Why Obama?

“I know that Saddam poses no immediate and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors.  I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.  I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.  I am not opposed to all wars.  I’m opposed to dumb wars.”   Barack Obama, October, 2002
While AFT National supports Hillary Clinton for President in 2008, AFT Local 1931 supports Barack Obama.  If viability were not a crucial consideration, John Edwards, whose campaign, as of this writing, is clearly fading might be our first choice as he is running on a stellar pro-union platform and has admirably driven the progressive agenda to the center of this campaign.  That said, Senator Obama has also run an inspiring campaign that offers the country hope for a new majority and a break from the dead end status quo of the last several decades of American politics.
The War in Iraq: Central to our support of Obama is the sound judgment he showed in opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning.  No matter how many ways the Clintons try to revise history and distort the record, there is no denying that Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the war and gave President Bush a blank check to wage an ill-advised crusade on the basis of distorted intelligence.  The result has been the loss of thousands of American lives and over one hundred thousand Iraqi lives as well as expenditures totaling over 1.2 trillion dollars.  Though the cost in lives is immeasurable, the cost in dollars is quite measurable if one considers what $1.2 trillion could have done to establish universal health care, fund education, help the poor, build infrastructure, stimulate the economy, etc.  In sum, a war budget guts the very possibility of an aggressive domestic agenda.  For this incredibly bad judgment alone, Hillary Clinton deserves to be disqualified for the Presidency along with every Bush apologist on the Republican side.  Instead of admitting her mistake, as John Edwards and others have, Senator Clinton and her campaign have relentlessly distorted the facts and inaccurately portrayed Senator Obama’s position.  It is our belief that we have had enough obfuscation about the war and its costs over the past eight years from Democrats and Republicans alike.  Obama’s call for a bold internationalism with an emphasis on diplomacy and human rights is a refreshing change.
Unions and Globalization: Senator Obama has a great voting record with regard to labor issues.  He was a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, a key piece of legislation that would make it easier for workers to organize unions.  While his position on free trade is not a strong as Edwards, Obama did oppose CAFTA and has spoken out in favor of renegotiating NAFTA and ensuring that future trade treaties have enforceable labor and environmental standards that ensure Fair Trade.  He has argued for reinvestment in communities burdened by the negative effects of globalization and advocated for labor and human rights standards for trade with China.  Team Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council, on the other hand, were instrumental in the passage of NAFTA and moving the Democratic party toward a conservative, pro-corporate agenda that essentially threw the labor movement under the bus during the nineties.
Education and Health Care: Like Senator Clinton, Obama has criticized the unfunded mandate of No Child Left Behind and supports more federal funding for schools.  He is also in favor of free public college for any student with a B average and has argued for higher pay for teachers.  His support of charter schools and merit pay not tied to standardized tests may have lost him the endorsement of AFT National, but we do not see these issues as deal breakers.  With regard to health care, Obama favors universal coverage, as do his opponents.  All in all, he has a solid domestic agenda.
Hope: As Michael Erik Dyson has pointed out in The Nation: “Barack Obama has come closer than any other figure in recent history to obeying a direct call of the people to the brutal and bloody fields of political mission.  His visionary response to that call gives great hope that he can galvanize our nation with the payoff of his political rhetoric: a substantive embrace of true democracy fed by justice.” In other words, hope matters, hope can inspire, hope can build a new majority in American politics. This is the great intangible that Obama brings to the table.  There is a movement spirit to Obama’s campaign reminiscent of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy that transcends the uninspired, calculated politics of the democratic party establishment that Clinton represents.  If it catches on, it just may capture the American imagination.
 Obama in his own words:
“Some of my opponents appear scornful of the word; they think it speaks of naiveté, passivity, and wishful thinking.
But that’s not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task before us or the roadblocks that stand in our path. Yes, the lobbyists will fight us. Yes, the Republican attack dogs will go after us in the general election. Yes, the problems of poverty and climate change and failing schools will resist easy repair. I know – I’ve been on the streets; I’ve been in the courts. I’ve watched legislation die because the powerful held sway and good intentions weren’t fortified by political will, and I’ve watched a nation get mislead into war because no one had the judgment or the courage to ask the hard questions before we sent our troops to fight.
But I also know this. I know that hope has been the guiding force behind the most improbable changes this country has ever made. In the face of tyranny, it’s what led a band of colonists to rise up against an Empire. In the face of slavery, it’s what fueled the resistance of the slave and the abolitionist, and what allowed a President to chart a treacherous course to ensure that the nation would not continue half slave and half free. In the face of war and Depression, it’s what led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation. In the face of oppression, it’s what led young men and women to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through the streets of Selma and Montgomery for freedom’s cause. That’s the power of hope – to imagine, and then work for, what had seemed impossible before.
We’ve seen this script many times before. But I know that this time can be different.
Because I know that when the American people believe in something, it happens.
If you believe, then we can tell the lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.
If you believe, then we can stop making promises to America’s workers and start delivering – jobs that pay, health care that’s affordable, pensions you can count on, and a tax cut for working Americans instead of the companies who send their jobs overseas.
If you believe, we can offer a world-class education to every child, and pay our teachers more, and make college dreams a reality for every American.
If you believe, we can save this planet and end our dependence on foreign oil.
If you believe, we can end this war, close Guantanamo, restore our standing, renew our diplomacy, and once again respect the Constitution of the United States of America.
That’s the future within our reach. That’s what hope is – that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better is waiting for us around the corner. But only if we’re willing to work for it and fight for it. To shed our fears and our doubts and our cynicism. To glory in the task before us of remaking this country block by block, precinct by precinct, county by county, state by state.
There is a moment in the life of every generation when, if we are to make our mark on history, this spirit must break through.
This is the moment.
This is our time.
And if you will stand with me in seven days – if you will stand for change so that our children have the same chance that somebody gave us; if you’ll stand to keep the American dream alive for those who still hunger for opportunity and thirst for justice; if you’re ready to stop settling for what the cynics tell you must accept, and finally reach for what you know is possible, then we will win this caucus, we will win this election, we will change the course of history, and the real journey – to heal a nation and repair the world – will have truly begun.”
Barack Obama, 2008
**See “In Defending War Vote, Clintons Contradict Record” in NY Times 1/14/08 and “Clinton Smears Obama on Iraq—Again” in Mother Jones 1/14/08 for more on the question of Iraq in the Presidential race.  Also See aflcio.org for more on all the candidates on the issues. Follow Barack Obama’s