I used to be an undecided voter. It wasn’t a matter of not knowing who the candidates were. As a resident in Illinois, I’ve had the opportunity to vote for both John McCain and Barack Obama. Indeed, I have voted for both John McCain and Barack Obama in the past. A couple of weeks ago, I started putting down my thoughts on the decision I was making and why. What was important to me? I am not calling this an endorsement, so all fifteen of you who read this should make up your own mind. Nor am I looking for a blast of comments from one side or the other. By the time you read this, it will be too late. I will have made my decision and voted my conscience.
At the time, the nineties seemed an especially divisive time between Republicans and Democrats (little did we know what was to come). However, there seemed to be a few people on both sides who found they could work together and actually accomplish things. One of those people was John McCain. I remember reading about his experiences as a POW during the Vietnam War. I was very impressed he was the one who helped to normalize relations between the U.S. and the communist regime. Only Nixon could have gone to China; my belief is only McCain could have gone back to Vietnam. When the 2000 primaries came around, I felt John McCain was the most experienced of the presidential contenders on the Republican side. I was disturbed to hear the press reports of nasty campaigning in the south. I was more disturbed to hear it was working. McCain was on the Republican primary ballot here in Illinois. Though I knew it was a “lost cause”, he got my vote in 2000 against George W. Bush.
We’ve had some particularly nasty races for Senate seats here in Illinois. When I worked in radio, I covered a particularly icky one in 1992. I was happy to report the two major Democratic candidates both spent a ton of money smearing each other so badly that the candidate who had stayed above the fray ended up winning the primary and ultimately went to the Senate. Unfortunately, it turned out the only reason she had taken the high road was she didn’t have enough money to pave the low one. I helped to vote her out six years later. I had that in the back of my mind when the Senate race was heating up for 2004. Again, things looked really nasty and – frankly – I wasn’t looking forward to voting for any of them. A guy I worked with asked if I had considered Barack Obama. He was the “number three” guy on the Democratic ballot: not a lot of money, not a lot of exposure. But he happened to be at Union Station one morning when I was getting off the Metra and I joined a crowd around him and listened for a bit. The thing I liked was he answered the questions primarily from his standpoint. He thought he could do this. He thought he could do that. He really didn’t go on the attack like the other candidates. Well, that meant he was screwed. So I voted for him in the primary, assuming he was another “lost cause”. To my surprise, he won the primary. That summer, the Illinois Republican party decided to nuke itself out of existence in the most pathetic Senate run I have ever seen. Barack Obama went to the senate almost unopposed.
I didn’t pay all that much attention to the election coverage. The myriad of Republican and Democratic debates just depressed me. The Democrats blamed Bush (well, so did I, but that wasn’t going to fix anything). The Republicans seemed focused on – shall we say – non-governmental issues. With everything that was happening in the world, Evolution was their main concern? Gay marriage? Come on. The three main candidates – Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain – all seemed capable and intelligent and understood what the presidency was about. On the Democratic side, my primary concern with Hilary Clinton was the lightning rod effect she has on people. Love her or hate her, there are few people in the nation who don’t have some strong opinion about her. After almost a full generation of partisan firestorms, I just couldn’t see her bringing the country together the way it needs to be to move forward. That left Obama and McCain. I have to admit that I liked Obama because he represented Illinois. I was interested to see who they would pick as their running mate. I felt Joe Biden was a good choice because Obama realized he lacked experience in a lot of areas. I thought Sarah Palin was a choice in the style of Dan Quayle or Spiro Agnew, a calculated political gesture with little else to offer.
I honestly don’t listen much to the specifics of their various plans. Any tax plan will look different than what is proposed right now after being sent through Congress. I’m not particularly concerned about McCain’s age. The rest of the country may not have health care, but I can guarantee the president will be well taken care of. Palin may have just gobs of “executive experience”, but I doubt she will have much of a say in a McCain Administration. I don’t think Obama is a Muslim or a socialist. I do think his experience as an active member of the community can allow him to come with more creative solutions than McCain’s experience would suggest. I do believe you need to have some experience with the Washington bureaucracy. It’s not going anywhere; “less government” could be the punch line of a C-SPAN drinking game. I think Joe Biden is a better pick than Palin and will work with Congress like Al Gore did during the Clinton Administration. Bill Clinton understood you need someone to show you the ropes. He was able to come in as an “outsider” and get things accomplished. Jimmy Carter didn’t understand that and couldn’t even work with his own party. The future is a moving target and we require a measured and flexible response as events occur. I believe Barack Obama is better suited for this style of presidency.
So, that’s my road to the voting booth. I hope each and every one of you finds your own path to the polls on Tuesday (assuming you are eligible). It is my fervent hope that we can finally move beyond this campaign as a nation and focus our attention on what lies ahead.