American Culture

Why I am for Obama: It's more than just the man, it's the movement


By Martin Bosworth

What’s the difference between a skeptic and a cynic?

A skeptic is someone who, when told something, doesn’t immediately believe it to be true and looks deeper into the issue before making their decision.

A cynic is someone who, when told something, automatically assumes it to be false, and doesn’t bother looking any further, because it’s just got to be bullshit.

It’s essential, especially in these times of fear and paranoia, that we maintain a healthy skepticism about what we are told. It was lack of skepticism that mired us in the endless hell of the Iraq war, after all. But I fear that genuine skepticism has been swamped by the all-consuming cynical passivity that says, “This is all bullshit, so why should I care or do anything about it? None of it matters.”

But it does matter. And watching the meteoric rise of Barack Obama has reminded me of how much it can all matter, for those who’re willing to believe.

As has been noted in the press and on the Net, Obama’s campaign has transcended a typical political stump and is becoming a flat-out movement for change. His team has tapped into the restless sleeping giant that is the Millenial Generation, appealing to them with the latest social networking tools and paeans to togetherness, unity, and an end to divisiveness–and they’ve responded in incredible numbers. Every primary is the same–youth turnout is off the charts, and they’re breaking for Obama in a large way.

But it’s not just the young–Obama’s “can-do” spirit is inspiring the old, the apathetic, the never-voted-before. Even those who aren’t sure about him or don’t believe in him are giving him a look:

“Obama is by no means my choice, and I will not go for him just because he’s black,” says Tinia Bland, a 43-year-old registered Republican who says she is leaning toward voting for Clinton. “He will have to show me that he can lead a nation and that my concerns will be met.” Still, she arrived five hours early for Obama’s rally in Jersey City, her 8-year-old son Elijah in tow. “I want him to see there is a man who looks like him, and that he is capable of making phenomenal decisions, and that this is an opportunity that he can aspire to,” she says. “I really see him as a uniter. There doesn’t have to be a white America and a black America anymore, and I like that.”

In my lifetime, I can’t remember any politician being able to inspire and evoke passion and hope–the willingness to believe and put in the work to bridge belief and reality–that Obama does. My Republican friends would probably invoke Reagan, but I’m too young to say for sure if that’s a legitimate comparison (on any level). This is one of those moments that simply hasn’t come around in the political cycle for a good long time.

Tom Hayden, who knows a thing or two about earthshaking generational and political movements, has the best take on this I’ve read yet:

I have been devastated by too many tragedies and betrayals over the past 40 years to ever again deposit so much hope in any single individual, no matter how charismatic or brilliant. But today I see across the generational divide the spirit, excitement, energy and creativity of a new generation bidding to displace the old ways. Obama’s moment is their moment, and I pray that they succeed without the sufferings and betrayals my generation went through…If history is any guide, the new “best and brightest” of the Obama generation will unleash a new cycle of activism, reform and fresh thinking before they follow pragmatism to its dead end.

It is the nature of all things in history to pass away and be cast aside so that the new can usurp the old. We shouldn’t forget what has come before, but nor should we be slave to it. I think this is another reason Edwards (who was my guy first and foremost) never caught fire–he underestimated, as did I, the symbolic change value of a black man or a woman leading the most powerful nation on Earth. Edwards recognized this in his farewell address, and I see it again and again in conversations with friends of mine who aren’t obsessive political junkies like myself.

But this isn’t enough–you need substance in this day and age. You need real policy positions on real issues of importance, and on this Obama is far from perfect. I’m skeptical of Obama’s almost pathological need to be all things to all people. I worry about his health care policies, some of which are dangerously to the right of Clinton. I worry about his dalliances with anti-gay pastors like Donnie McClurkin. I worry that his sharper, more populist stances only came because Edwards was stealing the show with them.

Yet, on balance, there is more good than bad in the meat of Obama’s record. Obama’s technology proposals are the most audacious and forward-looking of all the candidates, only beginning with his support for net neutrality. He is against the endless wars we are currently fighting. He was against the bankruptcy bill and supports mortgage law reform. Even on what seems like a clear-cut issue–banning cluster bombs in civilian areas–where Clinton took the convenient path, Obama took the right path. Hell, he’s even gotten his mind right on fully funding our grievously undermanned consumer protection agencies and policing imported toys for lead content. He has made numerous mistakes–and will probably make more–but he’s also evinced an instinct for coming correct on the biggest issues, and for emphasizing why both big and small issues matter. This strikes me as a man who will learn from his mistakes, not stubbornly dig in his heels and compound errors with even more grievous retrenchments, as the Decider has done.

Obama is not the new JFK. He wasn’t my first choice for candidate. And both of those things are fine. This is not the ’60s, nor is it the ’90s. My time for a movement has passed, if it was ever really here. This is a movement for a new generation, for a new age of people who are excited and passionate about politics like never before. And that gives me hope in my own right.

I’m a confirmed skeptic, but at my core, I’m not a cynic. I still believe our government can protect us and make our lives better if we do the job right. I believe that people working together can make a difference, and one man can change the world if they’re the right man. I believe that humans are essentially decent, good people who sometimes take the wrong path, and that America has the power to inspire the world to new levels of greatness if it holds to the moral truths and principles it was founded on.

And Barack Obama inspires me to continue that belief, just like he’s inspired his movement to propel him to becoming not only our first black president, but the first leader in a long time who can truly lead, as opposed to rule, govern, bully, or terrorize. That’s why I am for him as President–he doesn’t just inspire me to hope, he inspires me to believe that we can make the world better.

I’m a skeptic, but I’m also a believer. Does that mean I believe Obama and his movement can take the White House? To coin a phrase, “Yes. We. Can.”

30 replies »

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  2. Thanks, Martin. Your thoughts and experiences expanded on Obama’s appeal. Your piece is link-intensive, but here’s one more from the new Vanity Fair: Raising Obama. Article description:

    Is he tough enough? That’s the question being asked of Barack Obama. To those who have known the candidate since boyhood, it’s not just those “dreams from my father” that make Obama a contender, but also his mother’s daring, his grandmother’s grit, and his own relentless drive.

    Finally, you mentioned Her Royal Clinton-ness’s vote for cluster bombs. Let’s say that again: She voted for cluster bombs.

    Even worse, believe it or not, land mines.

    Since reading that, whenever I see her, I think: cluster bombs, land mines. That’s without even mentioning her Iraq vote and countless other foreign policy follies.

    Sorry to turn this into an anti-HRC screed. But note to moms who would vote for her: Cluster bombs and land mines almost seem like they were invented to kill women and children.

  3. It’s Obama’s lack of specifics that bugs me – I can’t just vote for hope. I need more than that. But it’s Clinton’s dynastic nature and corporate connections that bug me too. And given that both Obama and Clinton are so wrong on so many things, as I said earlier today, I can’t choose between them. There’s just not enough for me to grab a hold of for me to make what I consider a good decision.

    I hate feeling this way, but I’m literally paralyzed by their respective lack of vision on most of my key issues. As bothered as I am about my inability to caucus today, it’s something of a relief too. I won’t have to choose between two bad candidates for my party’s nomination.

  4. Martin,

    You hit the nail on the head. (I don’t overtly support either candidate; my primary is over; it didn’t count; and i proudly voted “uncommitted”…the proudest vote of my life for some perverse reason.) If Sen. Obama can lead this swelling as a movement, he may go down as one of America’s greatest presidents. If this movement begins and end with electing Sen. Obama, he will probably be our next Jimmy Carter. How this plays out seems to be mostly in Sen. Obama’s hands, because it will be up to him to make sure that it remains a people powered movement.

    The hope that this instills in me has nothing to do with Sen. Obama. I am thrilled to see two generations of well educated young people becoming active. I’m tired of hearing how not voting is some kind of protest. Not long ago, i remarked to my grandfather that i have a deep fear: the generations of myself and my brothers will face realities similar to those that his generation faced. He looked at me with sad eyes, the kind of eyes that only Great Depressions and World Wars can produce, and said, “I’m afraid you may be right.” No one will save us; we can only save ourselves.

    Your differentiation between skepticism and cynicism is spot on too. Most cynics, i think, are really hopeless romantics who’ve had their hear broken a few too many times.

  5. Despite my objections to having a liberal as a president, I could adapt to an Obama presidency. Depending on his stance on business and taxation, I might have to bob and weave like Joe Fraizer, but I’d still adapt. I might have to book all of my trades offshore, but my business would still go on. I’m glad to see some genuine excitement for a candidate, because it shows that people can still get energized by someone, which is a good thing. As for me, my litmus test for voting is taxes, and I don’t think I’ll vote for Obama unless he offers some tax relief, a cut in capital gains, adjustments in inheritance taxes, and reduced spending. The spending issue is the only problem I have with GWB, as government spending is taking up too great of a percentage of GDP.


  6. Jeff brings up an important point: taxes. Its a wedge (or should i say wedgie) issue for the Democrats. And as both Sens Clinton and Obama have already clearly staked a position against the Bush tax cuts, they can plan on having the albatross of raising taxes hung around their necks.

    I had a thought the other day, and maybe folks around here would think on it and tear apart the theory. What if we nominally raised taxes, but left a purposeful loophole. That is, made local/regional investment basically tax free? Let people have the choice, pay higher taxes or put their money where it could do the most good.

    It seems to me that such a program would end run opposition to taxes (and we all hate taxes); pump money into the real economy; and raise revenues over the long term by actually creating businesses and jobs. But i also know that it must have a ton of problems that i don’t see.

    Just a thought…

  7. Martin,

    I’m so happy to read a well thought out and in depth blog article about these issues. I think you got it so right. I used to be a cynic..I heard Obama speak and I became a skeptic…I did the research and now I’m a believer. I’m watching Super Tuesday results like it’s the Super Bowl and I feel like a kid again….Great Article.

  8. Jeff:

    Would you vote for a candidate who promised to cut taxes to zero? If not, why not? If not, how much … exactly … should they be cut and in exactly what manner?

    Also, please describe exactly how the budget would be balanced now and into the future with a new tax cut. If you are projecting revenue increases because of the tax cut, please use the exact science of economics to predict this increase within $500 million. If you are counting on spending cuts, please provide the following:

    1. Exactly how would you go about cutting one or all of the big three budgetary items, Social Security, Medicare, and/or military spending? (As you know, trying to find sufficient cuts in other areas would be like trying to make Ford profitable by cutting free coffee in the break rooms.)

    2. In order to cut in any of those three areas, you will need a political coalition, since the President doesn’t get to declare tax cuts on his/her own (at least not yet). Explain how you would forge this coalition, and the interest groups that would comprise this coalition.

    Thank you.

  9. JS:

    I like the model of Singapore’s tax structure. That being said, I don’t believe in not paying taxes. I believe that everyone should pay tax at the same rate. I’m being discriminated against by having to pay taxes at a higher rate. than others Even though I derive much of my income from capital gains, I still have income highly taxed as earned income. I believe that social security and medicare should be taxed at the present rate.

    I would like to pay a flat tax of 10% and have everyone else pay the same rate. I would like the elimination of estate taxes, as that money has already been taxed when it was earned. I would like to see the capital gains tax eliminated. The earned income credit should be eliminated as it’s a forced transfer of wealth. Progressive tax rates punish success.

    As for a balanced budget, I have never embraced one. Government isn’t business and should be run at a loss. Government debt has a very important place in the scheme of things. Business, especially insurance companies, banks, and pension funds need to lend their money to the government and get a guaranteed return in the form of T-Bonds, T-Bills, and T-Notes. Government debt is a kind of barometer, and is the safest investment there is.

    As for a coalition to lower taxes, there’s a plurality of businessmen(the people who pay the taxes) in this country who will sign on.

    As for making Ford profitable,that would be pretty easy to do. Since the market cap is so low on F(today’s close $6.31, market cap 12 billion and change), sell off the company’s hard assets to Toyota(and have them assume the pension liabilities), and invest the proceeds in US treasuries. Ford would then turn into a giant savings bond, but would earn a profit.

    Describing something using the exact science of economics would be difficult, as economics is a grey area somewhere between an art and a science. I’m not an economist, as I just trade for a living. When I need a real economic opinion that matters, I hire a specialist to answer my question. Even then, I take the advice with a grain of salt.

    Hope that helps answer your question.


  10. Jeff:

    You answered pieces of what I was asking, but not the big picture stuff about which I should have been more explicit. And the Ford thing wasn’t useful, because I was simply using Ford as an example of how cost cutting in low-budget areas isn’t useful.

    Here’s my problem with the pie-in-the-sky tax cutters, Jeff: They never seem to actually have a plan that has a snowball’s chance of working. The questions I asked were meant to elicit some sort of workable plan from you, and that didn’t happen.

    So, let me try again.

    If we can both agree that a budget deficit that eats up 100% of all tax dollars in debt service is a bad thing, then the question becomes: “How many tax dollars should be spent in debt service?” I believe the current number is somewhere in the 33% range, so one out of three tax dollars are spent on paying debt.

    Now, it seems to me that, if one is going to propose any sort of tax reform, the first question would be, “How much money do we need to run the government, and will this tax plan provide those dollars?” There are issues of “fairness” (whatever the #@$% that is) in the tax code, as well, but that question, to my mind, must come after the basic one I just put forward.

    To answer the first part of the question, one has to have broad agreement from the electorate on how the government should spend money. To the best of my knowledge, there are only three large pots that are material to the conversation: Social Security, Medicare, and the military. Debt service is a fixed and given cost. So far, we have no such political agreement. Until there is one, we can’t even figure out how much money we need.

    The second part of the question, then, must start with the current budget. In other words, will any tax scheme yield enough to fund current programs, pay debt, and keep the debt within manageable bounds.

    Then, and only then, if we are to cut spending, the pie-in-the-sky guys need to explain exactly, and I mean exactly, how they intend to build a political coalition that will allow them to cut either or all of SS, Medicare, and the military, AND they need to explain exactly how such cuts will affect the economy in the short- and long-terms.

    Finally, what amount of debt is manageable? For instance, a depresssion might reduce tax revenues to the point that 50% of all dollars go to debt service, leaving nothing for stimulus without, you guessed it, increasing the debt even more, and maybe even drastically. When does the debt make it impossible for the US to remain a world power, let alone a superpower, with all the benefits that status brings to American business?

    So, let me rephrase this: Can you provide us with a well-considered tax plan that has a chance of working?

  11. JS:

    First off, I think that the size of the government should be drastically reduced. Government should limit itself to the things it does better than what the private sector could do, such as military and the space program. Cut out the welfare, the entitlements, the subsidies of both rich and poor, the pork, the no bid contracts, most of the civil service, half of the agencies. Privatize, privatize, privatize. Cut the government’s size in half…….eliminating redundancies will accomplish much of this.

    Why does the government grow bigger even in poor economic times? That makes no sense to me. If we have to suffer, so should the government. If there’s a depression, the government should shrink. As you see, I have an adversarial relation with the government, mainly from a tax point of view.

    As far as your question of whether I can provide you with a well-considered tax plan….No, I can’t do that, but then again nobody in Washington can either. I can say that our current tax structure stinks, and that’s quantifiable, not anecdotal. It rewards debt, punishes thrift, success, and stifles economic growth. Our tax code costs people a sizable precentage of their income just to comply, and get all the paperwork done. I have to defend myself every year to the IRS, and that costs me a lot of money even though I report 100% of all income. They nickel and dime me on deductions, and don’t even have the faintest understanding of how to tax some of the income I earn from some of my more exotic trades. The IRS rules by fiat, and I end up going to tax court to fight on a yearly basis, even though I’m right. I don’t know about you,but taxes for me are a gut wrenching burden. I have to pay estimated quarterly taxes, in which they always say I’m lowballing and attach an underpayment fine to that. I have to file my April return and reconcile all of my financial activities. Then I end up writing a huge check on the 15th, and get a deficiency notice about 6 months later….after I’ve already written two huge estimated quarterly checks for the next year. Right now, the IRS still hasn’t finished with my 2005 return(with 06 and 07 waiting in the wings),and I will still end up having to pay more and more.

    I would actually like to see the government adopt a VAT, and eliminate the income tax all together.

    As far as how much debt is managable, I think that our current debt is a little high, but expressed as a percentage of GDP, isn’t too bad. I don’t know how much debt is managable(The central bankers don’t know either), but when I find that the debt is unmanagable, I’ll short bonds, bills, the dollar, and go long hard assets.

    Have you ever gone through a full blown audit, found deficient, and told that you had 29 days to cough up a million bucks and change? It’s not a good feeling.


  12. Damn, Jeff. You know, my dad’s not a trader, but he’s got the whole quarterly taxes issue due to his investments. He’s been audited three times by the IRS, and each time he and my mother convinced them that they’d overpaid and got money back. I think the IRS has learned not to audit my parents.

    Just a little history – my dad ran companies for a living until age discrimination caught up with him, but he was trained as an accountant. He was never a CPA, but knew more about accounting after not having done it for 15 years than most CPAs with 20 years of experience, and he caught his company’s CFO(s) in errors (and in falsifying the books too – that was his last full time job before going to consulting) more than once. He now lives on Social Security and Medicare (which, if it were up to me, he probably would be too wealthy to qualify for) plus income from his investments. I’m proud to say that he taught me more about how to be a good manager via osmosis sitting around the dinner table as a family than most MBAs I know.

    That last fact scares the hell out of me, when I realize that an MBA is pretty much required to work as a manager these days. If I, an introvert with good coping skills and no management experience, know more about managing people than most MBAs, that can’t bode well for the future.

  13. Jeff:

    Thanks for the honesty. I, too, pay quarterly taxes. I have owned my own business for more than 10 years. Part of my business consists of cleaning up other people’s messes, usually caused by ill-considered “concepts.” Do I like the IRS? No. Do I like the paperwork? No. I don’t know of anyone who does.

    Jeff, I’m not going to buy anything you say on this matter until you provide a detailed plan, complete with defensible economic projections, and including (and most important, here) a plan to bring together a political coalition to make your plan actually work. Until then … excuse me … it’s only so much pipe-dreaming.

    Sorry. I’ve just been burned too many times by “concepts” and “values.” I tend to look for things that actually work.

  14. JS: Sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t provide a fair plan,and don’t think anybody in Washington can either. As far as my economic projections, due to the nature of my business, that information remains proprietary. As far as bringing a political coalition together, I have neither the expertise nor the inclination to do so.

    We both share the same need for looking at things that work, The nature of my business requires me to find things that work, all the time. What you are asking me to project is like asking a woodcarver to perform brain surgery because he knows how to use a knife.

    As far as not buying what I say….I’m pretty used to that over here.

    You said that you don’t like the IRS…..what’s the worst thing they ever nailed you on. I’m sure you’ve spilled some blood before.


  15. Jeff:

    My business is pretty simple, since it’s consulting: cash in, cash out. Some years ago, I got into trouble on the FLSA regarding overtime pay and classification, but I won that one. But, really, the IRS doesn’t come after me because it’s so easy to prove expenses, and that’s really the only issue. No inventory, no capital gains (other than investments), no tax credits.

    BTW, I wasn’t asking you to actually bring a coalition together. I just wanted you to explain how you were going to cut the big items with a plan. Frankly, I see no way to do this.

  16. Brian: On the subject of MBAs…

    I’ve been fortunate to work with some damned fine ones. But I have to say that the smart MBAs I know are badly outnumbered by the monkey-with-a-briefcase crowd. The worst is working in a company where people automatically assume that only MBAs are competent to make important decisions. Worse, not only are non-MBAs not qualified to have business opinions, but MBAs are automatically assumed to know more about communication issues than people who’ve been doing it their whole careers.

    Yeah, that was a bad professional experience….

  17. Dr Slammy:
    Whenever an MBA would show up on the floor of the exchange to trade, we’d gleefully welcome into our little pit, then strip him of all the cash he had. This isn’t anecdotal, but there has never been a net profitible trader with an MBA at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange.

    JS: The consulting business sounds pretty good, having no inventory and costs of carry. I’ve read your other posts describing your business, will admit that you know your stuff.

    I get offers all of the time to work on trading desks, and turn them down, as I freeze if I trade money that’s not my own. I’d never be able to be a consultant as everybody expects trading advice for free…I laugh at that one.


  18. Jeff:

    Thanks for the compliment. That means a lot, coming from you.

    I’ll think you’ll note a common thread in my posts that most issues are systemic, and require systemic interventions. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked to do something for an organization that was just downright harmful because all the factors weren’t aligned. I’ve been through every buzzword phase of the past 25 years and fought, usually unsuccessfully, for a measure of sanity in managing very large organizations without resorting to buzzwords.

    Hmmm. Buzzwords. We were talking about MBAs, weren’t we?

  19. My buddy works for a large corporation, and he says that there’s a new buzzword going around that I got a kick out of. Have you ever heard of the buzzword “Impactful?” That’s one helluva word.


  20. Yeah. I’ve heard the word *retch*. Heck, I can remember when “impact” was still just a verb, and we used the word “affect” instead. For that matter, I can remember when “use” used to be the word of choice before “utilize” came into fashion.

    But those words are just silly. The really harmful ones are ones like “empowerment,” “excellence,” “quality black belt,” “employees are our greatest assets” and the like.

    THere is no lack of pure BS in American business.

  21. Correction to above: I remember when “impact” was still just a noun, before the verbicide.

  22. How does everyone feel about his ties to Metanoia. Does he believe that gay people can and should turn straight? What is the deal with him and Donnie McClurkin, who claims he is no longer gay but has changed to become a straight man? Is Donnie McClurkin tied to Metanoia or not? If not, why does Obama have ties with both. Once confronted by this from the gay community, he decided to stay away from the church who was affiliated with Metanoia and also endorsed Obama. Does everyone know this in the gay community?