Tuesday, February 05, 2008

FW: Making the Case for Barack...

My friend Jeremy Goldberg with a very powerful case for Obama over Clinton.
As I await results from around the country, I feel a kind of nervous, hopeful excitement that reminds me of when I was a kid going to sleep on Dec. 24th, when I had trouble falling asleep because I'd keep waking up hoping it was morning...

From: Jeremy Goldberg [mailto:jeremy@jeremysgoldberg.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 05, 2008 3:29 PM
To: jeremy.goldberg@gmail.com
Subject: Making the Case for Barack...
Importance: High


Almost all of you have been subjected to my fundraising pleas and election observations for the past year.  Now, many of you are going to the polls to vote today or in the weeks ahead, or have many friends that will be casting their votes. While many have made up their mind, there are others that are still torn between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama, including some phone calls I just received. So I thought it appropriate to send a note that I believe captures the essence of this dilemma and offers insights into how I resolved this difficult choice.  I encourage you to share your reaction, and send it to others.

Before I get lost into my argument, a reminder to everyone to vote, regardless of your choice.  For information in NYC on your polling location, please visit:  http://my.barackobama.com/nylookup

As a departure point, I think it's important to point out that Democrats have two terrific choices.  Hillary Clinton is an intelligent, capable, and talented public servant, with a long track record of public service.  And I've always been a fan of Bill Clinton, notwithstanding the baggage that goes with it.  But while I think Hillary will be a capable President and a vast improvement over President Bush, I believe that only Barack Obama offers the leadership and judgment required to address critical challenges around the world and presents our country with the chance to tackle the serious pressing issues here at home.

My other departure point is that I don't think the choice between Barack and Hillary is about issues.  While there are differences, there are many more agreements--and I might even concede that many of the best policy ideas in this campaign came from a candidate no longer in the race (Edwards).  The choice is really about how those candidates can address those issues--the mix of leadership, judgment and the right experience that they bring to the table.

Point #1:  Our country has a limited opportunity to address the most serious of challenges, including but not limited to global warming, education reform, immigration, health care reform, social security reform, nuclear proliferation.  Most of these challenges are not creations of the last eight years, though all of them have been made worse.  But Washington has proven unable to address these issues for a long time, including the Clinton years.  We need more than competence in the White House to bring about fundamental reform; it requires leadership that can change the way politics is currently conducted.  It requires a leader like Barack Obama.

  • Obama brings "truth to politics" which is a precondition for real change.  To their credit, Clintons' are masterful politicians (think the triangulation of the Clinton years), allowing them to devise a policy/approach that maximizes the appeal and minimizes the controversy (think "don't ask, don't tell", welfare-to-work, for immigration reform/against drivers licenses).  But if we are really going to tackle these major issues, we need to start by getting the American people to realize the magnitude of the change required.  People need to hear what they need to know, regardless of what they want to hear.  I've seen Obama in small events with lengthy Q&As and town hall events in Iowa, not to mention televised appearances, and he's unlike any politican I've ever seen.  No one leaves the room unclear where he stands--in fact, he goes out of his way to help his audience understand where they might disagree with him.  Whether it's highlighting the need to raise taxes on the upper class to fund social security and health care reform, telling the auto industry in a speech IN Detroit that he will raise fuel standards, telling Palestinians in Ramallah that a right of return would never be to Israel, telling an inner city audience that they need to address absent fathers and parents if they want to solve rising crime and failing students, or telling an African-American church on MLK day that they needed to acknowledge their community's own discrimination against immigrants and Jews, Obama doesn’t change his tune depending on the audience he is speaking to.  He speaks with clarity and honesty--it's only when we stop pooling the wool over people's eyes can we embrace the magnitude of the challenges before us.
  • Government alone can't address the challenges we face.  People get the Kennedy comparison all wrong.  It's not about a Camelot-like family or the message of hope….Kennedy's genius was enlisting the American public in rising to the challenge--"ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."  Obama's ability to offer a hopeful vision, much like Kennedy's vision for a man on the moon, America's image abroad, and civil rights, can enlist people in addressing the difficult choices ahead.  He has electrified this country by offering a vision of hope and optimism, not to diminish the challenges before us, but to prepare us for them. Let's be real: we can talk renewable energy or nuclear power until we are blue in the face, but the real solution to global warming lies with conservation efforts and sacrifices by the American public (e.g. a gas tax that changes the economics of alternative energies).  We can talk about universal health care, but it's going to require sacrifice in terms of higher taxes to get there.  We can talk about failing schools and rich and poor gaps, but it's going to take a commitment to national service to truly address these problems.  There's a reason Obama is the only candidate that talks in terms of "we." 
  • Obama alone can create a coalition for change.  Much like Reagan democrats in the 1980s that gave Reagan a coalition for major changes, Obama uniquely can engage Republicans and Independents to support him and his agenda.  This is overwhelmingly confirmed by polling data, and my own experiences (ten members of the Generation Obama steering committee that I help run were Republicans).  Short anecdote: I was at a conference this past weekend in Paradise, Texas, an hour from Dallas.  My driver to the airport, Scott, had lived there for 30 years and I asked him about the election.  He said the country we were in didn't have any democrats…he also said that he hated McCain, and was supporting Romney.  But he was interested in Obama and was considering voting Democrat for the first time in his life.  When I asked about Hillary Clinton, he turned and glared and said, "no way in heck I'm sending those two back to the White House."  To be fair to the Clinton's, much of the antagonism is underserved.  But I also know that at every opportunity--just think back to each debate, Hillary has demonized the Republicans…Bill Clinton even went after Obama for recruiting Republican support in the Nevada caucus…Moreover, as evidenced by the legions of young people engaged for the first time, Barack can bring new people into the process.  If you want big change, then you need broad support. 
  • Obama is best positioned to deal with the special interests.  You can't remove lobbyists and special interests from the process (John Edwards idea), but you can limit their influence.  Obama has been a consistent champion of ethics reform--at the state level and in the Senate.  He takes no PAC money or money from lobbyists, while Hillary received more support from the health care industry than any member of Congress. 
  • More of the same will produce…more of the same.  If Hillary is elected to two terms, that would be 28 years with either a Bush or a Clinton in the White House.  I'm not persuaded that you can address these critical issues--which have festered for decades--without a fundamentally new approach.

Point #2:  Barack Obama has the judgment and leadership that is necessary for the Presidency.

  • Leadership requires you to lead.  If I was running a commission to figure out how to tackle any of the issues I mentioned at the beginning, or even looking for a Senator to champion an issue, I'd probably turn to Hillary Clinton.  You can't question her command of details or knowledge about issues.  But ask yourself a question:  what controversial issue has Hillary Clinton led on since being in office.  She followed the President's lead on the Iraq war.  She supported the controversial Kyl-Lieberman amendment on Iran that created a potential pretense for military action there.  She followed on immigration--even adjusting her position on driver licenses.  She has even released each of her policy proposals (health care, energy, immigration) after the other candidates. Rarely has she been out front of a controversial issue, instead choosing to go with the popular idea at the time.  Obama offers a real contrast.  He opposed the Iraq war when almost no one else did.  He opposed saber-rattling towards Iran, and was vindicated by the NIE estimate.  He co-sponsored immigration legislation with McCain and Kennedy.  He opposed the Bush administration's policy of not talking to our enemies (heavily criticized by Hillary's camp, until it was revealed that most people actually agreed with him).  He opposed the administration's close dealings with Musharraf and indicated a willingness to act in the tribal regions if Pakistan didn't, a policy that was criticized by Democrats and Republican candidates until recent events in Pakistan validated his approach.  He even was the first to call for an immediate rebate to address a failing economy.  There's a pattern here:  Obama not only is prepared to lead, but he also is right in his judgment.  On any of these issues, where did "Washington experience" serve anyone well?  This point is captured well in a column this week by Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, one of the smartest observers of world events (http://www.newsweek.com/id/107578/page/1).  In it, he writes that "This is the problem with Hillary Clinton. She is highly intelligent, has real experience and is an attractive candidate. But she is terrified to act on her beliefs. In fact, she seems so conditioned by what she sees as political constraints that one can barely tell where her beliefs begin and where those constraints end."
  • Judgment matters.  I've had an opportunity to speak to a number of friends/mentors that worked in the Clinton administration who are supporting Obama and advising him at the highest levels.  They all discuss how he is as smart as anyone they've come across.  But more important, they are supporting him for the judgment he brings to the position.  As they have all observed, the President is faced with important decisions every day.  Rarely is it about an issue that he/she has much experience with, but rather, he/she must read a quick memo, and then meet with his top experts.  At those moments, it's not about experience (read: Dick Cheney) but judgment.  In separate conversations, all of them have said how Obama has a gift of being able to quickly process an issue, ask questions and suggest new ways of thinking that none of these experts had seen before, a willingness to be challenged on his ideas, and ultimately, an inner confidence to make the right decision.  I think back to Hillary's comments after her New Hampshire victory that others had helped her find her voice.  If you read Barack's autobiography that he wrote when he was 33, it's clear that he's always known his.  When I think of the Presidency, I think of that famous picture of Kennedy with his back turned, with his head in his chin.  Those are the moments that define a leader, and they require confidence in who you are and what you believe.
  • This is where those endorsements come in…It has to say something when veteran Democrat leaders like Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Patrick Leahy, and Tom Daschle are supporting your candidacy. They have worked with Barack and Hillary, and have made a clear choice.

Point #3:  Electability.  If there's one thing that Democrats agree on, it's the need to win in November.

  • Obama can best challenge McCain for independents AND Republicans.  I've discussed above how the polls overwhelmingly show Barack has an advantage over Hillary when it comes to indepedents and Republicans.  As New Hampshire showed, Obama beats out McCain in a battle for indepedents.  McCain offers himself up as model for change and ethics/integrity (e.g. campaign finance), and Barack can uniquely challenge him on both counts.  If the country is most looking for change, as all polls seem to show, then Obama is the choice.  I'd also go so far, based on a number of conversations with disaffected Republicans who dislike McCain, to predict that some Republicans may support Obama.  This includes evangelicals, who have responded to the populism of Huckabee's message and who have received Obama warmly during his appearances at megachurches (like Rick Warren's).  There's a reason why three women leaders of the "red states", Sen. Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Gov. Napolitano (Arizona), Gov. Sebelius (Kansas), recently endorsed Obama.
  • Obama can engage new voters.  It is clear that Obama is engaging young people like no other candidate has--an energy that would be even more powerful after his nomination.  Combine that with an activated African-American population, and you change the dynamics of this race.  I do not believe, given the intensity of the passions, that this enthusiasm translates to Hillary as a nominee.
  • The Clinton's mobilize the Republican base.  You keep hearing stories of how conservatives like Rush Limbaugh can't stand McCain.  The only thing worse than a McCain presidency is a third Clinton administration.  Whether it's from polls or personal experiences, I'm convinced that the Clinton's can rally the Republican base like no Republican candidate can.  Not only will Obama be fighting McCain for independents, but it forces McCain to focus on turning out his base, which will be a real challenge.
  • National security will be an advantage for Obama.  If it's Obama-McCain, then the debate/election is a referendum on the Iraq war, given Obama's opposition to it.  That's a good thing for Democrats, given that 60% of the public think it's a mistake.  It's a less clear debate with Hillary, given her support--likely shifting the focus to a surge good/surge not enough debate.

Though there are other reasons, I'll stop here.  You may agree or disagree, but at least I offered some insight into how I approached my decision.  I really believe that the majority of Democrats, and Americans for that matter, want to vote for Obama--for what he offers the country, and for what he represents.  People want to feel good about being Americans again.  But they just need permission to vote for him.  Hopefully I've provided some thoughts that help them align their heads and hearts.

Happy voting!


Jeremy Goldberg


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