||[Nov. 1st, 2008|10:23 am]
A recent article from Economist takes a considered look at the candidates.
Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media and a prominent figure in the world of technology and open source software, has posted a very thoughtful endorsement of Senator Obama.
I have tried, with moderate success, not to become emotionally invested in this campaign. What follows is mostly a brain-dump of my feelings on a few major issues that are most important to me, both personally and professionally.
The commercials that mocked Senator McCain for not knowing how to send an email were rather silly, but the point that they make is germane when our stock market operates almost entirely on computer-driven trading. The humans keep an eye on things to ensure that there is no major meltdown (oops), but the low-level details are automated. Much of our critical infrastructure operates this way, and it's important that we have leaders who grok the basic ideas.
The scorn for science that Tim O'Reilly describes, especially coming from Governor Palin, is depressing. Regardless of leanings on thorny social and moral issues related to science, the most effective way for us to drag ourselves backward in world standing is to dismiss the overwhelming scientific evidence for things like climate change. The rest of the world is ready to tackle the major energy and environmental problems that we're facing, but somehow we still find it respectable to deny that there is a (largely man-made) problem. You can convince yourself that the world looks fine, that there's no need for concern, or that the colder-than-average weather in the last few years is evidence against global warming, but this ignores the significant evidence given by climatologists (who know better than anyone) that we're contributing heavily to changes in the global climate. We don't ignore such strong evidence in other parts of our lives. If your doctor warns you that continuing to do X will make your lifestyle extremely difficult or impossible to maintain in the near future, do you continue with X? I should hope not. It's time to be intellectually honest about this, even if it means that we need to change our old ways.
Without a big shift in our attitude toward fixing these things, the world is going to leave us behind. And we don't have enough remaining clout to convince them to wait for us. The incentives need to come from the top, where there is awareness of the problem. By the time the market starts to feel pressure from climate change, it's far too late. The free market isn't a silver bullet, but it certainly has an important role to play, in addition to some strong and thoughtful leadership.
Obama is not my ideal candidate. When he voted for the FISA legislation that legalized President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program (i.e., enabling the NSA to spy on our conversations, and not just those of suspected criminals, without a warrant), he nearly lost my vote. I don't like the fact that he committed to public campaign finance and then withdrew that commitment once he realized that he could raise significantly more money on his own. (I understand the decision from a strategic perspective, but the reversal on a campaign commitment is unfortunate.) In addition, Senator Biden's stances on major issues (privacy and civil rights come immediately to mind), although far less naive and scary than Gov. Palin's, are a mixed bag.
In spite of those things, though, I think that Senator Obama's keen insight, calm nature, and charisma are significant intellectual and character qualities that stand a good chance of helping to begin the long process of healing our weakened image in the eyes of the world. A muscly posture backed by a powerful military has not worked well. An interventionist approach to world events has not worked well, especially when we focus on events that threaten our oil supply and ignore other devastating problems (e.g., Darfur, or Zimbabwe, or even Hurricane Katrina).
Soft skills are important. Negotiating, even if it means meeting with people who are considered enemies, is not the same as being a sympathizer. To move forward, I believe that we need someone who is able to understand and communicate a nuanced view of reality, since the world is a messy, complicated place that does not respond well to being over-simplified. The ability to do so is not an elitist quality. It is a sign of maturity and character.
Please remember to vote.