Friday, October 31, 2008

Obama: Character and Policy

So why have I spent so little time talking about Obama's and McCain's policies and so much time talking about the insanity and viciousness of the McCain campaign and the American right? The fact is, I actually consider the temperamental stuff to be about as important as the policy stuff. My view goes something like this: if you find out someone's particular policies, it's like discovering some of the values of a function. But to discover how their mind works and what their character is like is analogous to understanding the function per se--you now know how all the values of the function get generated. Of course I agree with Obama's policies more than I agree with McCain's, but in my mind the fact that Obama is more intelligent, more honest, more knowledgeable, more willing to consider alternative points of view and think hard about them, more capable of engaging civilly with people he does not initially disagree with--in short, more rational--is what seals the deal for me.

Hell, I actually disagree with Obama quite a bit about Iraq, and it's foreign policy I'm most interested in. I'm less convinced than he claims to be about the importance of getting out by 2010. I am to at least some degree inclined to think that we should think in terms of victory. And I'm appalled at the argument that we should shove the financial burden onto the Iraqis because they have a budget surplus. We broke their goddamn country. It is at least not obvious that it is entirely their responsibility to rebuild it. However, my guess is that his positions here have to at least some extent been dictated by the demands of the primary and the general election. On my theory of Obama, he'll soften these positions after he's elected. And even where I tend to agree more with McCain, I don't trust him to rationally analyze and implement the policy in question. He's become infected with whatever virus has turned so much of the right into a hord of spittle-flecked zombies. (Maybe, a la 28 Days Later, it's rage...)

Liberalism has a long history of focusing on the rationality and justice of the process rather than the outcome, and something similar has pushed me over to Obama. It seems clear to me that he is possessed of a moral and and intellectual character that makes him reliably rational and good. I trust him to make good decisions. I'm in favor of many of his stated policy positions, too, but they're not what fires me up about the man.

One thing the Reaganites got right: character matters. I may not have agreed with them about Reagan's particular character, but I agree with them about the principle.


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