Sunday, September 14, 2008

Obama: Politics Is Personal

I had a great day in New Hampshire yesterday. First I joined a large and enthusiastic crowd in Manchester to hear Barack Obama speak. While he covered most of the same points made in his acceptance speech in Denver, he updated many of the comparisons between his plans and those of John McCain, with a lot of emphasis on how the economy is impacting so many Americans, and how McCain doesn’t seem to really understand this or have any plans that will help.

Obama talked about some of the lies that the Republicans are perpetuating in their ads and speeches, especially the idea that Obama will raise everyone’s taxes. According to this analysis from the Tax Policy Center, Obama’s plan will actually lower taxes for at least 95% of taxpayers, with larger percentage cuts for the bottom 60% who are hit hardest by rising energy and food costs, increasing taxes only for those making over $600,000 per year (McCain’s plans will lower taxes for everyone, but by less than 1% for the bottom 60% of taxpayers, and by 4.4% for people making $2.9 million or more – a typical Republican view of “tax relief”).

Obama mainly stuck to the issues and did not make any personal attacks on McCain or on Sarah Palin, whose name was mentioned only once (as McCain’s running mate). Palin is still getting a lot of attention in the press, and the more I learn, the scarier she is. But Obama and Biden should not get involved with this Republican side show, which is aimed at distracting voters from the fact that McCain is out of touch and is not prepared to deal realistically with the challenges of a global economy.

The “personal” part took place in the afternoon, which I spent canvassing for the Obama campaign in a small town near Keene, NH. Accompanied by an experienced local volunteer and with a big assist from my GPS, I visited around 25 homes in this rural area and spoke to a number of voters, including a good number of Obama supporters and a few undecided voters. Naturally some people were not interested in any political callers, and a few others were solidly for McCain. Usually we just thanked them for their time and moved on, but in a few homes where the person seemed open to discussion, I asked why they liked McCain over Obama. In a couple of cases, their response was clearly based on misconceptions (e.g., Obama will raise my taxes), and I was able to plant some seeds of doubt. Maybe some will change their minds, or at least dig a little bit for the facts. You never know.

Canvassing is a pretty inefficient process, but there really is no substitute for face to face contact, and I found it invigorating to be directly involved in this small way. I was one of many out of state volunteers who had come to the Keene office on this kickoff weekend, and I spoke with a few of the others. One Connecticut man had worked for the John Kerry campaign in 2004, but the rest were like me, doing this for the first time in their lives (I discount my brief college experience working for McGovern in 1972). I plan to go back several more weekends this fall to help wherever I can.

It may sound like political rhetoric when Obama says that this election is not about him, or John McCain, or Joe Biden, or Sarah Palin – “it’s about you.” But I’ve read about and now have seen firsthand how regular people who never got directly involved in politics before have been inspired by these times and especially by this candidate. It is about you – about us – and about taking back this country from special interests and putting it on the road to a better future. And yes, it’s about “change we need.” And it’s about time.

If you have the time – I know, you probably don’t – but if you can make the time to volunteer for the Obama campaign, I urge you to do so. If you can’t, but you support Obama, talk about his ideas with others, and make sure everyone you know is registered to vote.

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