I just finished reading The Audacity of Hope. (I know I was supposed to be reading my German lessons, but you know what they say "Procrastination is the mother of getting other useful stuff done." Or if that isn't a proverb, it should be...)
Barack Obama shows not only great empathy but also a great deal of respect for ordinary Americans. Over the past few decades, our political discourse has been maddeningly reduced to emotionally-charged (usually polarizing) soundbytes. The American people have been treated as though they can't handle any ideas more complicated than that. Barack Obama understands that our overall vision for America -- and strategies for how to get there -- are more complicated than a few catch-phrases, but not so much more complicated that everyone but the experts should be excluded from the discussion. He explains not only his reasoning but also his listening and learning in a way that invites discussion.
Personally, I've been incredibly frustrated by the use of the term "values" and especially "family values" in the last few election cycles. These code words look like such a clear-cut case of opposite-speak that it's easy to dismiss those who bestow these words on a narrow segment of the political spectrum as just a bunch of cynical politically-motivated liars. But Obama does not dismiss anyone out-of-hand. He recognizes that the "family values" people really are ultimately motivated by values the way progressives are, and that in fact people all over the political map share a lot of the same values. We'd all like to see America as a land of opportunity where people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, so why not take a fair and rational look at what it would take to make sure opportunities exist, in terms of strengthening families, communities, and education?
In world affairs, Obama understands how important it is for America to take the lead morally. We need to hold our own policies up to high standards of ethics first in order to be able to expect the same from other nations. For our own security (if nothing else), we need international cooperation, and step one is demonstrating a willingness to cooperate and play fair.
Now I know a lot of you in the atheosphere are not happy about Obama's overt displays of Christianity. You'd like to be able to vote for an atheist. Hey, me too -- I'd love it if admitting to atheism weren't the kiss of death that dooms a candidate's chances before putting up the first campaign poster. But consider what Obama has to say (p. 219):
What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy does demand is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to abortion for religions reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God's will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.
Then he goes on to explain that creationism (even disguised as "intelligent design") is not science, hence does not belong in the science classroom. "Reason -- and science -- involves the accumulation of knowledge based on realities that we can all apprehend." That's good enough for me, and should be for anyone who agrees with the Constitution on "no religious test" being required for political office.
Obama also explains how separation of church and state (even the "establishment clause" preventing government-sponsored religion) benefits religion, and was initially backed by religious leaders. I can try to tell Christians this message myself -- along with the message about shared values (see here) -- but they're more likely to believe it when it comes from one of their own. Such leadership will go a long way towards convincing the general population that non-believers deserve rights, fair treatment, and even a place at the table of discussion.
Now I don't want to bother with the negative side and explain why one should vote against Clinton. Frankly, I don't have a big problem with her except on foreign policy. I had a few choice words for Gloria Steinem, who saw Obama's success as unfair and apparently thinks feminism is about competing with other disfavored groups over who's the most oppressed. However, I don't want to blame Clinton for Steinem's article, and I don't want to advise people to vote against Clinton or to vote for "the black guy" over "the woman." I would like to ask people to vote for Obama because he's the best candidate, and because really he's a much better candidate than I ever expected would make it this far.