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Why This Former Right Winger Likes Obama

02/03/2008 07:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The registered as an independent voter in me -- who still happens to lean Republican some of the time -- wants the two-for-one Clintons to win the Democratic nomination because I know John McCain will beat them in November. The patriot in me hopes Obama wins because in my gut I trust him. I am more inspired by his candidacy than I have ever been by any political event, and if you knew me back "when" you'd know that statement is more or less a miracle.

I used to lead pro-life marches. My son was in the Marines and I am a big supporter of the military. I have handwritten notes of appreciation from Bush Sr., Bush Jr., Laura and Barbara Bush. Some of my op-eds in the Washington Post were anti the anti-Iraq War crowd.

These days I sit around watching Obama on CNN online for hours a day. He speaks of change and helping victims who have been left behind, but somehow does it without the usual Democratic Party whining and the droning identity politics of victimology. I disagree with him on some issues -- for instance I'm still anti-abortion, if not as doctrinaire as I once was -- but when I look at Obama and hear him speak he feels like a friend, not an enemy.

Is this logical or rational? No, but nor is politics, faith, love or life. Why do I like Obama? Because I do. Why does this matter? It doesn't, except for the fact that I bet I'm not the only unlikely conservative to former-conservative Obama fan.

I cut my political teeth in the seventies through the mid-eighties as an organizer in the religious right. Lots of the people the American left hates most gained power and/or notoriety because of the work my dad and I did to bring Evangelicals into the grass roots of the activist wing of the Republican Party. While I have left many of the views that I held then, it's a lot harder to change knee-jerk reactions that were bred into me in a fundamentalist childhood and years of bitter confrontational political action.

With my head I reject much of what I believed back in the days when, for instance, my late father Francis Schaeffer and I, along with Dr. C. Everett Koop (who was Ronald Reagan's Surgeon General) organized the beginnings of the Evangelical involvement in the pro-life movement. But in my heart (and gut) a lot of me is still a reactionary. I'm like some backslider who was raised as a believer and who lost his faith but that still tears up at the sound of the old hymns.

The right-winger in me knows that Obama can reach across party lines and win a national election. I know it because he touches me in the way no other Democratic candidate does. I know it because the Clintons make my flesh crawl but I can't get enough of Obama, even though on paper the Clintons share many of his policies. It isn't a matter of what I think; it's a matter of what I feel.

It's interesting to see that the culture warriors on both sides of the American political divide are backing the candidates who would be the most divisive. It's as if they miss the good old days when you demonized your opponents and "winning" was 50 percent plus 1 and "vast right wing conspiracies" versus the "baby killers." It's as if the America Obama talks about makes the professional dividers nervous. Maybe they sense that they would become less relevant in a world in which Obama was our president.

So I don't think it's an accident that the New York Times editorial board endorsed Hillary Clinton. The Times' relevance -- a family dynasty controlled paper going to bat for the dynastic candidate -- depends on a divided country in which they play a role of the standard bearers for liberal thought. On the other hand Rush Limbaugh his ilk, including religious radio hosts like Dr. James Dobson, are backing the Republican Party's most divisive candidate: Romney. They hate McCain because his hatred of people who disagree with him isn't intense enough. McCain is a "maverick" because he actually has friends not like him and embraces paradox from time to time. But the editorial board of the New York Times, Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Dobson are increasingly irrelevant to a new America that is emerging post culture wars. To me Obama (and to some extent McCain) represents a future where refining one's hatreds just isn't enough.

I think we all vote on an emotional level, whatever we say about our "reasons." Falling in love politically is like any other kind of falling in love -- somewhat beyond our control. And I'll bet that I'm not the only tired culture warrior from the right who feels relieved and uplifted and -- most importantly -- believes Obama when I hear him talk about bringing us together to shape a better future.

If McCain and Obama are running against each other I'll be tempted to vote for Obama even though based on my issues, my head tells me to support McCain. If McCain is running against the Clintons, I'll vote with my head for McCain if not with my heart.

Obama touches me. I feel a human connection to him that transcends politics. The Democrats are as lucky to have him running as they are unlucky to have the Clintons still in the picture. If a former right wing zealot like me will even consider voting for Obama, something big is happening.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of "CRAZY FOR GOD--How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back."