A couple of months ago, I volunteered to teach law and government, for an hour every week, at a nearby public elementary school. Already, I can say, without hesitation, that this was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It’s reinforced my belief in public education. First, I work with an exceptional teacher, a woman who exemplifies the absolute best of her profession, one of those teachers who, years later, will be remembered by her students as a person who made a difference in their lives. She also immediately reminded me of one of my best friends, Maggie Dyer, who has been teaching in the Louisiana public school system for the last several years, one of those rare people who treat their students with the same kindness and discipline as they would give to their own children.
There’s another thing: It’s an inner city school for the gifted and talented. 90% of students are either Hispanic or African-American. And they are all brilliant and precocious and incredibly eager to learn. You can’t help but be inspired.
Before I started volunteering, I attended a briefing on the program: This is what you need to teach; this is how you need to teach it, and this is who you’ll be teaching. And during this briefing, the instructor said, more than once, to remember that every single kid we’d be teaching was born after September 11, 2001. “They’ve never known what it is like to live in peacetime. We have been at war for their entire lives.”
It stung me: American children only know a country at war.
In 2007, I decided to support then-Senator Barack Obama over any other candidate for a very simple reason: He had initially, consistently, and publicly opposed the War in Iraq. That was, to me, the only logical position one could have possibly taken. It is easy, now, to engage in revisionist history, to suggest that we merely acted on intelligence that subsequently proved to be faulty. The truth, however difficult it may be for some to stomach, is that when America decided to invade Iraq, we knew or should have known that it was bound to be a fiasco; we knew that Saddam Hussein, however nefarious and awful he may have been, never possessed any weapons of mass destruction. He was gloating and purposely insincere, and he was hedging his bets that we’d see right through his charade. He underestimated the steely resolve of a United States President who believed that the attacks of 9/11 provided him with a carte blanche mandate to vindicate, regardless of the facts.
At the time, it wasn’t politically popular to oppose the War in Iraq. Indeed, for some, opposition amounted to political suicide. But President George W. Bush and the Republicans spent almost all of their political capital, over a trillion dollars, and thousands of American lives in waging a war against Iraq, and by God, that had to mean something, even if the entire premise of the war was based on an easily-refuted lie.
Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda attacked America on September 11, 2001. President Bush and the Republicans scared much of the country into believing otherwise, conflating the entire Muslim world as some monolithic terrorist enterprise, while paying lip-service to religious freedom.
If Hillary Clinton hadn’t voted in favor of the War in Iraq, she would be running for her second-term as President.
The notion that Americans favored Barack Obama merely because he could deliver a great speech or because he represented a “symbolic” change makes for a compelling media narrative, but it’s simply not accurate: More than anything else, Barack Obama became the standard-bearer for the Democratic Party because he, very early on, took an intellectually honest position against the War in Iraq. We needed an intellectually honest and intellectually consistent leader, and that is precisely why Democrats gravitated to Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008.
Four years after his historic election, there should be no doubt: Barack Obama deserves a second term.
We will never have a perfect President, but right now, Americans are led by a smart and principled man, a man who is revered around the world, and a man who, though he and his campaign will not brandish it, won the Nobel Peace Prize during his first year.
Throughout the last four years, the attacks against President Obama have, for the most part, lacked in substance. They’ve centered on his “otherness,” the easily disputed theories of his birthplace and his religion, theories that have been floated and perpetuated primarily by wealthy white people like Donald Trump and Andrew Breitbart. It’s politics as entertainment, and as fun as it may be, it’s not serious. President Obama has also, more recently, been criticized for a slower-than-expected economic recovery. That is a more legitimate critique, but it still falls short. For one, his Republican opponents are much more responsible for the nation’s economic mess: Their policies during the Bush administration created this fiasco, and their recent intransigence has only exacerbated it. We need to be honest with one another on this. The stimulus worked; the auto bailout saved over a million jobs; housing starts are up; consumer confidence is up; we’ve created more than 5 million private-sector jobs, and the stock market has doubled since he took office.
Obamacare, his signature legislative achievement, will likely be remembered as one of the greatest accomplishments in American history, an idea that was ironically co-opted from Mitt Romney. In only a decade, Americans won’t debate the merits of health care as a fundamental right; it will be enshrined as plainly obvious.
President Obama’s work on civil rights is also worthy of praise: He’s boldly taken a stand in favor of gay marriage. He’s ended the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. And the very first piece of legislation that he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which ensures equal pay protection for women.
And on foreign policy, President Obama has been even more impressive. He ordered the mission that killed Osama bin Laden; he’s obliterated America’s number one enemy, Al Qaeda; he’s ended the War in Iraq; he’s currently ending the War in Afghanistan, thank God.
Now, has he been everything we had hoped he’d be? Of course not. I, for one, am still troubled by the suspension of due process against suspected terrorists, the proliferation of drone attacks, and the increased enforcement in the misguided War on Drugs. But I know this: Barack Obama is and will always be a better President than Mitt Romney could ever become. Romney would take this country backwards; if elected, he would install the same political and policy machinery that propped up George W. Bush for eight years. If you seriously care more about a three percent increase in the federal income tax for American millionaires– if you think that will destroy the country– then vote for Romney. Go ahead. If, like me, you understand that American wealth is a function of American ingenuity and that shared sacrifice is a virtue and not a curse, then vote for the incumbent.
I think about that class of fifth graders, who have never known America not at war. I think about their futures. I’m voting for the guy who wants to end war. He’s not a perfect candidate, but he’s earned my trust.