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Why I support Obama


By George A. Ricker

While it is certainly true there are times when political matters are of concern to atheists, and other secularists who prize individual rights of conscience and value the wall of separation between governments and religions, it is also true that atheism has no direct connection to politics. Atheists don’t believe in a god. We are generally agreed on that, although there are some differences in the manner in which we express that lack of belief. However, atheists have a variety of opinions on a variety of subjects. That is no less true of politics than of other areas.

This comes as a great surprise to some people. There is a tacit assumption that atheists will always be found on the liberal/progressive side of the political divide. But while many of us do find that terrain to be more to our liking, there are atheists of all political persuasions. Some atheists voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 (incredible though it seems). No doubt some will vote for John McCain in 2008.

I will not be among them. For one thing, I do come down squarely on the progressive side of the political divide. For another, although I view Barack Obama’s position on faith-based initiatives and his constant references to his own religious opinions as negatives, I think an Obama administration will be more likely to recognize the difference between personal opinion and public policy and less likely to kowtow to the religious extremists in our society. In the best of all possible worlds, all political candidates would leave the “God-talk” out of their campaigns. But we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. In the world we do live in, I suppose we must endure some of it as the cost of doing business, at least for now.

It is also important to note that I suffer no illusions about Obama’s candidacy. He will not save our country. I think he was wrong not to oppose the new FISA bill with its immunity for telecom companies. I think he is wrong to think we will harm Usama bin Laden (Please note: the name is “Usama” not “Osama.” There is no letter “O” in Arabic.) by expanding the war in Afghanistan and to conflate the struggle against the Taliban with the pursuit of Al-Quaeda. I do not think an Obama administration will have the resources to do all the things he says he wants to do, even if the war in Iraq ends and the runaway defense budget is brought under control. Finally, I think he was wrong to support the $850 billion bailout of Wall Street. It is a bad bill, hastily constructed, that attempts to fix the financial mess we are in by doing more of what got us here in the first place, spending money we do not have.

However, there are other areas in which I find myself agreeing with the man and his message.

During his acceptance speech, he said this, “What the nay sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me; it's about you.”

What the junior senator from Illinois does understand far more than his political opponents is that the promise of America gets its legitimacy and its force from the people, not from pundits or politicians, and certainly not from the Fortune 500. What he understands is that the American dream is not about corporate profits or military hardware. It is about the liberty and the rights of the people. I think Obama recognizes all of that. In my almost seven decades on this ball of mud, he is the first viable presidential candidate I have heard who spoke in such terms.

Now it is easy enough to dismiss all of that as empty political rhetoric. I would be tempted to do so myself if the message did not resonate throughout his entire campaign. Time and again he has returned to that theme. Time and again he has reminded us that real change does not begin in Washington, D.C., where politicians test the public mood with polls and focus groups and try to craft their message to appease that mood or to capitalize on it. Real change begins out here in the real America with real people facing real problems.

I find some hope in that. I also find some hope in Obama’s lack of experience. Yes, you heard that right. You see, I don’t regard “experience” with the same reverence as some. I think Barack Obama, because of his lack of experience, is more likely to be receptive to unconventional wisdom, more likely to seek new options and new alternatives, more likely to listen to the voices of the American electorate and less likely to be seduced by the ideological zealots of both the right and the left.

There is also hope to be found in the idea of a new approach to foreign policy, one that approaches the rest of the world in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect rather than the “my way or the highway” mentality of the past eight years. Certainly, any president must represent the interests of this nation in the world arena. But a president also needs to be prepared to hear other voices than his own and those of his advisors. A president needs to recognize that the interests of other nations are just as important to them as ours are to us and to understand that, in most cases, every nationality regards its homeland as “the greatest nation.”

Obama has signaled his willingness to talk to other foreign leaders, even those who are not necessarily to our liking, and to do so in the interest of mutual understanding, not appeasement. Even though we have the strongest military in the world, we have neither the right nor the ability to dictate terms to the rest of the planet. The effort to do so can only destroy us as well as those who oppose us.

The junior senator from Illinois also recognizes, and has said so repeatedly, that one of the most serious threats facing our planet is that of nuclear proliferation. There are thousands of nuclear weapons in the world today and enough material to make many thousands more. For some time, the chief danger has been the risk that a terrorist organization would get its hands on the material to make a bomb which could be delivered through unconventional means—a suitcase bomb or one built into the hull of a vessel—and infiltrate it into a major city, here or abroad. There is little real likelihood that any nation would launch a nuclear weapon against any other nation. The consequences would most likely lead to the annihilation of any nation that did. However, a terrorist group would certainly launch such an attack if it thought it were in its interests to do so.

So I will vote for Barack Obama with some enthusiasm. For the first time in a long time, I can honestly say I am voting for a candidate and not merely for the lesser of two evils. I am excited to see what kind of president Obama will become. I think his abilities, his obvious intelligence and his willingness to listen to a diversity of opinions will stand him in good stead in the Oval Office. The truth of the matter is that no amount of experience can adequately prepare anyone for the job he seeks. However, I think he will grow into the job quickly and turn out to be a president of whom we can be proud. That, in itself, will be a welcome change.

©2008 by George A. Ricker

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