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October 24, 2008

Why I'm Voting for Barack Obama

I recently posted my personal closing argument for why no one should vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin on November 4. I intentionally wrote that piece only about the long list of serious problems that I have with Senator McCain and Governor Palin. I wanted to express the extent to which I feel that a vote for McCain/Palin is an unforgivable error in this election, and I didn't want that argument to get entangled with my or my readers' thoughts on Barack Obama.

When I first planned that piece--about 6 weeks ago--I didn't plan to write a pro-Obama piece. I've written sparingly about him before, including a year ago when I remained skeptical about his candidacy, in January when I ruminated on the historic nature of the two leading Democratic candidates, and in February when I narrowly chose to support Obama over Senator Clinton in the Massachusetts primary. But the closer the election comes, and the more I've been able to anticipate a potential Obama presidency, the clearer the reasons I support him have become.

But beware--this isn't a long, drawn-out policy analysis that you might expect from me. Suffice it to say that I support most but not all of the Democratic party platform as well as Senator Obama's specific proposals. Instead, I'm voting for Barack Obama because I love my family, and I love my friends.

In his words and in his gestures, in his proposals and in his promises, and in his biography and in his experience, Barack Obama offers us hope. Obama offers us a vision of a country and a world on a path to prosperity. He offers a chance for us to take a step into the future and to see if we can't make the future different--better--than what's come before. And this isn't merely a case of empty eloquence; change comes through action, and Obama draws people to action. Whether they be young people who until now have been fully apathetic about our country's direction or whether they are seasoned advisors that Obama has wisely tapped to craft and execute on pragmatic and forward-thinking domestic and foreign policy, Obama has proven that he can set a positive direction, rally the troops,  and successfully execute. And that gives me hope.

When I look at my four-year old niece and I dream about her future in ways she has not even yet begun to glimpse, I yearn for a world that gives her every opportunity to do whatever she wants to do and to be whomever she wants to be. I want her to grow into a world moving away from ideologic wars and economic stratification. I want her to weave friendships and share experiences with people from every walk of life, regardless of nationality, race, sexual identity, or economic class. When I look at my four-year old niece, I know Obama is the right choice.

When I think of Dad, who's been gone for so long now, I seethe and sigh with thoughts of what four-years of increased medical research might have meant during the final months when we would have tried anything to save him. I dream of an America that invests in research and prioritizes intellectuals that can bring solutions to diseases that strike at our loved ones and that strike at our planet. And I think of all that Dad believed in as well--in Democratic ideals of empowering the powerless and protecting voiceless minorities. When I think of Dad, I know Obama is the right choice.

When I walk through life alongside my friends and family, I know that we need the change that Obama promises to bring. And indeed, the particulars of my friends and family's lives hardly matter. It could be friends that have had the choices they can make as they go through life constrained by intolerance. Or it could be friends' families who own their own small businesses and struggle to provide health insurance for their employees. I've got plenty of friends who want nothing more than to secure a stable future and spend their days watching baseball or cooking or taking photos or watching baseball games. And I have friends and family that lead difficult lives, facing abuse at home or long cycles of unemployment or bouts of mental depression. And while I'm not calling all of these people out by name, these are nevertheless real people with real names and real smiles and real tears and real fears and real dreams. And all these people can benefit from a new direction in America. When I walk through life alongside my friends and family, I know Obama is the right choice.

I've had too many conversations imbued with cynicism, skepticism, and doom over the past few years. The American dream should be more than a slogan or a political catchphrase--it should be something that we can see in the smiles of the people all around us. After all, we're all in this together. All of these people in my life deserve hope, and I know that working together and rallying to the leadership that President Obama would provide, we can restore that hope.

October 22, 2008

Don't Vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin: A Closing Argument

(This is long, but this is important. We don't vote in America for voting's sake: we have a duty to our friends, family, and fellow Americans to make informed decisions when it comes to our next president and vice president. Please find some time to read and consider what I write below. I've also made a printable version available here.)

I know several people in my life that I generally consider rational, intelligent, and well-reasoned when it comes to issues of significance. Yet some of these people are planning to vote for the McCain/Palin ticket this November. To those of you thinking about doing this--whether I know you or not--I implore you: don't. It would be the worst mistake you've ever made.

A McCain presidency will be a disaster. His economic, domestic, and foreign policies are muddled and unenlightened. His personal and political experience has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to act as a successful leader. And time and time again, McCain has shown us a sinister and sleazy side of his character that belies all of his talk of honor and courage.

There are various reasons to vote for candidates for a national office, each no more or less valid than the next. You might agree with their policies, you might respect their leadership and experience, or you might find them to be trustworthy and have a high moral character. Senator McCain and Governor Palin fail miserably in every way.

Policy Proposals

Let's first look at their policy proposals.

Foreign Policy & Military Affairs: Warmongering and disregard for our troops

John McCain prides himself on his military background and his foreign policy experience. Yet, time and time again his judgment amounts to little more than warmongering hawkishness. On the major threats facing our country right now, McCain's proposals amount to a stubborn desire to return to Cold War mentalities and strategies that don't work today. A McCain/Palin presidency would see us stay in Iraq indefinitely, when even the Iraqi government and the Bush administration are now agreeing to the timetables that Barack Obama has been promoting for over a year. In Afghanistan, McCain refuses to commit the resources that the U.S. generals on the ground say are necessary to eliminate resistance from remaining Taliban forces and to hunt down and destroy Al Qaeda's strongholds.

McCain and Palin take hawkish stances with respect to just about every other foreign policy question facing the U.S.: Israel, Iran, Russia (and Georgia), Venezuela, etc. McCain has even begun alienating Spain for no apparent reason whatsoever, by suggesting that he would not be willing to meet with President Zapatero.

I find this pattern of "us vs. them", militaristic foreign policy to be reckless at best and downright disastrous at worst. I don't want to live through a new World War, nor do I want to live in a world of wars. The U.S. is at its strongest and best able to defend its citizens when we are not engaged in wars around the world. We're at our strongest when we have the respect throughout the world such that we can lean on allies to keep the peace alongside our men and women in uniform. And we're at our strongest when we have strategically deployed limited amounts of our forces against high-value enemies rather than blithely spread thin our troops while tilting at nation-building and king-making in nations that don't want to be built and for kings that don't want to be made. McCain is unable now to acknowledge the mistake of the Iraq War, preferring to cling to the success of "the surge" and his support thereof. Unfortunately, to cling to this line of argument is to miss the forest for the trees: we don't need a President who can promote successful military tactics - we've got the Pentagon to do that. We need a President instead who will not let an overgrown temper, a black-and-white world view, and a Cold-War mentality dictate our foreign policy strategy.

A McCain/Palin administration would send more young American men and women off to put their lives at risk fighting unnecessary wars. It would continue to explode our defense budget at a time when our government's balance sheet is in tatters. It would continue to alienate every former U.S. ally to the point where there may be nobody to answer our cries when the wolf comes knocking at our door. It will overtax our (already failing) domestic infrastructure for supporting our veterans. And it will cripple our ability to guarantee our country's safety through preparedness, reliable strategic alliances, and overwhelming deployable force. Or to put it another way: I don't want my kids and grandkids fighting in wars that could have been avoided, whereas John McCain doesn't want to avoid a war that can be fought.

Bridging from foreign policy to domestic affairs, McCain--despite his popular reputation--has a lousy track record supporting U.S. veterans back at home. Just recently the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) released their 2008 congressional "report card" from which we see that even while running for President, Senator McCain voted with the Veterans' legislative agenda only 3 of 9 times, earning him a miserable D grade. (Only three other U.S. senators--Coburn of OK, Enzi of WY, and DeMint of SC--were more unfriendly to our veterans.) McCain highlighted his anti-troops position earlier this year by campaigning against and voting against the wildly popular Webb G.I. Bill. (This was not a partisan vote: only six senators and 12 representatives voted against the bill!)

Economic & Tax Policy: Muddled, regressive, and crafted to help very few Americans

The McCain/Palin economic platform may be as dangerous to America as their foreign policy. I'm not going to harp on McCain's own admissions--multiple times in the past--that he lacks interest in and knowledge of economic policy: I think the arbitrary nature of his proposals do a fine job of that themselves. When McCain first released his economic platform early this summer, his proposals could be summed up as: cut taxes, increase spending (in particular defense spending on expanded & continued military operations), and balance the budget. The idea that McCain would be able to balance the budget while cutting taxes (extending the Bush tax cuts) and increasing spending seemed ludicrous at first blush, and it is.

McCain's tax policy ignores the entire American middle class. But perhaps more important than that, it ignores me and almost every friend and family member I know. McCain says that the centerpiece of his tax policy is that he won't raise taxes on anyone. But in the context of the alternative choice (Obama's plan to restore the pre-Bush tax brackets to people earning over $250,000 per year while simultaneously cutting taxes on almost everyone else), it's clear that McCain's plan amounts to an extension of the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy and nothing to help everyone else. Now, I want to be rich some day. But I'm not rich now, and I'd like to pay less taxes. The entire idea that letting the rich keep more money will help the rest of America has always been a bogus notion born out of political pandering to everyone's inflated view of their own economic place in this country. McCain's tax policy embraces this false view of the country in all ways. Not only will he keep taxes historically low on wealthy individuals, he'll slash corporate taxes by 30%! This tax policy would add over four trillion dollars to our national debt over the next ten years. A balanced budget indeed!

Under President Bush, the disparity in wealth between rich Americans and the rest of us grew dramatically. Under McCain's economic policies, it would grow even more. In fact, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that McCain's policies will increase the top 1% of Americans' income by 2.2% while it will do nothing (a 0.2% increase, to be precise) for the bottom 20% of Americans. Widening the gap between poor and rich in America--or even between rich and "normal" in America--has real consequences. While the rich remain able to live in luxury, the rest of us feel an ever-increasing strain as food prices soar, as rents or mortgage payments remain high, and as health care costs continue to rise unchecked. We just don't earn enough over and beyond life's expenses to ever break through the economic castes from the middle class to the rich, and so the stratification becomes ever more entrenched. It also promotes homogeneity and division between people from different socioeconomic backgrounds; it stirs resentment, encourages fraud (as one of the few ways left to transition between economic classes), and acts as a self-perpetuating vicious cycle by encouraging people with ever-increasing wealth to wield their money in defense of itself.

In fact, the economic policies that John McCain espouses can be legitimately blamed for causing the economic crisis that we're currently living through. For his whole career in public service, McCain has been in favor of more and more and more deregulation. This is not just some rhetorical assertion: John McCain believes that financial markets and the economies and people that rely on them thrive best when the government does not impose regulations on their actions. His economic policies are strongly influenced by senior economic advisor Phil Gramm, himself an unyielding proponent of deregulation and a strong candidate for Secretary of the Treasury in a McCain administration. In the past six weeks I've lost a tremendous portion of my net wealth because of deregulation. Predatory loans and mortgages were not well-regulated. Investment bank liquidity was not well-regulated. Hedge funds and private equity firms were not well-regulated. And I'm poorer as a result. Neither I nor my friends nor my children and grandchildren to come can afford a McCain presidency and the additional deregulation that would accompany it.

Social Policy: Close-minded and intolerant

On social issues--the so-called Culture Wars of our lifetime--McCain has retreated from his personal history of supporting equality and personal liberties and now embraces the worst elements of the religious right. A President McCain would appoint Supreme Court justices who would gleefully overturn Roe v. Wade. McCain will do nothing to allow my gay friends to earn the same tax benefits or visitation rights--let alone enter into civil unions or marriage--that my straight friends get without question. He opposes equal pay for women; however, this last issue is part of a far larger pattern of misogyny that we'll look at a bit later. There has always been a power imbalance in society, whether it be between men and women, rich and poor, or straight and gay. One of the most important roles of government is to defend those that are otherwise powerless to help themselves. John McCain has no interest to fight for those that are not already powerful, and that's an attitude that would completely stunt any social progress in our country while at the same time continuing to tacitly promote bigotry, religious extremism, and a culture of hate.

That McCain has run far to the right is confirmed by the social leanings of Sarah Palin, McCain's selection as Vice Presidential nominee. Palin may as well be the political standard-bearer for the "agents of intolerance" that McCain once railed against. She is fervently opposed to a woman's right to choose; she has repeatedly mixed her Christianity with her position as Alaska's Governor; and she describes the disastrous War in Iraq as a "task from God." Palin is a strong supporter of teaching creationism to our children as an alternative to evolution. Indeed, the selection of Palin in conjunction with the published GOP platform make me seriously doubt McCain's commitment to his more liberal-leaning beliefs. For example, both Palin and the party platform strongly condemn research into disease treatments based on embryonic stem cells. We've already had eight years of research lost to the stubborn religious beliefs of George Bush: I've already seen too much suffering even in my own family to accept a potentially science-hostile McCain/Palin administration.

Energy & Environmental Policy: Band-aids rather than real solutions

The last policy area I want to talk about is one of the most important: energy & the environment. McCain's energy policy is a combination of pandering but ineffective one-liners and half-hearted attempts to do the right thing. Offshore drilling for oil is a popular program that won't generate any meaningful oil for seven years, and even then will have little impact on the the price of heating oil and gasoline and will do nothing to ease our crippling reliance on oil (quite the opposite). The "gas tax holiday" that McCain rallied around early this summer was one of the most asinine  policy proposals I've ever seen. It would rob our transportation infrastructure of over eight billion dollars in order to save the average family $25 - $50. (Or, more likely, to save the oil corporations money that would not have been passed on at the pump at all.) Not only is that a stopgap measure, it wouldn't even help in the short term. Pure lunacy.

McCain's policy proposals to deal with climate change center around nuclear power, clean-coal technologies, and a cap-and-trade system for limiting carbon emissions.  While these proposals are a bit more than lip service, they fall far short of what we need to reverse the damage that might otherwise lead to global catastrophes for our children and grandchildren. First, McCain would give away most carbon permits, rather than auction them. This effectively amounts to lining the pockets of big polluters with money (the permits have an intrinsic value, of course, given the carbon caps) without helping the people who pay for the energy the polluters produce. On the energy axis, I have no problem with an increase in nuclear power. But to do that without also devoting substantial R&D dollars to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar is to fail to recognize the immediacy of the climate crisis that faces us. We've seen in recent weeks how an unregulated free market can wreak havoc on our wallets, and I've no doubt to similarly assume that a lack of firm direction from the federal government in attacking climate change will end in disaster.

(I haven't touched on all elements of McCain's policy proposals of course. This isn't because I agree with him on things like health care reform, immigration, free trade, or telecommunications. Or because I believe McCain's ridiculous claims to have a secret solution to "easy" problems such as social security solvency. Rather, I've chosen instead to highlight what I see as the biggest policy disasters of a McCain administration; the things that would cause pain and misery and suffering for me, for my wife, Lynn, for our friends, for our family, for our children and grandchildren to come, and for other Americans.)

Experience & Leadership

Now, I'm not naive enough to think that most people choose to vote for a candidate based on his policy proposals. Indeed, in the case of John McCain, many many people cite his experience and leadership qualities as the primary reason for supporting him. The idea that John McCain's experience would make him a good leader, however, is utter bollocks. Here's why.

Extensive experience does not imply quality leadership

First, there is not and has never been any reliable correlation between public service experience (or life experience in general (age)) and being a successful president. Of the six U.S. presidents with the most experience in public office before becoming president, four of them are widely considered to have been bad presidents: Gerald Ford, Martin Van Buren, James Garfield, and James Buchanan. Buchanan was 65 when elected and had over 30 years of public service experience, and most presidential scholars rank him among the three worst presidents in history. Conversely, of the seven people that had only six or less years of state and national experience before serving as president, three are considered among the best presidents we've ever had: Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR. This, then, is very important: experience does not correlate with successful presidential leadership.

Life Experiences: Inadequate preparation for the presidency

Others argue that John McCain's long list of life experiences arm him with the knowledge and understanding to be our next president. In reality, time and time again McCain has demonstrated that--despite his years of experience in the U.S. Senate--he lacks basic understanding of many key areas of today's world. He demonstrates confusion between Sunni and Shia, such as the belief that (Shiite) Iranians are supporting the (Sunni) Al Qaeda in Iraq. This is not some esoteric piece of trivia, nor is it a simple slip of the tongue: rather, it's a failure to understand the basic tenets that underlie much of the violence and strife in the Middle East, and it's a failure that McCain has repeated several times.

That's not the only hot spot in the world that McCain's experience has failed to prepare him for. He has stated concern over the non-existent Iraq-Pakistan border; he has--on multiple instances--referred to Czechoslovakia, a country which hasn't existed for 16 years; he spoke on how America can address the tragedy in the Darfur region of Somalia, apparently unaware that Darfur is not in Somalia, but in Sudan; and he incorrectly believes that the Anbar Awakening in Iraq occurred after the start of the American "surge" strategy. These are not mere gaffes along the lines of Barack Obama stating that the U.S. comprises 57 states. These form an oft reinforced pattern of evidence that John McCain does not have a strong grasp on the challenges throughout the world, no matter his years of experience.

So if McCain's experience on its own has not prepared him for the presidency and if experience itself does not correlate with strong leadership, let's then look at what specifically John McCain's life offers us in the way of leadership.

In the Military: Courageous and strong, but not significant leadership

In McCain's time at the Naval Academy and as a pilot and prisoner during Vietnam, he was not a leader. He was a brave Naval officer who endured horrors at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors, but he was not a leader. He was not making executive decisions affecting others, and he did not have significant responsibilities for others. I simply cannot find any reason to think that John McCain's experience in the Navy and as a POW indicate that he is prepared to lead the executive branch of the U.S. government.

In Congress: Inconsistent advocacy and ineffective legislator

Finally, let's examine evidence for McCain's political leadership ability based on his many years serving in Congress. There are two critical components of political leadership:

  1. Identifying what is right, and marshalling people behind you
  2. Gathering support for initiatives to make things happen. Whether it's public cajoling, backroom dealing, or schmoozing in the halls of Congress, a strong political leader must be able to push through an agenda.

McCain has failed miserably at both leadership components.

First, he has repeatedly failed to fight consistently for what he claims to know to be right. Back during the 2000 republican primary in South Carolina, McCain refused to condemn the flying of a confederate flag from the top of the South Carolina statehouse, despite (later) claiming to cling to strong principled beliefs against the confederate flag. In Florida this summer, McCain campaigned on his leadership credentials by boasting of how he fought for the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. day as a holiday in his home state of Arizona. But the truth is much more disappointing: in both 1983 and 1987 McCain strongly fought against Arizona honoring Dr. King's birthday as a state holiday. Over the past four years--and particularly while campaigning this year, McCain has reversed core, principled positions that he has hung his leadership hat on, from strict environmental support to taxes to immigration reform. I have no confidence that McCain has the ability to defend an unpopular but critically important view in the face of political opportunism.

Second, despite his reputation as a congressional maverick, McCain does not have an impressive record of garnering successful political support for his agendas. Most of McCain's maverick reputation comes not from passing legislation to improve America, but rather from being so set on a crusade against earmarks that he has attempted time and time again to scuttle otherwise decent legislation. Other McCain maverick efforts failed,  demonstrating a lack of ability to garner support for an agenda. A prime example of this is McCain's late 1990s support for raising cigarette taxes to promote anti-smoking campaigns: the Clinton administration supported this effort, but McCain was unable to navigate the republican legislative waters and the bill never came up for a vote.

Even McCain's greatest legislative accomplishment--the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill--demonstrates more about John McCain's shortcomings than his abilities. Not only did McCain-Feingold take nearly two full presidential terms (seven years) to become law, but McCain himself has repeatedly skirted his own campaign finance law, by opting in to public financing during the GOP primaries in order to secure a loan before later opting out of the same financing system! This Bushian attitude of being above his own rules is exactly the kind of reckless leadership that we cannot afford to keep hold of the country for another four (or eight) years.

Finally, we have recent evidence of McCain's erratic leadership on core issues of American finance. During the Keating 5 scandal in 1989, McCain first showed that he does not have the moral fiber to lead in times of financial crisis. But even today, nearly twenty years later, McCain has failed in a test of leadership with our most recent economic crisis. Over the past few weeks, McCain has, at various times, claimed that our economy is strong; suggested that there was no need to suggest economic plans to deal with the financial crisis; abruptly (but falsely) suspended his presidential campaign to deal with the crisis; tried to but failed to garner republican support for the first bailout vote by the U.S. House of Representatives; resumed his campaign despite there being no resolution of the crisis; offered new policy proposals that were actually existing parts of the already passed bailout bill; announced yet another upcoming new set of economic policy proposals; revoked said announcement; re-announced said announcement. This is not leadership. This is flailing around aimlessly, hoping that by playing the role of the blind squirrel, McCain just might luck out and find a nut.

Moral Character & Trustworthiness

Perhaps despite McCain's consistent lack of effective leadership and his disastrous policy proposals, you are drawn to him because you trust him. It's undoubtedly important to have a president of high moral character who will put his country first and upon whom we can rely as a bastion of virtue and justice while running and representing our country, regardless of policies. John McCain likes to talk up his credentials on this front, liberally letting it be known that he is as honorable a straight talker as there is. But, again, the evidence doesn't back up McCain's assertions. Instead, the evidence distinctly shows that McCain has become a petty, hypocritical, and sleazy man who reliably places politics over honor and will do just about anything to gain the power of the presidency. (Sound familiar? It should. It's the same playbook made famous the past eight years by Bush, Rove, and the neoconservative establishment, and it's a playbook that should make the skin of any decent person crawl with disgust.)

A record number of dramatic flip-flops

Let's start with McCain's trustworthiness. Can we believe the things that McCain says or the policies and values that he claims to stand for? Back in 2004, the GOP was quite successful introducing the world to notion of a flip-flop, branding John Kerry as an opportunist who would change his mind on important questions at the drop of a hat. The conservative Web site freerepublic.com even went so far as to compile 35 specific instances of Kerry's flip-flop nature. But compared to John McCain, Kerry is an amateur flip-flopper. The liberal Web site thecarpetbaggerreport.com maintains a documented list of (as of the beginning of October) 76 issues on which McCain has reversed his opinion!

These are not matters of nuance and legitimately reconsidered positions. These are clear cut, black and white issues of which McCain has come down firmly on both sides. Republicans often view McCain as Israel's best friend in the coming election. They point to the hard-line, hawkish stance he's taken against negotiating with hostile foreign governments such as Iran and Hamas during the campaign. Yet McCain has (somehow) also  been an outspoken proponent of talking with Hamas, declaring that Fatah cannot provide a decent life for Palestinians and that therefore the U.S. should negotiate with Hamas. He advocates repealing Roe v. Wade, except when campaigning in the 2000 primary in liberal San Francisco, when he explicitly stated that neither in the short term nor in the long term would he want to see Roe v. Wade repealed. McCain has pandered hard to the right to earn the NRA's endorsement this year, yet in the past he has worked feverishly to pass a law restricting sales of guns at gun shows. (He failed in that legislative effort, yet another indication if his lack of political leadership acumen.) From affirmative action to disposing of nuclear waste to the estate tax to social security privatization to defense spending, McCain has staked out both sides of issue after issue after issue. Even on one of his signature "maverick" issues, torture, McCain has taken both sides of the issue, repeatedly condemning all forms of torture while voting early this year to allow the U.S. to continue using waterboarding and other torturous interrogation techniques against prisoners.

Why does McCain so often take both sides of an issue? Sometimes it's to pander to the crowds he happens to be addressing, whether they be Cuban-Americans in southern Florida or Pittsburgh Steeler fans in western Pennsylvania. Sometimes it's to help further his self-promoted maverick image. (If you've come down hard on both sides of an issue, then clearly you must be against the traditional beltway wisdom.) Sometimes it's to win over wide swaths of voters, such as his retreat over the past four years from social moderate to extreme right-winger. And sometimes there is no explanation: perhaps it's McCain's need to cast every issue presented to him as good vs. evil, combined with a forgetfulness of which side of the issue was evil last time he visited it. It doesn't really matter in the end; what matters is that the things McCain says cannot be trusted. He has proven time and time and time and time again that his words are nothing more than expedient gestures designed not to communicate deeply held beliefs or rally people to a cause but rather to curry support for his own ambitions of power.

Campaign Attacks: shallow, sleazy and irrelevant

McCain's willingness to shift from position to position as the situation calls for is but one demonstration of a pattern of behavior that demonstrates a weak moral character. Throughout the past year, McCain has run a campaign full of sleaze, hypocrisy, and demagoguery that furthers the already dramatic divisiveness in America and casts grave doubts on the quality of McCain's true personality.  Rather than campaign on the strength of his own record and the clarity of his vision for the country, McCain has chosen time and time again to launch belittling, false, and irrelevant attacks on his opponent. Thus McCain has spent weeks criticizing Obama for being an effete, arugula-eating intellectual.  He has launched adds that provocatively carry the not-so-subtle subtext that Obama may be the antichrist. McCain has individually questioned whether each of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Michelle Obama is patriotic. McCain has falsely asserted that Obama supports teaching sex to kindergartners. McCain has sought to create bizarre associations between Obama and Hollywood airheads such as Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton. McCain has cast aside any pretense of substantiated and civil debate by carelessly and extravagantly tossing around labels that started with inexperienced and liberal and have since moved on to the McCarthy-esque socialist, Marxist, and even communist. And, of course, McCain made the ludicrous claim that all of these negative attacks were necessary because Obama did not agree to a series of town-hall meetings that McCain had proposed. Uh, excuse me? How stupid does McCain think we are?

These ceaseless attacks bother me for two reasons. First, they indicate the shallowness of McCain's personality. After talking whenever he could about running an honorable campaign full of straight talk, he went ahead and has run a despicable campaign full of lies and attacks that appeal to people's most base fears and prejudices. And he's done it all with the gall of hoping that neither the media nor his supporters would notice or care. But the second reason that this bothers me is far more personal. I am the person that McCain seems to hold in such low regard. I am smart, and I am proud of it. Many of my political views are liberal, and I am proud of it. I am extremely patriotic though I support taxes to pay for government services, do not blindly support misguided wars, and do not sport an American flag on my front lawn. I even eat (and enjoy) arugula. And I'm not alone here. Lynn's the same way. So are my mom and my sister. And many of my best friends in the world. So when McCain sneers and paints Obama with these labels intended in a derogatory fashion, he's sneering at me and at the people I love. In his commercials, in his stump speeches, in his debates, McCain is looking at me and telling me how worthless he finds my values to be. Through his words, through his ads, and through his expression, McCain oozes an unrepentant disdain for the way I choose to live my life and the things I believe in. It's no coincidence that just the other day Sarah Palin implied that only certain Republican parts of the country are really pro-America. She thinks that I'm anti-America, and I find that attitude disgusting and repulsive. Not only is it personally offensive, but it's an unbelievably dangerous attitude for the president and vice president of our country to hold.

A pattern of hypocrisy

The sleaze with which John McCain has infected this campaign runs even more deeply than the insulting nature of his attacks. Multiple incidents within the campaign demonstrate the hypocrisy that emerges when McCain's propensity to not stick to his word has collided with his weak moral character. In 2000, McCain was outraged when robo-calls (automatic dialers with recorded messages) were used by Bush against him during the South Carolina primary. Yet now McCain is employing the very same company that Bush used in order to direct craven robo-calls at Obama. And what is the nature of these calls? Why, they're to highlight Obama's tenuous associations with Bill Ayres, Tony Rezko, Jeremiah Wright, and the ACORN association. But not only is the form of the attack (the robocalls) hypocritical, so too is the content! For McCain has decried guilt-by-association politics when it has highlighted his own questionable dealings: In June, McCain scheduled a fundraiser at the home of Texas Republican Clayton Williams, a man who in 1990 asserted that women being raped "might as well lie back and enjoy it." McCain claims among his spiritual guides Rod Parsley, a man who believes that the U.S. exists, in part, to rid the world of Islam. McCain also sought the endorsement of John Hagee, an evangelical who has preached that the Nazis and Adolph Hitler were performing the will of God when they murdered six million Jews during the Holocaust. And the final piece of this absurdly complete four-pointed pyramid of hypocrisy is ACORN: while McCain now trumps ACORN's actions in pushing for new voter registrations as an organized campaign of vote fraud, only two years ago was McCain going around saying that ACORN is "what makes America special." It's a good thing that none of McCain's seven houses are made of glass.

I don't want to dwell on it, but I do want to mention McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate. After months of assertions that experience was the only thing that mattered in this campaign, McCain went and picked the least qualified vice presidential candidate this country has ever seen. He did this to pander shallowly to women and to win over the right-wing republican base. There's no possible way that he believed that Palin would be the best president should something happen to McCain; instead, he quite directly put his own political ambitions ahead of the good of the United States.

Women: A long history of misogyny

The final indication--and one of the most damning in my mind--of the questionable nature of John McCain's character is the lack of respect which he shows for women. The evidence for this lack of respect runs the gamut from McCain's personal life to his political positions and campaign experiences. Let me list just a few instances:

  • McCain wants Roe v. Wade to be repealed, removing a woman's right to autonomy over her own body. He chose a running mate who goes even further: Sarah Palin believes that a woman who seeks an abortion after she has been raped or has been the victim of incest should be a criminal.
  • McCain chose a running mate who was the mayor of the only town in Alaska that required women who were raped to pay for their own rape kit.
  • McCain has consistently opposed any efforts to ensure pay equity for women in the workplace.
  • McCain laughed along with a supporter of his who last year vehemently referred to Hillary Clinton as "the bitch."
  • In 1992, McCain lost his temper with his wife and, after Cindy McCain joked about his thinning hair, called her a "trollop" and a "cunt."

Any one or two of these points on its own might (or might not) be forgivable or be explained away. But taken as a whole, they portray a man that has been so enamored of male-dominated institutions for his entire life that he holds women--both women in general and specific women in his life--as second-class citizens. He doesn't defend women or their rights. He curses them and tacitly endorses others who do as well. As I write this, I'm staring across my kitchen table at my soul mate--and she happens to be a woman. Some day I may have daughters and they may have daughters. And lord do I dread the thought of what sort of country a misogynist like John McCain would seek to create as president.

I've given you a litany of reasons not to choose John McCain and Sarah Palin as the next President and Vice President of the United States. Now, believe it or not, I don't care whether or not you vote for Barack Obama. If--for whatever reason--you don't want to vote for Senator Obama or for Joe Biden, then don't. But in that case I beg you: stay home. Do not cast a vote for the backwards thinking, ill-prepared, and amoral candidacy of John McCain and Sarah Palin. Their record and their message is clear: they will wreak havoc both at home and abroad. It's a bit cliched, but this election is not about us. It's about our future generations. If Senator McCain wins this election, my children and grandchildren will face a hostile world full of antagonistic nations, strong terror networks, and a crumbling economy. They will be stripped of their liberties, forced to adhere to a religion that's not their own, and left to roll the dice against a dizzying array of devastating diseases that even a slight nod towards scientific research might have conquered. Their leaders will continue to lie to them on a regular basis, to abuse their power and ignore the rule of law, and to move our country backwards rather than forwards towards greater prosperity. To me, it's a moral imperative to stand up against such a future, and it should be for you, too.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. You can mail me directly with any comments or questions. I've got a long list of sources for the assertions I make in this essay, and I'm happy to share any references upon request. This essay was originally published on my blog at http://www.thefigtrees.net/lee/life/2008/10/dont_vote_for_john_mccain_and.html.