Editorial: Hurry Up, Please, It’s Time to Vote

By Becky O’Malley
Friday February 01, 2008

It’s down-to-the-wire time now. On Wednesday a substantial number of my California relatives and friends told me that they’d finally filled out their absentee ballots and sent them in. What were they waiting for? Well, like all the rest of us, they were still trying to decide who to vote for in the Democratic presidential primary. Here’s the refrain: “I’d like to vote for Edwards, but if Obama and Clinton are very close I’ll probably have to choose Obama instead.” Some—a few—mentioned Kucinich instead of Edwards. 

If the truth be told, I expect that was John Edwards’ thought process too. His polls—and his not inconsiderable political instincts—told him that he just wasn’t going to win, and he didn’t want to be the spoiler for the candidate he likes. People in my chat circles think that would be Obama, but they do wonder why, if so, Edwards didn’t actually endorse him. Perhaps he’s saving his muscle for any tight spots that might develop between now and the convention. 

Obama is essentially irresistible. As many commentators have pointed out, Obama as symbol is even more potent than Obama as candidate. He represents a clean break with a political history that many Americans find distasteful for a multitude of unrelated reasons, going all the way back to Lyndon Johnson.  

The number of people in this country—north, south, in between—who would fail to vote for him just because his paternal ancestors lived in Africa is small and dwindling. Even the cultural racist who genteely deplores “the way some of those people act” can find nothing to fault in Barack Obama’s history or the way he presents himself in the campaign. Such people welcome the opportunity to prove that their prejudices are not actually racial but are based on “facts.” 

Obama is the epitome of what Jack Kennedy used to call “vigah.” He’s amazingly—and yes, I do know that the word is often a patronizing putdown of African-Americans, but it applies here in every primary sense—articulate. And articulate is exactly what Hillary Clinton is not. She often speaks well and clearly, yes, but she’s unwilling or unable to give the impression that she’s sure of what she believes and is ready to fight for it, in contrast to both Obama and Edwards. What she tries to pitch as experience comes across, to use a simile popular when I was a teenager, like a lead balloon. Her real-life lead balloon is Chairman Bill, lurking heavily in the background taking clumsy almost-racist potshots at Obama which fool no one. 

In a week of personal polling, I only found one person who’d admit to planning to vote for Ms. Clinton. She is a woman of a certain age whose symbolic buttons are most powerfully pushed by the idea of a female president. But many more women in that category (my contemporaries and close friends) say that they too long to see a woman president, but not this one, who has inherited all the negative baggage from her husband’s term. They’d like the first women president to win the office free and clear—a Barbara Boxer type perhaps. 

This paper as an institution has not traditionally made endorsements. On occasion the editorial “I” has revealed some personal electoral choices, which are almost always the same as my partner’s, but I don’t presume to speak for the other editors or anyone else in the news room. We—the publisher and I—have already endorsed Kriss Worthington for State Assembly, because we hoped to head off knee-jerk candidacies from local factional machines. That didn’t work anyhow, and it’s not on the ballot in this election. And we’ll now be voting for Barack Obama in the California Democratic Primary, unless he does something really stupid before Tuesday. We always wait to vote in person on election day if we can, because you never know. 

Nonetheless, we’re committed to keeping a tight eye on who else has endorsed which Democrats as the race enters the home stretch. On the local level, for example, a UC Berkeley professor who’s been a big proponent of ethanol fuels is speaking for Barack Obama at a campus rally today (Friday). Unfortunately, that triggers in the mind of an unreconstructed political junkie like me the old reports that Obama, at least in his early career, got big contributions from the main corporate ethanol pusher, Archer Daniels Midland. And most politically alert environmentalists now think that production of ethanol from vegetable sources to fuel cars, which ADM supports, threatens food sources and forests in the third world. Nothing is simple. 

And what about those ballot measures, if any voters out there haven’t made up their minds yet? The Planet has been pleased to print a large number of intelligent comments from people with varying points of view, with more in for today, and I hope you’ve all read them carefully.  

The consensus among people I personally know and respect seems to be to vote no on everything except Proposition 92. These people tend to regard government-backed gambling in any form as a regressive way of separating poor people from their money. (Obama is with them on that.)  

They’re voting no on Proposition 93 because they don’t want Don Perata and Fabian Nuñez to continue in the Legislature, though the idealistic view that we might sometime have some legislators we’d want to keep has a certain appeal. They’re voting against the Children’s Hospital bond issue in Alameda County (Measures A and B) because they see it as a threat to county-run Highland Hospital’s ability to raise needed funds, and because they’re annoyed at the ham-handed way the privately-run Children’s has tried to sneak both the funding and the building project past the public. Even 92 has its detractors among people deeply involved with K-12 education, but most people seem to buy the argument that community colleges are an endangered species that need protection. 

So it’s a simple template, if you want to vote like me: Obama and no on everything except Proposition 92. Planet readers, however, make up their own minds.