I participated in a discussion last night about Barack Obama and his prospects for support among Hispanic voters. When I came home and took off my coat, my three-year-old daughter noticed something new on my shirt that hadn't been there before: an Obama '08 button.
She asked me a question that exposed the core of my politics these days, and in a few short seconds, I revealed that I am a values voter.
Before I get to her question and my answer, I want to hit a couple of caveats.
The first is that a "values voter" would ideally look for a candidate to the U.S. presidency who also has some intellectual heft in his toolbox. Obama has that; he not only graduated from Harvard Law, but he was President of the Harvard Law Review, which is one of the top achievements that can be accomplished in U.S. legal education. He is also on leave as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, which is known for its law and economics discipline. This post is not about the value of a good education, but that factor should not be ignored.
Second, focusing on values should not crowd out God himself. Only God can save the country and the world. If we are on the wrong track in any or multiple ways, we first need to turn to God. But God does not work alone. He uses men and women in high places to do great good. That's what is on my mind today and what was on my mind last night when my daughter asked me a simple question.
My little angel asked, "Daddy, why do you have that on your shirt?"
I said, "Because Obama loves Tía Regina and Tío Mario."
It was the simplest expression of my political views in a long time.
"Aunt" Regina and "Uncle" Mario are two friends of our family from the Hispanic church we attended for over two years, and my daughter loves and knows them well. As with most of our relationships at that church, we first got to know Regina and Mario as our brothers and sisters in Christ, and only later, through conversations about their lives both past and present, did their visa status (or lack thereof) come up. Their status would not change our fraternal relationship with them. We all saw each others as equals. If we found out that someone we knew could not get a visa (and most who do not have visas in the church could never get one legally, primarily because of poverty), that lack of opportunity was a tragedy but not a basis for approaching them differently. Looking around at the God-loving, otherwise law-abiding congregation, it was nonsensical to me that my government, and many of my fellow citizens, would deem approximately half my fellow churchgoers as unworthy of living among us.
So in the context of the current presidential campaign, what drew me to Barack Obama was that his life experience, his statements, and his positions indicate that he sees people in this same way we saw each other in that Hispanic church. Senator Obama isn't the only politician with a perspective that values all immigrants, of course. George W. Bush said in his May 2006 address to the nation on immigration reform that even unvisaed immigrants are "a part of American life," and people of all political stripes have stood up for the common humanity of everyone touched by the immigration bureaucracy. But it is nonetheless true that following the failed legislative proposals of the past couple of years, you will find fewer elected officials taking the endangered stand of principle these days. Few urge us to see immigrants as people first - as neighbors, fellow churchmembers, and fellow residents of this great country. It can be risky for a politician to widen instead of narrow the definition of "neighbor," which was Jesus' charge in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
From what I have read of Obama, he has adopted the high ground and has not wavered.
Still, when speaking to my daughter, it may have been a stretch for me to vouch for whether a politician "loves" our friends in that church. But on the spur of the moment it was the simplest expression of the quality I find most attractive in him.
Over time, Barack Obama has confirmed this impression I have. In his stirring remarks at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s church in Atlanta earlier this month, he called America to see all immigrants not as enemies but as "companions in the fight for opportunity" (video and transcript here). He marched arm in arm with hundreds of thousands of citizens and immigrants in 2006, saying that "we saw in those marches is the face of a new America" (audio and transcript here). A Nashville business leader who met at length with Obama in 2007 tells anyone who listens that the one federal official in this country who most understands the immigration issue as a human rights and civil rights issue is Barack Obama. You start to get the impression that this man with roots in Kenya and Kansas will never try to define our neighbors away.
Martin Luther King, Jr., in his acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, called for "an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men." That kind of love is the value that will inform my vote on Tuesday, and it is why I support Barack Obama.
Photo by Cindy of Bella Rua Photography. Licensed under Creative Commons.