In response to my last blog post written the night of the election I received a private query from an individual with whom I’m quite close. I’m fairly certain this individual did not vote for Barack Obama, but I haven’t asked. The question posed to me: Did you vote for Obama because he is black or because he is the most qualified?As a result of this question-a fair one-I’ve spent the past week thinking a lot about this election and my vote. The fact that I’m the author of Inheriting the Trade and travel the country discussing the legacy of slavery might lead folks to believe that of course I’d vote for the black guy.
Let me first offer a little background. I voted for John McCain in the 2000 primary election (I was a registered Republican at the time and I have a photograph of one of my daughters standing with John McCain when we met him in Washington, DC during that campaign). I voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 general election. I thought Bush was the best candidate to handle the economy. After he directed the United States to attack Iraq I realized that had I made a huge mistake. My opposition to the war was firm and total. I voted for John Kerry in 2004. Our federal government’s abominable response to Hurricane Katrina-that disproportionately impacted the poor (which were predominantly people of color)-as well as the growing financial crisis that recently erupted into the mess we now find ourselves in insured that no matter who the Democrats nominated for President I would support him or her. When the campaign first began I supported Dennis Kucinich. He most closely represents my position on the widest variety of issues.
I saw Obama speak in Denver in late January. I followed the primary closely and watched many of the debates. By the time the contest was down to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton I was convinced that he was my candidate of choice. Did I vote for him because he was black? No. Here’s a bit more historical perspective. I didn’t vote for Jesse Jackson when he ran for President in either 1984 or 1988 (even though I saw him speak-quite impressively-and shook his hand right here in Central Oregon). Okay, you might reasonably say, that was long before you participated in the Traces of the Trade journey, Tom. Fair enough. During the 2004 election both Reverend Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun were candidates. I didn’t vote for either one. I supported Kucinich in the Democratic primary. I couldn’t vote for him because I was still a registered Republican in 2004.
Voting for Obama simply because he’s black would be tokenism. I registered as a Democrat early this year specifically so I could vote for Obama in the Oregon Primary–and I voted for him in the General Election–because he was the best candidate. Though I disagree with several of his policy statements, he much more closely represents my positions than does McCain. I also happen to like Joe Biden a lot and thought McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin did not reflect the best interests of our nation.
Yes, Obama also happens to be of African descent on his father’s side which I believe is a positive sign for our nation and the world. Did the fact that Obama is a man of African descent have any impact my vote? Yes. This is an amazing moment in our nation’s history. But if Alan Keyes had been the candidate on the Republican side running against Dennis Kucinich for the Democrats, I would have voted for the white guy.
Here are the issues that mattered the most to me and upon which I made my choice between Obama and McCain:
• I read Obama’s autobiography, Dreams from my Father in late 2007. As I wrote then, I found it “candid, revealing, and occasionally unsettling in the journey he includes us in as readers.” And I trusted him as a result of what he wrote.
• I opposed the invasion of Iraq-that was proven to be based on false assertions-from the beginning. Kucinich and Obama also opposed it from the beginning.
• Though my choice to support Obama far preceded the recent economic meltdown it provides further evidence to me that my choice is the correct one. Trickle-down economics is a bad joke. It always has been. This policy has resulted in the rich getting richer and the poor becoming poorer. The walls that separate us are thicker than they were just two decades ago. Until we recognize that we’re all in this life together and begin exhibiting true compassion with one another we’ll continue moving in inequitable and unjust directions.
• The United States is the only industrialized nation on earth that does not respect its citizens enough to insure that all of us are covered by health insurance. This is absurd and needs to be resolved ASAP.
• Obama remained stable and calm in the face of attacks and the economic crisis. No matter what McCain and Palin threw at Obama he looked Presidential when McCain appeared panicked and inconsistent.
• Obama looked like a leader. He looked decisive and presidential when his opponents were calling him a terrorist and socialist. He made mistakes during the campaign but he never lost his cool.
• Obama appears genuinely brilliant. Some have accused him of being aloof and elitist based upon his education at Columbia and Harvard and perhaps for other reasons. As for me I want someone who is smarter than me running our country. I particularly want a calm, educated, thoughtful, patient president at what feels like one of the most difficult moments for our nation in my lifetime.
• Our standing-and our reputation-in the world has been significantly harmed since we invaded Iraq. I believe that President-elect Obama has the potential and the skills to turn this around. Based on what I’ve seen from around the world in response to his election I believe this process has already begun.
• Obama has affection for his family-and shows it-the way I do. It’s genuine, the way my parents taught me. That genuineness, I believe, will translate into the way he governs.
I voted for Barack Obama to become my president because he’s the right person for the job at this moment in history. And I am also exceedingly proud that the majority of voters have elected a man of color to lead our nation. His election doesn’t end racism. It doesn’t undo the legacy of slavery. It doesn’t replace our need to have deep and ongoing conversations about how issues of race continue to impact us. It is no substitute for the serious work of repair that we need among people of European, African, Asian, Latino, and American Indian descent. It is, as a woman of color once told me, another step on the road to freedom.