12/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My Vote Today: Barack Obama and Joe Biden

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Despite the pleas of a number of my favorite (and even not so favorite) readers, I have kept quiet until now about who I planned to vote for.

My support for any candidate or party is something I tend to keep on hold until getting very close to voting. I don't believe in unconditional support for anyone or any organized political institution.

There are also some issues I care about more than others, and my approach is subjective, dependent on ever changing postures and issues. I mull things over, reconsider, change course, and sometimes change back.

I have known and admired Senator John McCain since 1993. I have met Senator Barack Obama several times personally and have studied his record, habits, and words very closely. I have colleagues and friends who work at the highest levels in both organizations.

Despite my having applauded John McCain's political career and often brave policy positions many times in the past, I can't support him and his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, tomorrow.

The reasons I can't support John McCain are three. First, despite having a credible and impressive record in the United States Senate on a great number of policy issues, he chose to make military and national security issues the primary foundation of his campaign. Rather than recruiting Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Richard Armitage, Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar, Robert Zoellick and others to be the primary sculptors and advisers to his campaign, he neglected most of these and ignored others in favor of foreign policy hands that reflected militant neoconservatism and strident, pugnacious nationalism.

Rather than conveying that he was a national leader who understood war and peace and would be cautious with deployments of troops and American commitments, McCain telegraphed a "recklessness" when it came to U.S. foreign policy and key national security questions.

Secondly, amplifying this recklessness, John McCain failed to make competence and a clear understanding of what America's history and great debates and challenges are an absolute requisite for anyone he would put in line for the presidency. He chose Sarah Palin who I doubt knows much about the very DNA of the nation. I have heard no evidence of her knowledge or awareness of the founding fathers, the Federalist Papers, the Civil War, womens' suffrage, the civil rights battles of our near term history, or many other great debates and challenges in our past. I don't get the sense that she is ready in any serious way to drive the ship of the United States of America. I think had McCain selected Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Joseph Lieberman, or even a Meg Whitman as his running mate -- this race would be tighter. Picking Palin was a reckless move -- amplifying significant doubts about John McCain's judgment.

Thirdly, I am a fan of some leading members of John McCain's team -- including Rick Davis, Trevor Potter, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin. I have seen them all in better times managing better challenges and issues. Holtz-Eakin is one of the least partisan economic policy players in Washington and has provocative, constructive ideas on a wide range of domestic policy issues. McCain allowed Senator Phil Gramm to squelch Holtz-Eakin's views and work early in the process and to make every answer to every problem the single refrain of "tax cuts." McCain was largely unprepared and had not thought through what were obvious fragilities in the U.S. economy.

This was a failure of leadership and judgment.

The reasons why I am voting for Barack Obama and Joe Biden are several.

I think Obama's limited record and the fact that so many have affixed their expectations and aspirations on his campaign -- despite the fact that these aspirations between different groups are in fundamental conflict with each other -- have made supporting Obama a challenge for me.

I'm not someone moved by the questions of race and identity about his past. I know others are, but these qualities of leadership and "breakthrough" are not so high on my list when voting for national leadership.

I admire sharp-edged thinking, the establishment of clear priorities, a commitment to move the nation's interests forward and the conceptualization of a broader global vision that may help to promote opportunity, stability and justice.

On the whole, Barack Obama has convinced me he is capable of seeing America's challenges in these terms -- though i think that there are a great many close advisers around him who want to continue the "third term" of the Clinton administration -- or whose vision is defined by inertia and incrementalism -- rather than the big leaps forward that Obama frequently flirts with.

This nation is at a pivot point in its history. We have to change and rethink things. We need to anticipate crises and tests of America's power -- exactly as Joe Biden suggested will happen. He is right.

America needs a new global social contract -- and a domestic social contract that reshuffles the costs, opportunities and responsibilities between our stakeholders at home and abroad. Winner-takes-all capitalism and unilateralist foreign policy has to be shelved. We need a "smart globalization," not manic neoliberalism.

America needs to re-engage, needs to end an idiotic, self-damaging Cold War against Cuba and its people; needs to put the Middle East Peace Business out of business and produce and impose if need be a two state solution that respects Israel's needs and Palestine's.

We need game changers with Syria, North Korea, Cuba, and Iran to offer them compelling reasons to take Libya-like tracks out of the international doghouse. We need to understand what Russia's and China's highest national priorities are and see if we can help them achieve what they want in exchange for helping us on Iran, nuclear proliferation, climate change, the global economy, and other important global causes.

We need to reconnect with and re-marry Europe because that partnership is vital to momentum and to being taken seriously anywhere else around the world. We need to respect the Arab world, the Muslim world, need to stop making false choices between our relations with the Saudis and other Arab states on one hand and Israel on the other.

We need to buy the opium product of Afghanistan and redirect the production targets of farmers and warlords there, deal with the Taliban, and do what needs to be done to help pragmatic leadership in Pakistan seduce its tribal regions to support national goals with the U.S. not antagonizing an anti-Western nationalism there.

We need to see the checks and balances of our form of democracy restored and the usurpation of unprecedented and dangerous powers by the White House rolled back. We need to pursue accountability for the collapse of trust at home and abroad and reform the nation's balloting process in order to make certain that citizen voices are heard restoring again a representative form of government.

I think that on the whole Barack Obama represents the kind of leader who knows that we need to find our own 21st century versions of John Maynard Keynes and Dean Acheson and have to regain global leverage as "systems designers" and "systems integrators", collaborating with other globally responsible stakeholders to re-engineer the world and create a new equilibrium.

These are terms that I think Obama thinks in -- and they are very much the kinds of benchmarks that inspire the work that Joe Biden and his team have done.

As I have written before, I am a great fan of Joe Biden's work and approach to problems. He takes risks with ideas -- and we need that.

Incrementalists are not jumping ahead and not taking the risks that tomorrow's challenges require of us -- and my hope is that Obama tempers himself and rejects the security blanket of taking too many personalities and too much thinking that will make his administration look like "Clinton III."

We'll see. I have concerns. I have hopes. But I want seriousness and a fresh run at getting America back on track to restoring health and solvency to its national security and economic portfolios.

To my regret, John McCain and Sarah Palin are not up to these challenges.

I believe that Barack Obama and Joe Biden may be -- and I hope to work with them, in my think tank role and in a constant run of constructive counsel here on this blog -- as they help move the nation out of the incredibly bad mess it is in.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

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