My own personal Obama-mania

Feb 272008
Authors: Seth Anthony

Obama-mania swept Colorado earlier this month, when the Illinois senator won our state’s caucuses by a two-to-one margin.

Since then, the “skinny kid with a funny name” has moved ever closer to the Democratic presidential nomination.

In Barack Obama, many of us see what we hope for out of America. His roots in multicultural Hawaii, rural Kansas and Chicago’s south side speak to our diversity.

His rise to prominence as an African-American man reminds us that barriers can be overcome. His eloquence as a speaker gives us hope for a better future.

By now you might suspect I’ve joined the “cult of Obama.” There’s definitely something eerie about his campaign – a campaign where organizers talk about people “coming to Obama” as if he were a religious figure. Supporters have claimed his campaign will “bring America back together” after generations of divisive politics.

Color me cynical on the candidate’s “transformative power.” Sure, I’ve been won over by Obama.

But I’ve tried to avoid drinking the kool-aid.

I hadn’t heard of Obama until his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He called for national unity, which is common enough, but he benefited from a contrast with the uninspiring rhetoric of John Kerry and John Edwards.

He was sincere and genuine at a time when that was lacking on the national political stage.

I wasn’t surprised when Obama won election to the U.S. Senate, but I was surprised when he declared his candidacy for president. In early debates during 2007, Obama didn’t distinguish himself above the impressive Democratic field.

The moment when he finally broke out of the crowd for me came in July, when Obama said that he would be willing to meet with leaders of shunned nations such as Cuba or Iran. His opponents called it “naive,” but, to me, it reflected a humility in the way the United States should deal with the world.

Sharper policy distinctions were drawn over health care.

Obama’s plans centered around enabling people to afford health care, while Hillary Clinton and John Edwards emphasized their plans to mandate that everyone buy insurance. A pattern emerged on domestic issues; Obama’s policies favor incentives and empowering Americans rather than imposing top-down solutions.

Did I agree with him all the time? No, not by a long shot. But there was a consistent theme across most of his policy positions.

So I started looking at Obama’s record. As a state legislator, Obama pushed hard on civil liberties, and Illinois became the first state to videotape police interrogations.

As a U.S. Senator, his two major initiatives haven’t been glamorous, but have been forward-looking: the Coburn-Obama Transparency Act to build greater openness into government and the Lugar-Obama Nonproliferation Bill to combat the spread of dangerous weapons worldwide.

Pundits like to say that endorsements don’t matter to ordinary voters, but they mattered to me when Obama was endorsed by Lawrence Lessig, a leader of the free culture movement. It mattered when I learned that one of his top advisors was Samantha Power, author of the compelling book “The Age of Genocide.” It mattered to me when Colin Powell, although he stopped short of an endorsement, privately advised Obama on foreign policy.

Have I been hoodwinked by a smooth-talker? I don’t think so.

I don’t think Obama’s going to fundamentally change the way politics is done, or usher in a new era in American history. In fact, on every individual issue, you could find another candidate closer to my own position.

But on the broad constellation of issues that a president has to consider, I think that Barack Obama leans the right way – toward a humble foreign policy, domestic policy built on empowerment, social policy grounded in tolerance and civil liberties uncompromised. On the issues, Obama’s my candidate for ’08.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry Ph.D. student. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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