Douglas W. Kmiec
So many kind and thoughtful people have taken the time to write or comment upon my recent endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama for president asking for additional explanation that it has become impossible to answer each individually, so with great respect, but far less time than I would like, please accept these supplemental thoughts as an expression of gratitude to all who wrote in agreement or disagreement, and with civility.
As many know, I was first attracted to government by Ronald Reagan, who lives in my memory as a great leader and an inspiring communicator. Sen. Obama has these gifts as well, but of course, mere rhetorical flourish without defensible substance would be worth little. Is there more to Sen. Obama? I believe there is. President Reagan often said his proudest achievement was making America feel good about itself again. Sen. Obama is trying to give us genuine reason — good reason — to have that feeling again. Indeed, he may have already partially succeeded. Having taught several generations of students over 35 years, I have never seen young people more alive and interested in the political process. His witness is encouraging them to look to civic and public involvement as a way of finding their own purpose — a purpose that they intuitively want to be in service to others.
How else do I perceive Sen. Obama restoring the American ideal?
By saying to the world, we intend to hold ourselves to international standards of decency and justice. (I note that Sen. McCain picked up part of this theme yesterday in a speech here in Los Angeles — good for him. Sen. Obama’s influence is resonating well beyond me and my students.)
By honoring the memory of those who died on 9/11 (and the 4,000 men and women of our armed forces who have perished in Iraq) with the honest assessment that our national safety is not enhanced by fighting the wrong war at a tremendous cost of life and resources.
By saying to the average working person in America, your work matters, and it will be compensated at a family wage; your retirement will be safeguarded from corporate fraud and manipulation — be it by cooking the books a la Enron or the legal abuses of a shadow banking system that by profligate lending practice has precipitated the mortgage meltdown and the bail-out of Bear-Stearns.
By recognizing that we create our own immigration problem by failing to fix an immigration system that neither safeguards national security nor permits genuine unmet labor needs to be filled on unexploited terms.
By saying to a nation of consumers that happiness is not found in mindless consumption and that we have an obligation to better stewardship of the environment and to develop alternative sources of energy — for our own health and well-being and that of our children and grandchildren — and, of course, as a matter of national security as well.
By saying to his fellow candidates for president in both parties, let’s end the name-calling; the politics of division based on race — understanding that we have had enough of black anger pitted against white resentment, that we indeed must say to those who seek office on those divisive terms, “Not this time.” It is better for us to understand that failing schools are failures for all concerned — whether you’re the student graduating without knowing how to make change or the customer who is shorted.
By understanding the significance of faith as a source of meaning in the life of our nation and our individual lives; that religion and freedom depend on each other (something, by the way, both the senator and Mitt Romney said just in slightly different phraseology). Freedom is enhanced by the “habits of the heart” and virtue nourished by religion, and at the same time, religious faith only matters if it is not coerced. None of us is entitled to have our personal faith enacted into law, but we can expect the law to accommodate, not grudgingly at the point of a lawsuit, but empathetically as a matter of good will and common sense all religious practices that do not endanger the public order.
And should he be elected president, by saying to his co-equal branches, I understand this is a constitutional system, and I have an obligation to use power wisely and not look for every opportunity to expand it or use it foolishly, as in the dismissal of my own U.S. attorneys with little thought and even less justification.
Will the election of Sen. Obama accomplish all these things?
Perhaps not, but like the Gipper used to say to us: If not us, who? If not now, when? Many of our allies are watching us, and while we should never pursue a course to win the approval of others, when the course we have followed proves not to be true, we must change direction if we are to have any hope of reaching our proper destination. The sentiment reported by those who live and work in capitals around the globe is that Sen. Obama’s successful campaign to date, in itself, has signaled to the world that — well, to pick the Reagan phrase again — it is “morning in America” because
the America they knew as an ally committed to peace and freedom and not hazy, ill-conceived forms of pre-emptive war is back;
the America they thought was the gold standard for the rule of law is back;
the America that could recognize its own shortcomings, be it racial or gender inequality, and right itself was back.
I am not quite as prepared as the readers of the foreign press to be quite this rejoicing this early. This is especially true since I disagree with Sen. Obama, the partisan elected official, in many, many ways. But his having campaigned not as a partisan but as a unifying force, my endorsement is best seen as a public acceptance and friendly reminder of the covenant his campaign is making. Like a restriction running with the land, the endorsement follows the covenant. If the covenant is breached in campaign or in office, the endorsement will be renounced more loudly than it was given. In short, I am counting on Sen. Obama the president to keep Sen. Obama the presidential candidate’s word — namely, that he intends to pursue policies aimed at transcending the politics of hate and division.
That, for example, on abortion, which I know to be a grave moral evil and that I understand Sen. Obama to see as a matter already legally settled, that he will nonetheless work to reduce the incidence of the practice by what he has stressed — the importance of families and churches conveying the importance of “having young people show reverence toward sexuality and intimacy.”
That on the definition of family, we will not undermine the significance of responsible procreation for the long-term health of the nation even as we work to end invidious discrimination and misunderstanding toward homosexuals in our society.
That when there are calls for government involvement, the first thought won’t be the bigger the government the better, but rather the very thoughtful questions Sen. Obama has already raised during his campaign such as: When should government intervene? And what can it usefully do?
And especially because — in his precampaign partisan role — he voted against two individuals who I know to be the very definition of “impartial judge” that we will work together to keep politics out of the courts; that just as some states have successfully developed merit systems for judicial appointments, both parties will stop seeing the judicial branch as the ideal placement for those who will advance our favored political philosophy regardless of the law as written.
Let me end this already too long explanation by saying my endorsement is not about animosity toward John McCain or Hillary Clinton. I was a McCain backer in 2000, and as the father of five, including three daughters who are pursuing professional lives, I respect Mrs. Clinton’s desire to break the glass ceiling.
It’s just that their public moments — like mine — are past. John McCain’s understanding of warfare and national security is an extension of “the greatest generation,” but it is no disrespect to say that just as “shock and awe” did not prevail in Iraq, Sen. McCain’s conceptions of military deployment are ill-suited to meeting the far more nimble and insidious nature of the present terrorist threat. Again, his most recent address suggesting a “league of democracies,” while not without its difficulties in terms of running the risk again of only dealing with our friends, shows a glimmer of the independently minded, pre-Bush McCain, and I urge him to continue to develop thoughts that take him beyond outworn models of base deployments that we cannot afford and that in some circumstances provoke more than secure.
And Mrs. Clinton is to me not advantaged, but disadvantaged, by her previous time in the White House. The ranks of capable, intelligent, well-prepared women who could serve as president are long and deep. In all seriousness, and with apologies to the Adams and Bush families, as I understand democracy, we ought not to return to those quarters someone who — directly or indirectly — will merely attract the ideas and personnel of the past.
Taking a leave of absence from my GOP home was not my first choice. As Ronald Reagan said, he didn’t leave the Democratic Party; it left him. I feel the GOP left me. Some do not see the trajectory from Romney to Obama as plainly as I do, and it would take an equally long letter to elaborate, and I will spare every reader who made it this far that burden. Let me just say, Gov. Romney well understood the significance of family, faith, and fiscal responsibility. In too many ways, the present administration was the most fiscally irresponsible of our lifetime, prayed aloud but ignored the teachings of faith to seek peace and pursue war only when warranted and, in so doing, jeopardized the well-being of every family in America. I love my family, my faith, and my country too much to entrust the next four years to any candidate who would stay upon a course that has been so badly misdirected.
My gratitude, again, to all who have written.