At 9 a.m. on Election Day 2004, I was sitting in the basement of the Whitney Humanities Center, waiting for my Directed Studies literature section to begin, when a girl in the class entered wearing a red, white and blue hockey jersey, emblazoned with the words “Team Bush” and the number 43. I think of her as a cautionary example. I’m wary of baring my political allegiance in such an easy, tacky way. But Barack Obama’s e-mails keep telling me this will be the most important election of my life. So I’d like to try to demonstrate why it is, objectively, a moral imperative to vote for Obama.
The single most impressive thing I’ve seen from him was a television interview he gave on Nov. 25, 2002. Asked to speculate about the effects of an invasion of Iraq on the upcoming Democratic presidential primaries, he answered, “If it has happened, then at that point what the debate’s really going to be about is what’s our long-term commitment there, how much is it going to cost, what does it mean for us to rebuild Iraq, how do we stabilize and make sure that this country doesn’t splinter into factions between the Shias and the Kurds and the Sunnis.”
I used to wish that Obama’s campaign would turn this interview into a national ad, because it converted me the moment I saw it. The prelude to the invasion of Iraq was what finally severed me from my parents’ (admittedly unvigorous) conservatism, because what passed for a debate about starting this war was pathetic. No one of national prominence offered an opinion as careful and informed as Illinois state senator Obama’s. Now that we only talk about the economy, such an ad wouldn’t do much good. But the fact that losing all that money could move the polls as Iraq never did proves that — after all the kidnappings, car bombings and beheadings — we still don’t care enough about the consequences of our military actions.
It is considered naïve or unpatriotic to state frankly what we did in Iraq. At the risk of this: We dropped bombs on people, unprovoked, and expected them to thank us for it; we talked about fighting the terrorists there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here, the implicit premise being that hundreds of thousands of dead foreigners are preferable to perceived inaction in the face of potential civilian deaths at home. At this point in the argument, war supporters bring up the sacrifices of our soldiers, as if 4,122 Americans dead and another 30,182 wounded did anything other than make the picture even bleaker.
Why talk about these horrors now, when Iraq has finally calmed down? Because we haven’t yet owned up to them. We had a chance in November 2004, but we made Bush president again. There was the midterm election of 2006, but two years later we’re still considering John McCain. This might make sense if he had some economic credentials, but his purported areas of expertise are foreign policy and military affairs. Republican candidates have benefited from the sense that the war was so bad, it had no solution. We couldn’t leave; all there was to do was keep fighting. And in 2007, implausibly, the situation finally began to improve. But if we begin the post-Bush era by inaugurating as president a champion of the war, we will declare to the world and to ourselves that we don’t care about accountability.
In the last debate McCain told Obama, “I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.” This line seems to have worked on some people, but it sounds to me like McCain was actually talking to himself. He constantly says that he puts his country first, and his supporters insist that he secretly dislikes President Bush, that he respects only the office. So why didn’t McCain accept John Kerry’s reported proposal for a unity ticket — which I think would have succeeded — and spare us four more years of misrule? Because, then as now, he wanted more than anything else to be president, and he made his calculation. By now, some part of him probably regrets turning Kerry down.
I have an uncle who likes to speak of white people seeking “racial innocence” by supporting Obama. That’s not what I’m after. It’s great news that he might be our first black president, but it’s a garnish. What matters most is that we atone for this war: admit it was a bad idea — which Obama knew — and choose a new direction for our foreign policy — which Obama proposes. That’s why he deserves to be president, and why we are compelled to vote for him.
Eamon Murphy is a senior in Saybrook College.