The election is a week away, so I figure it’s time to get off the fence. I’m going to vote for Barack Obama. This may come as a surprise to my regular readers, so let me explain.

First off, I should be clear. I’m not your typical Obama supporter. For instance, I don’t hold that much contempt for President Bush. Given the men he ran against, I really think he was the best choice. As the creators of South Park wisely explained, sometimes you have to make tough choices.

Politically, I’m more conservative than I am liberal. I favor gun rights, I’m not a fan of government involvement in the market, I think we should cut government spending before we raise taxes. I’m absolutely appalled by our current deficit.

I’m more of a mixed bag on “social issues” — I certainly think gay people should able to get married if they want to, but I do take issue with the crass commercialism and sexuality we’re feeding our children. These social issues tend to cross party lines anyway.

So, I know that Obama doesn’t agree with many of my core beliefs. For instance, I’m not in favor of “spreading the wealth” around. I think hard work should be rewarded, not penalized with higher taxes. But, I’ve decided there’s more at stake this year than tax rates.

Here’s my reasoning:

1) McCain is just not that different than Obama. I’m a free-market capitalist, and I’m sick of all this government intrusion. And, no, I don’t think it was the government’s lack of regulation that got us into this financial crisis. I think the government getting involved in the housing market for two decades upset natural market forces. But I don’t hear McCain saying that — he’s striking the same populist chords used by Obama.

2) Obama can’t do that much damage. We still live in a republic and as long as the GOP holds onto 40 seats in the Senate, Obama can take the country only so far to the left. I will definitely be voting Republican in the House and Senate. Hopefully, the electorate will feel the same way.

3) The GOP needs a trip to the woodshed. Maybe four years out of the White House and six years out of control of Congress will prompt the Republicans to get their house in order. The fact that several House Republicans were bribed with new spending into passing that bailout a few weeks back says a lot about the current state of the GOP. What happened to core principles about fiscal restraint? The GOP needs to overhaul its image and core ideals. Kicking Ted Stevens out of the party would be a good start.

4) Obama is a thinker. Some would even call him — dare I say — an intellectual. That’s kind of refreshing. I believe that Obama comes about his views honestly but will listen to the other side. As David Brooks noted, traditional conservatives were once considered intellectual thinkers as well. In fact, Obama even got in trouble for admitting that the Republicans were the “party of ideas” earlier this year. That carries a lot of water for me.

5) And he’s inspiring. If you can forget about party politics for a second, the guy is really uplifting. He’s got a voice for optimistic communication that’s been missing for too long in this country.

6) He’s black. Yeah, I know, that sounds like I’m giving him an affirmative action vote. I’m not, but his race is certainly having an effect on my thinking. I’m just being honest.

Let me break it down. I teach in downtown Atlanta, so I feel like I have a pretty good insight on what young black students are thinking. It appears that a sizable fraction of black people in this country still think that they can’t get a fair shake in America. I find that hard to believe, because that’s not the world I live in. In my mind, if you work hard, no matter your race, you can achieve a great deal in America. I can point to many successful people of color to prove this point. And I’m not alone in this belief. Indeed, Bill Cosby’s been going around saying this for the past decade. I think that part of the reason so many blacks do feel oppressed is because of leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson who make a living selling this idea. Given this fact, Jesse Jackson’s disdain for Obama is quite revealing — and an incredibly compelling endorsement for me.

How much true racism still exists in a country that elects a black president? I think a President Obama would send a powerful message to the black Americans holding on to the idea that racism is keeping them down. I think it’s important for America to get over this racial divide and to finally put the sins of our ancestors behind us. It’s important enough to help sway me to vote for Obama.

7) The War on Terror. Yes, the war is supposed to be Republicans strong suit, but the last seven years have politicized the war with Islamic militants badly. Legitimate national security measures are often dismissed as part of Bush’s neo-con warmongering. We need a Democrat in office who doesn’t carry all this baggage, so national security decisions can be made without partisan squabbling. Look at what Obama said a couple of weeks ago about Pakistan. He said the U.S. would strike inside Pakistan — without Pakistan’s permission — if intelligence pointed to Osama bin Laden. A President McCain would not receive support for such action from the left side of the political spectrum. But, pacifist Democrats would have to accept that the President of the United States must sometimes act in unilateral ways to achieve national security goals. Seven years after 9/11, I think it’s time a Democrat holds the responsibility for the protection of the United States. It will change the tenor of the debate dramatically.

For all these reasons, I will cautiously vote for Barack Obama.

Now, let me be even more clear. Despite all this reasoning, I would still support a McCain presidency. I think both of these men will make capable presidents. I don’t think that Obama is the only reasonable choice, and I certainly wouldn’t squabble with anyone voting for McCain.

At the end of the day, we’ve got two great Americans who both love their country. And one of them is going to make a great president.

(I know, the preceding sentence isn’t a forceful close for an endorsement, but I’m sick of the thick partisan rancor that’s overtaken our country. That’s my contribution to repairing the partisan divide.)