One of my wife's friends is a US citizen who has been living in the UK since she married a theology professor at the University of Edinburgh. She asked me recently for a stateside perspective on the presidential race. What follows is a lightly edited version of what I wrote to her.
Up until very recently, I was pretty solidly planning to vote for McCain. He's always been willing to answer tough questions, has never been tied up in party politics, and has had a reputation for integrity. More than any other politician in modern history, he's been willing to critique himself and to admit to mistakes that he's made over the years. He was also unique amongst politicians for his commitment to answer the question the reporter asked instead of the question that he wished the reporter had asked. That sort of honesty and risk-taking impresses me in a politician like nothing else. I was for McCain back in 2000 (he would have made a far, far better president than Bush), and I've remained a fan ever since.
I should also note that this would be a first: I registered as a Democrat back in college (mostly because the dude running the registration booth really wanted me to register Republican), and I have yet to vote for a Republican presidential candidate. Despite that, I've always been more of an independent than a Democrat, but I've also found myself tilting in a more conservative direction recently. Specifically, I find myself more of a social conservative as the years go by, or at least, I attribute more value to those issues. I'm not a pro-life fanatic, but I think abortion-on-demand is abhorrent, and I strongly believe that, with a few exceptions, there's no question that it should be against the law. The Supreme Court decision legalizing it was horribly reasoned: in my opinion, it stands right next to the Dred Scott decision as an indelible stain on the Supreme Court's legacy. (I bring this up not to convince anyone, but to let you know my reasoning.) McCain himself is only a mild social conservative, but he's also a strict constructionist, and there's no question that he'd be far more likely to appoint judges that could overturn Roe v. Wade than Obama (who is ardently pro-choice) would be. And so with other, similar social issues that I tend to think are important.
At the same time, I also think that Obama would make a fairly good president. I don't like his stand on moral/social issues, full-stop, but he's clearly got a good head on his shoulders, and the way he's handled his campaign shows that he's got great political instincts. He's the most charismatic candidate we've had since Ronald Reagan, and he's a great deal more intelligent and thoughtful than Reagan ever was. Obama is more like Bill Clinton than anything else, but I think he's more charismatic even than Bill, and from what I can tell, he has a great deal more integrity.
Between the two, McCain may yet get my vote, but I have to say, I've begun to waver, for two primary reasons.
- McCain has completely abandoned his "straight talk express". Some of this is sad, but just what you have to do when you're running a national campaign: he's thrown the press off the bus, he sticks to his talking points, he's started speaking in sound bites. But some of it is a real mark against his integrity. I'm a McCain fan, but even I think he's been stretching the truth in his attacks against Obama, and lots of other folks think that he's been lying outright. That was working for a while, and it helped to get his polling numbers up a little bit, but it turned me off. (Of course, Obama has made his share of exaggerations and stupid claims, but McCain's, in my opinion, are more egregious.)
- I'm beginning to think that it was a mistake for McCain to pick Sarah Palin. There was a period of time when it looked like that decision might have been sheer genius. Palin has energized the religious right like nothing I've seen. No conservative Christian that I know was enthusiastic about McCain (though they were pretty much all planning to vote for him). But when he announced Palin as his choice, these same conservatives were nearly ecstatic. Dobson, for one, changed his tune on McCain completely, and began singing his praises in radio show after radio show. My mother teared up during Palin's RNC acceptance speech – and I have to admit, Palin turned in a phenomenal performance that day. But it was a very short honeymoon. Palin has stumbled badly since then, in a number of areas, but most notably in her interviews with Katie Couric. Granted, I might not have been able to answer all those questions in a very intelligent manner, either – like Palin, off the top of my head, I can't think of any Supreme Court decisions besides Roe v. Wade that I disagree with. But I expect the occupant of the chair next to the President to be a great deal more intelligent and experienced than I am; and on the whole, in her interviews, Palin has seemed to be a great deal less. As Galena pointed out yesterday, Palin has substantially less foreign policy experience than we do. And while Palin didn't embarrass herself in her debate with Biden, it was clear that Biden was not only more experienced (of course), but also, in my opinion, much more intelligent.
So all that said, I'm not sure where I'll end up. I don't think either of them would make a bad president, and I think there's a reasonable chance that either one might make a great president. But I'm disappointed in McCain's performance lately, and it's made me less excited to see him in the Oval Office.