Last year, an unusual thing happened to me. Ireland held a referendum on abolishing its Senate, and I campaigned in favour of abolition. Most of my political friends were opposed to abolition. For the first time ever, I was actually in fundamental disagreement with most of my friends on a political issue. We argued during the campaign, spoke on different sides during debates, countered each other on-line.
They won, I lost. They still think they were right. I know they were wrong (!) but here’s the thing: they’re not bad people. We disagree on this, and other things, but we agree on others. The point is, I don’t think they are evil or immoral or less committed to democracy or less patriotic because they took a stand I disagreed with, nor do (I hope) they think that of me. It was the normal robust rough-and-tumble of a health free society arguing a point.
When I first heard about Barack Obama I was struck, as a read about him, that he wasn’t just another liberal black candidate. He wasn’t another Jesse Jackson, speaking eloquently for a community he came from but failing to connect with others. Obama reminded me of the young Tony Blair, who didn’t see all Tory voters as the enemy but people who had to be listened to and accommodated. It was Barack Obama the pragmatic centrist who just happened to also be black who really appealed to me.
In government, he tried to accommodate Republicans over healthcare reform, eventually bringing in a healthcare system not like the socialist single-payer system used in the UK, but one with huge private sector involvement designed by Republicans and implemented by a Republican governor. He appointed Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor to the key position of US ambassador to China because Huntsman was eminently skilled for the job.
And in reply, what does he get? Does he get Republicans who disagree with him on A, but find they might be able to do something on B if they get C? Like normal people? No, he gets people who question whether he was actually born in the US, and who actually dedicate their political time to paralysing the legislative process for fear of him achieving anything. He gets people who attack Republican governors like Chris Christie or indeed Jon Huntsman, conservatives who disagreed with the president on other things, for working with him on anything. Who get called traitors for working with the President of the United States on an issue of mutual agreement.
These are not normal people. That is not how normal people behave in their lives. Imagine a family was run on those line?
Then there are the other issues. He doesn’t think there is a gay conspiracy to destroy traditional families. He thinks that maybe having guns too easily accessible might have something to do with people getting shot. He believes in dinosaurs. He believes he was born in Hawaii. He doesn’t believe that poor people are inherently lazy. He doesn’t believe any member of any single major religion is all automatically evil. Normal stuff, believed by many conservatives around the world, not just liberals.
I don’t agree with him on everything. I think he’s way too cosy with public sector unions, and don’t get me started on drones. But that’s normal too. As former New York Mayor Ed Koch used to say: “If you agree with me on 10 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree on 12 out of 12, see a psychiatrist.”
In short, I support Barack Obama because he is the voice of rational debate and discussion. Not because I agree with him on everything, but because calm, reasoned debate is no longer the norm, but an actual wilful political choice. There are politicians now who are effectively opponents of rational debate, who dismiss whole swathes of their own countrymen and women as “un-American”. These people are nuts. I support the non-nut.