Barack Obama: A Cautious Endorsement

My #1 choice in the Democratic nominating race, John Edwards, has now withdrawn from the race. As a result, I am left in a tough situation - having to choose between two candidates - Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who have both caused me grief at times. Hillary Clinton used to be my second choice, and I thought I could never vote for Obama - not even in the general election.

Let me say something clearly. The hurt Obama has caused by putting Donnie McClurkin on the stage has not gone away. I am not going to forget. But while I cannot forget, I can forgive. I can forgive because when Barack Obama says that he talks about tough issues not just in front of friendly audiences but audiences that need to hear it, he is not talking bull. He does go to African American churches in the south and talk about embracing gay Americans - not a particularly convenient thing to do. While it didn't lessen the sting that he had caused with his concert with McClurkin, it did make me realize that he's got some courage of his convictions.

That said, what finally brought me to endorse Obama's candidacy is something more than his brilliant oratory. No, I was looking for substance. And in the CNN-LA Times debate hosted on Thursday night, I got substance. I have not been impressed by his debate performances before, partly because most debates turn into snipe-fests thanks to idiotic questions like "Are you calling so and so dumb?" But Thursday night's debate was unusually substantive, focusing on the issues and what kind of president each candidate would be. And it was that substance that took me back to why I did not want John Kerry in 2004 and Hillary Clinton in 2008. The debate came to the war in Iraq, and it was made crystal clear that Sen. Clinton, while with a credible promise of finally ending the occupation should she become president, would continue to justify her vote to authorize it in the first place. The if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now defense is no longer enough. After 5 years of occupation, it has become abundantly clear that the policy itself, not just the execution of it, was fatally flawed. The Democratic party deserves a nominee who can draw clear contrasts with the Republicans on policy this matter, not just differences on execution. The war vote is indefensible, it is quite stunning for a policy wonk like Hillary Clinton not to realize the devastating error in policy.

Another unmistakable quality that Barack Obama has on substance is that he doesn't care to tailor his answers. Asked a question from an African American woman who is worried about the high unemployment rates in African American communities and the impact of immigration on that, Obama was quick to reject the scapegoating of immigrants, instead inviting people of all races who are struggling to climb up the economic ladder to realize we must fight the policies put in place that impoverish the many and enrich the few both here and in other countries rather than pitting people against people. Instead, he asked us all to be partners in achieving economic justice.

I have always believed that our country is ready to move into a new era of democracy - one in which the people matter more than dollars, and one in which we are able to build a new social contract: that all of us are responsible for each other, that inner-city kids with crumbling schools are our kids, that seniors struggling to get by are our mothers and fathers, that we are one community with a face as diverse as the populations of the world, yet a credo as grand as the motto of our nation: Out of many, one. I have seen Barack Obama's clarion call to that mission. But even more than that, I can see, among those who I've known for a long time and those who I'm only beginning to know, a belief - not a belief in a campaign, but a belief in themselves. A belief that they truly have the power to change the destiny of a nation and rescue a planet from peril. I see a new band of activists blazing their trail, defying conventional wisdom and taking the establishment by the storm. I see Americans - not Barack Obama or his campaign - writing a new chapter in our own history.

But as a note of caution, change will not be possible if this new generation of activists becomes complacent in an Obama presidency or disenchanted in an Obama defeat. Whatever happens, the wave of change must continue. With our without Barack Obama, with or without a Democratic president. They cannot become too weary when the going gets rough, and they cannot become disillusioned when a battle is lost.

And so, today, I offer a cautious endorsement to Barack Obama. It has been a personally difficult path for me, but while this endorsement is cautious, it is a full endorsement.

In the end, I'm throwing my support behind Barack Obama, because I refuse to let cynicism win, even if it's my own.