05 Feb 2008

Voting for Barack Obama

This morning, bright and early, I'll be casting my vote for Barack Obama. There are a number of reasons for this, and I wanted to write a short post on why, and to encourage you to as well.

Most importantly, for anyone who was familiar with my foray into politics, I am very concerned and interested in the possibilities in the practical application of technology in improving our governance. I think that there is great potential in connecting us, getting the public involved in a practical and helpful way and making the governments at all levels work more efficiently and fairly with the use of technology.

Barack Obama has embraced this vision more fully than any politician I have ever seen, and seems to fully understand the potential and path to seeing out that vision. In the Technology section of his website, he articulates many of the things I was not expecting politicians to embrace for years. Under the heading "Create a Transparent and Connected Democracy", he lists out goals such as :

  • Making government data available online in universally accessible formats to allow citizens to make use of that data to comment, derive value, and take action in their own communities.
  • Establishing pilot programs to open up government decision-making and involve the public in the work of agencies, not simply by soliciting opinions, but by tapping into the vast and distributed expertise of the American citizenry to help government make more informed decisions.
  • Requiring his appointees who lead Executive Branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can watch a live feed on the Internet as the agencies debate and deliberate the issues that affect American society.
  • Employing technologies, including blogs, wikis and social networking tools, to modernize internal, cross-agency, and public communication and information sharing to improve government decision-making.

And so on. Given what I've been advocating and working for, this alone is probably enough to push me into voting for him. The issue that I truly care about, and which I think effects every other issue in that it opens up government to public input more fully, has never been more fully embraced by a candidate and probably won't again for some time.

By way of comparison, Hillary Clinton has no "technology" section on her website, and the closest page, the Innovation page simply lists broadband deployment as a goal. There is no sense of her awareness of technology as a tool to connect government and public, and no call for deeper, ongoing community involvement facilitated by technology at all.

So, that is my personal issue-grounded reason for my vote, but there is another, more subjective reason as well. Barack Obama is an amazing speaker. More than that, he is an amazing writer. He is obviously a smart man - he was the president of the Harvard Law Review, which say volumes in itself, but the contrast with most politicians, especially our current president who seems to go out of his way to seem simple, is refreshing. Obama does not seem to pander - he uses imagery and vocabulary that is unusual and poetic. He has a way of describing things that are often intangible with a beautiful clarity.

For example, in his Call to Renewal keynote speech given over a year and a half ago, which I originally listened to as a podcast, he describes the draw of religion in a way that is clear, meaningful, understanding, and really quite beautiful.

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.
They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.

Nearly all of his speeches are like this, many of which he has written himself. In one of his speeches in the runup to the war in Iraq, he describes why he is not against all wars, even though he is against the Iraq war.

The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don't oppose all wars.
My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton's army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain.

When do you hear people use phrases like "the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of the multitudes" or "that arsenal of democracy"? He is comfortable with the cadence and oratory style that is predicated by speech of this style, and I feel like my friends who have heard King or Robert Kennedy must have felt when they heard them speak. Moved, inspired, urged to improve.

I saw this passed around the other day, and I kind of like it. I mean, I don't really like the simplification of the candidate to rhetorical passion - just because he speaks like this is not really a great reason to vote for him, though I could probably make an argument that inspirational ability is an important and useful presidential attribute, but I am moved when I listen to it nonetheless.

Though oddly, no more moved than when I hear it without the musical overlay or when it is read. The speech is quite beautifully written:

We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics who will only grow louder and more dissonant in the weeks to come. We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.
But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope. For when we have faced down impossible odds; when we've been told that we're not ready, or that we shouldn't try, or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people.
Yes we can.
It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.
Yes we can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom through the darkest of nights.
Yes we can.
It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.
Yes we can.
It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballot; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.

Sí se puede. Off to the ballot box now...
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