Monday, October 27, 2008

A letter to my parents

Last week, inspired by The Great Schelp, I wrote and mailed this letter to my typically-Republican parents. Both are relatively private about their political choices, but both had indicated they were undecided about the upcoming presidential election. My intent was not to barrage them with emotional arguments because I know my father and I know that would turn him off immediately. Instead, I went for the gentle, cautious nudge in the hopes of winning a couple more votes for Obama. We'll see how it goes.

Dear M&D-

I am writing to you about something that really is none of my business: Your vote. And even though I recognize this, the end result of your vote—or, more accurately, the end result of this election—is so very central to my life that I can’t help but write this letter. A few months ago you (Mom) told me that you had not yet decided who you’d vote for in November. Maybe that’s changed, but in case it hasn’t, I wanted put my two cents in. I’m sending you a letter because I want to be clear that you do not need to respond or even react to what I have to say. Take my thoughts for what they’re worth, do with them what you will.

As you know, I am a strong Barack Obama supporter. I think I’ve always voted Democratic, primarily because there are some fundamental tendencies of the party that I align myself with, the most important of which include education and other domestic/social policies. I simply agree with the approach that the party takes. So it was no surprise to me that I have chosen to back Obama. What has surprised me, however, is the conviction with which I support him and my increasing fear of what a McCain presidency would do to this country.

To whatever extent things like a conservative Supreme Court or an extended war in Iraq are important to you, you have already considered them and I don’t need to re-hash them here. I will say, however, that one of the core reasons I have supported and do support more liberal candidates is their investment in ensuring rights, liberties, and opportunities for all people. I believe that the inevitable Supreme Court appointments made by the next administration will have a significant impact on our future in that respect, and that when it comes to issues of social progress, an Obama administration would offer strength, while a McCain administration would create significant, even insurmountable obstacles. The direction they wish to take the country in is not a direction I would ever choose to go.

Undecided voters have received a lot of media attention in recent weeks because this election appears to hinge on them. (On you.) And each time a person who has not yet made up his or her mind is interviewed, I want the opportunity to say this: If the policy differences have not already swayed you, please just look at the approach that each man has taken to his campaign. Look at the steadfastness and integrity displayed by Obama and contrast it with the negativity and (I’ll say it) desperation displayed by his opponent.

Early on, when it became clear that McCain would be the Republican nominee, I said to David that I don’t agree with him politically, but at least McCain is a man I can respect. In the last few months my respect for him has all but disappeared, as I have watched him change his approach numerous times, always arriving at a less honorable way of attacking his opponent. I actually still believe that McCain is an good man (and I think this is best evidenced by his unwillingness to himself repeat the attacks made on Obama by his running mate, and by the grimace on his face each time the attacks are mentioned in his presence) but ultimately this is his campaign and he can control whether those tactics are employed. He has chosen to allow the campaign to take this path, and for that reason my respect for him has diminished to almost nil.

I do not agree with the pundits who argue that a candidate should not be judged by his or her running mate. On the contrary, I think the choice says a great deal about the candidate and, as importantly, the qualifications of the vice presidential candidate need to be considered because so little stands between him or her and the Oval Office. My thoughts on this subject are not original: Sarah Palin is a smart woman with what was most likely a promising political future. But “future” is the key word here. She is simply not ready to lead the country. I believe she has learned a great deal about foreign policy in a very short time, but I also believe that once she has had the time and experience to form her own opinions about what she has been spoon fed, that she will do so, essentially making her a wild card. Moreover, McCain’s argument that she will “shake up Washington” is questionable at best, as she receives more and more scrutiny for the ethics of her behavior.

McCain’s selection of Palin as his running mate flies squarely in the face of his slogan, “Country First.” If he really and truly wanted to put his country first, he would have chosen someone with enough experience under his or her belt to help mend this country from the moment they took office. Instead, I believe, he chose a political gimmick to boost his numbers. I lost respect for him and confidence in his ability to effectively lead this nation.

As you know, Colin Powell recently endorsed Barack Obama, saying that his plans for the economy are more sound and that he has the ability to lead this country out of Iraq. I do not know your feelings about Colin Powell, but I think it would be difficult to disagree that his opinion on the matter is well-reasoned, informed, and relevant. He has spent time with both candidates and is intimately familiar with what it takes to run this country. If you have not seen his interview on Meet the Press, it’s worth watching. (The video is on-line, and I can send you a link if you’d like it.)

Your ultimate decision is not my business, and I hope that my mailing you this letter has not given you a the impression that I think otherwise. But there seemed to be an opening to share my thoughts about why I would choose Obama over McCain, and I took that opportunity in the hopes that you might be swayed in the direction that, I believe, will make this country better for your generation, my generation, and the next.

I’m relatively certain that I haven’t said anything in this letter that you haven’t already read or heard somewhere else, so I think it makes sense for me to end by telling you something that you could not have heard elsewhere: I care about the outcome of this election more than I have ever cared about the outcome of any election before. So, if after reading everything I have already written you are still on the fence, and if after considering whatever other sources you have chosen you are still undecided, and if ultimately there is no other factor that sways you in one direction or the other, I ask this of you: Vote Obama because it matters so much to me. Trust that I have considered many factors in my decision and that I believe an Obama presidency will begin to create a better place for your grandchildren to inherit.