Why I'm voting for Obama


I know what you're thinking. "God, another preachy opinion about the election by a self-righteous college student. Ugh." If you find yourself suffering from political headline fatigue, I almost don't blame you. But if a certain outcome of an election is in the better interest of the republic, I have an obligation to inadvertently perpetuate a shouting match by inserting my attempt to provide my "the last word on the matter," inevitably causing a series of rebuttals and counter rebuttals that just remind everyone why loads of people do not vote anyway. In all seriousness, I hope you consider the following if you find yourself wavering between the two tickets, or better yet, between voting and not voting.

Without belittling other important issues at stake, the most paramount test of our time remains our involvement in Iraq. (Yeah, I know. But bear with me.) Unlike problems like poverty or illegal immigration at home, the events in Iraq were problems our nation not only invited, but explicitly caused. Sen. Barack Obama not only opposed the use of force before the first shots were fired, he also protested against war. On Oct. 2, 2002, the same day President George W. Bush and Congress announced their agreement on a war resolution, Obama stated that he opposed a war, knowing it was part of a broader ideological agenda. In that same speech six years ago, he knew that a successful U.S.-led occupation of Iraq would require an "undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences." He also reminded the anti-war crowd of the imperative need to continue the fight with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, rather than draining resources with a war of distraction. Our leaders who chose the principled and correct decision in a hostile political climate should be commended more than they have been. This is true leadership.

Sen. John McCain has prided himself for his support in the troop surge in Iraq, which began in the start of 2007. He has repeatedly stated that he would rather lose an election than a war, suggesting that people who voiced their opposition to the War in Iraq were holding that position for political rather than patriotic reasons.

McCain has, to his credit, occasionally criticized the military strategy in Iraq, before the 2004 elections, but it is no surprise that he did not raise his "election victory" versus "war victory" rhetoric then. Back in 2004, one presidential candidate criticized the insufficient troop numbers in Iraq and promised a change in strategy along with a renewed commitment to diplomacy. The incumbent portrayed the Iraq War, as of that time, as the greatest military triumph for democracy since the days of Churchill. McCain, as expected, decided victory for his party was more important than a change in strategy. He gave a lovely speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention, staying on message with the president's campaign.

It is comforting to suggest that the foreign policy mistakes of the GOP administration is the fault of just a small and cohesive group which includes Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the savvy White House political affairs office that sold their policies to the public. But they alone could not have made the Iraq War uncontroversial. It took the perceived independent authorities like Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, the news media and much of Congress to solidify the case for armed regime change. McCain, with he perceived "maverick" image was one of those who legitimized the idea of invading Iraq. As problems became more apparent in Iraq, McCain helped the Bush administration stick to their script through the 2004 election.

The 2004 presidential election was successfully defined to voters as an ideological and cultural struggle between the left and the right, the heartland and the ambiguous yet sinister elite. It would not be an election about issues, ideas or records. The dismissal of Rumsfeld and a change in strategy in Iraq would not come for another two years, after the 2006 midterm elections.

This coming presidential election will be a chance for our country to elect true leadership. Obama opposed the Iraq War not because of ideological grounds. He knew that the Hussein regime was only a distraction in the right war, which of course is Afghanistan. He would reiterate this after starting his presidential campaign, providing a comprehensive speech prioritizing bin Laden and renewing the United States' effort there a full year before McCain gave a speech of similar substance.

Obama was once again ahead of the curve when he called for the United States to engage with its enemies. Both his Democratic and Republican opponents labeled this rather old idea as foolish or dangerous. The media portrayed this suggestion as a gaffe. Yet, the White House ultimately found itself adopting this position with Iran and North Korea. Was Obama putting his candidacy ahead of his country?

Obama's leadership extends beyond his foreign policy. Just as an example, his opposition to the gas tax holiday demonstrated his ability to take the correct position rather than the position that is popular. McCain, in the past, provided lip service for renewable alternative energy, yet he quickly abandoned this rhetoric when he found calling for off-shore drilling and gas taxes to be a better energy theme once gas prices were up.

People are quick to roll their eyes when they see young potential voters embracing calls for hope and change, as if there was no substance behind the broader message. Personally, I do not think it's a bad thing if the once-apathetic find themselves investing their time and energy into politics. Heck, it would be a wonderful thing if young people talked about politics as much as they talk about sports and celebrities. I ask, why is this excitement a bad thing?

In all seriousness, I understand the need for our self-concepts, our need to elevate ourselves above our peers and our temptations to embrace a backlash against "what everyone is doing." This sentiment ignores the fact that not everybody supports Obama, and that it is entirely possible that a victorious McCain will be sworn in as the nation's 44th president. If you find yourself in more agreement with one candidate, the only way to do good on this preference is to vote for it. Do not leave politics for those who say they know better, because they really do not.

If you find yourselves turned off by Obama because of pundits or straw men who make his campaign look shallow or presumptuous, let me remind you what is at stake. This is obviously unlike fashion, trends or some other passing craze. This is a question of who you want to govern the next four or eight years.

Roger Sheng is a Rutgers College senior majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. His column "The Echo Chamber" runs on alternate Mondays. He welcomes feedback at rogsheng@eden.rutgers.edu.


Roger Sheng

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