Today, Senator Pat Leahy from Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and all-around awesome guy, endorsed Barack Obama for President.
If they made Senate baseball cards, Leahy's would be the one I'd never trade. This is the guy who did his best to make Alberto Gonzales cry when he testified last year. (In the end, he only humiliated him. I'll take it.) This is the guy who worked hardest to get to the bottom of not only the US Attorney firing scandal, but also the illegal wiretapping program, and the more recent torture tape destruction scandal. This is the guy who made Dick Cheney so mad that the face-shooting VP from Texas was helpless against the urge to instruct Leahy to "Go fuck [him]self". Put another way, Leahy's smart, dedicated, and he's on our side.
Obama's got a lot of endorsements, but Leahy's, along with Bill Bradley's endorsement (my pick in 2000), and John Kerry's endorsement, mean a lot to me. After all it was John Kerry who, when advised by Bill Clinton in the waning days of the 2004 campaign to support some of the anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballot in various states, said flatly "no." Did he want to win the White House? Yes. But did he want to become a calculating, hypocritical prick to get there? No, and how admirable it was that he didn't. Kerry was the only guy I heard of before or since who believes, and has said out loud, that our "war" on terrorism isn't a war in the conventional sense, as Bush and Co. seem to believe, but a battle against a vast criminal enterprise. When someone who's that forthright and honest tells me how to cast my vote, I listen up. When Kerry AND Leahy want the same guy to be in the White House, that's hard to vote against.
I also believe that Al Gore, if he were free to endorse any of the Democratic candidates without fear of widening a rift between himself and the Clintons, would endorse Obama for President. And I know that endorsement means a lot to a lot of Democrats who don't know who's who in the Senate.
As we move through the primary season I feel like in order to be a good citizen I have to continue to weigh the evidence for and against the three candidates to make sure I'm not being too naive in my support of Obama. Even though every time I see Obama, whether it's in a debate, or in an interview, or in a speech, I like what I see. But these contrary voices keep sounding on the periphery, trying to change my thinking. For instance, liberal NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman has made a habit of penning very cogent anti-Obama columns, accusing him of being either too nice to fight the battles to be fought, or that he's to the right of the other candidates, which is every liberal's worst fear: electing a closet conservative. When writing about the candidates' plans to deal with the coming recession, Krugman had this to say about Obama:
"The Obama campaign’s initial response to the latest wave of bad economic news was, I’m sorry to say, disreputable: Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser claimed that the long-term tax-cut plan the candidate announced months ago is just what we need to keep the slump from “morphing into a drastic decline in consumer spending.” Hmm: claiming that the candidate is all-seeing, and that a tax cut originally proposed for other reasons is also a recession-fighting measure — doesn’t that sound familiar?"
Gets any red-blooded Obama supporter right where they live: suggesting Obama's like Bush. There has to be some reason the conservatives are holding their fire against him, right? There has to be something else there they like other than the smile, right? Maybe some policy, too? It's enough to make you paranoid. About the other two Dem candidates, Krugman says Hillary "knows what she's talking about" and Edwards:
"...has been driving his party’s policy agenda. He’s done it again on economic stimulus: last month, before the economic consensus turned as negative as it now has, he proposed a stimulus package including aid to unemployed workers, aid to cash-strapped state and local governments, public investment in alternative energy, and other measures."
Does Krugman have a pro-Clinton bias? Maybe, but I think he prides himself on his realpolitik outlook on the political landscape and thinks Clinton has the street-fighting chops to take on the Republicans, an Obama doesn't. And he probably has a point. But then I look at some of Obama's past votes and I swing back into his camp. Almost alone among Senate Democrats, Obama voted against the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts. Clinton voted for him. Obama also voted against confirmation of Samuel Alito, Attorney General Mike Mukasey, and against the current head of the CIA, Michael Hayden, because of his role in designing and implementing the illegal wiretapping program. What's not to like?
Voting came up in the recent Democratic debate in Las Vegas, and Obama came out quite well. Yes, he was opposed to the Iraq war while Clinton and Edwards voted for it, and yes that's evidence of his superior judgment, but Obama wasn't in the Senate then, so he didn't actually have a vote to defend. But on the big bankruptcy bill that went through Congress -- the sweetheart deal for credit card companies that made it that much harder for people to declare bankruptcy -- Edwards and Clinton both voted for it and had to defend their votes. Obama, by contrast, didn't have to apologize for yet another bad vote. He saw that bill for what it was back when it counted and voted no. I do think Clinton got some good, substantive licks in on Obama for a vote he cast for a big energy bill, "Cheney's energy bill" I think she called it, but I think Clinton's vote for the bankruptcy bill was the bigger mistake.
Now, I know this may only help to solidify Papadeas's opposition to Obama, but NY Times conservative columnist David Brooks made a good point about the difference between the top three Dem candidates in a column he wrote after the Democratic debate:
"The third thing that happened tonight is that Hillary Clinton and John Edwards disgraced themselves in the minds of debate-watchers everywhere. At some point in each campaign, candidates are asked to name their greatest weakness. Only the lamest political hacks answer that question this way: Goshdarn it, I just care too much. I am too impatient for good things to happen.
Watching that moment in the debate, I remember thinking how Edwards and Clinton had squandered a golden opportunity to be honest, or at least appear so. Instead, Edwards lamely chided himself for getting too emotional about some things, even though a week earlier he'd admonished Hillary Clinton for getting too emotional at the diner in New Hampshire. Not a good moment. And then Clinton missed out on a chance to further "humanize" herself by giving a transparently calculated answer that, even worse, had a subtle shot at Obama in it. And people wonder how she got a reputation as "calculating."
Giving that answer is an insult to the art of politics. And yet Edwards and Clinton both gave that answer. They didn’t even give artfully disguised versions of that answer. They gave the straight, unsubtle kindergarten version of that answer. Obama, honestly, admitted that he’s bad at organizing his paperwork. Truly, here is a man willing to stand for change."
I think that her politically sharp but generally tone-deaf answer to that question actually goes against the meme that Hillary is the most politically savvy of the three candidates. After seven years of a President who couldn't a.) give a straight answer to a question to save his life, or b.) think of a single mistake from his first term in office, I think the smart and politically savvy play in 2008 is for a candidate to be candid and open about past mistakes. Sen. Clinton doesn't want to be that candidate, and that's one of the main reason I'm not excited about her candidacy.
Obama's the guy.
And Obama wins a court battle in Nevada.
And Kucinich is a putz. And so are some of his supporters.
Anyway, that's long enough.