Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why I became an "Obamabot"

Sometimes I think about what goes into a decision about whether or not to support a political candidate. It seems to me that many of us argue about this without ever acknowledging all the factors that go into that decision. The fact is that people prioritize these factors differently, but that is rarely taken into consideration.

Since Barack Obama was elected president, his critics on both the left and right often accuse his defenders of engaging in blind support of him no matter what he does. They call us Obamabots. I'd like to suggest that is because they think we support the President solely based on his position on issues. I'm here to say that's not the case for me.

There is a lot of truth in the old adage: If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary. That's what allows Democrats to consider FDR one of our greatest presidents, even though he is responsible for the Japanese internment camps. Its also why I never wavered in my support of Paul Wellstone - even when he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act.

But beyond an acceptance of the fact there there is never going to be a candidate who aligns with me perfectly on every issue, there's something else that comes into play in my decision about whether or not to support a candidate/politician. Even more important to me are factors like: what are their values, what is their decision-making process, and what kind of person are they?

I often find that this one is politically incorrect to talk about. But to take a stark example, what concerns me most is having a sociopath like Dick Cheney or Newt Gingrich anywhere close to the White House. Less extreme, but still serious, is the prospect of a president who is volatile emotionally (John McCain) or who lacks any curiosity (George W. Bush).

Another consideration involves the fact that no matter how we've lined up the issues and weighed our priorities, they rarely match up completely with what a politician will actually face in office. For example, if you were trying to decide who to support in the 2008 presidential primaries, would you have guessed that the person who won would have to deal with an Arab Spring in the Middle East? In 2000 was your decision based on how a candidate would respond to 9/11? Not unless you are a really good clairvoyant.

In this regard, I often think about how President Obama talks about the fact that the "easy decisions" never reach his desk. If there is an obvious right and wrong, someone else usually makes the call before it gets to him. What a president is faced with is making choices between hard alternatives that often come down to bad and worse (ie, Syria). Or between high risk good and low risk neutral/bad.

For example, think about what faced President Obama when Scott Brown was elected and the Democrats lost the super majority in the Senate. The story is that almost everyone in his administration counseled him to drop health care reform and try to piecemeal some solutions with Republicans. He rejected that advice and decided to go for the whole enchilada. And he got it done! Knowing where candidate Obama stood on the issues wouldn't help you understand how he made that call. But it was one of the most important of his presidency.

I remember very well the moment I decided that I was going to go "all in" with Barack Obama. It wasn't because he was any better on the issues than the other candidates in the 2008 primaries. I decided to support him when I learned about how he was running his campaign from folks like Zach Exley. It was a true bottom-up approach. And yes, it was built on the foundation of Respect, Empower, Include. Those are the things I'd been looking for in candidates since I was so profoundly moved as a child by the words of John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

After I made that decision, I watched and learned about his inclusive approach to decision-making,  his ability to focus on a North Star and see the long game, his pragmatic approach that rejects both cynicism and idealism, his tendency to be the counter-puncher, the fact that he thinks before he speaks, the way he values empathy and engages in deep listening, his ability to publicly admit mistakes and move on and yes...the fact that he is completely devoted to his wife and daughters.

Barack Obama is not perfect. Sometimes he gets things wrong and sometimes his strategies fail to accomplish his goals. He is a human being who has taken on what I believe is the toughest job on the planet. What I've identified here is why I usually give him the benefit of the doubt when I don't understand what he's doing or where he's trying to go. I don't "blindly" support him on the issues. That kind of assumption is way too black and white in its approach for my taste. It has more to do with the fact that he shares my values, is profoundly intelligent and is one of the most emotionally mature people I've ever seen in politics.

Because of all that, when I find myself disagreeing with him on an issue, my approach is to first try to understand rather than critique. As I do that, most often I find much more nuance and perspective on the issues than I had originally seen. When making a tough call, nuance and perspective are pretty important ingredients to incorporate. If that makes me a blind be it.


  1. I fully supported the president after reading Dreams of My Father, this was about the time of the South Carolina Primary in 2008, and realized that he wanted to change the way politics was working in Washington. He wanted to bring it back to the government working for"we The People" not the other way around. Our economy was only working for the top percent of the country for a long time. People who worked for a living in the public sector were getting screwed, since Reagan changed the tax laws favorable to the corporations.

  2. I think those who are most likely to scream "Obamabot" are those who look on what you say here and all they see is an argument to follow a leader based on their personality, not on what they actually do while in office.

    I would argue, in contrast, that what I look for is a whole package of not just policy positions but also the reasoned (and yes, moral) path by which they come to those conclusions. It's not simply personality OR policy, it's both.

    1. I think personality (or even better, values) is where the policies initiate. That's why its a priority for me.

  3. Integrity, shared values and intelligence would be my three top qualities and maybe in that order. Obama's ability to play the long game from a political standpoint has befuddled his enemies time and time again. He is not perfect and I have certainly not agreed with all his policy decisions. However, I have trusted him to act in the country's best interests and given him the benefit of the doubt when necessary since he obviously knows more than I do about the issues facing this country. I don't know how many times I have said that I would put my money on the skinny black kid from Chicago. So yeah, I guess I am proud to call myself an Obamabot. I am a pragmatic progressive and I believe he is too.

  4. This has been the way I have looked at politicians too. I hate the quote "A guy you want to have a beer with". It was so annoying with GWB because he was a teetotaler. There is no way you can predict what might happen that the president has control over.

    1. I think GWB fell off the wagon during his second term (see Seoul Olympics), but that's neither here nor there... Anyway, I agree that the "one of us" appeal as only criterion for the selection of a candidate is rather scary. I remember my ditziest student in 2008 writing that she supported Sarah Palin because she "identified with her." That's *exactly* why I didn't want SP anywhere near the White House...

      I like having a president who comes across as a nice person and has a functional personal life. However, competence is more important.

    2. If you think I was talking about supporting PBO because he's "a nice person" or because he "has a functional personal life," then I'm afraid you missed the whole point of this post.

    3. P.S. Sociopaths are almost always extremely "competent."

  5. @ReasonVsFear from Twitter here... I really appreciate this article. I still remember very clearly the day I finally realized that I wanted to vote for Barack Obama. It was when the Clinton campaign went negative. Up to that point, things had been pretty mellow. I turned on the TV to see Obama's response. Tired, weary of negativity, and sickened by the thought that two people I admired were turning on each other.... that was the day he brushed off his shoulder. No negative words, no vitriol... just brush it off, put your head down and keep moving forward. I nearly fell out of my chair.

    THAT. Just that moment of refusing to go negative... I'd never seen a politician do that before, but then I don't think Barack Obama is the typical politician. He actually cares about making a difference.

    It revitalized me, as did the story of him helping the woman at the airport some years ago.... especially after I realized his campaign could have hyped it to the skies, but chose not to. No bragging, just policy discussions and positive momentum.

    One note: No matter which Democrat won the primaries, they would have had my full support in the general election, and that is how it will always be for me. I keep hearing "more and better" but the time to search for "better" is in the primaries. During general elections, "MORE!!" has to be the key, in my opinion.

    Love this blog.... :) I don't comment often, but I appreciate your work a great deal. Thank you!

    1. Sooooo beautifully stated. Thank you!!!!

    2. Thanks very much! I love your blog, and there are several of us who share your posts with each other. We SO appreciate what you do!


  6. I knew Barack Obama really "got it" was when he said in his 2008 acceptance speech, "[The Republicans] make a big election about small things." He, unlike other Democrats, wasn't going to let the GOP distract his campaign -- or his governance -- with small things.


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