Several people have asked me over the last few months about my comment some time ago on this blog that I believed Obama was probably the best choice to be our next president. With the elections just around the corner it seemed like a good idea to give an update on why I thought that then as well as what I think now and who I'm going to cast my ballot for next week. Most of this was cut-and-pasted directly from a couple of previous emails, it may look pretty familiar to a couple of you.

For me personally, the 'backstory' behind my approach to this year's election begins with a journey I have been on over the past three years or so through which I have become a pacifist. I have always in the past held something of a 'just war' approach, that killing in war is ok if the war is justified, etc etc. But a few years ago in talking with someone who is a pacifist, I was faced with a simple question: how can I kill the ones I'm supposed to love? Initially I passed it off and found ways to continue to justify my position. But over the months that followed, that question really dug its way into my heart. Pacifism still definitely *isn't* the most logical approach to me, or the one that comes first to my mind as I think through various situations. But, then, that's the case with a lot of what Jesus said... His Kingdom really is an upside-down kingdom, one where the logical thing to do is sometimes dead wrong. And although I can find lots of my own reasons for why war/killing may be justifiable, none of them negate the basic fact that Jesus told me that I need to love my enemies. And I think that starts by not killing them.

Fast forward to this election. I feel like I may never again get to vote on issues of the economy, educational policy, etc -- there are way bigger issues out there, issues of life and death. And there are two primary life and death issues: war and abortion. Unfortunately, it seems that almost no one holds what I would consider to be a 'pro-life' position on both of those issues; the republicans are solidly anti-abortion but support ongoing bloodshed around the world in the name of 'spreading democracy'... the democrats would mostly like to see us scale back our foreign military involvements but support this awful notion of 'choice' meaning a mother's right to end her child's life.

So, on which side to stand? There are lesser things about both candidates (and their parties) that I like, and lesser things that I dislike. But at the forefront for me is this issue of the preservation of life. And clearly, neither candidate holds a position that is completely acceptable to me.

And here's the thing: we've had 8 years of a republican president. What strides have been made in that time to curb the holocaust of abortion? Bush may be pro-life, but what difference has it made? The overall abortion rate has declined slightly, but it's been declining steadily since '81 -- so I don't really credit that to him. McCain also claims to be pro-life, but has made it clear that ending abortion is not a policy priority for him. So I see McCain's projected presidential report card as: Abortion: No Improvement. War: No Improvement.

On the other side we have Obama. He did not support the war in Iraq and was early to propose timelines for the exit of our troops. He has pushed change as a theme of his campaign, and in the early days of the campaign it seemed as though Obama's projected presidential report card could read: Abortion: No Improvement. War: Greatly Improved.

So although I abhor his position on abortion, the vote for him made sense -- it was the only vote I saw that stood a chance of making a difference on one of the two issues of life and death. Sidenote: in addition, yeah, I just plain *like* the guy. I like that he's not a bazillionaire, I like that he's young, I like that he's a great speaker, I like that he hasn't been in politics forever, I like that he's a black man with a legitimate chance of being our president.

As the campaign has progressed, however, Obama's war stance has moved further and further to the point where it's now not all that different from McCain's. I really like that he's willing to talk with Iran's Ahmedinejad, but overall he is presenting much more of a hawkish face these days. He has backed off many of his former statements about pulling us out of Iraq, and he supports increased miiltary activity in Afganistan. Plus there are his incendiary statements about bombing within Pakistan without their permission.

In relation to abortion, I don't know what changes he would be able to make in a negative direction -- but the more I have seen of his record it definitely seems clear that if he sees any chances to take us further down the abortion-is-ok road he will do so as energetically as possible.

Overall then, I now project Obama's presidential report card as: War: Little/No Improvement. Abortion: No Improvement / Some Deterioration.

I have come to a point where the election of either Barack Obama or John McCain will bring me some joy and great fear. Their agendas are radically opposite, but there are elements in each of them that give me great hope and elements in each of them that make me wonder if the future will even be recognizable. And on the issues that I see as most important, neither of them will make a substantive difference.

So who am I voting for? I'm approaching it from this standpoint: Will my single vote make a difference as to who gets elected? No. Washington state will be won by a margin of hundreds of thousands of votes. So my vote for either McCain or Obama will be insignificant, one among millions. When it comes time to vote, then, I will cast a ballot for Ralph Nader. Not because I agree with anything he has to say -- but because I think our country would be better off with a legitimate, viable third party, and my drop-in-the-bucket vote for him 'goes farther' in terms of proportionally increasing the total number of third-party votes cast.


Allen said...

I have been wrestling with this decision as well. Along different lines, but the same with the back and forth uncertainty. Your post is very helpful; I may follow suit. (Same story here in MA with Obama landslide victory).

steph said...

Thanks for the post. I too am less than overjoyed about our "options" come this Nov 4th.

A question that I thought of while reading your post (and I am really asking, because I don't know the answer):

Do you think that more lives would be saved from us defending innocent people in the middle east, or by us pulling out? (I am speaking to the instability that could easily give way to many more deaths of various people groups throughout the middle east).

In thinking about what I consider obvious situations of something needing to happen (holocaust, in my opinion Sudan...), I think someone needs to stop the killing by defending those that are in need, and that may mean killing on the part of the defenders.
With the Middle East it isn't as obvious, so where is the line?

I really like the idea of no killing, I just can't get past the fuzziness and was curious about the thoughts of someone who has considered these issues more than I.

(I realize the question is all over the place, so if you are confused let me know.)

Clint said...

Good call Jed. I'm persuaded that in a non-battleground state like WA, voting 3P is easily the best way to make your vote "heard the loudest." And between Nader, Barr, Baldwin, and McKinney (even Paul, as a write-in...) there's someone in 3P-land for everyone. It's one of those rare moments where idealism and pragmatism happily overlap.

The standard argument against voting for a 3P candidate is that they have no chance of winning, but that's really missing the point. Diverting a statistically significant share of the vote away from the major parties is one of the best ways of forcing them to re-evaluate their platforms. When the next election comes, their strategists will be sifting through the past results and asking, "how did this 3P guy get 5% of the vote last time?"

I look at Firefox as an example of this effect. Only 10-15% of people browsing the internet use Firefox, but that was enough to get Microsoft's attention and motivate them to make good user interface and web standards pushes in IE 7 and IE 8. Firefox may never take over the lead in market share, but that doesn't really matter if IE essentially becomes Firefox in its attempts to stay on top.

Clint said...

Oops -- I failed to mention La Riva and Harris as further 3P options available on the ballot. That was pure ideological snobbery on my part.

Ryan Donovan said...

Wow. Good thoughts. I like reading them and being provoked by them. Hmmm... I feel so much the same way. I'm not on the Pacifist Wagon, but I feel strongly about the war issue, both on the "life" front, and on the "we need to stop spending money we don't have" front. And I feel similarly opposed to Obama's stance on abortion. Glad to read your thoughts. Still don't know who to vote for, but I appreciate thinking through a reasonable third option.

Clint said...

By the way Jed, I hate to disappoint, but Ralph Nader isn't on the Washington ballot this year... you can vote for some guy named Ralph Nadar, but not for Ralph Nader.

Let's hear it for critical spell-check failures.

Slothboy said...

YES! Please! All of you planning to vote for Obama please vote for Nader instead.

I approve of this message.

kinsanth said...

I'm not too particularly excited about McCain... he's a hard fella to get excited about!
But both he and Obama will react militarily if we are attacked, and both will get involved and send our military forces wherever there's a humanitarian crisis... so either one probably won't satisfy you on the 'war' front.
But on the 'abortion' front, there's one very important consideration.... whoever wins on Tuesday will be appointing judges to the courts... and THEY'RE the ones who will be determining whether or not we'll continue killing off millions of Americans here within our own borders.
McCain will (most likely) appoint judges who lean pro-life... Obama has time and again demonstrated that "choice" for him means voting for extreme laws that even NARAL doesn't much care for (check out the laws regarding born-alive babies... even premature births that survive the abortion attempt don't deserve a change at life according to Barack.)

So whatever you think about the candidates, just remember they'll be appointing judges who will probably still be sitting on the bench when your kids are old enough to vote.

Brandon said...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. I had, up until this point, considered voting for who I knew would lose so that I could gripe about who would win. I really like the 3rd Party voting option.

Also, on the pacifist thing, I'm *almost* there with you, so next time I'm in town I'll have to pick your brain about such things.

Jed said...

@ steph: Yeah, one of these days I'll get around to posting about pacifism. Stay tuned.

@ clint: Great analogy with Firefox. I'm definitely going to have to remember that one. And yes, I liked the 'Nadar' optional spelling choice too.

@ kinsanth: Yes, I would definitely have to say that the appointment of supreme court justices is the most lasting impact that the next president will have. In 2004 the only thing that made me feel good about voting for Bush was that I felt he would do a better job of justice appointment than Kerry... then he goes and appoints to the bench the guy who wrote him legal memos supporting our torture of captives. Even if McCain got elected this year though, I don't see Roe v Wade getting overturned by his justices... even Palin herself was pretty wishy-washy on the abortion issue when pressed. Still, if you're going to vote McCain, supreme court justices are the best possible reason.

@ brandon: Sounds good -- let me know when you're in town and we can grab coffee or something.