I’m a registered Independent, which means I can’t vote in today’s primary in California. Other states allow Independents to vote in party primaries, but alas, not my state.*

For what it’s worth, I’ve mostly been a none-of-the-above voter for a long time. I’ve voted for Green, Libertarian and other third party candidates in various contests. Mostly that’s because, after being raised Republican and voting mostly Democratic in the 60s and 70s, I got fed up with politics-as-sports (with just two teams) by the 1980s.

I don’t think I ever voted for Bill Clinton, or for his Republican opponents. My votes for Gore and Kerry were not for either of those men, but against George W. Bush, for what are now obvious reasons. Though I’ve always been attracted to outsiders, rebels and underdogs, I never would have voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, and not just because he was a spoiler (and a huge one, it turned out). While I loved Ralph’s early work as a consumer advocate, his ceaselessly one-sided rap got on my nerves by the time he ran for president.

And it’s still one-sidedness that gets to me. That’s why I like Barack Obama. I believe him when he says he wants to get past the politics of division and destruction. He is, by all accounts, a good and smart man who wants to return politics to dialog rather than the partisan yelling that comprises too much of TV commentary and talk radio.

And there’s something more. To many in my generation, Obama reminds us of what we liked best about John and Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. They gave us hope. (And got themselves killed for it, which raises the same worries about Mr. Obama.)

He is, significantly, the first Democrat running for president that I hear some Republicans actually liking. Maybe that’s because he’s the first candidate of either party whose politics transcends the partisan hatred that’s been with us ever since the Vietnam war.

Zephyr Teachout put it this way in Huffington Post:

  I support Obama — proudly — because he has that difficult to describe, but not difficult to discern, quality of character. He showed it when he persistently pushed through legislation requiring videotaped confessions in Illinois — his graceful, non-triumphalist response to legislative success has then allowed Illinois cops to be evangelists for the process elsewhere. He showed it when, as the guest of the Kenyan government two years ago, he publicly urged his hosts to grapple with corruption and ethnic division.
  Flowing from this strength, his demands on us, as citizens, are genuine demands, not genuflections. When Clinton says that its “all about you,” she means that she will work tirelessly to take care of us (which I believe she would, or pursue what she believed was the best path). When Obama says its “all about you,” he means that unless we find that 5% of citizen leadership in our own communities, unless we organize to oppose kleptocratic and ogopolistic and environmentally ruinous behavior, we cannot transform this country, and, moreover, we cannot hold our heads high as true, self-governing, citizens.

Meanwhile, on the right, Andrew Sullivan puts it this way in The Atlantic:

  …the fundamental point of his candidacy is that it is happening now. In politics, timing matters. And the most persuasive case for Obama has less to do with him than with the moment he is meeting. The moment has been a long time coming, and it is the result of a confluence of events, from one traumatizing war in Southeast Asia to another in the most fractious country in the Middle East. The legacy is a cultural climate that stultifies our politics and corrupts our discourse.
  Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America — finally — past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us…
  At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war — not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a momentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade — but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war — and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama — and Obama alone — offers the possibility of a truce.
  At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.
  We may in fact have finally found that bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton told us about. Its name is Obama.

I agree.

Bonus link from Steve Lewis, who also likes Louis Jordan.

* Apparently, there are workarounds. I didn’t find out about these until it was too late. I have to vote by absentee ballot from Massachusetts, and my form here doesn’t give me that option. But if you’re an independent voter going to a polling place in California, you just have to request a party ballot when you go in.


  1. naum’s avatar

    If you’re independent you can vote in California Democratic primary…

  2. Chip’s avatar

    Amen … what we need is leadership, not gamesmanship.

    Personally, I’m a devout and practicing non-partisan, with libertarian leanings.

    Out of my pocket and out of my bedroom.

    Your piece got me to reflecting on college (back in the dark ages)
    Major was : Econ/Poli-Sci/African Studies ( aka Advanced No-Pref )

    By the end (graduated, but did not attend the ceremony) I was thoroughly fed up.

    Econ was all about “rational behavior” and models of how the economy “should work”.

    My failure to accept “conventional wisdom” in Economics may have enhanced my ability to trade, and now, to invest.
    This is due to recognition that markets, like the economy, are seldom rational.

    Get a sense of what the “crowd” is doing and work with or, sometimes, against it.

    Much of what was being taught seems to be out the window now.

    While I was suppose to be a “whiz” at political science (I was asked to teach my senior year), I got fed up.

    Political “science” was wrapped up in construction of polls, and what did we get … Bill Clinton’s purported polling to decide on where to vacation.

    Africa … well, look where it’s gone in the last few decades.

    Note that I did vote for Eldridge Cleaver … so, if I were to vote for Obama, it will be the 2nd African-American candidate.

  3. Doug’s avatar


    In California, registered independents CAN vote in the democratic primary. Only the republicans (again this applies only to California) require you to be a registered republican.

    See here, for example:


  4. Brent Ashley’s avatar

    I agree that Obama is shaping up to be the charismatic leader I’ve been hoping for for some time (see http://www.ashleyit.com/blogs/brentashley/2003/03/19/where-have-the-real-leaders-gone/)

    I wouldn’t put too much blame for the 2000 outcome into the Nader-as-spoiler theme. My guess is that had Nader not been a factor, the volume knob would just have been turned up on the recount and/or other such tactics to provide the same outcome.

  5. Ed Theobald’s avatar

    Beware the politician with too much charisma. Don’t forget that Kennedy was responsible for our first overt actions in Vietnam. This was an illegal undeclared war – as is our current ‘conflict’.

    If you look past Obama’s great speaking skills you will see that he is just another US imperialist. Last summer an issue of ‘Foreign Affairs’ had an essay by Obama – here is an excerpt:

    “We must use this moment both to rebuild our military and to prepare it for the missions of the future. We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests.”

    The ‘vital interests’ phrase is key. The Clinton doctrine and the Bush doctrine both were based on protecting US interests and resources around the globe.

    Folks, our current military spending exceeds the rest of the world combined! We maintain 700 military bases in 130 countries around the world.

    If anyone has a better word for this than ‘imperialism’ I’d like to know what it is. We spend nearly a Trillion dollars per year maintaining this overseas empire. We’re not welcome there – and the aggression against the US has an obvious basis in our far reaching ‘foreign policy’.

    It’s amazing how difficult this obvious hypocrisy is to see. I was blind to it a long time as well. We preemptively attach others, but we would never accept such a premise against us. We maintain a vast military abroad, yet we would never allow a foreign military presence our our soil.

    If you read the original preface to Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ (this was unpublished until recently) – you will read how ‘self censorship’ based on political correctness is the most insidious and difficult form of censorship to see. The inability to grasp or discuss the huge faults in our foreign policy seem to fall into this category. Yet you need go no further than the good old golden rule (or ethic of reciprocity) – ‘Apply to ourselves the principle we apply to others’.

    There are candidates that grasp this issue and voice this topic candidly – Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, and Ron Paul. Alas – they are not seen as ‘viable’ candidates.

    Please don’t fall for the slick politician – too much is at stake. All of the top tier candidates are simply a continuation of the US imperialism we’ve be immersed in for at least 50 years.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Andrew Sullivan in the linked piece above makes the point that Obama actually isn’t all that charismatic. He’s made some excellent speeches, but he’s not in the class with JFK or MLK. IMHO, anyway. I actually think that helps.

    Agreed about U.S. imperialism, by the way. I also think Obama has the best chance of getting us past it. Precisely because he is viable.

  7. Karoli’s avatar

    Doc, as others have said, Independents can vote in the primary if they are voting on the Democratic ticket. The same is not true of the GOP. I just posted an image of the ballot on my blog to warn about the extra box to check if you’re an independent voter.

    Barack Obama is the first candidate in many, many years who I truly believe has the brains, the heart and the instinct to bring about true change in our political landscape. I’ve found myself wanting to work, wanting to give, wanting to participate for the first time in forever.

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Brent, you may be right about Nader’s role. I think it was critical, and a fateful in too many ways to know, much less measure. But I also believe that our country has not even begun to face the fact that the 2000 presidential election was a constituional failure — first of design (the electoral college is antique and wacky, among other things) and second of execution (the Supreme Court failed to make sure that Florida voting was counted as fairly and squarely and non-politically as possible, but instead it chose to certify a decision by a political appointee of the Republican candidate’s brother). I doubt awakening or reform will happen in my lifetime. But it needs to happen. The system is broken, and the country has paid a terrible price for it already. And I’m not saying that because I favor (or favored) Al Gore.

    At the time Willy Brown, then the Mayor of San Francisco and one of the savviest pols in California history, said the race was between “the incompetent and the insufferable”. The incompetent won. We would have suffered less under the insufferable guy. At the very least it’s clear that our response to 9/11, had it still occurred, would not have included going to war in Iraq.

    I could go on, but… you know what I mean, I’m sure.

  9. jonathan peterson’s avatar

    According to my Cali friends, you should change your affiliation from independent to Decline To State so you can vote for the candidate you want to in primaries. Apparently few californians have even heard of that option.


  10. Paul Ding’s avatar

    One thing I liked about Evan Bayh, who dropped out of the election before he hardly even dropped in, was that he was a Democrat that Republicans like.

    Son of Birch Bayh, the Vietnam-era anti-war senator, he was elected governor twice of Indiana before he ran for the US Senate, and he won handily every time. A week before he was elected to the Governor’s seat the first time, they were interviewing Mutz?, his opponent, on the radio. It was a foregone conclusion that Bayh was going to win, and Mutz didn’t seem too upset about it.

    You know, he said, Evan Bayh is the sort of young man that we really ought to encourage to go into politics. He’s eloquent, honest, intelligent, got a feel for the working man. The only reason, he said, to vote against him was that he was too young and inexperienced to be governor. In another 10 years, he’ll be perfect.

    Evan Bayh won election in Indiana, a state that had only a couple of years before had a sweep of Republican wins. There wasn’t a Democrat to be seen in the state House, the state Senate, or any other statewide office. You’d have to be good to win as a Democrat in Indiana – but Bayh was running largely on the reputation of his father, who appeared to be honest, industrious, intelligent, and hard-working. Undoubtedly, many of the voters were thinking, “Yeah, he’s young, but he has his father to call on, in case he runs into something.”

    I don’t think Barack will make a very good president. I’m an independent that leans far to the right, but it’s not ideology that scares me about Barack; it’s just there’s just too much of the Chief Operating Officer in that job description. And Barack doesn’t have a papa to phone in the middle of the night in case he needs to seek advice informally.

    But Huck’s religiosity scares me a bit, McCain sees us in Iraq for a century, and Romney’s an Amway salesman, slimy and untrustworthy. Paul’s a racist, and Clinton voted to send our kids into Iran.

    In the end, people rarely vote for candidates; they vote against their opponents. I suspect it’ll be a close election this fall, and Barack will beating Mac. That’s the best I could hope for, but hardly what I want; I’d kinda like Evan Bayh, with Dennis Kucinich as his veep. But they have no chance of winning.

    Hoosiers remember Birch Bayh, so Evan could win Republican votes in Indiana, but he’s not the most electrifying campaigner. If it came down to listening to Bayh speak, and watching paint dry, even Hoosiers would choose the paint….

  11. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Jonathan. I hate to admit how under-informed I was about the options there. But California takes some blame too. It would be easier if they just adopted “party only” or “any party” as policy. Instead there’s this confuzzion.

    And Paul, that’s a terrific and well-written analysis. I have to admit that my enthusiasm for Obama involves a lot of wishful projection. I think it does for most of his advocates. I also admit I know little about Evan Bayh, although I recall his dad quite well (as you might expect, since I’m 60).

    One woman I know well, a political independent whose intelligence and intiuition are especially trustworthy, thinks what matters most at this point is who McCain chooses for a vice president, because McCain and his #2 are likely to be our next two presidents.

    She sees stuff to like about both Hillary and Barack, but believes that most voters aren’t ready to pull the lever for a woman or a black man. And she thinks McCain is too old and possibly too unhealthy either to last a full term or to serve two terms. But that he’ll be elected because he’ll be the most comfortable choice.

    In any case, we’ll see.

  12. Bob Kalsey’s avatar

    The confusion about “independents” being allowed to vote in California primaries is partly caused by the fact there is an “American Independent Party.” As I understand, when one registers, one can declare membership in that party or declare “Declines to state.” They’re not the same thing, but confusion reigns. As the pundits keep talking about the “independent voter” they add to the confusion. But the phrase is much less unwieldy for them than “the declines-to-state voter,” which does not exactly trip off the pundit’s already-taxed tongue. So check your registration, Doc; you missed this election, but there’s always next time. Maybe we should start using some designation like “undeclared.” (Of course, somebody might then form the “American Undeclared Party.” In fact, I might just do that.)

  13. Ed Theobald’s avatar

    Doc, I agree wholeheartedly that Obama is the best choice in the top 4. I disagree that he shows any significant sign of actually making a change of course in our foreign policy (imperialism). He speaks of ‘aggressive diplomacy’ in place of war. A good change to be sure – but in reality it means using our might to coerce rather than using overt military action. Shades of gray I’m afraid. For instance, the murderous sanctions against Iraq in the 90’s may well have killed as many people as the ‘excess deaths’ that the war has inflicted (as reported by the Lancet). In this case we traded disease and starvation (mostly children) for death by traditional warfare. If I had to choose a fate for myself, I’m not sure if I’d choose starvation of explosives.

    The Geneva convention states that even in times of war, all parties need to allow adequate water and food to the civilian population. Yet our sanctions against Iraq were an obvious violation of this. Folks see sanctions (a.k.a. Obama’s aggressive diplomacy) as a good alternative to war. But sanction of this kind are an act of war – in fact they are a violation of acceptable warfare.

    I’m afraid I’m far too much of a humanist to back any candidate that can’t speak out with truth and honesty in this regard. I’d really like to be hopeful and optimistic about Obama vs. ‘the others’, but having read many of his speeches to industry groups, as well as his Foreign Affairs magazine article, I can only conclude that no ‘real’ change would occur.

    I refuse to fall for the trap of voting for the least evil candidate. It just perpetuates the illusion that we have real choices in our politics. Short term compromises get us no where in the long run. False dichotomies between candidates that are all part of an exceedingly narrow spectrum won’t fool me.

  14. Ed Theobald’s avatar

    To Paul Ding – you stated: ‘Paul is a racist’. Nasty statement without backing it up. We all know of the newsletters that included grossly racist comments. But I thought we also all knew that Dr. Paul didn’t actually write them. Obviously he regrets allowing the use of his name with these newsletters. A poor decision on hindsight to say the least. But the letters are obviously inconsistent with everything Ron Paul has ever said or written.

    The President of the Austin NAACP backs Paul on this one – even though he doesn’t necessarily agree with Paul’s political views:

  15. Phil Windley’s avatar

    Doc, in most (all?) states, parties control the rules for primaries, so it’s not just a state-by-state thing, but a party-by-party thing.

    In a lot of ways the “gotta be a member” rules make sense when you think about this being the party choosing their candidate, not “us” choosing a candidate. On the other hand, I think these rules really just discourage people most of the time and are certainly confusing.

  16. Dizzy Gillespie, Ignacz Paderewski, Sonny Rollins, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Vito Marcantonio, and the Benjamin Franklin High School Riots of 1946 | Lovegin’s Personal weblog’s avatar

    […] For a timely posting by my friend and colleague Doc Searls, a long-time independent-voter, on his decision to support Barack Obama in the present primary elections click here. […]

  17. tony’s avatar

    Does the fact that neo-con andrew sullivan supports obama scare anyone else?

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