Monday, January 28, 2008

Why I'm Supporting Obama (part II)

I did one of these before, but it was on Facebook and I felt like I could do better:

Unlike Jon I believe there is one candidate in for the Democratic Nomination that we can be proud of sending to the general election, and one of which we ought to be ashamed. There's one candidate who has a chance of winning a landslide victory and one who, even if she wins, promises nothing but a continuation of the pointless, lost years since 1992. As you can probably tell, I support Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination, and I hope you will too.

Jon uses history to prove his point and I think he is correct to take lessons from it, so let's examine the evidence. In 1932 Democrats faced a similar choice. On the one hand was an experienced war horse, a former governor who had fought the political battles and had been unfairly demonized by his opponents in those battles. On the other, was a new face, who had only achieved major political office at the time of the most recent presidential election, and had built his resume as reformer and who had a penchant for sunny, if vague rhetoric. It may surprise you that Franklin D. Roosevelt was the later candidate, and Al Smith was the former.

In another election, Republicans had a similarly good prospect of being elected. They had several choices, many of them attractive, who were experienced veterans of the partisan wars of the time. Instead they chose a decent man from Illinois, known primarily for his opposition to an unwise war and his impressive speeches. That man was, of course, Abraham Lincoln.

My point is this: the profiles of the great presidents who have won elections and not disappointed the people who voted for them look a lot more like Obama than Hillary. Big changes come through big election victories, and I would submit that Hillary is incapable of getting above 51% and a narrow victory, meaning that the difference between today and 2009 will be exactly this: there will be a Democrat in the White House. Without a national mandate and without a cowardly party on the other side, will we be able to get 60 votes for universal heath care no matter how nasty the Clintons are? I don't think so.

Barack Obama shows some signs of being able to put together a coalition that will realign the country's politics. There are many disaffected independents out there who don't have a hard ideological commitment to a party, but who sense that there is something wrong and are willing to sign up for a reasonable figure of change, but who will not sign up to a divisive figure of past battles. There are also the youngest of voters in country, those who are under 30, who are profoundly more liberal than their elders on every issue, but who have never been brought into the process. In the primaries in which he's competed, Barack has been able to bring this vote out in large numbers for the very first time. Finally there are African Americans, who comprise large portions of Southern states, but who have never turned out in huge numbers. For obvious reasons, Barack poses a unique ability to bring out those votes.

Back to history, the only example the Hillary people have on their side is Lyndon Johnson, who owed his political achievements partially out of a willingness to make the greatest of political sacrifices (the Democratic South) and partially because of public sentiment about the fallen President Kennedy. Now, barring unforeseen circumstances, there will be no tragic figure similar to Kennedy with which Hillary can rally the public. And on the other point, has Hillary or Bill demonstrated, at any point during their public life, the willingness to sacrifice anything for an election victory?

There was the vote for the war in Iraq, Bill's signing of such wonderful legislation as the Defense of Marriage act, and then there was the final betrayal, their willingness to play the Southern Strategy in a Democratic primary. If there was any doubt about this, it was erased by Bill's boorish comments trying to peg Obama as the black candidate with his comparison to Jesse Jackson (and by prior sins). Now I am aware that politics can be rough, and I've said before I was OK with things like the distortions over Reagan. But a disgusting strategy based on race betrays everything that liberalism is supposed to be about and contributes to distrust between the races. And as a gay man, I wonder if they have learned anything from the 90s, and if, in a crunch, we're going to be the next group to be thrown over the side so that the Clintons can win another election.

Opposed to this sorry pair, that hurt the party during their time in office and continue to hurt the party, you have a chance to vote for a decent man who just might be a transformative figure. You can vote for someone who Senator Kennedy believes in enough to fight for, even though Obama's path to the nomination is still an uphill one. Please vote for a candidate of which you can be proud.

3 comments:

Jonathan said...

I have a few points to make here:

1) I think your historical examples are missing some heft. Lincoln gave great speeches, but the were deep and steeped in substance, about real constitutional principles, ideas about the union and thoughts about how to proceed. He was never timid and afraid of taking a position, it wasn't about unity for unity's sake. FDR had been a VP candidate, governor of NY and Asst. Sec. of the Navy (when such a position was a pretty big deal). He also had a huge rhetorical difference with what Obama presents us with. Also Al Smith, was an effective governor, but also a leader of the Tammany Machine. Maybe that parallel works for you, but it doesn't so much work for me. The last thing these guys had in common was they were function of very special times, we've only seen few presidents face challenges like they did and thus rise to them like they did. In sum, the parallels are weak at best, but even if they were strong it is a pretty poor sample size to make such a broad assertion over.

2) Hillary is clearly not the Bill of this election, Obama is. He is the one who refuses to polarize, he is the one like to compromise. You complain about all these conservative policies Bill passed, it seems so very clear that Obama is far more like to be the one to allow them in his administration. Hillary is absolutely nothing like Bill, she is clearly quite liberal and ready to fight for those causes.

3)I honestly do not think the Jesse Jackson comment was as bad as you feel it was. It was an attempt to prove that the South Carolina results were somewhat insignificant to the over all picture. This is actually true. I don't love the tactics, but the Clintons have very clearly been huge supporters of the African-American community in the past, and it kind of frustrates me the way the Obama campaign has used race as a club but cries fowl at any misstep.

In my mind Obama, is just like Claire McCaskill, Janet Napolitano, and other red state Dems. They care more about being elected than fighting for Democratic causes. Right now, I am listening to Obama speak, he spends all of his time discussing what he's going to talk about, but never actually talking about it. Sigh...

Dennis said...

I fail to see when Hillary has ever stood up for anything liberal since coming on the national scene. Her legislative achievements amount authorizing a war that should never have been waged and drafting legislation for issues that would give her easy applause: national guardsmen, World Trade Center reconstruction. Fine, thats great, but when the going gets tough she is nowhere to be found. She voted with the Republicans on Iran and for the abomination of a bankruptcy bill.

She even abandoned her pro war friends when it became clear that the war was unpopular. Poor old Joementum had to be wondering where his friends, the Clintons, went while he stayed true to the war they helped promote.

As for Obama being like Bill, it seems an astounding piece of rhetorical trickery that one could use the Clintons' failures in office as an argument to elect the Clintons again! Why is he like Bill? Bill's whole campaign was one of triangulation of saying both Democrats and Republicans have it wrong (which by the way, was Hillary's campaign until Obama began to scare her). Obama has talked about embracing these progressive policies and bringing people to them. You don't win support by saying "fuck you, all you independents and republicans out there." He's liberalism with a softer face, free of the distracting objections a lot of people have to the Clintons.

As for the racism, yes I do think it was that bad, and evidently Ted Kennedy agrees. He angrily stormed into the race after appearing like he was going to remain neutral and offered a stinging indictment of the Clintons. And yes, it's OK for Obama to mention he's black without getting the Southern Strategy from team Clinton. Obama has never returned the favor by implying that Hillary's emotional crying disqualifies her from the election.

Finally, on the historical point, your argument against my FDR point was that he campaigned for VP once and was Asst. Sec of the Navy? that doesn't seem like a world of difference, they will have been in the big political office the same amount of time at the time of the elections. Also my point was not are these two exact? Lincoln had less experience than Obama and FDR had slightly more. My point is that Obama reminds me more of them. than Hillary does in his ability to build new coalitions and govern effectively.

Which of the presidents does Hillary remind you of? To me she recalls none of the great ones.

There is one figure, however, who she does recall. A scandal plagued polarizing figure from an administration past, whose tactics some in his own party recoiled at, and who would do what it took to win a fight no matter what he left in his wake: Richard Nixon.

Shanti said...

Dennis,

Obama claims that he'll be able to unite America. However, on almost every divisive issue (abortion, Iraq, healthcare, taxes, etc) he advocates classic liberal views. Why should I believe that he's going to change anything when he doesn't have any new ideas or any ideas that conservatives will support? From a policy standpoint, it seems like he'll be just as polarizing if he gets elected.