Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Obama the Lesser of Two Evils?

Politics is frequently a very cynical and manipulative process. Every new medium, the internet, television, newspapers, brings with it heavy-handed propaganda that gets more sophisticated with time and practice. Nearly everyone involved comes away feeling tarnished and disillusioned.

This may be exacerbated by the first past the post system used in the US and elsewhere. Among other issues, it leads to two-party politics, gerrymandering, and tactical voting. Each party simultaneously tries to paint itself as the middle of the road and the other side as dangerously extreme, with the result that everyone looks at their own party as merely the lesser of two evils (except for that rare bird, the true believer).

It's hard to argue with results. The higher up the political spectrum you go, the more canny a political operator you have to be. It's hard to imagine how someone can be both an idealistic crusader fighting for the little guy and a shrewd operator who knows how best to manipulate the system and accumulate political capital. Unless, of course, you watch The West Wing. Ahh, can't you just smell the idealism?

Now I'm going to make a simple argument: the people on my side are flawed individuals who genuinely want to make the world a better place. This is based on observation. The vast majority of people are decent people, and politicians are just folks. They're just folks with money and power, but they're still just folks. Sure, there's the occasional bad egg, but my side is composed of mostly just folks. As for your side... Well, I'm willing to grant the consideration that the same is true of them, albeit there heads are completely up their asses. Sometimes it's difficult, as when you've got a political candidate from Massachusetts whose political career appears to be made of flipflops and pandering. Now, am I talking about Kerry or Romney?

Screw it, let's talk about President Obama.

Obama's 2008 campaign was really built on a platform of "After 8 years of Bush, you really, really want something different." He was a young Senator without much political career behind him, so it was easy to be something different. Also, he's black. This wasn't the most difficult strategy in the world to pick; after 8 years of Bush, we really did want something different, and I think only a terrorist attack would have gotten McCain into office. Instead the economy collapsed. Still, Obama's campaign was one of fresh faces, new beginnings... hope.

Four years later, well, he didn't destroy the Tea Party with a single blow, he didn't make it cool to be gay, he didn't alleviate poverty or even end the recession... It's very easy to be disillusioned with Barack Obama. Particularly since it's hard to remember everything he's accomplished in the last four years. How exactly did he help gays? He expanded hate crime legislation in their favor, ended the justice department's defense of DOMA, ended "don't ask, don't tell", and came out in favor of gay marriage. And for women, he expanded workplace rights and health care coverage, and appointed two women to the Supreme Court. In a country sodden with Austerity stupidity, he's fought an increasingly hard-line Republican party to fight the recession. And that's just what I found in five minutes of googling. Seriously, what the fuck has Obama done so far?

Is Obama really the lesser of two evils? I think he's a savvy political operator who's determined to do some good. He marshaled his political capital and spent it when it would be most effective. Given the movement of the Republican party to a more extreme stance at the far end of the conservative spectrum, that it's dominated by libertarians at the top and fundamentalists at the bottom, he's saved some of his maneuvers for an election year when they would do the most good. Why wait until now to say he supports gay marriage? Because a majority of Americans support it, but the Republican party absolutely cannot. It's forced Romney into the uncomfortable position of either alienating his base or winning lukewarm support from the middle. And given that he's a well-educated black liberal, it simply seems inconceivable that Obama doesn't actually support gay marriage. That's just one example of a clever political maneuver to support his real position, and one which I think is the only moral position to take.

Is Obama the lesser of two evils? No. I think he's very good at his job, and a very good man.
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