Barbara and I are each going to vote for Barack Obama for president on November 4. Even amidst the excruciating anxiety of economic chaos and the tragedy of Iraq, it will be the most enthusiastic and joy-filled presidential votes we've ever cast.
Senator Obama's candidacy brings together the political principles and policies we believe should characterize America, the judgment, intellect, openness and discipline required for true leadership, the generational sensibilities to embrace the future, and personal character worthy of our trust.
The promise of an Obama presidency comes not a second too soon. The stunningly misguided and inept Bush years have betrayed and weakened us all, liberals and conservatives alike. Our government has obfuscated if not outright lied to justify an unnecessary war, attacked human rights and civil liberties, abandoned its responsibilities in a complex world, increased rather than reduced the security risks we face, refused support of the global environment, denied its obligation to secure social and economic justice and equity for all citizens and, spectacularly, failed as custodians of our present and future economic wellbeing.
Among major policy issues, we agree with Senator Obama that re-shaping our economy depends on immediate oversight and regulation, rolling back the Bush tax cuts, reestablishing a fair distribution of tax burdens among individuals and corporations, and massive public investment in infrastructure and clean environment technology, and in education and research.
We also agree with Senator Obama on healthcare reform - because he knows, and says, that healthcare is a right and not an economic good. A satisfactory health-care system for all Americans requires accessible, high-quality, affordable care for every one of us; by yielding to insurance lobbies and ideologues we have actually put all three of these in doubt, ruining lives, dooming families and children especially, promoting personal bankruptcy, and imperiling the providers we all depend on as the direct and avoidable consequences.
Senator Obama is also right on the courts and the constitution. He will restore balance to the Supreme Court through appointments that resist ideological extremists, honor mainstream American principles, and in particular secure the reproductive rights of women. And Senator Obama will restore the Justice Department and the Attorney General's office to their roles as our lawyers rather than political operatives providing opinions supporting the erosion of our civil liberties.
Senator Obama knew that the Iraq invasion was wrong and said so, when proponents of preemptive war bellowed and a perverted and demagogic mantra of patriotism drove even skeptics of the war to equivocate or worse. His approach to getting us out is realistic if painfully slow. His plan to redirect resources to finishing up our security mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while needing to be fleshed out, is necessary.
As important, Senator Obama has taken the right steps toward recognizing our obligation to engage rather than threaten the dangerous world we face. Of course some will test us. We need Senator Obama's judgment, and his cultural sensibilities, to get us past the toxic self-mythologies of American unilateralism, exceptionalism, and unfettered exercise of power.
On matters of character and intelligence Barak Obama has run a two-year campaign of elegant consistency, honesty, and calm. By drawing on his own life's story, his hard and serious work and his experiences, and his post-partisan politics, he has engaged young people and minorities in new and exciting ways. And this needs to be said: for those of us who saw whites-only water fountains in Washington, D.C., in the 1950s and came of political age during the civil rights struggles, there is a particular pleasure in being part of electing a black American president.
At the same time Senator Obama's opponent, Senator John McCain, has taken the political good will and public admiration with which he entered the race and squandered it. Beyond his positions on policy, most of which we think are simply wrong, Senator McCain seems to have allowed his frustration to overcome his self-discipline and high personal standards of character.
By ceding control of his campaign and his legacy to a manipulative quest for a winning personal narrative, Senator McCain has undermined the legitimacy of his candidacy. His cynical and impulsive choice of Sarah Palin has trivialized government and the seriousness of our circumstance. The leadership he so desperately wants to project strikes us as strident and self-aggrandizing, and rings hollow. It is Barack Obama who offers real leadership.
So, it turns out that this is, truly, the moment. And as enthusiastic about Barack Obama's election as Barbara and I are, we know that leading us out of the mess the last eight years have visited on us will be extraordinarily difficult. We'll all have to rethink our expectations and our wants to hold up our end; here are the organizing principles we hope Senator Obama will follow:
• Always be honest and forthcoming, and don't mislead us and circumvent our will.
• Defend absolutely our civil liberties.
• Return us to a society characterized by social and economic justice for every American.
• Bring us visionary, principled leadership as we make the choices and sacrifices necessary to meet our obligation to our children to both remake our economy and protect our planet.
• Treat us like adults and don't condescend or trivialize. Whatever it is, it isn't too complicated or nuanced for us to grasp.
• Secure our support - in material sacrifice, in taxes, in national and military service.
• Enoble American government by making it strong enough, and competent enough, to help all of us; it isn't your job to protect markets, lower taxes, and then get out of the way.
• Free us from the scourge of the despicable, cheapening devices of wedge tacticians, wedge issues, and wedge personalities, and rescue us from the thrall of political spinners and entertainers. This is a serious time and we need a serious government.