Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama and the Squirrel

Have you been curious why I obviously like Obama but haven’t committed to vote for either presidential candidate? Or have you just been wondering what I thought about the “town hall” debate? Well if you want answers, you’re about to get them. But first, I better explain about the squirrel . . .

A while back I heard a story about a farmer with a large tree growing next to his home. One day as he was walking across his yard, he startled a squirrel which scampered up the tree and disappeared into a hole in its trunk. The farmer had never noticed the hole before, and he paused to take a closer look. His inspection revealed that the interior of tree was hollow and rotten, and that discovery presented him with two unpleasant options.

On the one hand, tearing down the tree would be a huge hassle and he was reluctant to give up its beauty and shade. On the other hand, if he left the weakened tree standing a strong wind might break it apart, possibly harming his family and damaging his home. One option would certainly deprive him of some things he valued; the other might cost him everything that mattered most to him. As he considered his difficult choice, the farmer muttered, "I wish I'd never seen that squirrel."

Hold that thought. I’ll come back to it . . .

The recent “town hall” presidential debate had a big impact on me. I felt that both candidates held their own on foreign affairs, but their discussion of domestic issues was more one-sided. While McCain had plenty to say about his foreign policy views, in the domestic sphere he seemed to spend most of his time making canned campaign statements and attacking Obama. It especially irked me when McCain made some particularly scathing remarks about his opponent’s economic plan when (due to the debate format) Obama would not have an opportunity to respond in his own defense.

While McCain seemed more intent on slamming his rival than presenting his own views, Obama seemed absolutely driven to share his ideas and explain how they could benefit people. I loved the fact that he had something of substance to say, and clear plans that he was eager to share. He was also more likely to actually answer questions rather than launching into some unrelated political diatribe, and he was willing to set concrete goals (e.g. reform social security in his first term, freedom from oil within ten years).

As I listened to him, I thought, “Wow. This candidate is actually talking to my brain instead of trying to strike fear into my gut. He’s passionate about explaining his ideas rather than obscuring them, and the more he discusses them the more I like them. I want to vote for this man!!!!”

Enter the squirrel.

At this point there is only one thing keeping me from deciding to vote for Obama, and it isn’t abortion. As I’ve previously stated, I think both candidates share my belief that education is the best way decrease the number of abortions in our country, and I feel that the principles Obama advocates are a good balance of teaching abstinence and respect for intimacy while addressing the fact that not all students will embrace those ideals.

No, the issue that troubles me is barely on people’s radar screen in most of the country, but it weighs heavily on my mind here in California, where the state supreme court recently overturned a traditional marriage statute that 61% of state voters approved. In November we will vote on Proposition 8, which would amend our state constitution to declare: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The current heated debate about allowing same-gender marriage has made me study and consider this issue more than I ever had before, and the prospect of legalizing such unions really concerns me from both a religious and sociological point of view.

Each of those perspectives could be a lengthy post in its own right (and probably will be at some point), but in a nutshell—whether you take your cues from religion, sociology, or evolution—marriage is between two complementary beings (a male and a female), whose distinct parenting styles potentially provide the best environment for rearing children. A same-gender union, however loving, does not meet either of those criteria and therefore does not fit the definition of marriage.

Opponents of Prop 8 insist that its supporters are trying to force their beliefs on others. In actuality, both sides are fighting for their beliefs about marriage and what is best for our society. However, supporters of traditional marriage have millennia of history and copious sociological evidence to show that heterosexual marriage is an effective foundation for society.

By contrast, proponents of same-gender marriage are proposing a radical social experiment, with virtually no evidence to back their claim that redefining the fundamental unit of our society will have a positive or even neutral impact. They’re essentially asking us to have faith in their unproven opinion. Frankly, if they want me to support a radical change to the family, which has an enormous impact on every individual’s entire life and destiny, they’re going to have to offer me a lot more than their opinion that the effects will be positive.

Some say that this debate is about providing equal rights to everyone, and I couldn’t agree more. The thing is, California Family Code 297.5 already guarantees homosexual domestic partnerships the exact same rights as heterosexual marriages, and that will not change if Prop 8 passes. The only rights actually at stake are those of people who disagree with homosexual marriage – free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from having a homosexual agenda imposed on our kids at school through lessons and field trips. Opponents of Prop 8 insist these rights will not be threatened, but troubling precedents are already being set here, in Massachusetts, and elsewhere.

Now back to McCain and Obama . . .

In some ways, they take a similar stance on this issue. Both declare that marriage is between a man and a woman. Both voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006, insisting that the definition of marriage should be left to individual states. Unfortunately, the similarities end there.

In 2006 Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which stated that if some states allow same-gender marriage, other states and the federal government are not bound to honor those marriages. McCain voted for the bill; Obama voted against it on the grounds that it was discriminatory, and says as president he would support efforts to repeal it. Even if he only repeals the federal aspect of it, I worry that would create a slippery slope toward forcing all the states to recognize a few states' redefinition of marriage.

What’s more, when Proposition 8 was placed on California’s ballot this year, McCain expressed his support for it while Obama declared that "I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states." What is divisive about inviting a state’s population to define marriage once and for all? Would it be more fair and unifying for us to stand idly by while the state supreme court tells 61% of Californian voters that they are ignorant bigots unfit to set state policy? I thought Obama supported democracy, not oligarchy.

As for his potential influence on the national stage, some of my friends have made the argument that there is little a president can actually do to impact this issue. While it is true that he cannot singlehandedly pass laws or make Supreme Court rulings, he does have three powerful tools at his disposal: 1) His high profile, 2) His veto, 3) Judges he recommends for the Supreme Court.

When a president proposes new legislation, that proposal gets a lot more attention than an average senator doing the same. What’s more, if Obama is elected he will be working with a Democrat-controlled Congress. If President Obama proposes, say, a reversal of DOMA, he’s more likely to get a positive response from the current Congress than he would have from the Republican one that passed the bill two years ago. Furthermore, while President McCain would likely veto such a reversal (and any other bills he found threatening to state sovereignty on same-gender marriage or homosexual adoption), President Obama would sign them with gusto and hail them as blows to discrimination.

As for the Supreme Court, one of the most lasting legacies any president leaves behind is his appointments to that body. As a Californian, I’ve watched a single high court decision reverse both the voice of the people and millennia of tradition about what marriage means. Since Obama apparently feels that the traditional definition of marriage is discriminatory, I’m concerned about what kind of judges he might appoint (with the approval of the Democratic Congress). By contrast, considering McCain’s stance on marriage and the fact that he is a staunch opponent of abortion, I doubt he would recommend any judge who takes a liberal view on those subjects.


So there’s my dilemma. How many things must I admire about Obama before I can ignore the fact that he wants to redefine the fundamental unit of our society, which has a greater and more lasting influence on our life and destiny than economics, diplomacy, or any other factor? Am I willing to take the risk that he really won’t have any impact on this issue? If he does back legislation or appoint judges that undermine the traditional family, will any of the things I respected about him remotely compensate for that?


I know my individual vote will not sway the presidential election in California or the nation as a whole, yet the decision will make matters a lot to me. It’s a statement of where I stand, and where my priorities lie. If I vote against Obama, I’ll also be voting against good character, lots of sound ideas, and so many other things that I value. Yet, if I vote for him, I will feel partly responsible if he takes action against the institution that matters most to me. Which is why I will most likely vote for McCain on November 4.

I wish I’d never seen that squirrel.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Voting for a Philosophy

I'm glad tonight's presidential debate was the last for this season, because I don't think I could endure another one. I didn't hear much about the issues that hadn't been said before, and I'm getting sick and tired of McCain's negativity.

I am determined to vote with my left brain firmly engaged - to analyze health care plans, economic plans, moral stances, and everything else to decide who will be the best leader for our country. I'm committed to doing that on November 4th. But right now I just want to turn off the left, logical side of my brain and let my right brain vent its frustration and disgust with a candidate who would rather strike fear into my gut than talk to my mind.

While Obama spent most of his time on substantial discussion of issues and what he hopes to accomplish, McCain spent the majority of his time attacking his opponent and harping on blatant inaccuracies like the supposed Ayers connection, and the born-alive abortion bill Obama opposed because it was already covered by Illinois state law and the new law would just stir up a Roe-related hornets' nest. One of the truest statements I heard this evening was Obama's comment that McCain's fixation on the Ayers issue instead of more important subjects says a lot about his campaign.

Why does McCain spend so much time smearing, and so little talking about his own goals? Is it because his plans are weak, or he fears they are too business-friendly to resonate with most American voters? Or is it simply because he believes it's easier to win by attacking his opponent than by making his own case? Whatever the justification, the strategy certainly isn't helping him win my heart or mind, and the more disgusted I get the harder it's becoming for me to analyze his views objectively. It's hard to look for the good in someone I have an increasingly difficult time respecting.

Yes, I know Obama sometimes stretches the truth, too. I know these are politicians, not saints. But I wish I could cast a vote for a campaign's philosophy. I wish I could vote in favor of being treated like an intelligent human, and against being treated like a skittish animal that can be frightened into voting a certain way. I wish I could just cast a vote in favor of dialogue and against divisive scare tactics. And I wish Mr. McCain's verbal commitment to chastise slanderers extended to his own ad team.

P.S. In case you're wondering what I thought of the "town hall" debate last week, it actually made a big impression on me. It's just taking me a while to frame my thoughts effectively. Hopefully I'll get that post finished soon.

The Pumpkin and the Semi-successful Teaching Moment

Since Phillip had late class last night, we decided to have family night this evening. We piled into the car and went to Trader Joe’s to pick out our Halloween pumpkins (at $3.49/pumpkin, they’re the best deal in town). Joy picked a little sugar pumpkin, then Daddy and I each chose a larger one to carve.

When we returned home Joy was eager to carry her own pumpkin, so we let her give it a try. She did fine until we reached the stairs, then she accidentally dropped it down a few steps. We handed it back to her when we reached the top, but she soon dropped it again. We returned it to her once more, encouraging her to be careful, whereupon she smiled and threw the pumpkin several feet ahead of her.

I rescued the unfortunate squash and carried it up the second flight of steps, then Joy began reaching for her pumpkin again so I decided to try a technique I recently heard at a parenting class. Before handing it to her I reminded her that we shouldn’t throw pumpkins, then I asked if she was willing to carry it without throwing it. I seemed to get a positive response, so I handed the little pumpkin back to her. True to her word, she didn’t throw it. She set it on the ground and kicked it like a soccer ball most of the way to our front door. The sight made me laugh out loud. Ah, kids.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Peace After a Small Storm

Joy and I were on our own at stake conference this morning, since Daddy was sitting with the choir on the stand. I was fine through most of the meeting, but by the time my active toddler and I neared the end of the second and final hour I was pretty worn out (and yes, years from now when I have more kids I will probably look back on that statement and laugh). I reached that point at about the same time our stake president was encouraging us to be a little more valiant in living the Gospel. At that moment the thought of adding anything more to my plate seemed totally overwhelming, and I had a fleeting temptation to go home and hide under a blanket for a while.

Fortunately, the Lord whispered a reminder that He won’t ask me to run any faster than I have strength. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other on the path He has laid out, He will enlarge my capacity as much as I am ready for at a given time. It was reassuring to remember that I can do as much as He needs me to, and He will never ask more than I am able to give.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Not What I Expected

In one sense, the vice presidential debate was not what I anticipated. Since both candidates have a reputation for occasionally talking themselves into trouble, I expected a train wreck at one or both podiums. Obviously that didn't happen, which is probably for the better.

In another sense, the debate confirmed many of my impressions about Palin.* Some people try to draw a comparison between Palin's and Obama's level of experience, but their respective debate performances demonstrate that there isn't much to compare. Obama has studied, formed opinions about, and in many cases taken action on nearly every national and international issue there is, and he can discuss his stance on them at length. Palin has that kind depth on a few subjects, but when confronted with the rest I always feel she is carefully reciting a script the campaign has handed her. She may agree with that script, but the fact that she even needs it underscores the fact that she is not ready to be a national leader.

Perhaps the clearest evidence of that is the vice presidential job description she provided. In contrast to Biden, who explained that his duties would be to spearhead important legislation and advise Obama on vital matters, Palin says McCain wants her to focus on energy and advocacy for children with handicaps. While those are two very admirable causes, they sound more like the job description for a First Lady: choose a couple noble causes to champion using your high-profile position, and let the boys in charge handle all the other stuff. Perhaps McCain's narrow assignment for Palin is the result of sexism, but I think it more likely that he knows she just isn't qualified to do much else at this point.

I know, I know. Neither of the people who debated tonight is running for president, and realistically my impressions of the VP candidates will have little impact on my vote next month. Frankly, the main reason I'm writing this post is that I'm really disappointed.

I want our first female VP (or president) to be so much more than this. I want her to be selected for the job because she is hands-down the best person for it, not just because it would look good to have a woman (any woman) with a clean image on the ticket. I want her to know the issues inside and out and take a principled stand on them, not just repeat virtually the same scripted lines in response to any question she doesn't want to answer (at one point tonight, I thought I would scream if I heard the word "energy" one more time). I want her to be a leader I can have confidence in, not a well-meaning but unprepared person I have to make excuses for.

I want to see the glass ceiling shattered, not just nicked.


*On the other hand, I confess I knew little about Biden going into this. My impression after tonight is that he is experienced and well-informed, and will perform competently in the roles of advisor and legislation promoter. We'll see if he lives up to that as I get to know him better.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

You Knew This Was Coming . . .

You're probably wondering whether I watched the debate on Friday. As a matter of fact I did, and I found it rather informative, but it's taken me a while to process what I thought of the candidates' positions. Perhaps that's because nothing really outrageous happened. The debate was fairly civilized and both candidates held their own, neither scoring any real knockout punches on the other. Still, there were a few statements and trends that made a lasting impression on me.

First off, I think Obama earned points simply for delivering a competent performance. Many people had speculated that the more experienced McCain would steamroll him on foreign relations, and though McCain did indeed demonstrate impressive knowledge of global history and issues, Obama kept pace with him and presented some alternate ideas which I think are well worth considering.

By contrast, some of McCain's proposals and attitudes concerned me a bit. While I don't believe that McCain is the Bush clone that Obama sometimes paints him to be, he did demonstrate some of the philosophies that have most troubled me about Bush's administration. For example, Bush and company were so intent on invading Iraq that they chose to do it despite the fact that evidence against Saddam was shaky and Al Qaeda was somewhere else (i.e. that country where we were already waging a war). During the debate McCain seemed to show a similarly narrow view, constantly harping on Iraq as if his opponent never acknowledged that it was important. Obama completely agreed that we need to act wisely in Iraq, but he made the valid point that we can't let that battle distract us from other equally important fronts in the War on Terror: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other areas where Al Qaeda has a presence.

I'm also troubled by the Bush/McCain "us vs. them" mindset. McCain proposed bypassing the U.N. and organizing a league of democracies to put some real pressure on Iran. Obama pointed out that if we want to have any kind of influence on that country, we'll need non-democratic Russia and China to participate, too. McCain also wants to take a hard line with Russia, isolating them and sending a strong message that their behavior is unacceptable (even though the Bush administration has made little headway with that same stance). Obama agrees that we need to take a firm approach to Russia, but he also insists we should look for common interests with them, since nations rarely want to negotiate if they have nothing to gain. Obama also pointed out that if we're worried about extremists hating and attacking us, we ought to cultivate a national reputation for promoting positive things (like education) instead of being an international bully (or maverick, or sheriff) who seems to act unilaterally without regard for other nations.

The "us vs. them" factor also figured into the candidates' interactions with each other. Some commentators have criticized Obama for occasionally saying he agreed with McCain while the latter never made any such concession. Considering that both men bill themselves as candidates who can reach across the aisle and work with both parties, I find it telling that only Obama even acknowledged they had any common ground during the debate. That detail is reflective of their entire campaigns: Obama and the Democrats in general profess respect for McCain's war record and some of his character traits, but McCain refuses to acknowledge there is anything worth praising about Obama. If McCain's bipartisanship goes out the window when an election is on the line, does that mean he's only willing to reach across the aisle when it's convenient?

As for Obama, it's difficult for me to tell whether some of his foreign policy ideas are wishful thinking or just different from McCain's philosophy. Since I myself am inexperienced with foreign policy, it's hard for me to tell whether McCain's dismissal of unconditional talks with Iran demonstrates sounder judgement, or whether it merely reflects his personal opinion. My general conclusion is that since our current approaches with some nations aren't making headway, it can't hurt to try something new. I also believe that Obama is both flexible and smart enough to recognize whether a policy is working, and make course corrections if needed. McCain is smart, but he doesn't strike me as the flexible type.

Also, while I appreciate Mr. McCain's crusade against earmarked funds in recent years, I would encourage him to please stop treating them like a major campaign issue. His relentless emphasis on that subject rang hollow with me because, 1) Congressional earmark allotments have already decreased by over 20% in the last three years, 2) As Obama pointed out, they're small change compared to tax cuts and other big financial matters we should be discussing, and most significantly 3) McCain's own running mate supported earmark funds for Alaska's Bridge to Nowhere, and kept those earmarked funds for her state even after the bridge project was cancelled. If McCain doesn't feel that disqualifies Palin from being his right-hand woman and a potential future president, he shouldn't imply that Obama's recent conversion to the anti-earmark gospel disqualifies him either.

And speaking of Ms. Palin, tomorrow's vice presidential debate should be veeeeeery interesting . . .