I’m in my last year of law school. In my first year I made a good friend who’d had some time in IT before giving law school a try. It didn’t work out. The man worked like he was possessed by some particularly motivated demons, but it just wasn’t in him. He moved to Pennsylvania and got a fantastic IT job, making more than he would have as an attorney. We’ve remained good friends.
My friend considers himself a conservative. He believes in a small government, low taxes, generally less regulation, and is moderate on social issues. He’s a big believer in a strong national defense and he absolutely cannot stand the Clintons. I mean at all. He can go on for quite awhile about how much he cannot stand Bill or Hillary.
He’s voting for Obama and he’s made a donation to the Obama campaign. And he ain’t the only one.
It’s been very interesting watch my friend evolve in the last year or so. His political views have not changed! He still believes in the same things he did before. He doesn’t trust government in the least. He thinks it is inefficient, wasteful, and intrusive. He’d prefer a private sector solution to most (though to be fair, not all) of our problems. Though he’s thirty or so at this point and therefore to young too have voted for the man, he’s a fan of Ronald Reagan. Nothing has changed his views, or at least not much. He’s more open to financial regulations given the mess that we’re in, but frankly you’d have to be an idiot at this point to disagree.
So why is he voting for Obama? There’s really two reasons, and they’re separate. He’d been curious about Obama early on. He noted that Obama spoke very well, that he wasn’t a bitter partisan and he didn’t treat his audience like they were a pack of children. While he was concerned that Obama wasn’t really laying out enough policy, my friend was receptive when I explained what I knew and directed him to the appropriate Youtube clips and so on. He was willing to listen. He never stopped listening. I will say that my friend was very clear that putting Hillary Clinton on the ticket would have forced him to stop listening to Obama. I understand his reasoning. You folks have to remember that my friend is not one of us. He is not a Democrat. Perhaps the most important reason he’d been considering Obama was the fact that an Obama Administration would not be open warfare against people like him. This isn’t always easy for most of us at the Daily Kos to understand or remember. We want to win.
My friend wants the country to win more than he wants either party to win. His party is sick and it needs to heal, he thinks. He’s right, by the way. The country will suffer if there aren’t at least two healthy and viable parties.
Now, none of Obama’s positives were enough to close the deal with my friend. They just weren’t. He admitted that Obama’s intellect and temperament were first rate. He said that he admired him as a father and husband. He loved Obama’s story, where he came from, and what he’d done with his life. That being said, these things really just made Obama a likeable Democrat. My friend has Democratic friends, such as myself, so he’s got room for that sort of feeling. That being said, I don’t know that my friend would vote for me if I ran for office. Likability and respect aren’t enough. So what happened?
I asked my friend to watch both conventions and promised to do the same. We would both watch fairly and open-minded. My friend was impressed with Obama and with many of his supporters that spoke at the DNC, but it wasn’t any kind of game-changer. Obama did what we expected he would. My friend even said nice things about Hillary’s speech, which kind of dropped my jaw. Then we watched the RNC, but not together. My friend called me after Palin’s speech.
Reaper, man. I just don’t know how else to put it. Those people just aren’t talking to me anymore.
My friend is an educated man. He is intelligent. He is also a pragmatist. This country is in deep trouble and my friend understands this very well. He’s frankly scared, and he ain’t the only one. He believes in ideas, in knowledge, and learning. He watched in horror as the Republican Party spent a few days taking a wrecking ball to everything he held dear. The country is burning and almost every single speaker spent their time trashing the Democrats. He and I noticed that Mike Huckabee was the only prominent speaker that came across as a decent human being. That wasn’t enough.
Reaper, they’re just oozing contempt! They’re not talking about how to fix anything other than to say that they’ll “take a weedwhacker to regulation” and cut taxes. I like lower taxes, but that isn’t enough! What are they thinking?
Barack Obama didn’t close the deal with my friend. I doubt Obama ever could have. Barack Obama laid the groundwork to convince my friend that he was credible. Oh sure, my friend thinks Obama is wrong on at least two-thirds of the issues. He’s worried about his taxes and he’s terrified of new government spending. He’s Catholic, so I reminded him that Obama’s sins (from my friend’s eyes) would be venial. McCain’s would be mortal. My friend, and people like him, will survive to fight another day. They can undo everything Obama does that they don’t like. I obviously hope that they don’t, but it’s important to make the distinction.
John McCain made it plain to my friend that all he cares about now is winning, not fixing things. McCain’s been all over the damned map on basically every issue there is. Sarah Palin screamed anti-intellectualism and my friend got the message. He donated some money to Obama soon after that speech. He’s a brother-in-arms this time.
Do we want to keep him? I think we should try. Obama’s core message, the one that resonated with my friend, was that Barack Obama will not govern as a liberal President, or even a Democratic President. My friend hopes that Barack Obama will govern as an American President. That does not mean that Obama will not govern from left of center. Of course he will, and he’d damned well better! What it means is that, if elected, Barack Obama had better listen to the other side (as he’s promised) and demonstrate that by aggressively fighting for an agenda that’s heterogeneous. He’s going to have to do some things we don’t like, but remember we’re his left flank. He can’t win with just us.
People like my friend will vote for Barack Obama. If we want them to vote Democratic in the future we need Obama and the next Congress to govern well. Obama has to live up to his potential, but every bit as much the rest of us have to do the same thing! If we wind up with a 60-seat majority in the Senate whilst controlling the House and the Presidency we will have no one to blame but ourselves for our failures.
We have to do this right. We cannot spend the next two or four years spending most of our time kicking the Republicans while they’re down or just glorying in how awesome it is to be in power. We have to fix things. We’ve got to turn this around. If we can do that I am certain that people like my friend will stick around.