On an overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic campus, the endorsement of a Democratic presidential candidate borders on the banal. Accordingly, that The Phoenix is choosing to endorse Barack Obama in this presidential election is, given the demographics of Swarthmore, hardly surprising.
But dogmatic Obamamania is a disservice not only to the candidate, but also to the democratic process. Even among Obamas supporters and campaign volunteers, too often platitudes become the stock responses to the fundamental question: Why do you support this candidate? This editorial seeks to answer that question, not with chants of hope and halcyon dreams of change, but with the realities of Barack Obamas qualifications. We identify three traits of the nominee that make his candidacy so compelling: his tenure as a law professor at the University of Chicago; his passion for international and domestic dialogue and engagement; and the promise of uniting not only a country fractured internally along party lines, but an international order torn asunder by a superpower made into a diplomatic pariah.
Before Barack Obama became Senator Obama (either in the Illinois Senate, from 1997 to 2004, or in the United States Senate thereafter), he bore an honorific familiar to Swarthmore students: Professor. And as the former president of the Harvard Law Review and a professor of constitutional law at the prestigious law school of the University of Chicago, Professor Obamas past as an academic should not be ignored or understated. When The New York Times published several of the model responses he provided to his own constitutional law exams in July, commentators were struck by how consistently thoughtful, articulate and insightful they were. Pamela Karlan, a law professor at Stanford, remarked that Senator Obama has a first-rate mind for legal doctrine and could have been a first-rate academic had his interests gone in that direction. Akhil Reed Amar, a fellow constitutional law professor at Yale, professed to being dazzled by the analytical intelligence and sophistication of Obamas exams and responses.
Despite graduating 894th of 899 in his class at Annapolis, John McCain has built a successful career as a politician. Mr. McCains exploits demonstrate that being able to confidently cite Supreme Court cases is, in and of itself, not of value to a president. Obamas book smarts translate into a pragmatism that has led him not only to capitalize on his own experience and knowledge, but also surround himself with equally knowledgeable advisors. Jason Furman, Obamas senior economic advisor, is a graduate of Harvard and a veteran of the World Bank, the Clinton administration, Columbia, Yale and NYU. By contrast, even the son of McCains senior domestic policy advisor, Swarthmore alum Colin Holtz-Eakin 07, has expressed doubts about the competency of McCains advisory team.
Nevertheless, a White House filled with the best-qualified advisors is purposeless without a president willing to embrace the issues most relevant to contemporary American society. And here Obama shows his true promise as a leader. From the start of his candidacy, Mr. Obama has approached the challenges he (and America) face questions of race and religion seem to come to the forefront with gusto. In a campaign dogged by the persistent specter of racism, Obama has not only responded to these biases head-on, but also prompted Americans to reconsider their own, sometimes latent, prejudices. In his endorsement of Senator Obamas candidacy, former Secretary of State Colin Powell responded to the misconception that Mr. Obama is a Muslim, often used as an attack by Republicans, by asking, What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? hese and other questions, we can only hope, will remain at the forefront of an Obama administrations priorities.
Also outside of Americas borders, Mr. Obama has been consistent in adhering to his philosophy of engaging with issues rather than ignoring them. He has stressed constructive dialogue with countries such as North Korea, a relief to many Americans worried by eight years of shunning a growing nuclear power. The only way to dismantle the Bush years most frightening legacy, the hostile Axis of Evil, is to change course and embrace, rather than alienate, countries critical of the United States. And while Senator McCains campaign has seized on Mr. Obamas willingness to parley with hostile nations as a sign of weakness and coalescence to enemies of the state, they confuse diplomacy for debility.
Finally, we believe that the presidency of Barack Obama is uniquely suited to the duty of restoring Americas reputation as the rational leader of the international community, rather than a maverick practitioner of cowboy diplomacy. For years, America has squandered the international goodwill that resulted from its status as a benevolent hegemon. The United States was built to be a city on a hill; yet, from shunning the Kyoto Protocol to making a mockery of the United Nations, the United States has shied away from being the example the world expects. We have not lived up to our promise, as a people and as a nation. And beginning with the election of Barack Obama in November, we, at least, hope that America can start down the road back to its former power, prestige and place as the shining beacon of what democracy can accomplish.