Monday, January 28, 2008

Why I Am Voting For Hillary Clinton (JM)

If you find yourself drawn to the Clinton candidacy, you likely believe that politics is politics, that partisanship isn’t transmutable, that Republicans are for the most part irredeemable. You suspect that talk of transcendence amounts to humming “Kumbaya” past the graveyard. You believe that progress comes only with a fight, and that Clinton is better equipped than Obama (or maybe anyone) to succeed in the poisonous, fractious environment that Washington is now and ever shall be. You ponder the image of Bill as First Laddie and find yourself smiling, not sighing or shrieking.

If you find yourself swept up in Obamamania, on the other hand, you regard this assessment as sad, defeatist, as a kind of capitulation. You’re perfectly aware that politics is often a dirty business. But you believe it could be a bit cleaner, a bit nobler, a bit more sustaining. You think that paradigm shifts can happen, that the system can be rebooted. Most of all, an attraction to Obama indicates you are, on some level, a romantic. You never had your JFK, your MLK, and you desperately crave one: What you want is to fall in love.

This is, perhaps, one the best recapitulations of the ongoing political conflict in the Democratic nomination. It’s part of New York magazine’s interesting profile of the campaign to date, one well worth reading. However, these two paragraphs did an excellent job of outlining my personal cognitive dissonance as it applies to this campaign.

Let me start by saying, I don’t love Hillary. There are aspects of her campaign that make me queasy. I think Mark Penn is one of the most vile human beings in existence, and should never ever be put on a television screen. There are candidates I would much prefer to see running now; it makes me kind of ashamed of the Democratic Party that we allowed our best, most experienced candidates to be pushed aside by sheer inertia. But, that said, this is what we’re left with and unlike some who think we have two wonderful choices, I feel we have two very deeply flawed choices.

There are really two issues to analyze: electability and competence to hold the office of the presidency. These both seem to be pretty crucial issues and, on at least one of them, all of the political talking heads seem to be totally wrong. I think Obama is by far the less electable of the two candidates. Often people will site Hillary’s negatives (she polls at 46 percent disapproval rating nationwide as opposed to Obama’s 32 and the fact that she will mobilize the Republican base against her. These are compelling arguments, but ones that really do not display the entire picture. Hillary has high negatives because she is well known, public and has actively fought for liberal causes. The truth is the GOP hates her and for a very good reason, she is quite formidable. These numbers are hollow, most voters have only been exposed to the thin media view of Hillary, when she takes her campaign state to state and deeper, her negatives actually drop a great deal. People are always in a state of flux and perceptions change very very quickly. On the other side of the coin, Barack Obama has been exposed to almost no negative attacks (with the exception of the Clinton campaign). The truth is that be it McCain or Romney, the Republicans will hit Obama way harder than he has ever been hit. If you had a problem with Mark Penn and the mentioning of drugs just wait until Mittmentum comes to town. Everything, and I mean everything, about Hillary Clinton has been exposed, not all of it is pretty but we know there are no terrible skeletons in her closet. I mean, my god, Bill Clinton got impeached and at the end of he second term around 60 percent of the American population said they would reelect him.

I honestly think that numbers and perception mean very very little, instead I think it’s telling what the Republicans are doing; and that’s saying very little but praise for Obama. I heard someone the other day argue that this proves how electable Obama is, even Republicans like him. I seriously believe people have totally diluted themselves. Perhaps it is my pessimism, but I find it increasingly difficult to believe that politics is not way more manipulative than that. I think in Obama, both McCain and Mittmentum see a soft target; a target for arguments about experience, record and simply straightforward negative attacks. Moreover, they see what has become abundantly clear, Obama has a hard time hitting, particularly in a debate format. Obama has an ultra-liberal background with an unwillingness to support the liberal ethos rhetorically. McCain can hammer him on this. Right now, Obama seems to be getting a pass from some for his “unity” over “party” rhetoric. Heck, some people love this shtick. The problem, aside from it requiring the same willful suspension of disbelieve that allows me to enjoy Harry Potter, is that it has not be contrasted against people with significantly different political positions. When McCain charges that the surge has been effective, Obama cannot stand up and say, “I had the good judgment not to vote for the war.” He has to provide significant and real clash against a litany of issues that there can simply be no compromise over. I just don’t think the unity rhetoric works against people with whom you have a genuine conflict. Against Hillary it seems fine, because they are, at the core, arguing over how to fight and lead. Obama seems to have convinced a lot of people within the Democratic Party that his high-mindedness is correct. It’s certainly more palatable, but it seems quite naïve and unlikely to work in the general election. Instead, I choose-warts and all-Hillary’s style of wonkish complexity and ability to attack and defend issues. Obama’s not going to win the character battle against McCain, no matter how much people like him and he will drubbed on experience and both will beat Mittmentum when it comes to the moral high ground. I guess the question, in terms of electability, is do you believe ultimately that Obama can truly convert the way elections proceed. I sincerely doubt it, so I go with the warhorse: Hillary.

Now we turn to the effectiveness question, and I think a lot of the arguments that hold true above apply here. The fact is “unity” in reference to nothing is a hollow term. The Obama campaign wants us to reflect on that which unites us, rather than the deep division in our country. The truth is, though, dealing with the things which unite us is the easy job for the president. It’s real easy to pass the “Don’t Torture Puppy” bill or the “Everyone Deserves Candy” declaration. The issues which divide us are deep and trenchant. Issues like abortion, gay marriage, the war, the role of religion in society, tax cuts, social safety nets, healthcare and the environment (to name only a small few) are not ones on which we can find common ground. Often they are disagreeable and will be hard fought from the other side of the aisle. Just as Obama will have a hard time peddling unity in the general election, once contrasts are created, he will have an equally difficult time when in office. The truth is, to actually change this issues you need to be willing to fight, work and be ensconced in detail. You have to have an incredibly deep understanding of the legislative and administrative process, this is Hillary’s best strength. History has borne this out, great rhetoricians have often been mediocre presidents. I know it is anathema to say ill of JFK, but the truth is his term was marred with some international debacles (e.g. the Bay of Pigs incident), stalling on civil rights and a general lack of policy progress. Even has famed moon landing was only brought to fruition by the quite competent administrations that followed. The best example, however, is William Jefferson Clinton. It’s the analogy that has underpinned this entire campaign that no one has really made explicitly clear. Hillary is not Bill, not at all. Obama is Bill, a triangulator, heavy on rhetoric and light on policy. It was his administration’s lake of political experience and know-how that squandered the congressional majority they had, and by the time they truly understood the power of the office it was too late, we were ensconced the debacle that was the last four years of the Clinton presidency. The only way Hillary “brings this era back to the White House” is as a lesson learned. She is experienced enough to know how to fight these battles and deal with a reticent Congress. Hillary is not Bill, Hillary is a stronger Michael Dukakis, Hillary is LBJ, Hillary is FDR.

I think both candidates have positives and negatives. In eight more years Barack Obama might be ready to be the greatest president we’ve ever had, but not yet, not now. I am aware Hillary has her downsides, but I truly believe she has a passion for liberal causes and helping people, I believe in this passion. Perhaps I am just too pessimistic to believe in a candidate of “hope”, maybe part of finds the whole thing somewhat condescending. However, despite all of this, when I cast my ballot next Tuesday, I will cast it for Hillary Clinton complete in the knowledge that I am voting for both the best candidate and someone who could truly be a great president.

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