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Why a Staunch Conservative Like Me Endorsed Obama

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Who cares?

That's what I wondered when George Packer (ace of the New Yorker) asked whether he could post my intention to vote for Obama on his blog.

So I duly ignored him. Only when he bugged me two days later did I say okay, and responded in quick, instinctive emails back.

Little did I know the splash this would make. Not until a day later, when my wife and I were up in Philadelphia to teach leadership via scenes from Shakespeare's Henry V for the Wharton Business School. When friends joined us for dinner at UPenn, they said their taxi driver had talked about my "endorsement of Obama," having read it online during a break.

What's most fun about unexpectedly "breaking through" on an issue is not feeling powerful, that you're molding minds out there. People make up their own minds, based on lots more information than my personal inclinations.

Okay, this type announcement can give (maybe a few) conservatives some cover -- not publicly to use with others, but privately to assure themselves that it's actually okay to break away. To break with the most conservative, or Republican, candidate and vote (in my case, the first time ever) for "the other guy."

And it's not most fun dealing with longtime friends, fellow conservatives. Most are polite and say they understand, and they'll get over it. Yet a few do get heated, show their disappointment, and say they can't understand my taking a public stance (even if I privately stray).

I don't enjoy those discussions, since I've long prided myself in being a staunch conservative.

Not a neo-con, since I was never liberal along the way (having campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964, when at that hotbed of lefty politics, Grinnell College). I'm really a con-con.

And not a staunch Republican, as I've never been to a Republican rally or convention (I came closest in 1980, after writing Don Rumsfeld's speech and after we drove there; but I left Detroit before the convention opened).

So I've considered myself less of a partisan than an ideologue. I cared about conservative principles, and still do, instead of caring about the GOP.

Granted, McCain's views are closer to mine than Obama's. But I've learned over this Bush era to value competence along with ideology. Otherwise, our ideology gets discredited, as it has so disastrously over the past eight years.

McCain's temperament -- leading him to bizarre behavior during the week the economic crisis broke -- and his judgment -- leading him to Wasilla -- depressed me into thinking that "our guy" would be a(nother) lousy conservative president. Been there, done that.

I'd rather a competent moderate president. Even at a risk, since Obama lacks lots of executive experience displaying competence (though his presidential campaign has been spot-on). And since his Senate voting record is not moderate, but depressingly liberal. Looming in the background, Pelosi and Reid really scare me.

Nonetheless, I concluded that McCain would not -- could not -- be a good president. Obama just might be.

That's become good enough for me -- however much of a triumph (as Dr. Johnson said about second marriages) of hope over experience.

Now what's most fun about the media breakthrough is hearing from gobs of people from previous lives. Many long forgotten, reminding me of long forgotten times together. People emerging suddenly, from the dark matter of time, into the recesses of the brain.

These folks were important at various stages of my life -- grammar school playmates, Grinnell classmates, Indianapolis cousins, Dan Quayle, Dick Allen, colleagues from the Reagan arms control agency (chuckling over my quip to Packer that I wouldn't have hired Sarah Palin to a mid-level job there).

A veritable stroll down memory lane, to see a line of people who have touched my life at various times, in its varied stages, reconnecting in a most unexpected (even bizarre) manner.

Now that's fun.

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