There are two significant reasons why I am working to elect Barack Obama President of the U.S.
The first is the convergence of crises confronting our nation that have made this election so important. To put it bluntly, the Bush Administration’s recklessness, neglect, and stubborn adherence to ideology in the face of reality has created a mess at home and abroad. The results are everywhere in evidence.
From the chaos created in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the near-complete unraveling of peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, to the shameful abandonment of Lebanon—the impact of Bush policy is all too clear. Add to this the stains of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the repeated callous disregard of international law and conventions, and the result, demonstrable in our polling, is a dangerous reduction in American standing, putting us at greater risk.
At home, as well, real damage has been done. Reckless tax cuts, the lack of stewardship of our economy and environment; and the disregard for the needs of our citizens, so evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—have all shaken the confidence of the American people in our most basic institutions. Today, less than one in five Americans believe the country is on the right track, and even fewer have confidence that those in charge know what to do about it. The sad truth is that, for the first time in our history, many middle-class Americans lack confidence that their children will be able to realize the American dream.
The other reason that has motivated my involvement this year is the person of Barack Obama, and the promise he holds to make real change in our country and our world.
Hearing Barack Obama speak at the Democratic Convention in 2004 (especially his eloquent identification with the civil liberties of Arab Americans) moved me. Reading his life story inspired me. And meeting him convinced me of his extraordinary leadership qualities. I found him to be thoughtful, inherently balanced, and committed to reasoned discourse and problem solving.
Of course, I’ve also had disagreements. However, in all the years I’ve been in politics, I’ve never met a candidate more knowledgeable about the world, more committed to enhancing his knowledge, and more determined to get it right.
Barack Obama is, as I noted, inherently balanced. He is, for example, deeply committed to Israel’s security; but he is also the first presidential candidate to tell a Jewish audience that the adoption of an “unwavering pro-Likud [position] can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel;” and he has told Arab American audiences, “As President, I will make a personal commitment to work toward ending the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, and realize the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security. This is important to Arab Americans, it is important to American Jews, and it is important to me.”
Equally impressive as his global outlook and understanding is the extraordinary and effective political movement he has built. He has not only inspired millions, he has organized and mobilized them into the most effective and transformational grassroots political movement in a generation.
Yet, let’s also be clear that with a Barack Obama presidency the real problems facing America and the world will not go away. His election will not erase the damage done by eight years of neglect and reckless behavior. Our economy will still be in tatters, our civil liberties at risk, and out electorate deeply divided, and serious problems will remain in the Middle East and beyond. But, as they say, “When you’re in hole and want to get out, the first thing to do is stop digging.” From everything we’ve seen, John McCain only promises to keep digging, while Barack Obama is will stop and work to find the way out.
Early on in this campaign, Hillary Clinton used a TV commercial with the White House emergency phone ringing at 3a.m., and an announcer asking, “It’s 3a.m. and your children are safe and asleep, who do want answering the phone?” When given the choice between John McCain and Barack Obama, the answer is all too clear: I want Obama, since I know he will act thoughtfully, with deliberateness and foresight.
Better still, I’ve also thought of the day the next president flies to the Arab world. The plane lands and the doors open, and I’ve asked, “Who do I want walking down the steps of Air Force One?” Here too, the answer is all too clear. I want it to be Barack Obama because of what his election will say about how we Americans see ourselves, and how the world will see us, as well.