A Philosopher's Blog

Obama & America’s Moral Struggle

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 29, 2008

Obama accepted the nomination as the Democratic candidate for President yesterday. Yesterday was also the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

In this classic speech, Dr. King presented a clear and profound moral argument for justice and equality. Brilliantly, he based his moral argument on the very ethical principles that the United States is supposed to be founded upon. In short, he showed that the United States had failed to live up to these professed principles and was obligated to make good on its promises of life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and equality.

Obama has shown, as many have said, how far America has come. In a land where slavery was once legal and racism generally accepted, Obama is now a strong candidate for the Whitehouse. John McCain, in a show of what I suspect is his true character, congratulated Obama on his historical accomplishment. Yesterday was, in many ways, a fine day for America.

As Americans, we have often been accused of moral arrogance and hypocrisy. Sometimes this charge sticks. There are many things in our past that we should look upon with shame. But we, as a people, have done great and good things. While our misdeeds mark us, it is my profound hope that our better natures are our true natures and that we will continue to strive to live up to our ideals.

This is, as the slogans say, a time for hope. While America has wandered off the moral road, the road is still there. We can still see it and it is but a matter of will to walk that road once more.

While Mao Tse-Tung said that  “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, there is an older school of thought that true power is based on moral force. Yes, guns can kill. But guns require people to make and use them and people are guided by their values. Thus, morality is greater than guns.

I think we have learned that unjustified force, torture and wrongdoing are things that we should not have done. While our power as a nation is grounded on our economic and military might, that might is grounded on who we are as a people. Our true strength lies in our struggle to be good. That is a struggle we can win and everyone else can win along with us.

Running Man

Posted in Running, Science, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on August 28, 2008

I’ve been watching Evolve on the History Channel and have found it quite interesting. The last episode I watched was on skin and it had an interesting segment on human skin and running.

While the idea that humans evolved to run has been around for a while, the segment did a good job presenting the various aspects of the human body that make us ideal endurance runners. Since the show was on skin, the focus was obviously on the skin.

Mammals are generally good at maintaining body warmth. We are “warm blooded” and also have fur/hair that serves as insulation. However, cold is not the only problem we face. We also face the problem of heat. While other mammals have evolved means of coping with the heat, humans seem to be the best at this task. Unlike other mammals, we can secrete (sweat) plenty of water through specialized glands. This enables us to cool ourselves via evaporation. Because of this feature, we can thermoregulate very effectively and thus can handle the heat better than other animals.

In addition to our skin, we also have the right muscles for running. As the show pointed out, humans have relatively large buttocks (baby does, in fact, have back). Our large butt muscles (gluteus maximus) are ideally suited for running. Throw in our bipedalism, our binocular vision, our opposable thumbs and our intelligence and you have the makings of a top predator.

Interestingly, one of our most effective hunting methods involved our skin. Most prey animals tend to cool themselves via panting. Unfortunately for them, this is not as efficient as sweating and it works poorly when an animal is running. Hence, it is believed that human hunters could run their prey to exhaustion. This fact is has also been known to  modern hunters and I learned about this long ago. After I had started running track, I went deer hunting with my Dad and his friend. They joked that I should run the deer down (this was a joke because I’d probably get shot if I ran through the woods). My Dad said that although a human could not outsprint a deer, eventually the deer would become exhuasted and that would be it for Bambi.

I’ve never tried running down a deer, but I do know that I can outlast even a husky while running. Hence, the idea that early humans used running as a hunting method makes sense. As a runner, I find that quite appealing.

If we are natural runners, and we seem to be, then it is tempting to think that we should run. Naturally, I am thinking about Aristotle here. His view was that each thing had a purpose (or purposes) and excellence involved fulfilling one’s purpose as well as possible. Thus, if man is the running animal (and not just the rational animal), then our excellence depends on being runners. Hence, we should run.

Of course, the idea of purpose lost favor long ago in the sciences. Even if humans are evolved to run, this fact has no normative implications. The theory of evolution has, as a key component, the view that the world is fundamentally lacking in purpose in regards to the natures of living things. In the case of running, we are not designed to run. Randon chance and natural selection merely resulted in a running animal. And, as those who follow Hume point out, one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is.”

Since I am a runner, I find Aristotle appealing. We are runners and, if we wish to be excellent at being human, then we need to run. I freely acknowledge my runner’s bias in this matter.

Naturally, some might say “but I cannot run.” To borrow from Obama “yes you can.” Running need not be literal running and we can run in different ways. Yes, that is obscure and cryptic. But, if you run about ten miles, it will make perfect sense. Really. 🙂

Teddy Ruxspinners

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 27, 2008

Those who were around in the 1980s probably remember Teddy Ruxpin, a “talking” bear. The toy’s main feature was that it would play special tapes and move as it “talked.” These tapes featured an audio track for the talking and another track that would direct the motions of the toy.

I first saw the toy on TV and thought it was a bit creepy-it seemed to be a possessed teddy bear. When I was in graduate school, a friend of mine said that someone who had been fired from a toy store put a tape of a white supremest speaking into the display Teddy Ruxpin. I don’t know if that really occurred, but the image of a teddy bear speaking on white power has long stuck in my mind.

Of course, Teddy Ruxpin had no idea he was speaking on white supremacy. The toy simply “says” whatever is on the tape. This has long struck me as an excellent metaphor for the minions who deliver the talking points for their political masters on TV. They are, like Teddy Ruxpin, merely mindlessly repeating whatever is on their “tape.” These people could be called “Teddy Ruxspinners.”

Teddy Ruxspinners are fairly easy to spot. First, they tend to ignore the content of any questions they are asked and they simply focus on getting the points out. For example, a Ruxspinner might be asked if Obama’s lack of experience is of concern and the Ruxspinner will talk about the audacity of hope and judgment. Second, they are focused on the talking points and present them with little or no personalization. They are simply saying what is on their tape. Third, they tend to repeat themselves a great deal. The same point will be presented over and over, whether its presentation is relevant to the situation or not. Fourth, they tend to have a certain look and tone that indicates that they are (as Plato would say) being spoken through. In the Ion, Plato noted that the gods and muses take away the reason of the prophets and artists so that we know that it is the gods and muses speaking. The same seems to be true of the Teddy Ruxspinners. They do not seem to be quite in charge as they move and speak.

From a moral standpoint, being a Teddy Ruxspinner seems to be unacceptable. After all, someone is essentially giving up their own views and self in order to be a talking point zombie. This seems to be wrong. Of course, if the Teddy Ruxspinner truly believes, then perhaps this is acceptable. However, watching them always disturbs me and makes me feel vaguely sad for them.

Hillary Supporters & McCain

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 26, 2008

Tonight Hillary Clinton will be speaking at the DNC. Naturally, it is not the acceptance speach that she had hoped to give, but perhaps it will help bring some closure to the Democrats. Hillary is supposed to release her delegates to Obama, presumably with the music from “Born Free” playing in the background.

While Hillary and Bill seem to have been walking alongside the Obama bandwagon, some of her supporters have still not forgiven Obama for getting the nomination. Interestingly, the percentage of Hillary supporters who say they will vote for McCain has increased recently. McCain’s minions have cleverly decided to tap into this by featuring Hillary in one of their advertisements. McCain’s people have been trying to win the support of women voters for quite some time and the Hillary situation gives them a possible opportunity to tap into a powerful motivating force: spite.

Obviously enough, the people who supported Hillary are most likely opposed to most of McCain’s political views. After all, his voting record and positions are significantly different from Hillary’s in key ways. Obama, in contrast, is very similar to Hillary in his votes and positions. Thus, a plausible reason why some Hillary supporters are saying they will vote for McCain is that they are angry and wish to punish Obama (and the other Democrats) for “taking” the nomination away from Hillary.

If this is the case, then the Hillary supporters would seem to be acting in an irrational manner. After all, they would be letting their anger guide them towards an action which would be inconsistent with their professed political values.

Of course, perhaps their true political views are that Hillary should be the candidate and Obama should be punished for taking the nomination from her. In this case, they would be acting in accord with those values (which might be irrational in themselves).

Another possibility (and but one more among many) is that they think that if McCain gets elected, then Hillary will have a chance in the 2012.This strategy seems to be borrowed from the Republicans.

I’ve spoken to some Republicans who actually hoped that Hillary would get elected because they believed she would wreck the country and thus help push the country back to the Republicans for years to come. Interestingly enough, some Hillary supports have expressed the view that McCain should be elected so that he will continue to wreck the country in the manner of Bush. Having lost, Obama will be tainted with failure and will be out of the running in 2012. So, it will be a clear nomination path for Hillary and then, presumably, smooth sailing to what is left of the White House.

From a moral standpoint, there is much that can be said about allowing evil (or a perceived evil) to happen in the hopes of getting what you desire later. After all, those who care about the well being of the people would certainly not want to allow someone into office who they think would damage the country. That would clearly be an evil action.

This can, of course, be countered by arguing that the evil is necessary to bring about a greater good. So, Hillary supporters might argue that while they regard McCain as a bad choice and someone who will do things they oppose, he must be elected so that Hillary will be able to do all the good they believe she will do.

It can also be countered by taking the view that it is not about good and bad. Rather, it is about getting your candidate into the office, regardless of how much damage this does. That would certainly be wicked.

It might be the case that the explanation is less sinister. It might be a mere case of disappointed bitterness. Those who fell in behind Hillary wanted to win and the enemy was Obama. The convention, which is Obama’s, would seem like a fresh slap in the face to the Hillary supporters. After all, who wants to see their enemy praised and lifted high? Hence, the Hillary supporters would have a surge of bitterness as the convention approached. Perhaps the bitterness will fade as the Democrats start trying to get their act together against McCain. Then again, maybe McCain can keep fueling that bitterness and bring some of the spiteful Democrats over to his side. After all, a spiteful vote sill looks the same in the results tally.

Dealing with Disastrous Dates

Posted in Guest Post by Michael LaBossiere on August 25, 2008

You’re out on that all-important first date with someone you think you would like to know better, or it may be someone you just met through common friends. But the evening is turning out to be a disaster right from the word goes. You don’t know if you’re supposed to end the date abruptly or soldier on thinking that things will take a turn for the better. If you’re not familiar with the fact that dates, especially the first ones, can and will go wrong more often than not, here are a few pointers to help you out in times of awkwardness:

If your date is more preoccupied with other things rather than focusing on you, try a direct or indirect approach to see why this is so. Ringing cell phones can be extremely annoying in the middle of a date, as can your date’s obsession with the other men/women in the restaurant or club. If it continues in spite of your protests, excuse yourself and head for home.

If your date is drunk or on the way to getting there, firmly refuse any more alcohol for your table. If he/she’s sober enough to understand what you’re saying, tell them that it’s time you both went home, and that maybe you can talk to each other the next day when your heads are clearer. If not, call a taxi or see them safely home before you go on to your place.

If the conversation takes an ugly turn, apologize if you’re the one who said something incendiary. If not, tell your date politely that they’re being rude and that it would be a good idea to steer the topic to something more neutral. If he/she still continues to rant and rave, wish them goodnight and find your way home.

If you’re embarrassed by the way your date is behaving – being rude to the staff at the restaurant, eating noisily, talking loudly or displaying poor table manners – wait out the evening patiently. At the end of the meal, politely decline offers to see you home or hints of a second date. Instead, thank your date for a nice evening and leave alone.

The worst part of a first date is when one person is interested in pursuing the relationship while the other is not. If you’re the interested party, take a hint when your date is vague about meeting again or calling you. Don’t press for phone numbers and times of calls. If you’re not too keen on the relationship, be honest but kind in letting down the other person.


This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who writes on the subject of best dating services. She invites your feedback at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.

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The House War

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 22, 2008

Recently McCain was asked how many houses he and his wife Cindy own. McCain answered that he did not know. It was latter determined that he owns at least four (perhaps seven-different numbers have been presented). Naturally enough, Obama used this to attack McCain. McCain’s minions, in turn, struck back at Obama by pointing out that while he owns one house, it is a multi-million dollar house.Thus, begun has the House War.

This situation does raise various issues and concerns.

One concern is that McCain does not know how many houses he owns. On one hand, this seems to put him in a negative light. Perhaps he has so many houses that he cannot keep track. This could make him appear as  a wealthy elitist who is out of touch with the problems faced by many Americans. Perhaps he simply cannot remember things like that. This is problematic because a President should be able to remember such things. Not knowing how many DVDs or socks you own is one thing. Not knowing how many houses is a bit odd. Of course, the question was about how many houses he and his wife own. Since she is also extremely wealthy, she might own various investment properties that he has not kept track of.

Switching to the issue the candidates have been sparring over, the issue seems to be weather a wealthy person can be in touch with the current economic woes. As Obama has pointed out, McCain has claimed that the foundations of the economy are stable and his former economic adviser claimed that Americans are whining about economic woes that are in their minds. As Obama claims to see it, McCain is out of touch with the economic situation of most Americans. As noted above, McCain’s people counter that Obama is also a millionaire and, unlike McCain, concerned about arugula.

Obviously, neither candidate is experiencing the sort of woes that many Americans are facing. Obama can claim to be somewhat closer-he has but one home and he and his wife have less wealth than McCain and his wife (a multimillionaire in her own right). However, to say that Obama is experiencing our pain would be quite a stretch.

Of course, it is possible for a person to have empathy for the problems of others and understand them, even if he is not experiencing them. This might be due to past experiences. For example, as a professor I have empathy for my students because I was once a student. I can look back on my own experiences and this can enable me to be in touch with their problems. Perhaps McCain and Obama can look back at their own pasts and thus feel the pain of those who are not millionaires.Of course, they would need to show that they had such experiences and that these create a link between them and those who are now less fortunate.

This might also be due to a general capacity for sympathy or empathy. For example, I’ve never been homeless but I have the capacity to feel bad for those who have lost their homes. So, perhaps Obama and McCain can be in touch with those who are less fortunate because they have the capacity for sympathy. Naturally, they would need to show that they have not lost this capacity due to the insulating effect of great wealth.

It also might arise from a sort of professional concern. For example, a doctor who has never had cancer would be concerned for a cancer patient because it is her job. So, perhaps Obama and McCain can be in touch with the people in a professional way. As with a doctor, this would be shown by exhibiting concern and taking steps to solve the problem/treat the illness.

A third concern, one raised long ago by Thoreau and Emma Goldman, is that wealthy individuals are sold to the institutions that make them rich and that politicians serve their own needs or the needs of the rich. While McCain has been seen as a maverick, he is a maverick that lives in a gold plated stable. While Obama is cast as a liberal, he is a liberal who lives in a mansion. As such, there is the concern that both will serve the interests of the wealthy over the good of the people.

Of course, one reply is that the President should be a successful person. Given that money is the main measure of success in America, someone who cannot make vast sums of money could be seen as unsuitable for the job. After all, if a person cannot be a private success, how can he be a success as President?

That said, perhaps it is the focus on money and wealthy that has lead us to trouble. Just because a person has achieved financial success does not mean that he is smart, good, or a capable leader. It mainly just means that he has money. There is also the concern that wealth makes a person suspect. If a person were truly good, she would be using the wealth to do good. Also, wealth is often accumulated via questionable means.

How will the House War play out? No doubt McCain and Obama will snipe back and forth for a while. However, the objective fact of the matter is that both men are wealthy. Obama does own one house, but it is worth many times what my house is worth. He also made about $4 million last year. As such, both candidates are correct: his opponent is a wealthy man who is well insulated from the experiences of most Americans.

Will Russia Help McCain?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 21, 2008

While Obama has been leading McCain in recent polls, his lead has been slipping away (or perhaps not-polling is not an exact science). Obama might be able to keep or even expand his lead by picking the right VP candidate. He recently announced that he had decided, but seems to be milking the news cycle by not saying who he has selected.

Meanwhile, McCain is looking for a way to close the gap. McCain enjoys a commanding lead in one important area: voter perception of each candidate’s ability to deal with Russia. McCain’s military experience gives him a clear advantage here.

It is natural to wonder why McCain is not so well regarded when the subject changes to Iraq. This is because the Iraq war is not particularly popular and Obama has been able to tap into that. Many Americans regard the Iraq War as something that we need to get out of and McCain has made it clear that he is willing to keep America there as long as it takes. In this case, Obama’s lack of military credentials does not hurt him-he wants to end the war rather than fight it.

In the case of Russia, we are not yet embroilled in an active war and many Americans still remember the Cold War. As such, McCain’s fighting spirit is no doubt looked on as a positive asset.

In order to counter this, Obama needs to keep the focus on domestic issues (linking Bush and McCain works well here) and the Iraq War. Obama also needs to improve his appearance in regards to his ability to deal with Russia. Perhaps his VP choice will help him in this regard.

For McCain, the more active Russia becomes, the better it is for his election chances. If voters see a cool war starting up, McCain might be able to ride the Bear into the White House. If Russia eases up, then McCain will lose this advantage over Obama.

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University of Miami & The Ponzi Scheme

Posted in Business, Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on August 20, 2008

Florida Universities are facing financial troubles these days. While most schools are dealing with budget cuts, The University of Miami has recently been involved in a Ponzi (pyramid) scheme. While the university was not officially part of the scheme, university facilities were utilized.

Andres Pimstein, who graduated from the university, confessed to operating the scheme which has, at last estimate, lost $30 million. Apparently investors were promised an amazing 18% return on their investments. Anyone reasonably familiar with investing should have been suspicious of such high returns.

A wide range of people were caught up in the scheme, including Victor Gonzalez. He invested $3.5 million for the promise of an 18% return. Instead, it seems likely that he will instead lose $2 million. In response, he said: “I want to believe people. I can’t believe somebody would go to so much trouble to try to take advantage of you.”

His quite raises two interesting points. First, as he notes, people generally want to trust other people. Our social and economic actions are based (in part) on trust. Without such trust, society would hardly be possible and economics would mostly be a matter of direct barter (presumably with weapons on hand). Of course, trust needs to be grounded in reason. While most people are honest, there are enough dishonest people that it is wise to be on guard. Ironically, the reason why I believe that most people are still honest is that deception is still effective. As Kant argued, if deception became the law of the land, it would be self defeating. Naturally, factors such as gullibility and greed need to be taken into account, but honesty still seems to be the general option for the majority.

Second, he expresses disbelief at the efforts to which someone will go in order to deceive. While it would be nice to believe in the general goodness (or laziness perhaps) of people, history is replete with examples of how far people will go to deceive. True, some people are lazy in their deceptions, but others have been quite ambitious in their deceit. Governments, for example, are among the most industrious deceivers. Also, there are various schemes that are so well known that they have special names (such as the Ponzi scheme). Of course, anyone familiar with Sir Walter Scott would know about the tangled webs woven when one sets out to deceive.

The lesson of this situation is an old one: do not easily trust what seems far too good to be true.

Russia & Oil

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 19, 2008

Thanks, in part, to the past surge in oil prices, Russia seems to have the cash needed to get it back on the world’s military stage. It also seems to clearly have the will to act upon that stage in a rather violent manner. Perhaps the Russian leaders think that they need to match the United States once again. Perhaps they feel threatened by the fact that NATO seems to pressing in around them. Perhaps the leaders are dreaming of being a super power again. In any case, Russia now seems bold enough to grab US military equipment in Georgia.

The Cold War was partially won by the United States ability to out perform the USSR economically. While political factors were critical, the USSR could simply no longer afford to maintain its empire and hence things played out as the did.

Russia is a major oil exporter, though people often forget thus. Hence, when oil prices surged recently, Russia enjoyed a major increase in its cash flow. Some of this cash has been diverted into rebuilding Russia’s military and the country seems intent to flex her restored muscles.

European countries are in  a bit of a quandry. On one hand, there seems to be a clear need to respond to Russia’s actions and to prepare for the possibility that the Russian bear might still be hungry for more. On the other hand, Russia is a major economic player in the area and the countries of Europe might prefer to let the bear roam a bit as long as it keeps the oil and money flowing. They will need to decide what best serves their self interest. One option is to  stand up to the bear and hope it will back down. Another option is to mildly scold the bear and hope that it will share its berries (for a price, of course). A third option is to stand up to the bear and hope that it backs off. Naturally, there are other options as well.

The United States is a long way from Russia, but we have protected Europe since the end of World War II and have interests in the region. From a military standpoint, we are still the most powerful in the world. However, we have been grinding our military down in the seemingly unending war on terror. The Russians have no doubt taken this into account and believe that we cannot or will not pose a credible military deterence to them. Gearing back up for another Cold War (or a cool war) would be costly and would strain our already over-extended military. We will, of course, have to re-evaluate our military strategy, tactics and needs. Fortunately, we still have the right hardware for a traditional war (battle tanks, bombers, fighters and such). Interestingly, many experts claimed that the time of such conflicts was over with the end of the Cold War. However, it seems like things are getting cooler, despite global warming.

From a political standpoint, the Russians know that the United States has done considerable damage to its influence via its war on terror and its poor diplomatic approaches. We have strained and weakened many of our alliances and have lost much of our past influence. To counter Russia we will need to get back into the diplomacy game and play it right. Naturally, this goes beyond merely dealing with Russia but also dealing with the rest of the world in a constructive manner.

From an economic standpoint, we are helping Russia by driving up the price of oil. We need to treat energy as part of our defense strategy and act accordingly. The more we can do to lower the price of oil the more we can reduce Russia’s income. While an economically weakened Russia will suffer from internal problems, it will be less able to engage in foreign adventures. While it would be preferable to have a peaceful Russian with a strong economy, it is better (for us) for an aggressive Russia to have a weak economy.

I do hope that Russia will decide to use her growing power to do good in the world. However, empires are rarely agents of good.

Will Obama Win?

Posted in Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on August 18, 2008

Obama recently promised his donors that he will win. Obviously, no candidate is going to tell the people who have given him (or her) money that he (or she) is going down in political flames. No doubt his donors have faith in him (or are at least hedging their bets). What remains to be seen is whether he can keep his promise when election day rolls around.

Predicting a candidate’s chances is a tricky thing. National politics is a complex subject and the relevant factors shift and change constantly. However, it is possible to provide a general assessment of his chances by considering his strengths and weaknesses. Interestingly enough, many of Obama’s strengths and weaknesses are the same.

First, Obama is young. While he is older than I am (so I rather like hearing people say how young he is), he is considered somewhat young for a Presidential candidate. This can help him or hurt him. On the positive side, youth is valued in our culture and many Americans look back favorably on another young Democrat (Kennedy, of course). Some Americans also seem to be looking for a President who has vitality and energy and Obama has both. This can give him an edge over the much older McCain especially among the younger voters On the negative side, many voters prefer an older leader. The stereotypical image of a President is often of an older man and this seems to indicate a bias towards older candidates. The fact that Obama is spoken of as being young shows that he is up against this perception. While it is close, I think that the country is leaning more towards youthful energy and I think this will help Obama.

Second, Obama is not a Washington insider. While he is a senator, he has not been one for long and is not perceived as part of the old system. On the positive side, this helps to separate him from the old system and the dismal approval ratings of both the President and Congress. Americans seem to be eager for a change from the old Washington and Obama clearly is in a position to deliver. On the negative side, as much as people claim to dislike Washington insiders, they seem very inclined to keep supporting them. After all, to become a Washington insider a politician has to be re-elected regularly. Thus, if Americans really loathed Washington insiders and it strongly impacted their voting behavior, then there would not be many (or any) Washington insiders. I think this outsider approach (which McCain is also trying to tap into) will help him, provided that the approval ratings for the insiders remains low.

Third, Obama does not have very much experience. He is young and his national political experience is limited to being a senator for a short while. On the plus side, this lack of experience separates him from the failures of the past. It also means that there is little political dirt that can be dug up on him and that he is far less beholden to those with whom he has become entrenched. These factors can help him in the polls. On the minus side, a lack of experience makes him an unknown quantity and people tend to be a bit wary of the unknown. Further, the Presidency is not generally regarded as an “entry level” position. Like employers, voters generally seem to prefer someone with experience. McCain has an edge in this regard, although it makes it harder for him to claim that he is not part of the Washington establishment. Somewhat ironically, when McCain attacks the Washington establishment he seems to help Obama. While McCain used to be regarded as an outsider and a maverick, that image seems to have worn down by the necessity of appealing to the party base. Overall, I think that this lack of experience will help Obama, provided that he can keep playing on the past failings of experienced politicians.

Fourth, Obama is liberal. On the positive side, many voters are liberal and much of his “liberal agenda” consists of causes that are currently very popular such as health care reform and ending the war in Iraq. Naturally enough, the catastrophic failures of the Bush administration are helping Obama out a great deal here. Neo-conservatism and conservatism are no longer as well regarded as they were in the past. McCain is stuck in the unenviable position of having to be conservative to appease the Republican base while distancing himself from the failures of the Bush administration. On the negative side, there are still many people who are conservatives and while they are not very happy with Bush, they have no desire to vote Obama into office. If McCain can convince voters that he is a true conservative while also making them believe that he will not be serving Bush’s third term, then Obama will have quite a fight on his hands. I think that some Democrats are making the mistake of thinking that unhappiness with Bush means support for Obama. This need not be the case.

Fifth, Obama is male and is not Hillary Clinton. On the positive side, all Presidents have been male and the stereotype for the President is also male. On the negative side, there are some female voters who will remain die hard Hillary supporters and might not support Obama. While there are rumors that some will turn to McCain out of spite, this seems unlikely. Even if it does happen, the impact will be minimal. The main worry is that such voters will stay at home or write in Hillary’s name on the ballot. While these will not be votes for McCain, they will be lost votes for Obama. I think that while a few hard core Hillary supporters will give into their spite, most will fall in behind Obama.

Sixth, Obama is Christian. On the positive side, many Americans claim to be Christian and many of them seem to have a positive view of having a Christian President. On the negative side, some people still think Obama is a Muslim and this could lead to them not voting for him. However, I think that the people who would be inclined to believe that he is Muslim probably would not be voting for him anyway. As such, this factor is not a critical one. Overall, his professed Christianity will help him a bit.

Seventh, Obama lived outside of the United States. On the positive side, this means that he has had exposure to non-American culture and this can help him. On the negative side, this has provided fuel for attacks against him that attempt to portray him as foreign or exotic. As with the Muslim attack, I think that these attacks work best with people who would not vote for him anyway. As such, the impact of this will be minimal, although it has and will generate a lot of noise.

Eighth, Obama is regarded as being black. On the positive side, this seems to be helping him with some key demographics. Obviously enough, many commentators attribute his success with African-Americans and other minorities to this factor. Also, some claim that liberal white also support him because of this factor (of course, they would support a white Democrat as well). Minority votes will obviously be important in the election and Obama seems to have an edge here. On the negative side, racism is still a factor in the United States and this will impact voting behavior. McCain is obviously no racist, but no doubt some people will vote for him because he is white and Obama is black. It is difficult to predict how much of an impact race will have in terms of people not voting for Obama. Obviously, black candidates can get elected in the United States (Obama is, after all, already a senator). But it remains to be seen whether a black person can win a Presidential election now. I suspect that the race factor might balance out. While some will not vote for him because he is black, some will vote for him because he is black. Others will vote for or against him based on other factors.

Much could change between now and November, but I suspect the election will be a fairly close one. I am inclined to think that Obama will win, but only a fool picks a winner before the starting gun has even been loaded.