A lot of people have said, over and over and over again, that you should just vote your conscience based on the issues. Fine. Let's talk about The Issue. Because to me, there is one issue that *completely* overshadows the rest when it comes to selecting a President at this point: the destructive hyper-partisanship that has overtaken this country.
The thing is, I really don't care that much about what the candidates think about specific issues. This is the head of the Executive we're talking about, not a legislator. The President is influential on the issues, to be sure, but they are most important as a symbol. What they do and how they do it sets the *tone* in Washington, and that trickles down to the rest of the country.
And the thing is, the tone of the country nowadays *sucks*. I mean, there has been partisan bickering in American politics since before the ink dried on the Declaration of Independence, but it's exceptionally awful right now. The amount of pure vitriol I'm seeing on both sides is tiring and unpleasant, and frankly I find it counter-productive. Good legislation usually comes from compromise, and we're in an atmosphere that makes that difficult.
What I want, more than anything else, is someone who is genuinely good at bringing people together. To that end, the decision for me on both sides of the aisle is pretty easy. Obama has built his entire campaign around the concept of healing the national rifts: insofar as he is a symbol, that is what he is mainly a symbol *of*. No one can do a perfect job of healing the current mess, but I believe that he will make a sincere and principled attempt to do so, and I think he'll make very good progress. That matters enormously to me.
And the thing is, I don't think Clinton is capable of this. It's not that she wouldn't *want* to, mind -- I just think that she has, largely against her will, been built up into one of the great symbols of the divisiveness. I'm not sure that a Ghandi could go from her position to become a real unifier. Healing requires goodwill on both sides, and too many people on the right simply will not grant her that. That's not fair and it's not right. But it is the reality on the ground, as I see it. Regardless of her competence, skill and good faith, simply due to who she *is* she will be used to continue the divisions, by the vested interests in the right who want those divisions to continue and who have invested 15 years into manipulating her image.
On the Republican side, the choice is easy. I mean, McCain would win by default anyway. Huckabee strikes me as a decent and sincere guy, but he sincerely wants to create a theocracy. Fortunately, this makes him completely unelectable -- a Huckabee nomination would be the Democrats' greatest Valentine's Day present ever. I firmly believe that Romney is a borderline sociopath, dedicated solely to the acquisition of personal power. Insofar as he stands for anything, he's an umpty-millionaire who stands for keeping life good for other umpty-millionaires, but basically he'll say anything that suits his personal ambitions. And Ron Paul, besides being too much of a libertarian extremist for my tastes, simply hasn't gotten enough media attention to stand a realistic chance. So McCain is the only plausible option who isn't terrible.
But that aside, the fact is that I do respect McCain, again precisely because of the unity thing. While I disagree with him on most issues, I do respect a lot of what he's done. He was willing to cross the aisle and work with Democrats in times when that was considered absolute heresy among the Republican party, and when it didn't really gain him much politically. He's earned his maverick reputation, and most of the ways in which he has opposed the party line (such as immigration) have been cases where I agreed with him. He's a hardcore conservative -- don't make the common mistake of believing he's actually a closet progressive -- but he's a thoughtful and sincere one, and I can respect that even if I disagree with him.
So basically, I like Obama because he's the Democrat who I think most Republicans can cope with (without incurring the wrath of the brainwashed masses), and McCain because he's the Republican who the Democrats can do business with. That matters to me more than almost anything else.
There is one other consideration, to be fair: I care about having a President who is going to push honesty and probity in the White House. In this respect, the President's style matters quite directly: as the head of the Executive Branch, he or she may not decide the laws, but will decide how things actually get done. Eight years of lies and secrets have been corrosive to the body politic, and I want someone who will put that right.
I think most of the candidates would do decently in this regard, frankly -- even the much-despised Romney might well be honest enough. But again, Obama and McCain strike me as the best bets. Both appear to be men of a good deal of introspection, who have shown reasonable judgement and honesty in the past. (I'm willing to forgive McCain's period of pandering, since he got better.)
I think both would be likely to fix the worst problems with the Executive -- and again, I care about that a *lot* more than about the other issues. In general, the issues people mostly talk about are, in my view, largely second-order. We have to fix *how* the country runs before we fix *what* it's doing. And I would welcome an Obama vs. McCain general election, because I think both would stand a decent chance of making things better...