A closer look at Obama

J.B. Sivanich

I am writing this column out of disappointment with Stephen Flynn’s attack of Barack Obama as a candidate of change in last week’s edition of The Lawrentian.Flynn wrote the counterpoint to Ryan Day’s pro-Obama piece. He began his argument by saying that Obama’s voting record has shown him to be a cookie-cutter, vote-down-the-party-line Democrat. Flynn supports this assertion with facts about Obama’s voting record, facts that prove his point to a degree.

But his statement that Obama is a “cookie-cutter” Democrat is too broad to hold much truth. Obama and Clinton are both considered to be very liberal members of Congress, but in their overlapping years in the Senate, Clinton and Obama voted on opposite sides over 40 times.

Obama voted, along with fiscal conservatives, to strip funding from pet projects while Clinton voted for this funding. Clinton voted for the continuation of TV Martií, a $10-million-dollar-a-year, government-funded station that broadcasts propaganda to Cuba — a station the Cuban government jams — while Obama opposed it.

Flynn then spent a significant amount of time arguing that Obama’s status-quo stance on the war on drugs shows Obama’s unwillingness to change. Though I agree with Flynn that much of this drug policy is in some sense idiotic, it appears that these attacks on Obama are little more than standard-fare libertarian talking points.

Though Flynn describes the war on drugs as “highly destructive,” in reality it has little impact on the law-abiding American citizen. The war on drugs is a very sensitive issue, and taking an unpopular stance would cut Obama’s legitimacy in the eyes of many; there are many more important issues on which to focus.

In my opinion, there are politically motivated stances being taken by all the presidential candidates that are equally or even more irrational than Obama’s default war on drugs support. Just a few examples: Hillary Clinton and John Edwards remained uninvolved in the Terri Schiavo case, though it flew in the face of the Constitution, and Hillary Clinton voted to condemn Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization.

But the most irrational, and most pertinent, stance taken by all of the major candidates is their initial support of the Iraq war. While some have recanted and some have been ambiguous, only Obama — and yes, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul — spoke out against the war from the beginning.

Flynn, however, leaves out this information to make it appear as if there is little difference between Obama’s and Bush’s stance on Iraq.

I do not think that enough credit is given to Obama for his pre-war clear-headedness. If one thing has made me want to vote for Obama it is these two prophetic lines uttered five months before the Iraq invasion, at a time when Americans feared Saddam’s “nuclear weapons” and concentrated on defeating the Baathists: “I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.”

Quotes like this separate Barack from the shoot-from-gut-regardless-of-the-facts style of Bush or the crowd-pleasing style of Clinton, who rubs shoulders with Rupert Murdoch, leaks information as a nice gesture to the Drudge Report and will not take a position unless it is opinion-poll-preapproved.

It is Obama’s leadership and integrity, a human factor that Flynn ignored, that has led many, like me, to believe in his mantra of change.

An Obama presidency would be much different from Bush’s or a potential Clinton’s, mainly because of his foreign policy. When Obama talks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he takes the mostly pro-Israeli view predominant in America and most of the West.

On the other hand, unlike others, he spends a significant amount of time speaking about the Palestinian troubles. When discussing Iran, Obama favors face-to-face diplomacy as a workable solution instead of creating a culture of fear with tense condemnations and catchphrases.

Flynn recalls Bush’s comments from 2000 about the need for bipartisanship, pointing out that Obama will probably follow suit in dividing the country. Flynn does not, however, take Bush’s pre-2000 track record into account — the graft that got him into Yale, Harvard and out of Vietnam, or Bush’s position at the center of the divided political world as the son of one of America’s most powerful men for the majority of his life.

It is no surprise that from the beginning of his first term Bush had little interest in keeping his promises: He surrounded himself with loyalists, refused to deliver speeches to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, cut taxes for the rich and repealed almost every major environment standard of the previous 30 years.

I cannot personally speak for Obama’s personal integrity, but I will say that much of his appeal is his vigor, charisma and the fact that he has not been engaged in partisan attacks for over a decade, in the way Clinton has. I do not expect Obama to enact all the changes that I want to see: universal healthcare, legalized gay marriage, the end of American imperialism, both hard and soft, a shake-up of the corporate power structure, the end of the military-industrial complex and stricter environmental and energy measures.

But I do think that his clear head and charisma will be able to unite Americans in a way that members of the Bush and Clinton dynasties cannot, while also starting America in the right direction. This is, in itself, a change worth getting excited about.