Often in the media political independents who do not vote consistently for one party or the other are presented as "low-information voters" who don't really follow politics and who make up their minds for whom to vote based on watching political ads or one or two debates. While that is true for many--and can even be defended as a rational allocation of time for a decision in which the individual voter has little influence, it is not how all independents operate. Many of us are civilly engaged and pay a great deal of attention to politics at one level or another, whether it is at the local, state or federal level.
Because I am professionally trained in the field of international relations and it is in this subject that my passion is, I am engaged at the federal level investing most in my quadrennial vote for president and somewhat less for votes for senators or representatives and hardly any attention to those at the local level. For my first two decades as a voter I voted only once for the same candidate for president twice in a row--for Reagan in 1980 and 1984. I usually found myself severely disappointed with my choice for president--if elected--by about midway through his first term and then ended up voting for his challenger from the opposite party. With the exception of Reagan and Clinton--I voted for Perot in 1996 as a protest vote against both Clinton and Dole--this pattern has continued up to the present. I intend to break it this election.
I have traditionally voted for president based on three criteria: resume or record i.e. experience, character, and foreign policy. I have gradually come to accept that with the present political system and low level of engagement, I need to drastically lower my expectations in terms of performance. Here is a very good article by Stratfor president George Friedman on how he thinks we should consider candidates for the presidency and it approximates my selection process.
I will be voting for Barack Obama for the second time--my first repeat vote for a presidential candidate since Reagan. Reagan had a good first term and deserved my vote and I don't regret it; unfortunately, his second term was not nearly as good. I never voted for George H.W. Bush because of his evasiveness about the Iran-Contra affair and because I figured he was lying. I also was impressed with both Dukakis and Clinton as candidates. But as an analyst I give him high marks for his foreign policy during his single term. I didn't vote for Clinton in 1996 because of his use of the Lincoln Bedroom for fundraising, which I considered to be unpresidential. I also was not impressed with his first term. I thought that Bob Dole was of high character, but between winning the nomination and the general election he began to veer sharply to the right in order to appease social conservatives in the GOP. So I voted for Perot, whom I personally did not like, in the hope that maybe his Reform Party could become permanent and offer a real choice to voters. I did vote for George W. Bush in 2000 in the mistaken belief that he would consult his father in the event of a foreign policy crisis for advice.
In late 2007 I decided that 2008 would likely be a Democratic year for the presidency and I did not want Hillary Clinton as president because of all the political baggage she brought to the election. I considered her to be fundamentally dishonest as evidenced by her amazing profits in the cattle futures markets while her husband was governor. So I started to pay attention to her opponents and soon decided that only Obama was in a position to pose a serious challenge to her. I volunteered for the Obama campaign in both the Iowa caucus and the South Dakota primary and worked tirelessly to get him elected during the general election. As an opponent I was much more impressed with John McClain in 2008 than I am with Mitt Romney today.
Obama impressed me as intellectually curious, a true realist, and someone who could put America's true security needs in perspective. I was also impressed with some of the people he picked for positions in the administration. He successfully ended American involvement in Iraq without jeopardizing the gains made under the Bush administration in its final two years in office following the surge and the defection of the Sunni tribes. He has also given the Karzai government a fighting chance while significantly lowering the American profile in Afghanistan. And he has done a wonderful job of eliminating the upper echelons of Al Qaeda's leadership since he took office. And all this while he was dealing with the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression!
Obama failed to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians but so too did George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush. And Clinton had much more to work with than Obama had! So we are given the choice between the known record of Obama and the views of his rival who hardly deals with foreign policy, has no experience in the field, and seems content to serve as the mouthpiece for Sheldon Adelson and the Tea Party. I think in foreign policy terms this is the clearest choice that I can remember since 1976. I realize, however, that the vast majority of my fellow citizens will not be making their choice based on foreign policy.