The fundamental question we should ask when selecting our next president is — twenty years from now, when I’m raising a family and I look back at this choice, which candidate will have made me and the rest of America better off?
From the perspective of an MIT student, the most important characteristic a leader can have is competence. Is competence too much to ask of the next President of the United States? The last eight years have been an embarrassment to the presidency and to our nation.
From the administration’s bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, to the appointment of advisors who were mediocre at best and grossly incompetent at worst, to the mishandled Iraq war, the unraveling financial crisis, the creation of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and attempted redefinition of torture, I cannot say I am proud of our federal government. I want the next four years to be opposite of the previous eight. I love America too much to let it be run into the ground.
This time around, it’s the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate who embodies the competence and judgement that can make America not only great, but exceptional.
America is ready for another John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson. Obama is both rolled into one. Kennedy is remembered as a great president not because of what he did but because of what he inspired other people to do. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” he famously said.
There is an American flag on the moon because of Kennedy’s leadership. How many other countries can claim the same? Johnson is remembered as a great president not because he was well liked, but because he passed the most comprehensive set of domestic programs in recent history, including landmark civil rights laws, Medicare and Medicaid, the launch of a war on poverty, consumer protection laws, and endowments for the arts and sciences.
He was able to pass the legislation he wanted because he knew how to work the system and approach the issue practically. Obama combines Kennedy’s vision and Johnson’s pragmatism. America under these two presidents was an America I can be proud of. We as Americans can’t afford to let go of this opportunity.
Even the negative coverage of Obama reinforces his competence as a candidate. In July the New Yorker published a scathing article critical of Obama’s rise in Illinois state politics. It did not criticize him for being corrupt, inept, or an extremist. It criticized him for working past the system too well.
When the worst scandal of Obama’s campaign, Jeremiah Wright, came into the national spotlight, Obama did not stoop down and play the usual political game of responding on the same petty level as the attacks. Instead, he gave one of the most highly regarded speeches of his political career on the issue of race in America.
Closer examination of Obama’s campaign and the choices he makes only reinforce what we’ve already seen of the man. Obama has run the largest and most extensive ground operation ever seen in the history of American politics, throwing off the forty year Republican monopoly on well-organized campaign machines. Choosing Joe Biden as a running mate is a fundamentally competent choice.
Obama is also ahead of the curve on policy. He was quoted that he would authorize strikes on high value terrorist targets in Pakistan if the government of Pakistan was unwilling or unable to act. At the time it was regarded as a major foreign policy gaffe. Guess what the Bush administration has approved in recent months after realizing the Pakistani government was not going to act cooperatively against Taliban militants near the Afghan border?
Obama is fundamentally good at what he does. You don’t become the presidential nominee of a major party by accident at 47 years old after being raised by a single mother living off food stamps in Kansas. You don’t become the first black president of the Harvard Law Review by accident. You don’t take on the Chicago political machine and win by accident. You don’t defeat the biggest brand name in national Democratic politics over the past two decades by accident. In this day and age, you don’t become president of the greatest nation on earth by accident.
Obama is not a liberal grandstander who talks a lot and accomplishes little. He is, in the end, eminently practical. To get a glimpse of what an Obama presidency would be like, we only need to look at his relatively short four years in the senate. He has worked closely with Tom Coburn, a Republican Senator from Oklahoma who supports the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions, to pass the Coburn-Obama Transparency act, establishing a website to track federal spending so average citizens can find out where every one of their tax dollars has gone.
He passed the Obama-Lugar Act with Dick Lugar, Republican Senator from Indiana, securing weapons stockpiles in the former Soviet Union from terrorist groups. He has repeatedly spoken out for ethics reform, helping improve and pass the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act to stop companies from giving legislators free rides in corporate jets. I could go on.
The point is that Obama is a consensus-builder at heart. He has spent his time working on both sides of the aisle for practical measures that almost everyone can agree make the country better off. An Obama presidency would serve to manifest the spirit of the candidate’s 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention — “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America, there’s the United States of America.”
This is an America that values competence, hope, and optimism, and is tired of the ineptitude of the previous eight years. This is an America that is ready for change.
When I cast my ballot in November, I’m casting my ballot for Obama because I know he has the ability and competence to lead our country for the next four years.
Spenser Skates is a junior in the Department of Biological Engineering and a vocal supporter of the junior senator from Illinois.