slogans by the constraints of the 30 second spot. Peer-to-peer canvassing and other contact involves a substansive, two-way dialog.

I read an analysis somewhere that went something like this:

In traditional campaigns, each hard-core supporter ‘counts’ as much as 1.2 votes generated by advertising. The Obama campaign figures these hard-core supporters count for as much as 5 or six normal voters, and do outreach accordingly. Why? In the old days, hard-core supporters were nice and all, but they were tiny points of light in the vastness of the country: what Obama figured out how to do (borrowing heavily from Howard Dean) was how to take those million individual matches and combine them to create a self-sustaining bonfire.

And that’s one key to understanding the importance of the “Obama movement”. In 2000, if you wanted to volunteer and help a campaign, you could write them a check, or show up to campaign headquarters. Nowadays, there a whole host of tools (thanks to the Internet and advances in computing) available to individual actors to do their part to help: email, facebook, youtube, online phonebanking, individual contributions over ActBlue, blogging, text messaging on cell phones, Do-it-yourself canvassing, etc. Obama’s campaign has been savvy in leveraging these tools to help the movement grow.

Obama’s campaign, on the other hand, has been all about empowering people to be citizens again.

To me, the concept of citizenship, and it’s assorted responsibilities, is key to the Obama appeal. Obama wants us to be that version of America we learned about in Grade school. You know the America I’m talking about: A nation of immigrants. A people held together not by ties of blood but by ties of compassion. A beacon of full liberal democracy. A culture where the ACLU is valued for its common-sense defense of our civil rights. A community where government isn’t to be feared: the government is *us*.

Barack wants us to finally be that country. A country where equality of opportunity actually exists, where classes are truly non-existent, where trusts are busted. A country that deals with the children of the earth in good faith, eschewing an amoral focus on short-term gain for the priceless power of the moral high ground.

Have we ever been that America? No. Will Barack magically change all that? No.

But on Foreign Policy, Barack has surrounded himself with advisors that, like him, opposed the Iraq war from the start. Clinton’s advisers are mostly those that supported or boosted the war. To me, on the issues, this is Barack’s biggest distinction.

His second gold star goes to his tech policy. Very well researched, with a level of detail that is on an order of magnitude better than any other candidate’s. He is a strong supporter of Net Neutrality and has a very exciting plan for 1. A national broadband policy (one that wasn’t written by industry lobbyists) and, most importantly 2. using the internet to make government much more open and transparent.

For a long time, I’ve been skeptical of Obama’s calls for the US to come together and unity and so forth. Didn’t he know that Republicans were acting in bad faith? Had he been paying attention to what the Republicans have been up to since 2001 2000 1998 1994 1980 1968 forever?

I think he has. I think the country realizes that the Republican establishment has been ruinous for the country. Do you know why even hard-core conservatives who voted for Bush like Obama? He offers them *forgiveness*. Obama, through his lilting language of hope, unity, and civic-mindedness, and (especially) his rhetorical strategy of criticizing only *elected* Republicans, offers peace with honor. By emphasizing the promise of future rather than the hedonism of the past, Obama is extending his hand to the friend with a nasty breakup, rather than engage “I-told-you-so’s”.

Compassion for others is a progressive virtue.

Obama is a people-powered candidate. He derives his strength from the support of activists, rather than the Democratic aristocracy or urban political machines (except maybe in Chicago). Do I disagree with him on many counts? Hell yes. Why is he attacking Paul Krugman? What’s with his bipartisan shtick? I believe, however, in a sort of political materialism. And if Obama’s political capital comes from the young, the activists, and the African-American community, then he will align with their interests. The younger you are, the more progressive. Activists represent core Democratic values. African-Americans know all about how The System is broken. With people like these getting his back, he’ll be fine.

The presidential nomination battle is only partially about the White House. It’s also a fight over the heart and soul of the Democratic party. Who represents our values? Whose allies will take over the machinery of the DNC? Which faction of the party will triumph?

Obama is the chosen spokesman and candidate of the faction I identify with – hardcore activists, the netroots, , old Deaniacs and Clarkies, the peace movement, and -most importantly- the emergent demographic of the (most strongly progressive) young voter. Regardless of his individual merits, Obama is the tool of this coalition to wrestle power in the party. I fully support this coalition. I believe it represents both the purest expression of the soul Democratic Party (minus unions!) and hope for the future. Obama didn’t create the youth vote, and he isn’t even responsible for its growth. He does, however, understand it, amplify it, and has become, in effect, its highest-profile champion. Youth are both the most progressive of all Democrats, arguably the least represented, and also deeply upset and cynical of the Party Establishment. Obama can change that, simply because the political narrative that he embodies.

Obama represents the progressive wing of the Democratic party, wrapped in the universal language of Civic Patriotism. Obama represents the patriotism of civic duty, of the people’s involvement in government; the patriotism of becoming a nation of citizens rather than a squabble of taxpayers. Through his language of unity and hope, Obama translates the progressive understanding of the importance of cooperation and social justice into the American idiom of “We must all hang together, or must assuredly we will hang separately”


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