Saturday, September 13, 2008

How Do You Decide?

After reading all of the comments on my post the other day, Can't We Agree to Disagree?, it's clear most of us feel strongly about this election and its outcome.

Shauna made a really interesting comment when she speculated that Americans may not be as far apart as we may think. She said:

"From what I've read in the paper, poll after poll shows that most Americans support the platform and ideas of the Democratic party (when they are presented as ideas and not linked to Democrats). So most of us are in general agreement about what we want for the country."

I think there's something to that point. The words "Democrat" and "liberal" have had such negative connotations for so many for such a long time that I think people often refuse to hear or consider anything coming from that camp.

I found an interesting website, called MyElectionChoices and I can't vouch for how recently it's been updated, but it does provide a fair measure for how much you agree with each candidate on the issues. There is a long list of topics ranging from the 2nd Amendment/Gun Control, Abortion, Education, the Environment and Energy, Iraq, Social Security, Stem Cell Research, the War on Terror and the Department of Homeland Security and a number of others. There are 4-6 statements listed for each topic and you select each statement that you agree with. Each statement was made by either Senator McCain or Senator Obama. The survey keeps a running tally of how many of each candidate's statements you're in agreement with.

My survey results indicate I agree with 40 of Barack Obama's statements and 22 of John McCain's. That doesn't surprise me. Keep in mind, there is a limited set of specific quotes, so this merely provides a very high level indication of how aligned you are with each candidate's statements on each issue.

To learn more about what each candidate says on the issues, Barack Obama's Blueprint for America is here and John McCain's webpage on the issues is here. Another useful resource I've found to compare the candidates is the On the Issues website. It provides specific quotes and voting records. You can find Barack Obama on the issues and John McCain on the issues.

If all things were equal, determining where the candidates stand on the issues would be enough to base a decision on. But all things aren't equal and there are potentially dozens of other factors to look at and those factors will be different for each of us. We're all different and some people base their voting decisions on a single issue or a personal value.

For me, where the candidates stand on the issues determines at least 55% of my decision. Other factors include:

1. Education and intelligence. In the arena of world leaders, I believe our President is daily being asked to engage in a battle of wits. My opinion is that it's best if he's armed. Regular "folks" are great, people you'd like to have a beer with are great, but I don't want someone who's just average responsible for our national security. I'm in favor of electing leaders who are the best and the brightest. It is significant to me that Barack Obama attended Columbia and went on to Harvard Law School. It is significant to me that he was President of Harvard Law Review and that prior to becoming a US Senator, he taught Constitutional Law. It tells me he has a very grounded understanding of our government.

2. How does the rest of the world see the candidates? Prior to both conventions this summer, the BBC commissioned a poll in 22 countries to assess whether US relations with the world would improve, stay the same or deteriorate under Barack Obama or under John McCain. The results indicate almost unilaterally that the world view of the United States and our relationships with the countries surveyed would improve under an Obama Presidency. Some people may not consider this pertinent to their decision making, but for me, it's very important.

3. How does the candidate come across during interviews? When a candidate is interviewed, and particularly when the interviewer is tough or adversarial, we get a good indication of how well the candidate responds under pressure and we have an excellent of idea of how well versed he is on the issues and how well he responds to opposing views. Presidents frequently take private meetings with heads of state and need to be capable of doing so without advisors. Presidents should be accessible to the Washington Press Corps and should be able to appropriately answer difficult questions.

Barack Obama appeared in a multi-part interview with Bill O"Reilly on Fox News in early September. Watch Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 and analyze how you think Obama does. O'Reilly hits just about every hot button issue, so there are some great insights here.

John McCain also appeared in a multi-part interview with Bill O'Reilly back in May. Although O'Reilly obviously has a conservative bias, I thought it was important to show McCain with the same interviewer, addressing the same issues. Watch Part 1, 2, and 3. Since the O'Reilly interview is six months old, I'm including links from his appearance Friday on The View. Here are Parts 1, 2 and 3. Admittedly, sitting on that couch would be a bit overwhelming, but I think some important things come out here.

Obama and McCain are who I'm focused on, but with the possibility that a President can die or resign, the VP candidates warrant attention too.

Here's an interview with Joe Biden on CSPAN from August, Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

For anyone who hasn't seen it, here is the ABC interview of Sarah Palin by Charlie Gibson. Here are parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

4. What are the candidate's religious views? With each subsequent election, religion seems to play a greater part. I want a candidate who believes in maintaining the separation of church and state.

5. How consistent is the candidate's stated vision with his actions? I can allow some leeway in the case of a candidate who alters his original position over time, based on new information or changes in circumstance, but I am suspicious of sudden reversals that appear to be entirely motivated by politics.

6. What does the candidate's choice of a running mate indicate about him?

7. The supreme court is comprised of seven appointees by Republican administrations and two from Democratic administrations. The party that gets in office will likely have the opportunity to make an appointment that could lead to reversals of prior decisions, Roe v. Wade being the most likely.

8. Does the candidate's race matter? Does his age?

9. Does the candidate appear to have the knowledge, intellect, experience and judgment to be President?

10. Does he have integrity and honor and truly want the best for this country? Does he make you feel confident, or does he make you feel uneasy? This question is one that comes down strictly to personal gut feel, but our intuition about who the person really is may be the most powerful part of our decision.

If you decide to check out MyElectionChoices, let me know if your answers surprise you. Which of these questions are important to you? Are there factors you'd add or take away from this list? Do you have issues that are "deal breakers"? What about the negative ads? I'm turned off by those who initiate them, not by their targets. Do you have a decision making process? What do you base your choice on?

For non-American visitors, who would you like to see us elect, based on what you've seen?


Charles Gramlich said...

I want to have a look at those questions but it'll have to be tomorrow. Too tired tonight.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Lisa. Educating America one blogger at a time? You should have been a reporter--investigative journalist, if you well. Thanks for all the great links, I'll be coming back here a lot before election day to click links and read comments.

Stephen Parrish said...

Terrific post, Lisa. Ever consider running for office?

Leigh Russell said...

We read a lot about your election over here in the UK. It's interesting to hear what ordinay (in the best sense of the work) people think. An American friend of mine said he'd be nervous about Obama as he's not that expereinced, but that was before McCain chose his candidate for vice president. As for who I'd like to see elected? I don't know. It's your party.

debra said...

Well, once again Blogger ate my comment......
it's not surprising to me that MyElectionChoices determines that I am an Obama supporter. I have many questions about McCain, his choice of running mate as a comment on his judgment being one. One heartbeat away from the presidency is too close for me. The erosion of our freedoms greatly concerns me. The Constitution did not cease to exist on September 11.

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm not even halfway through the website & already I find very few options that I agree with at all. A lot of reading for nothing, unfortunately. Still working on it, though. Clearly my TRUE choice is neither Obama nor McCain, but this quiz is only designed to pick one of those, of course. There's just no solid libertarian/anarchic candidate on the ballot, unfortunately. <:(

Lana Gramlich said...

24 Obama/14 McCain, for what it's worth.

Steve Malley said...

When I left America, I quit voting, even by absentee ballot. (At the time, I thought it was an honest sacrifice. Then Bush/Gore revealed those absentee ballots are mostly thrown out anyway)

For what it's worth, I believe Obama presents a real chance to change course. And that letting Palin anywhere near the Presidency would be an accelerating spiral my home country's descent into nightmare...

Ello said...

Lisa, Thank you for this. You know how important this means to me too! I am sending Da Man over to check all this out. I can only hope more Americans are doing the same.

Lisa said...

Charles, Hey! You were up late last night too!

Kristen, These aren't really all that fabulous, but they're someplace to start. What I'm finding least helpful: the evening news. Last night I found a great article from NYT Magazine from August 24th that provides a detailed explanation of Obama's view on the economy. I've only read about half of it, but I'll probably provide a link to it later because it's very informative. There's lots of decent information out there, but you really have to mine for it.

Stephen, Ha! I can hardly stand watching the process!

Leigh, I think you're getting a very tiny sampling of what a few of us think and just about everyone who has commented is I think, either Independent with pretty moderate to liberal leanings, or Democrat. There might be one Republican...maybe. Right now the race is pretty even between Obama and McCain, if you can believe the polls, so there is a pretty big group of people out there who, I have to assume would probably completely disagree with everything I think.

Debra, Oh wow. I need to add something to reflect how the candidates feel on erosion of civil liberties in the name of security AND position on the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and in secret prisons outside the country. Also, where they stand on human rights.

Lana, There were two categories where I didn't agree with any of the statements either. But I look at it this way -- the two nominees were elected by their respective parties (and I wasn't part of the primary process since I'm not a registered Democrat or Republican). I doubt any candidate that held all of my views would be electable at all, so I've got to choose the one I think will be the best for America and who represents most closely my positions.

Steve, During the primaries and up through the DNC, I saw a spirit of optimism and I saw people coming together in a way that I've never seen in my lifetime, with the possible exception of a week or two following 9/11. I think we're capable of doing incredible things and I think Obama can fill a leadership role that has been lacking for a very long time and can help to restore some of the respect and trust this country used to have with the rest of the world.

Lisa said...

Ello, Actually, you and Da Man were the reason I wanted to sit down and try to at least sketch out some kind of decision making resources. I would like to think that all voters take an objective, balanced approach to choosing a candidate, but I know that's not the case. These are difficult, complicated issues and I don't pretend to understand them all, but I can make the effort.

Usman said...

The American elections have truly become a multinational election.
If I were American, I would vote for Obama.
Since I am not, my consideration is based on the foreign policy of the candidates. With US forces attacking Pakistan on a near daily basis, I have my fingers crossed that Obama shall change this policy.
Life, Liberty and The pursuit of happiness, is not only an American dream; it's a universal one.
In a global world, the USA is no longer an island of isolation. I hope Obama realises that.
I dont expect that from the republicans.

Vesper said...

Lisa, I'm extremely impressed by your posts on politics. Your seriousness, your eloquence, your knowledge makes them a very interesting read even for someone like me who, although she realises the extreme importance of the moment not just for the US but for the whole world, cannot be interested in politics.

I would vote for Obama.

steve said...

Oliver Wendell Holmes reportedly described Franklin D. Roosevelt as having a second-rate intellect, but a first-rate temperament. From all I've seen of Obama, he appears to be first-rate in both. While McCain has courage, fortitiude, and some independence, I don't see him as having the kind of personality to be an effective president. His seeming preference for military solutions over negotiations and his support for Bush's ineffective Iran and Cuba policies bear that out.

I'm pretty pessimistic in general, but I believe Obama could be in the same league as the FDR.

Lana Gramlich said...

I appreciate what you've said. I'm just hold a much more radical viewpoint than the average person. Of course no one agrees with ALL of my opinions. Unfortunately neither of these candidates (or any of the other populist paraders,) really agree with any of them...

Lisa said...

Usman, I am so glad you commented. As you know, relations between the US and Pakistan have been delicate. I believe that Barack Obama believes that if the US has an opportunity to target Osama Bin Laden inside the border of Pakistan, that a cross-border attack would not be made as a threat to Pakistani sovereignty, but as a means to finally seek justice for the 9/11 attacks. I am no foreign policy expert, so I may not have described his view accurately. I do believe that Obama is very aware that relations with the rest of the world have deteriorated throughout the duration of the Bush administration and it is a priority to him to restore and improve our standing with the rest of the world. I have listened to him speak on foreign policy several times (there are some good YouTube videos) and I think he has a far more sophisticated grasp of foreign policy than the Republicans give him credit for.

Vesper, I am not very knowledgeable at all, but I appreciate you saying so ;)

Steve, Obama is the first politician I have ever been enthusiastic about in my lifetime. The more I learn about him and the more I watch him, the more impressed and confident in his abilities and judgment I am. I'm even further optimistic whenever I hear one of his advisers speak. He has surrounded himself with world class experts. I'm afraid my pessimism lies with the inability of many Americans to recognize him for who and what he is. I also have a nagging fear that race will play a much larger role on election day than the polls would indicate.

Lana, Well -- no candidate will ever totally represent my views either. One who did would be entirely unelectable :)

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It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

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