I have been fascinated by politics for as long as I can remember. The first presidential campaign I recall thinking and talking about was in 1968 when I was 11 years old, though I had certainly read and talked about many. There was never any doubt that I would register to vote as soon as I was eligible and get involved.
My first political involvement was working for the 1976 campaign of Ronald Reagan. I’m not one of those Republicans for Obama, nor an Obamacon. In fact I have some difficulty understanding how conservatives decide to support Barack Obama. I support him because I have have become much less conservative, and the elements of conservatism that were important to me back then, especially fiscal conservatism, seem no longer to be of that much interest to Republicans and/or self-proclaimed conservatives. They talk, but they do not do.
Reagan’s 1980 campaign was a disappointment to me. I had already moved a bit to the left on social issues by that time, and Reagan was de-emphasizing his fiscal conservatism and proclaiming supply-side economics.
Barack Obama compared himself in a small way with Ronald Reagan early in the campaign and was criticized for it a great deal. It’s quite true that he is not Ronald Reagan. But there are some similarities in the campaigns and their progress. Many people, especially serious Republican operatives, could not understand us “Reagan Republicans” (I have never been a registered Democrat–I went from Republican to Independent). We had an incumbent president, and surely nobody would throw away that advantage over a newcomer. Reagan was new, unpredictable, dangerous in foreign policy. We couldn’t be sure what he would do.
Gerald Ford, on the other hand, was a known quantity, stable, certain, reliable, a “real” Republican. How could one not want him to continue in the presidency? He represented safety and reliability, things that conservatives (and Republicans in general) should surely want. These were folks, of course, who also thought that Nelson Rockefeller was just fine as well. It was establishment Republicanism.
All us young pups with fire in our eyes didn’t see things that way. You see, we thought Gerald Ford was doing a bad job, that things were not getting better. We didn’t think sticking with him was the same thing. If you’re on a river boat headed for the falls, the guy who’s steering straight for disaster just doesn’t appear all that safe! Some other, less experienced candidate, but one who at least intends to turn around seems much safer.
I also heard some of the same shock from people at Reagan’s victories, both his near success in 1976 and his victory in 1980. He was just an empty shell, they said, a good speaker, but he really didn’t understand what he was saying and doing. There was an effort both to portray him as untested and inadequately defined, and at the same time as espousing dangerous policies.
I see the same thing going on in this election. I am not one to trust the polls. I also don’t think people generally pay enough attention to the margin of error and the possibility of a poll simply being wild. Thus I’m not proclaiming victory. But I do know that many people right now are still quite stunned that so many people support Barack Obama. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Experience is an argument you use against someone you have already decided to oppose.
Obama can be both “dangerously liberal” and “very much an unknown” at the same time. That’s the nature of the political debate. But I think those who pay attention can know pretty much who Barack Obama is and what his policies will generally be. He’s a liberal senator. He has made fairly liberal proposals, and he will, I assume, be a liberal president.
That doesn’t mean he won’t reach across the aisle to build consensus. I think simply being in the presidency requires that to some extent. But don’t expect a sudden conversion into another person. He’s not an empty suit. He has fairly strong positions, and he’s likely to pursue those.
I’ll just add one more thing. I have learned during this election just how much further from the social conservatives and the family values folks I actually am. I’m afraid I share very little of their agenda, and in general I don’t find the most vocal “family values” groups to be all that pro-family. It’s not that I have just now changed. It’s just that I paid more attention to them during the election season and found very little to cheer.
Tomorrow we will vote. I urge you, no matter who you support, to get out and vote. It is a right, a privilege, but even more a responsibility. Don’t sit back and refuse to engage. There are significant differences in what will happen depending on the president and congress we elect. There will also be many, many substantial issues in state and local elections as well. Don’t be a shirker!