In 2008, Barack Obama was the first candidate who inspired me to not only vote for him, but work on his campaign. Even though in retrospect, Clinton did a pretty good job, and Al Gore and John Kerry would have both been far better than George W. Bush, they didn't distinguish themselves enough during their campaigns from the Republican candidate to inspire me to do anything but cast a vote. Obama was inclusive, genuine, and in line with my views on most issues--and let's face it: McCain pandered way too much to the extremists in his party in 2008, especially with his abysmally bad pick for VP. McCain in 2000 might have given Obama a run for his money; McCain in '08 just made Obama stand out more as a clear alternative choice.
Now that he's been President for nearly a full term, I have to say that there have been disappointments along with the successes. I am not proud of the continued practice of warrantless wiretapping, for example, which began under the Bush administration. The fact that nobody on Wall Street went to jail over causing the tanking of the economy disappointed me. Bailing out the big banks instead of the drowning homeowners (which would have actually bailed out the banks in the process, by the way) wasn't the best thing to do--but on that point, it may not have been possible, given that TARP was passed before Obama was in office, and much of what could be handled the way this administration handled it. There are a few other criticisms, but the biggest one involved Obama bowing a little too much to the desires of the right wing for the first half of his term, in his effort to reach across the aisle--which is what I think lost the Democrats the House in 2010. I think his continuation of the war on drugs is ill-advised and wrong for the country.
Having given some of my criticisms, allow me to say why I am inspired to vote for Barack Obama again in 2012:
Obamacare: There are people out there afraid of Obamacare. They're afraid that it's going to raise health care premiums and cause the loss of jobs. I disagree. There are many good things about Obamacare, and some will inevitably lower costs. The first is that people who can't afford to have a primary care physician--the people whom Romney would send to the emergency room for care that can't be refused, but isn't free--will now go to one for physicals and when they get sick. They can get preventative care, rather than waiting--as relatives of mine have--until it's so bad that they have to go to the emergency room or they'll die. Sometimes, as in the case of my aunt, they do die, because the cancer has spread throughout the body already. The infection has spread into the bloodstream and caused sepsis. The bronchitis developed into pneumonia, and even that was allowed to go too long. The ER is not the best option for people who do not have insurance, and it certainly isn't the least expensive. Emergency rooms are meant for patients who have had accidents or sudden onsets of serious conditions, not for people with the flu or bronchitis to get treated. The Affordable Care Act will cut costs overall because emergency room visits for non-emergencies will decrease.
Other good things about Obamacare include: women not having to pay higher premiums than men, more of the premium you pay actually going into care rather than executive salaries and dividend checks for shareholders, the ability to start a business or change jobs and not worry about your new insurance denying you coverage for pre-existing conditions, and not being denied coverage in the first place because of pre-existing conditions. I ran into this pre-existing condition nonsense for a condition that had never been diagnosed when I first started working for the company I work for presently, all because they had a policy in place that anything diagnosed within the first six months of employment was automatically considered a pre-existing condition.
The automotive industry: Thanks to President Obama, GM is now turning a profit. Had they gone through the normal bankruptcy process, they would have been liquidated, and millions of jobs would have been lost. I say millions, because it's not just auto workers whose jobs would have been gone. It's the bars those workers may have frequented after work. It's the restaurants they went to once a week or so. It's the convenience stores and gas stations near their places of employment. It's the huge number of vendors whose businesses rely on a thriving automotive industry: printing companies, auto glass manufacturers, aftermarket parts manufacturers and distributors...the list is long. My own company employs whole help desks for parts of GM, including their supply chain. GM itself is our biggest customer. Thanks to President Obama, my fellow employees are not at risk of losing their jobs.
The end of the war in Iraq: Obama kept his word on ending the war in Iraq, and I have hope that we will get out of Afghanistan if he remains in office. I also have hope that we will not enter into a new war with Iran because of the way he his handling that situation.
Osama bin Laden: I don't know about the rest of America, but I was infuriated with George W. Bush was asked about getting bin Laden, and he said, "I don't think about him much." We needed to get Osama bin Laden, and Obama's leadership led to Seal Team Six finding and killing him. People can say Obama had nothing to do with it all they want, but that's a stupid thing to say--the Seal team would not have gone over the Pakistani border without Obama's orders. It was a bold move, and one Romney said he would not have made--before it was successful, that is.
Gay rights: Because of Obama, gay people can serve openly in the military. While gay marriage is not legal across the United States, Obama has paved the way for it, and instead of waffling on that issue, Democrats now have adopted it as part of their platform--all because of the President's leadership. How does this affect me as a straight man? Well, for one thing, I like to see my friends happy. For another, I know what it's like to be in the closet. I was a closeted atheist for the first nine years after I rejected religion. Not being able to express to people who you are for fear of ostracism, bullying, or even physical harm is not a good feeling. Living a lie doesn't feel good. I don't want anyone to go through that, because I have empathy. Besides, let's face it, gay weddings are good for the economy. I'm oversimplifying it; there's so much more, such as partner benefits, the ability to make decisions for your loved ones (rather than having a family that may have shunned that loved one previously making them instead), being able to have visition in the hospital...the list goes on. I support civil rights for everyone, and I think it's high time the LGBT community was treated like any other class of full American citizens.
Women: Two major things Obama has done for women include the signing of the Lily Ledbetter Act, which allows women to sue for equal pay when they're doing the same work men do, and making contraception a part of Obamacare so women and their doctors are in charge of their reproductive health choices. My daughter is special needs, but I have hope that she will enter the work force someday. If she is doing the work men are doing, I care whether she will be making the same pay. She has that right.
Obama is also pro-choice, as I am. I see abortion as an equality issue. I think women should have the right to have say over what happens with their bodies, and that decisions in that regard are up to them and their doctors. While I think contraception and comprehensive sex education are the best options, I don't think women should be forced to give birth when men do not have to go through the same physical changes and hardships. And all this talk about rape lately? Republicans need to be as far away from decision-making regarding pregnancy as possible. A Romney presidency would mean anti-choice justices on the Supreme Court, should he get the opportunity to appoint them. We do not need Roe v. Wade overturned.
The economy: When Obama took office, we were losing jobs to the tune of 800,000 a month. That number had turned around to positive job growth for the second half of his first term. His policies are working, and I think they'd be a lot more successful without Republican obstruction in Congress.
Inclusion: Obama is the first President in my memory who has included atheists in his speeches, counting us as citizens who deserve consideration. That's important to me, because most politicians won't touch atheists with a ten-foot pole, even though we are law-abiding, tax-paying citizens.
I think this President deserves another four years. I think Romney will reverse the economic growth we've had, will do things to hurt the rights of women, will get us into war with Iran, and will never consider atheists as part of his idea of what it means to be American. I think he will reverse gay rights and appoint justices who will not only overturn Roe v. Wade, but also rule in favor or corporate interests. Romney will not make any of the criticisms I have of Obama better, either. The choice is clear for me in this election.