The opportunity to address the Penn community about the presidential election is a privilege, for the differences between the candidates affect us directly. President Obama has doubled the Pell Grant program that helps pay for college. Mr. Romney would roll that program back. The president’s health care law empowers young adults to stay on their parents’ coverage until age 26. Mr. Romney would eliminate that right. President Obama is fighting to protect women’s control over their own bodies, and he is the greatest champion for LGBT equality in the history of the American presidency. Mr. Romney has proclaimed his desire to sign legislation to outlaw all abortion, impede women’s access to affordable contraception and amend the Constitution to turn same-sex couples into second-class citizens. Such differences could determine any person’s vote.
Still, the greatest value I can add is not an exegesis of the issues, but an account of the president in more personal terms. I have not served in this administration, but I got to know Barack Obama on the 2008 campaign, and I have worked with his team in the White House. I know about this president’s character.
President Obama is driven by a core belief that government can play a role in improving people’s lives and protecting human dignity. I have experienced the force of those values firsthand.
I stood in the West Wing on the weekend before the House of Representatives’ historic vote on the Affordable Care Act — the fulfillment of a decades-long promise to make decent health care a right in this country, not a privilege. I saw the look of excitement on the faces of administration officials as they approached the end of the long, imperfect road that would make possible this profound act of humanity.
I sat in the audience as President Obama signed the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, ending over two centuries of anti-gay discrimination in the military and bringing America a step closer to the promise of equal citizenship. I shared an embrace with the president in celebration of one of his proudest accomplishments, and I walked the halls of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the main office space of the White House, where spontaneous cheers had echoed through the Second Empire structure when the president proclaimed, “This is done.”
I have experienced this administration’s determination to preserve the hopes and dreams of women, whose right to full equality is again threatened by ideologues who would control their bodies, limit their choices and deny them equal pay. And the day President Obama announced his support for marriage equality, I was in the White House to witness the tearful eyes of his LGBT staff and the beaming pride of his senior advisors as they once again saw their President make history.
I do not know what values drive Mitt Romney. The answer to that question seems to change with each audience he addresses and every office he seeks.
I do know President Obama. As you enter the voting booth, remember this: Barack Obama really is the man you have always believed him to be. Through one of the most challenging terms in the modern history of the American presidency, Mr. Obama has saved our economy, improved our laws and elevated our voices. I will cast my vote proudly for the president, with excitement for the four years ahead.
Tobias Wolff is a professor at the Law School. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.