A friend who didn't vote for Obama recently read Obama's first book and asked me about what I thought of his recent changes to stem-cell policy. Here's most of my response:
I have to commend you for a very Obama-like move for reading his book! You were willing to listen to what the other side has to say, to objectively assess the strengths and weaknesses of his positions and then make an informed judgment that's based on knowledge, not ideology. That, really, is probably the biggest reason why I like Obama: I don't agree with all his positions, but I absolutely DO agree with his approach to them: even-handed, thoughtful and then taking decisive action based on information, not merely overly-simplified principles or "the gut." (Note that I'm definitely not throwing out "principles"--we just have to make sure the principles are formulated correctly and account for the world as it really is--a complex place.)
As you know, the Republicans--and especially George W--often have an unreasonably simplistic "faith" in certain principles: free markets always good, taxes always bad; companies good, government bad. But life is much more complex than that and that's why smart people go to elite institutions to learn how to think in a sophisticated way and then manage companies and governments well. What Republicans/conservatives have to watch out for is assuming that "sophisticated thinking" = "moral relativism." In the case of Bill Clinton, he was a smart guy clearly lacking in ethical living and the conservatives effectively ripped him apart for that. In fact, Monica Lewinsky directly led to the election of George W and his "principled" but simplistic and ineffective view of the world, which led to catastrophic governance.
So what I like about Obama is that he combines sophisticated, educated thinking--in which he considers many sides of an issue--in order to come to his conclusions. He's far from perfect but I believe he is a very moral, principled guy and an inspiring leader. I find his deliberative, thoughtful approach very "American" in that he allows for the clash of ideas and doesn't just champion a particular ideological agenda.
Specifically on the stem cell issue--just like on the abortion issue and no doubt on other issues that come up--I disagree on many of his specific policy prescriptions but wholeheartedly agree with the approach he models in coming to his decisions: carefully weighing the issues rather than engaging in the naked exercise of power. His approach and leadership style are better for America and the world than the "take it or leave it" conservative approach that automatically assumed it had the moral highground and was filled with hubris and contempt for others. (For one thing, that approach is certainly "conservative" but hardly "biblical.") It's hardly the case that conservatives are more moral when it comes to caring for widows and orphans or for protecting key values of a civilized society like the right to a fair trial.
In sum, I don't agree with Obama's policy positions on many hot-button social issues, but I wholeheartedly support his approach to understanding the other side's perspective, and trying to find common ground. I genuinely hope a thoughtful, strong conservative leader would rise up who doesn't have a "Palinesque" style but is genuinely well-informed AND also leads based on principle.