THE BLOG
07/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Imperfection of Barack Obama

I've never been one to demand purity from political candidates I support. While I would like to agree with them on all issues (or to put it more accurately -- would like them to agree with me on all issues...), I gave up expecting that in the eighth grade when I lost my race for vice-president due to a woeful lack of understanding by my classmates.

I have friends who spin into a tizzy when candidates they like take stances contradictory to their own. Cut them off cold turkey. Banish them to a sixth circle of hell.

Hey, I have opinions of my own I don't always end up agreeing with. Most people have friends with attributes that drive them nuts, but those friends remain dear to us because what we admire most about them far-transcends what bugs us.

I don't expect more from politicians than I expect from myself, my family, my best friends. Politicians have more responsibility on a grander scale, certainly. But those close to us have much more impact on our lives.

And so it's with bemusement that I see all the angst about Barack Obama's positions on the FISA bill, faith-based programs, and the horror that he's "moving to the center."

To be clear, I'm bothered by his position on the FISA bill. At least he wants telecom immunity stripped, while John McCain is fine with it all. Small comfort, it's still disappointing. Though it's also understandable.

And further, I think he's wrong about supporting faith-based programs. His protections are significantly better than those of George Bush's, but that's no great claim. Religion has no place in any aspect of government. The Founding Fathers made that separation clear and distinct -- and importantly, it's what has allowed religion to flourish in America. Religious organizations have a right to provide social services, and have their tax exemptions. Government support not only crosses the constitutional line and opens the Pandora's Box about which religions qualify ... but it takes money from public charities desperately in need of it.

So, although Sen. Obama has a good perspective on how to best handle faith-based funding by the government, that's not good enough. You may have the best way to hold a burning log in your hands, but it's still a burning log in your hands.

I haven't been pleased at him softening several other issues that helped bring him overwhelming popularity in Democratic and Independent circles. Maybe it's a mistake for him, maybe smart. But I understand it. The battlefield changes. It's what happens. And happens reasonably. To say, "Oh, we thought he was different," ignores the reality that he is different, even if not different in every way. It also ignores that, like with our friends, the good things one likes about him far outweigh what makes us gnash our teeth. And significantly, it ignores that as progressive as Barack Obama is -- he also came to national attention by drawing people together in the center, that we are not Red States or Blue States, but the United States. That's as much a part of who he is and has always been, not a flip or flop in sight.

Moreover, perspective is important: it's one thing to soften one's views, and another to reverse them completely, as John McCain keeps doing, whether being against offshore drilling and then supporting it. Or against oppressive immigration policies and then for them. Or saying we'll be greeted as liberators in Iraq and later insisting he was always critical of how the war was run.

And even on those positions of Barack Obama's that I flat-out don't agree with? I'm OK with it. That's life. We choose the best we can. If we waited for perfection, we'd wait forever. I'm a Chicago Cubs fan. I can only handle 100-year waits on a limited number of things.

That said, it's essential to criticize what we don't like, especially from those we support. Even during an election. But to drag such criticism further, to stomp off petulantly and rip apart the binding threads during that election -- it borders on fantasy at best, and self-destructive at worst. And living in a non-reality-based, destructive world should be the purview of neocons.

Of course, issues matter. And so too do the details. But -- details change. They will always change. Because once elected, politicians must deal with other politicians and other branches of government with their own details, and compromises always have to get worked out. Have to. A politician who can accomplish the greatest from that may well be the most valuable.

So, the details a politicians proclaims on the campaign trail? I listen closely. I hope for the best. I expect ability. I demand overall decency. And I keep waiting for the ones who'll do it perfectly. But as yet, that wait hasn't kept me from enthusiastically supporting those I admire more than others.

After all, while I don't like a few of Barack Obama's limited moves to the center, I like John McCain's repeated moves to the right even less.

We should always hold politicians, our friends, our families, ourselves to high standards. And we should always address anyone critically when those standards falter. But in the end, above all, we should always accept that those we hold close are the ones who -- whatever their flaws -- land highest in their deeds, and enrich our lives the most.

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