A neighbor friend once asked me during election season how to tell the difference among the candidates. She pointed out that it was difficult from their messages to find enough difference on which to base a judgment. I cannot recall exactly what I told her, but if asked again today, this is how I would like to answer.
It is true that in the course of many political campaigns it is hard to tell from what candidates say who would serve better in office. With the candidates competing for the same office seeking the votes of the same electorate, a certain sameness can creep into their message, particularly if principles do not play a significant role in the campaign or in the mind of one or more of the candidates.
Far more important than what politicians say, however, is what they do—and where available, a record of what they have done. Many candidates for public office have served in another public office before. Most candidates for Senate were once a congressman, a governor, a mayor. Viable candidates for President have always had a history of prior service in public office, usually a fairly long history. Check into this history and trust it.
I do not know of any President whose service departed from the pattern of his prior service in other offices. I know of many whose campaign rhetoric did, but once in office they acted as they did before. While he talked a different game on the campaign trail, President Clinton served very much in the style of Governor Clinton. President George Bush has not acted very differently from Texas Governor Bush.
That brings us to the 2008 presidential election. Both major candidates have served in prior office. Both are Senators, Senator McCain having served for several terms. I have no expectation that a President McCain would act differently from Senator McCain.
Senator Obama’s record is much shorter. Four years ago he was a rather undistinguished member of the Illinois state legislature. Now he is a freshman Senator. Although he has not accomplished much while in office, he does have a voting record in the Senate. That brief record is even more eloquent than the Senator himself. While Senator Obama’s speeches may be rich in vacuous platitudes—however well delivered—his record is very clear and deep with meaning. It is the record of an ordinary partisan Democrat.
That record shows a strong adherence to the doctrine that problems need to be solved by government, by government rules, regulations, and funding. It is a record that is deeply mistrustful of individual choice and initiative. It trusts markets the most when they are the more guided by government and is fearful of them the freer that they are from governmental control.
Senator Obama’s record is short, but it is consistent and clear. You can trust it as a reliable testament of how a President Obama would act in office.
(First published August 12, 2008)