Why I Don’t Support Barack Obama (Even Though I’ll Vote for Him)

The president gets an "F" for his handling of civil liberties. But there are other reasons to hope he wins.

I wanted President Obama to be a success, really I did. When he toured Philadelphia during a triumphant campaign swing through the city in October 2008, I followed him from stop to stop, exulting particularly in the West Philadelphia crowds that greeted him like a hero. And on the day he was inaugurated, I wore a tie to the office to solemnly mark the occasion—probably the last time I dressed so formally. I wanted to witness a wonderful piece of history, for once, instead of just another attack, another meltdown, another disaster like the ones that seemed to fill the Bush years.

Instead, what I got was a mouthful of disappointment. Maybe you did, too.

What I wanted in 2008 was a president who would vindicate civil liberties. Instead, I got a president who reserved to himself the right to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process.  Who continued and deepened a regime of spying on American citizens. Who waged drone warfare abroad, and lied about civilian casualties by asserting that anyone who died must be, ipso facto,a terrorist. Who waged war in Libya without congressional authorization, and justified that with another lie. And who evaded accountability for these and other actions by brazenly invoking a “state secrets” rule that says, yes, the government might be violating the law, but that lawbreaking can’t be uncovered and stopped because of national security.

I wanted a president who would preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and keep his promise to bring national security and American values into alignment. Instead, I got President Obama.

I am angry. I am disappointed. And in November, I’m going to swallow all that and vote to re-elect the man.

Because it’s not about me and all those things I wanted.

It’s about the American people, who through their startling silence on these issues, have indicated that they just don’t care that much. I think they’re wrong. But governance is going to continue, whether or not it does so with my approval, so I might as well use my one small vote to steer officials in the direction I prefer.

Even though I’m disappointed in Obama, I have no reason to trust Republicans to do any better.

So I’ll vote for President Obama because of the women in my life, and the fact that no Republican president would’ve signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to guarantee them an equal wage for an equal job done.

I’ll vote for him because of my gay friends, and the fact that no Republican president would’ve ended “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” nor offered support for the notion of gay marriage.

I’ll vote, because Obamacare—deeply flawed though it may be—has made it possible for more people to find much-needed health insurance coverage.

I’ll keep in mind all my friends who are unemployed or struggling to make ends meet, and who find themselves blamed by the likes of Tom Corbett and Mitt Romney, stupidly and abominably, for failing to pull themselves up by non-existent bootstraps—even as those men work ever harder to make life more comfortable for the rich.

And I’ll remember that Republicans only care about deficits during Democratic administrations. (Though, to be fair, Democrats may only care about civil liberties during Republican administrations.)

Mostly, I’ll vote because of the Supreme Court, and the likelihood that the man elected in November will make one or more appointments—a legacy that will far outlast his actual term. Because, ironically, the kind of justice Obama would appoint may be likely to restrain the worst kinds of excesses that Obama and Bush would commit. Because I’d rather not see an overwhelming GOP majority on the court for the next few decades.

Despite my deep moral qualms about how Obama has treated civil liberties and constitutional restraints on executive power, these other issues have moral elements to them as well.

So I’ll vote for Obama, even if I want scream bloody murder while doing so. He gets my vote. But he will not get my support.