With the advent of a new election finally approaching the nation, an excessive amount of uncertainty has leaked into the air. What with the silence of establishment kingmakers on both ends of the political spectrum and the only-recent dwindling of the dizzying number of candidates, it seems we are a long way away from certainty about who will be fighting for the mantle of President when November arrives. On the right, John McCain and Mitt Romney are engaged in a statistical dead heat, with Romney frantically trying to convince us that his rival really is a donkey in elephant’s clothing, while McCain desperately sneers about Romney’s ghastly tergiversations, both real and imaginary. Meanwhile, on the left, Barack Obama urgently attempts to fill the ruby slippers of change as he faces deadly combat against Hillary Clinton’s arsenal of establishment flying monkeys.
Faced with two such interesting races, a minor student of politics such as myself has only one option: endorse someone on both sides. Therefore, for what it’s worth, the two candidates whom I would most like to see inaugurated in January of 2009 are Romney and Obama.
Since most of Wesleyan swings to the left politically, I shan’t spill too much ink explaining my attraction to Romney; it probably will not influence anyone’s vote in the upcoming primaries. What Romney offers is the vision of a new type of political management: management focused towards results and efficiency, rather than towards misguided intentions and empty promises. He is the ultimate realistic conservative, which is a welcome relief after the utterly unrealistic presidency which we have been enduring for almost eight years—with its adherence to nation-building that echoes more Lyndon Baines Johnson than Barry Goldwater, and its revolting adherence to dangerous and oxymoronic concepts such as “compassionate conservatism.” Romney promises to sweep away this bloated nightmare, with the glorious wails of unemployed federal bureaucrats and the rejoicing of liberated enterprise following in his wake. Judges appointed by Romney would at last lay the specter of the Warren Court to rest and drive a stake through the heart of incoherent constitutional fanfiction like Roe v. Wade. These are all reasons for those few conservatives reading this column to support Mr. Romney.
Now, to the more important question, which is why a committed right-winger like myself finds Obama so appealing. The first reason is purely personal: I should like to be able to show the author of a particularly obnoxious write-in-vote in the last Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) election that I am not, in fact, a racist, and that ze had better come up with a better epithet than that from now on. However, my personal grievances about the ignorance of certain of my peers notwithstanding, there is one serious reason why not only I, but every student on this campus, whether conservative or liberal, should find Obama appealing.
As of now, it is fairly obvious that Obama faces an uphill battle both when it comes to securing the nomination and when it comes to securing the presidency. I won’t deny that my inner Karl Rove cackles rather gleefully whenever I examine Obama’s legislative record and think of the attack ads that could be run. However, whatever my political instincts say about Obama, my heart and head both find him appealing for reasons that have nothing to do with electability. Obama represents a dream—a dream that even my cold, shriveled conservative heart finds difficult to deny—a dream of transcending partisanship.
By that, I don’t mean to endorse the notion of a one-party state, which is what the phrase is usually code for. I welcome and accept the fact that vigorous political debate is embedded in American public life. However, I absolutely reject the idea that the poisonous, irrelevant personal invective spewed by the likes of Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly is a necessary component of that vigorous debate. Debate should be about ideas, principles and policies, not about whom Candidate X slept with, or about which word Candidate Y mispronounced or about which offensive ethnic slur Candidate Z said while drunk in college. The cackling of liberals in response to Bush’s verbal slips and the sneering of conservatives in response to Clinton’s penchant for interns are equally offensive to my ears as a form of debate—not because such attacks are harsh, but because they are irrelevant. Worse yet is the fact that people who disagree with each other politically seem to also despise each other personally. I— as well as most of the nation, I suspect—yearn for a return to the days when Ronald Reagan could go out for drinks with Tip O’Neill after the latter had just denounced him in the House of Representatives.
Which brings me to Obama. Obama recently drew a lot of fire for citing Reagan as an inspiration, and while his statement suggests that the only similarity between himself and Reagan is the desire for reform, the fact that Obama could mention a Republican in a positive light illustrates that he is capable of recognizing great political leadership of the political agenda of the leader. While I have no illusions that Obama’s political agenda would resemble Reagan’s at all or that he would necessarily accept the objections of those of us who would prefer a Reaganesque agenda, I am somewhat confident that he would at least listen to those objections, which is more than I can say for either Clinton or Edwards. It is this capacity—the capacity to listen and to respectfully disagree with the other side—which Obama seems to offer in his promise to end partisanship. And both conservatives and liberals should rejoice because it offers them the prospect, not only of blindly fighting for the center, but also of actually changing minds through honest debate.
Finally, Obama has shown every sign of spurning partisanship in his campaign, in which he has consistently flown above the fray, despite the attacks of Billary Clinton. This persistent refusal to descend into the mud suggests that, if Obama does win the Democratic nomination, then we might be able to have a fight with honor, which is more than we’ve had for the past 16 years. And, if Obama manages to come out of that fight as our next president, then as Margaret Thatcher said of Mikhail Gorbachev: “We can do business.”