i disagree with everything you just said.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Courtney's letter to her parents about Obama.

Since this blog seems to have primarily become an outlet for publishing my lovely wife's occasional missives, here's the latest. An open letter to her parents, who live in suburban Atlanta, Georgia, urging them to vote for Obama. She writes:

"By popular demand, here is the letter I wrote to my parents about the election. Feel free to plunder & plagiarize if you think it will have any effect on your own family members."

Dear Mom & Dad,

I’m writing to explain to you why I am voting for Obama, and why I think you should too. Please read the whole thing.

I truly believe we are witnessing a sea change here in the U.S. and in the world. We are going to look back on the Bush Administration and mark those years as the beginning of the decline of the of the United States as the sole superpower. The EU is coming together and China and India are on the rise. New technology means they will advance more quickly than we can imagine. By the end of the next 8 years, politically and economically the world is going to look radically different than it does now – probably as big a reshuffling as the WWII Era.

That doesn’t mean we can’t still be a great country – France is still great, Great Britain is still great – but it does mean that we will need to start thinking about our place in the world in a different way. We need to earn back the respect of the world; we need to start being good citizens of the world; we need to work with everyone else instead of expecting them to take our lead, because we are no longer the shining example. Perhaps you still think, “So what? We are the United States – the greatest nation on Earth – and we will do whatever we want.” To that I ask, is that YOU? In your daily life, you obey laws, you work, you try to take care of your children and do the best for those around you – you are a good citizen. So why should we be any different as a nation?

We need a President that recognizes that the world is changing, and will be thoughtful in his approach. McCain will not be that President – he’s proud to be a “maverick” who answers to no one. Would Obama be that President? I think he would. He’s thoughtful and recognizes the complexity of the issues in front of us in the coming years; he knows and says there are no easy answers; he surrounds himself with people who are experts in different areas and listens to their counsel; he believes the President should answer to every citizen. Just look at their choices of Vice Presidents as an indication of leadership style: McCain makes a cynical choice of an unprepared, dogmatic woman who he thinks will be accepted by a “base” he personally disdains, that Clinton supporters will flock to because she is female (what a crass evaluation of an entire gender), and who he can marginalize once in office. Palin is downright scary because she is so utterly unqualified and so anti-intellectual, and according to her, I don’t even live in the “real” America – I don’t count. This is the first major decision that McCain made as would-be President of the United States, and it does not bode well – it is a dangerous choice for all of us. On the other hand, Obama picks someone who is well-respected by both sides of the aisle, who has shepherded through important legislation like the Violence Against Women Act, which he sponsored, who is extremely well-versed in areas where Obama has less experience, and who expects to help govern and be a real advisor rather than a ceremonial token.

Dad, you told me that any politician is no different than any other and I was crazy to think otherwise. I think that is a cynical and sad position to occupy, and also is demonstrably untrue – public policies have a massive impact on employment, quality of living, economic growth, foreign relations, civic engagement, etc., and nothing influences the agenda like the Presidency. Every President in my lifetime has left an indelible imprint on the country – Reagan’s trickle-down economics and military buildup, GHW Bush’s “New World Order,” Clinton’s methodical deficit reduction and free trade pacts, GW Bush’s Iraq War and the Bush Doctrine. Simply put, Presidential priorities drive hundreds of billions of dollars, affecting millions of human lives. That matters.

Truly great leaders can inspire and create positive change. McCain is not that leader – he’s frittered away all the possibility and respect he used to have with the dispiriting cynicism of his campaign. Can Obama be that leader? I think he has a good chance. Just look at what he’s done with his campaign – he has inspired a generation that has historically been condemned as politically apathetic. I can’t turn around without someone I know (yeah, in California, but also in other states) inviting me to a fundraiser or a phone-banking party; making t-shirts and posters on their own; talking to their friends & family members in other states about why they should vote for Obama. He’s turned out record numbers for speeches. He’s received donations not only in record numbers of dollars, but in record numbers of people. And he knows how to get people involved: turning down public financing was a smart move because then he turned around and instead of courting the big donors, he asked millions of people who had never been politically involved to donate just $5, just $10. And now those millions of people have bought in – they have a vested interest. I think he’s shown he can inspire people to get involved, to CARE, and can do the same for the country. Which leads us to…

Technology. The youngest of my generation already use and integrate technology into the their lives in a more advanced way than I do; I can’t even imagine how my children will use it. This is another way that the world is fundamentally changing, and another example of how McCain just doesn’t get it and Obama does. Obama has used technology in unprecedented, very smart ways in this campaign. There is a section of his site that allows you to do volunteer phone-banking with your own phone and computer from home. His campaign released an iPhone app that updates you on all sorts of election news and even sorts your contacts by battleground states. There are more examples, all totally new in the electoral world. He *gets* it – he understands how technology is changing everything, not just how we buy plane tickets and books, but how we THINK. You might think this is a minor issue, but technology and our leadership on it is what will determine where we stand in the coming years, and in the last eight years we’ve already started to fall behind. Meanwhile, McCain proudly states he doesn’t know how to use email.

So how will an Obama administration use technology? With one technologist friend working for the campaign and several others deeply involved, we have some good insight into that. He’s been talking about creating a position for a Chief Technology Officer for the government to oversee broadband and data policy. The people he’s mentioned are all really smart people with a bent toward openness and equality of access. He’s asking what the government would look like if it had an API – feeds of raw government data that anyone could build applications on top of – to create REAL government transparency. It’s a bottom-up approach so that citizens can police the earmarks and spending, while McCain favors a top-down approach of the President going through the budget line by line. He’s asking what it would look like if there were a social network for citizens, so that everyone could register their interests and issues and more easily form groups to make their voices heard on the level that only lobbyists can now access. I cannot emphasize enough how important I think this approach is – Obama is really looking toward the future here with real understanding of the values of the new generation in a way that no politician in my lifetime has ever done.

The same goes with environmental issues – we are moving from a world where people think of recycling as something “those environmentalist people” do, to one where we cannot afford to continue to think about this as someone else’s issue. We’ve actually *been* in that world for a while, but our government has ignored it. The oil crisis of this summer was just the beginning, and even after that huge jump in gas prices we are still paying less per gallon than any industrialized nation outside the Middle East; we aren’t going back to the way it was. We HAVE to fundamentally change the way we live over the next couple of decades. McCain’s approach is stopgap and non-comprehensive; it’s like he’s saying, “We’ve gotten totally great at digging trenches and foxholes!” but we’ve entered the nuclear age and it just doesn’t matter. Obama says, Let’s build a new green economy. Let’s rethink and reinvest in our infrastructure. Let’s bring manufacturing back to the US and be a front-runner in all the new industries that will come out of this need to completely change the way we live, and use that to propel our economy. Is his plan perfect? Certainly not. But at least he seems to understand the enormity of the task, and that’s a good starting point. This is not really a choice we are going to have over the next decade or two if we want to retain any place in the world – it is an imperative.

The whole “tax and spend liberal” and “socialist” charges from the Right are just outdated ways of thinking about the issues. Obama has proposed some important new programs, and in addition to proposing cuts to offset their costs, they have the effect of creating millions of new jobs (energy plan), producing a more educated workforce (college tuition program), and fighting the skyrocketing costs of healthcare. But I don’t see him as someone who thinks the government is the answer to everything. Over and over in both words and policy he says that WE THE PEOPLE are the answer to everything, and that government’s role is to support The People in that execution of will. He consistently calls on citizens to get involved and make their country into what they want it to be, a far cry from the current administration, which asked us to go shopping and make no sacrifice. My generation has never been asked to sacrifice *anything* – no Victory Gardens for us – but I know we would be proud to do the work if we thought there would be an effect. You guys think I am not proud of my country, but really I just feel disconnected from it. I look forward to a leader who could point the way to that pride and ownership that you’ve had the opportunity to feel in your lives.

As far as taxes go, all Obama’s proposal really does is roll back the Bush tax breaks on the wealthy, which I think we can agree at this point didn’t really work out the way they were supposed to (or, perhaps they did, unfortunately.) Yesterday two independent analyses came out that show that Obama’s plan cuts more taxes than McCain’s for the middle class (see http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/31/us/politics/31taxes.html). I don’t have a huge problem with taxes for people who make more than a quarter million a year going back to Clinton-era levels, and for most of those people we are talking a difference of a couple thousand dollars. It’s a huge difference to you and me, and a huge difference to the government in aggregate, but it’s not a huge difference to someone with a $500K annual income. And let me tell you – I was hanging out with a bunch of those people at a conference last weekend (actually $500K probably doesn’t come close to a lot of them) and as far as I could tell, they are ALL voting for Obama because they think he will be better for the economy and better for business and better for the future of this country than McCain.

Francis Fukuyama was a leading neo-conservative that had a change of heart after the failure of the Iraq invasion. He just endorsed Obama in The American Conservative:
"At a time when the U.S. government has just nationalized a good part of the banking sector, we need to rethink a lot of the Reaganite verities of the past generation regarding taxes and regulation. Important as they were back in the 1980s and '90s, they just won't cut it for the period we are now entering. Obama is much better positioned to reinvent the American model and will certainly present a very different and more positive face of America to the rest of the world."

(More here: http://www.amconmag.com/article/2008/nov/03/00020/)

I know you have some uneasiness with electing a black man as President, given your experience with local & Georgia politics. I just keep wondering: if he has a white mother and a black father, why is he black instead of black and white? Why would he have the interests of one group over the other? Might he in fact be the perfect person to understand the reality of the incredibly complex issues around race in this country? To finally help move us beyond the suspicion and resentment and fear, and into a post-racial future? I think he can be. I think conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan puts it well: he says Obama’s election would be “A body blow to racial identity politics. An end to the era of Jesse Jackson in black America.”

More from the conservative Sullivan:
“If you believe that America's current crisis is not a deep one ... if you believe that today's ideological polarization is not dangerous, and that what appears dark today is an illusion fostered by the lingering trauma of the Bush presidency, then the argument for Obama is not that strong.

“But if you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead, and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes. Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution. Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary. At a time when America's estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind's spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.”

(The whole thing is here: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200712/obama/)

So here it is:

The politics of your generation is giving way to the politics of mine. The WORLD of your generation is giving way to mine, and the one my children will live in. The changes are so fundamental that everything that has gone before does not count; politics as usual is gone, and the United States of your childhood is on the wane. So I ask that when you go to vote you think not just of yourselves, and not even of me, but rather think of your grandchildren and the world they will inherit, and vote for the candidate that is looking ahead to that world. And I believe that man is Barack Obama.


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Blogger David Wertheimer said...

This is a lovely piece and very useful. (He has my vote, and my parents' too.)

It is worth noting in the racial context, however, that Obama has chosen to define himself as a black man. That's why he married an African-American woman, attends a predominantly black church, etc. Take a look at this transcript with Obama's sister in which she talks about her own self-identification as a mixed-race Hawaiian and how it differs from Barack's. It's his identity, and it does affect the conversation accordingly.

10/31/2008 12:23 PM

Blogger Ben said...

Dear sister,
Having talked to Mom and Dad about this plenty, I can tell you that his being black has little to do with their decision not to vote for him. And, while I don't feel like knocking down your points one by one because it would take forever, you have some serious errors. For one, if you ever paid attention to Palin beyond her initial break on to the national scene, you realize how foolish you are to call her anti-intellectual. She's a smart lady, and had you done to high school with her, you would have seen her in many of your AP and Honors classes. Biden is jsut as much a part of DC as McCain, so to say that McCain means staying the same, and Biden is all about change is kind of ridiculous. And Biden doesn't even know the simple facts of history that a self-professed constitutional scholar should know.

Let's talk soem real issues. Recent estimates put the total of Obama's proposed new spending measures minus his new revenues at nearly half a billion dollars. In other words, he's planning to spend way more than he's going to take in, even if he does tax the rich at 50% or whatever. And is that liberty? If someone takes half of whatever I earn, I'm not a free person, I'm a slave of the state. And that's not the sort of country I want to live in.

There are just so many ethically-challenging things with Obama that everyone wants to ignore. His associations with many people who are definitely socialist, people who are in jail for corruption, people directly related to the sub-prime mess, things he has said, and then said something different to a different group, the thuggish and threatening way his campaign has gone after folks who try to shine the light on what's going on, their manual deactivation of even the simplest credit card verification checks for their campaign donations, which has allowed them to take who knows how many millions in ILLEGAL donations from both foreigners and people who already hit the legal limit. And that from a guy who previously promised to take only public campaign financing.

There's only so many unethical instances I can take before I start thinking the candidate might be unethical himself, but you seem willing to overlook so much in the name of what? Hope? Hope for what? A man who is a cipher, someone who will be whatever you want them to be. Ask any random 10people about Obama's stance on an issue, and you'll get 10 different answers.

10/31/2008 12:47 PM

Blogger Courtney said...

Anyone who would like to argue with my brother might like to do so here: http://ben.sleepingfeet.com/.
But be nice! He's still my brother and I love him :-)

And Benjamin - I didn't say Palin wasn't smart, I said she was anti-intellectual. I think she is plenty smart enough to be really really scary.

10/31/2008 1:24 PM

Blogger Jish said...

I'll be passing around a link to this. Thanks!

10/31/2008 1:37 PM

Blogger Todd Siegel said...

Stunningly strong letter/essay, Courtney. Thank you for your care and thoughtfulness - and writing skill. I feel compelled to forward this personal expression at will. Adult children helping to break their parents seemingly hardwired cognitive patterns is the master key.

10/31/2008 1:46 PM

Blogger timbotheking said...

I like your point that the America of our parents is giving way to OUR America. It's an interesting thought. I'll have to run that past my Mom and Dad and see what they think.

10/31/2008 2:40 PM

Blogger Cortney said...

Court -
This is a really wonderful, well written letter that makes a very strong case for Obama and remains heartfelt without being sentimental. I will certainly make sure to pass the message along to those who need to hear it.


11/01/2008 3:47 PM


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