A friend of mine who I've not spoken to in a while contacted me on Facebook today and asked me, in essence: "Why do you support Obama over Hillary? Aren't they basically the same?" I started to give a brief reply, but bubbled over with a huge list of reasons. Since I get asked this question a lot, and the more general question ("Why is a white guy from another country who can't even vote volunteering for Barack Obama?") I figured I'd post it here.
There's a lot of reasons. At a personal level, Obama just has a fundamentally more optimistic, positive attitude to politics. Hillary is a mean and dirty fighter and she's made a lot of enemies over the years; her ability to get things done is compromised by how fiercely some people oppose her, even within the party. Hillary knows how to play the game, but Barack wants to stop playing games altogether, and treat the public and politicians like grown-ups.
At a policy level, he's also got a much better grasp of the issues that are going to be important in the next 30 years, whereas Hillary is still clinging to issues that were important 30 years ago. His technology policy -- of particular importance to me -- is impressive, full of new ideas and good ideas.
Also, Obama embodies what is supposed to be the spirit of American politics -- that anybody can be president, based on their ability, not just that they're an old white guy with a lot of money, or married to an old white guy with a lot of money. I'm all for a woman president, but I'd rather it be a woman who stands on her own, not somebody leaning heavily on stuff her husband did, that she alternately takes credit for or says she wasn't involved in, whichever looks better.
Finally, Hillary's management of her campaign, and her conduct in this campaign have both been awful. She hired bad people, made bad calls, and just had the wrong strategy, including some shockingly incompetent planning (the details of which I'll spare you as this message is freakin' long already). Having been out-run in a fair fight, she's fallen back to vicious smear tactics, damaging innuendos, and most recently all-out racism in her attempts to paint Obama as unelectable even as he continues to out-do her against McCain in poll after poll, and beat her in state after state.
Obama on the other hand has maintained his dignity and mainly avoided political expediency, for instance bending over backwards to avoid repudiating his pastor's comments, instead giving a really groundbreaking speech on the state of race relations in America. It was subtle and nuanced and not the kind of black-and-white simplification that American politics often reduces to. It probably cost him the votes of some people who misunderstood the message, and I respect that kind of sacrifice in favour of not fudging the issue.
Another example is the gas tax holiday: Hillary and McCain both proposed this ridiculous idea, which embodies the worst of American politics: it oversimplifies the problem and presents a short-term, feel-good solution. If repealing the gas tax was really a good idea, then it could be done permanently. The very fact that their proposal is temporary means that it has bad side-effects that you can't leave in place for too long. Obama instead is presenting subtler but longer-term solutions: government of action, not reaction. Again, I really respect that approach.
Barack Obama fills me with hope that American politics can find its way and become government again, instead of theatre.