Some say that there are two groups of voters in America, and they're not really Republican and Democrat. They're character voters and issues voters. The former vote based on how much a candidate appeals to them as a person and as a potential leader, based on his personality and his capability rather than on his politics. The latter vote based on how similar a candidate's political stances are to their own. There's something to be said for both points of view: no matter how much a candidate agrees with you politically, if he's a selfish, short-sighted idiot, he's still going to be a bad president. But a smart, competent, charismatic president who accomplishes things that you find repugnant? That's no good either.
I am primarily an issues voter. I'm too liberal to be content with a president who consistently makes conservative (or rather, Republican, as modern Republicans aren't really traditionally conservative) decisions. Character matters too, and I don't like it when I find myself voting for someone disappointing as a person just because the alternative has views that repel me. But, well, take a look at Bush, for example. He's screwed up in ways that cross party lines; even if he were a Democrat, he still could have rushed into an ill-considered, poorly-thought-out war and overseen a corrupt and partisan administration. But he's also sabotaged any science that doesn't toe the anti-scientific line of the religious right or the oil companies, helped cut off funding from any international aid programs that didn't subscribe to a restrictive view of morality and sexuality, and appointed judges to the Supreme Court who could endanger Roe v. Wade.
As far as issues go, of all the candidates running, Obama isn't the closest to my views. Some way-out-there third party candidate probably would be. Because I'm a hippie pinko flagburner. (Note: I do not actually believe in communism, although I think socialism can be useful when employed in moderation; I was born long after the sixties ended and I have no desire to wear hemp underwear; and I don't actually burn our flag, because the real symbolism behind the act has largely been lost to a sea of ZOMG AMERICA HATE.) But he's closer than most candidates and a whole hell of a lot closer than McCain--especially with McCain's tendency to shift further right whenever pushed by his base. Looking at his stances on the issues, they're usually about as close as they can get to mine without alienating the majority of the Democratic party. He's nominally against gay marriage (I'd like to hope that he's just saying it to avoid political suicide, but...for all I know he means it), but he's made statements of support for gay rights. He's strongly pro-choice. He focuses on regulating corporations and the wealthy rather than taxing the lower and middle classes--I'm not happy about him being for the bailout, but it doesn't necessarily say all that much about his political philosophy, as being against it would have been political suicide. He has more sensible policies on drugs and a much more realistic viewpoint on why drug-dealing is so prevalent among young inner-city men of color than the usual "they just like the bling" ideas. He has much stronger environmental credentials than McCain. The list goes on; I don't agree with him on everything, but I agree with more of his stances than I do with those of most candidates. I especially agree with more of his stances than I do with McCain's.
The fact is, though, if I voted entirely on issues, I'd probably be voting for a third-party candidate--or at least, only voting reluctantly for Obama. Character comes into play in how enthusiastic I am. I don't think Obama is perfect, but I am pretty impressed by him. Here's the thing. Yes, he does pander sometimes, and yes, he's a politician. But from actually listening to and reading the things he has to say, I get the strong impression that he really thinks about what his words mean, and about how to say something in the most thoughtful and intelligent way possible. He tries to go beyond the soundbite. That's what I like best about him, character-wise. I also think he's shown an unusual amount of integrity in this campaign alone--avoiding the dirtier attacks, not cutting off his own pastor until he was really pressed--and that's definitely something out of the ordinary.
McCain, on the other hand, has shown a consistent willingness to pander. I don't think this makes him particularly awful--it's something most politicians do--but it does undercut his claims of being a maverick, and I'm not happy with a candidate running for office on a patently false platform. No, he's not Bush, but that makes it all the worse that he's willing to support (or appear to support) most of the same things Bush does or did for fear of losing the warhawk neocons and warped fundamentalists who increasingly make up far too much of the Republican base. And then there are the decisions he's made in his campaign. The worst is his choice of Sarah Palin as vice president. I'm not going to go into Palin's own failings (I can't stand her, but I think that her main problem here is that she's utterly out of her league to dangerous levels, not that she's a monster), but I am going to say that either selecting her as his running mate or approving a recommendation for her as his running mate (whichever it was) does not reflect well on McCain's decision-making abilities. It's painfully clear (especially in retrospect) that the decision was made primarily not with regard to her capabilities but in hopes of pandering to disgruntled Hillary voters and the far right in one swoop. That's already backfired badly on McCain's campaign. I don't even want to think about him being similarly rash with the entire country.
I'll admit that it would take a lot to get me to vote against for someone other than the Democrat in a presidential election. I don't think this reflects well on our country's current voting system. I'd like to see it changed to something that allows votes to be cast for third-party candidates without giving many voters the sense that they've been "wasted." If that ever happens, I'll happen vote for the Green Party or the Socialist Party or, hell, Nader. As it is, as long as I'm reasonably satisfied with the Democratic candidate, I'll continue to vote that way--not because I think that all liberals are automatically good, or that the Democratic Party can do no wrong, but because I think this country has been too far to the right for the better part of three decades, and with the right increasingly dominated by the aforementioned warhawk neocons and warped fundamentalists rather than the many perfectly decent people who happen to be conservative, that is getting ever more dangerous.
The more I learn about the situation of the world, the more convinced I become that what is needed to salvage our society is beyond the capabilities of our current government, both here and in other countries. We need more active and efficient (as opposed to simply bigger, as it has become under Bush) government; we need better regulations on corporations; we need funding to be allocated a hell of a lot more intelligently than it has been for some time now; we need priorities shifted away from non-issues such as "defending marriage." No one party's going to give us all of that, although the Democrats are much more likely to help with regulating corporations...at least, if they've got enough of a majority.
This is where character comes in--and also my cynicism. I don't believe any one person is going to fix everything. I worry about Obama's inexperience--not because I think he isn't capable (he's handled himself in exemplary fashion throughout his campaign, and his history tells of an intelligent man who's always tried to contribute to society), but because I think he might not have enough contacts to get things done in Washington. But a lot of people who do have those contacts have thrown their support behind him, so I'm hoping for the best. He's intelligent, and he doesn't pretend not to be; he has honest-to-God plans for when he gets into the White House. I sincerely doubt that those plans will work out perfectly, but the fact that he's willing to make them and discuss them openly speaks volumes. The rest of the world likes him, and God knows we need the rest of the world's goodwill. He knows that what makes America great isn't some divine gift, but our willingness to improve on our tattered birthright and seek the hope and change he's tried so hard to embody.
I don't think he's perfect. But I like him, and I hope he can make good on those hopes.