Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Get back, damn yak!

OK, so I sort of fell out of the habit of updating my blog -- but that doesn't mean my life hasn't been as fascinating as always. And I have been jotting down ideas for posts (some of which are now hopelessly obsolete). Might as well start with the most current: the primaries. This is certainly the most interesting primary season in memory (mine, at least). Lots of people, including me, were on the fence for quite a while or still are. This site, though now outdated because some of the candidates have dropped out, is actually pretty good at figuring out who you ought to vote for.

For a while, I wasn't sure whom to vote for between Hillary and Barack but I'm going with my original slight preference for Hillary. In a nutshell: more knowledge, more experience, more connections, more know-how about political battles against the GOP. All of which I hope will outweigh the possibility that she would lose to McCain whereas Obama might beat him narrowly, according to recent head-to-head polls on ElectoralVote.com (a great site, by the way). Since obviously either of them is better than McCain or, God knows, Romney.

A week or so ago, I started forwarding e-mails from two friends of mine, T. and C., to each other -- both making very persuasive and passionate arguments for Clinton and Obama respectively -- and wound up sort of moderating an online debate between the two of them, with a bit of input from a couple of other friends. Even though you probably won't read this until after today when it's moot, I thought it would be interesting to summarize some of their points so we can look back later and say "Ah, how prescient!" or "What were we thinking?" From earliest to latest:

#1: T

I concur absolutely with the New York Times' measured and well-considered endorsement of Hillary Clinton. The publishers and the editorial board have kept a clear head in this race despite the fact that most of their columnists (Rich, Dow and Collins) have taken a very hard and unforgiving line when it comes to the Clinton candidacy.

Obama may be the darling of the left despite the fact that he is really no more left than Hillary is. Indeed her health care plan is far more progressive than his. But Hillary has been most adept at playing the center. As a liberal I may not like that, but I am also a pragmatist and I see the presidency now being less about inspirational leadership and more about the nuts and bolts of intelligent management and the ability to work with Congress. Let's face it, its not the left who will win this election. It is the center...

We have watched all the debates with an open mind, and I have to say that while Obama has good moments, Hillary is streets ahead of him in her knowledge of the issues and more importantly in her finely tuned understanding of legislation and the legislative process.

I also base my support for Hillary on my personal experience of her.... I was amazed by Hillary's grasp of [another country's] politics, her nuanced view of all that she saw and of her ability to absorb the context of every situation she found herself in... There are numerous stories about Hillary from mutual acquaintances. All have a common thread: Her extraordinary ability to listen and to show in very small and unheralded ways her empathy and consideration for others.

I had the opportunity to meet Obama during Deval Patrick's 2006 campaign for governor of Massachusetts. I was excited about meeting him personally. What I saw was a somewhat immature and egotistical man who walked around high-fiving everyone and asking where the photographer was. I came away underwhelmed.

Hillary has had to face daunting obstacles time and time again. She has had to endure sixteen years of public scrutiny, criticism and humiliation. But she has risen to the occasion time and time again proving that she is up to just about anything... She is certainly up to getting things done from day one.

#2: C

I have to weigh in strongly in favor of Obama. Why? Because he is the Democratic Reagan. I mean that in that sense of a once-in-a-lifetime politician who reframes the nation's politics. Whether you liked him or not, Ronald Reagan did that. For the last 30 years, politicians of both parties have lived in Ronald Reagan's world of lower taxes, strong military, less government and -- worst of all -- feeding the American people myth instead of reality. Bill Clinton's success was his ability to adapt to that reality, not change it. Obama can change the entire political framework, just as FDR did, and end the Reagan era.

Obama's ability to inspire is unlike anything I have ever seen in my 46 years. Some pooh-pooh him as nothing but a good speaker. But politics is basically the art of speaking, of persuading. A politician who can truly move people can move mountains, can bring about the kind of broad, deep and fundamental change our society so desperately needs.

He has also shown both judgment and courage. Every political consultant in the country would have told him his 2002 speech against the war was political suicide. He did it anyway and he was right. The fact that he has been able to all but banish the race issue demonstrates political skills and savvy of rare quality. He does not pander like politicians of both parties do with sickening regularity. He talks to the American people, not down to them. All of these things sound basic, but no politician of either party has done them for decades.

Obama is proposing a new course that is neither conservative nor liberal. He wants to solve problems, use government for good, but rejects identity politics and heavy-handed social engineering. Like our greatest president, Lincoln, he seeks to balance idealism with pragmatism. He espouses civility, reason and truth after an era of viciousness, disillusion and mendacity. He aims to unite instead of divide.

I believe that his experiences growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia and his multiracial background would also be huge boon for this nation. Our greatest weakness -- one that has gotten worse since 9/11 -- is our ignorance of and isolation from the world. Obama would end that.

Finally, I think one of the best measures of his power as a candidate is the reaction he engenders in Republicans. I read Republican web sites, including Rush Limbaugh, National Review and The Weekly Standard, on daily basis. Obama leaves them flopping on the dock like a grounded fish. He confounds them. They can't figure out to attack him. Often they end up giving him grudging praise.

The only way change will come to this country is if the right wing propaganda machine is neutralized. The best way -- probably the only way -- to do that is give it nothing to talk about. Hillary is their dream. They will go into overdrive. Obama is their nightmare. With their ideas totally discredited, all they have left is hate and anger. Do not underestimate the amount of hate and anger they will be able to generate against Hillary. I estimate 30 to 40 percent of the country hates her with a passion and will continue to do so even if she finds a cure for cancer or heals people by laying on hands. A Hillary presidency will result in more brutal trench warfare that leaves us unable to address our problems. Obama clears the table, allowing us to move forward.

A final argument against Hillary: Two families controlling the presidency for 30 years would be extraordinarily unhealthy for any democracy. Restorations are always about the past and score settling. It's human nature. If Hillary gets back in, we will be fighting as much about the past as about the future. That is unacceptable. We are in too much trouble. As Barack says, we need to turn the page.

#3: C again

I will give you two final reasons to vote for Barack: First, Hillary will lose. Too much of the country hates her. I grant that this is not entirely her fault. But that hatred is so deep, so ingrained as to be immovable.

I believe much of the hatred toward Hillary stems from the unbridgeable divide among older baby boomers, the ones who had to choose between Nixon or Woodstock, over the 1960s. They just can't get over it. They will fight to their graves over who was "right" about the 1960s. That generational civil war has poisoned our politics for decades. It is the visceral anger that about half that generation feels toward "hippies" and "draft dodgers" that Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the GOP machine have exploited to get Americans to vote against their best interests.

Think of 2004. John Kerry was badly hurt by the swift boaters. What was the origin of that smear? In the early 1970s, Kerry debated the head of the swift boaters on the Dick Cavett show about the Vietnam War and wiped the floor with him. The guy had literally been waiting 30 years for revenge. I don't think he's an anomaly. The passions run that deep and the wounds will never heal. This is the jet fuel powering the GOP machine. Take it away and the machine sputters and dies.

I admit this is completely unfair, but for older boomers still seething over the 1960s, Hillary is the personification of all they hated about the era and its excesses and the changes it wrought. That means Rush and company will be able to hit all the old notes and work people into a frenzy over having "acid, amnesty and abortion" back in the White House. Even if she wins, they will continue to block reform by railing about that "Hippie" and her "draft dodging" husband.

One other perspective: This election boils down to who can best persuade Senate Republicans to support reform. Nothing happens in the Senate without 60 votes, a threshold Democrats are unlikely to reach. That means major reforms will have to garner the support of four or five Republican senators. Politics runs on fear. The only way those GOP senators will allow reform is if they fear the consequences of blocking it. The Republicans left in the Senate will be from blood red states where Hillary hatred runs deepest. They will not fear bucking her. In fact, they will fear the consequences of not opposing her. The result: gridlock. Trench warfare. Paralysis. Nothing gets done.

Obama, on the other hand, will cause those senators pause. He has shown remarkable strength in certain red states (He garnered significant GOP support in rural eastern Nevada, a bright red region). Without Hillary hatred, these senators' constituents will finally say, gosh we really do need health care. Why are you blocking health care, senator? Obama can turn those senators. Hillary can't.

#4: T

[Re C's statement that "politics is basically the art of speaking, of persuading"]:
In 2008 it's not. We have a country in tatters. How would a very junior senator -- (yes, Hillary is junior senator, but let's face it, that is in name only) with great oratorical skills and a record much, much shorter than Hillary's both quantitatively and qualitatively -- achieve this? This is an unknown. If Hillary was an inspiring orator, would she be a more likely choice? What I have seen of Hillary is how she manages town meetings when she answers questions for an hour or more. First off, she REALLY LISTENS. She is thoroughly versed in all issues, foreign and national and sometimes local. Yes, Obama is doubtless a fast learner and he could learn on the job. BUT CAN HE WORK WITH CONGRESS? That is one of the key issues in this election. Not inspiration, not being statesmanlike in the international world. And oratory and persuasiveness are not what is needed here. It is a knowledge of the subtleties of legislation and the legislative process. It is years of experience working with those across the floor. And we know of Republicans who regarded Hillary with disdain when she came into office who have humbly claimed her to be a fine senator with whom they have a good working relationship. Witness McCain.

Obama has practically zero experience of the larger world. He chairs the foreign relations committee and has not been to Europe. Hillary has traveled the world extensively, and not as Obama has claimed "to have tea"- -- both during the eight years of the presidency, before that and afterwards as a senator. She is the one who orchestrated the Beijing Conference where she declared "women's rights are human rights."

What is being said in these e-mails is about symbolism. Right now, while he is obviously a man of substance, Obama has become an icon, a symbol of what the left have yearned for so long: a modern leader in the mold of Bobby and John Kennedy... Frankly, I am utterly flummoxed by all this Obama mania. Let the man walk the walk. He is young and would have a chance in 2012. This is Hillary's last stand.

As women, you may not think it important to have a woman president. Well, its our last chance for not just any woman but an utterly outstanding one, warts and all. As Gloria Steinem has said: It is harder for a woman in this country to get elected to higher office than it is for an African-American male. I think she is right. The sexism in this campaign (in case you have not noticed) has been quite offensive. And while one might call the Clintons racist, the statements made, albeit by Bill in a rather inappropriate manner, are not racist at all. Just read the written quotes. Even Jesse Jackson did not think the comment about him was racist... My husband, a Hillary advocate since 2000, says: "If women who do not vote for Hillary come whining to me about women's rights, I am absolutely not interested whatsoever."

#5: T again

As much as what may think about "Billary," that he will be c0-president -- well, what's wrong with that? She was his chief adviser and sounding board. And you get two brilliant people for the price of one.

Frankly, we think all this Obama mania is all perception and projection and wishful thinking. Of course I would vote for Obama if Hillary were not running. But that would depend on who the other candidate was. I would vote for Hillary any time. And yes, she has made mistakes. Her defense of these in her autobiography is sometimes lame, sometimes plausible. Her stand on the war was wrong and she tries, very poorly, to defend it. But that was then and now is now and what we face is the crux of the matter. Even though Obama was against the war before being a senator, we don't know how he would have voted in the Senate. He has not voted any differently from HRC in terms of funding the war. And my take on that is: "You are against the war? Then be consistent." One could argue that it's the troops we are funding. I would argue: NO. It's a disaster we are funding and at the expense of our infrastructure.

#6: C

I think the GOP hates Billary far more than they hate McCain. It gives them a reason to hold their nose and vote for McCain. Keep in mind, we in the Northeast don't see the depth of Clinton hatred. Large sections of the electorate are offended to their core by the Clintons.

This morning I got a haircut at my very blue collar, Italian barber shop (Sinatra on the wall) where the discussion is always sports. Today, to my amazement (it's the day before the Super Bowl), it was all politics. And, I would add, a very, very heated discussion with people all over the map: some were for Obama, some Romney, most didn't know. The Republican kept urging the Democrats in the room to vote for Hillary because he was sure the GOP candidate could beat her.

Second, Obama has proven his toughness by taking on the Clinton machine. I know you disagree, but I think that Bill's behavior a few weeks ago was reprehensible. He tried out what are surely going to GOP attack lines: lack of experience; the "black" candidate: the Muslim smear; the drug smear. Obama not only withstood them, he overcame them and buried her in South Carolina. He has a remarkable ability to turn attacks back on the attacker. In conclusion, he is doing something that the GOP with all of its dirty tricks and smears never managed to do: beat the Clintons.

Finally, it's possible the GOP will dig up something on Obama, but I doubt it. I am far, far more concerned that they will dig up new dirt on the Clintons. Last week's front-page New York Times page about Bill's dalliances in Kazakhstan (yes, home of Borat) was particularly sleazy. I suspect there are many, many more stories. And I'm not even getting to the women. Such surprises are probably inevitable. To paraphrase "The Crying Game," it's Bill's nature.

#7: C again

Regarding Obama being too young, he will be one year older than Bill Clinton was when he was inaugurated. His experience is greater in foreign policy due to his background and upbringing. I disagree with T. about Obama's childhood experience being less relevant than Hillary's travels as first lady. The only way to know and understand another country and culture is live there. Obama has done that. Hillary has not.

Obama will never be her VP. Look what happened to Al Gore. Bill will subsume and marginalize him. If Obama stays in the Senate for eight years and runs for president, do you know what he'll be? John Kerry.

Speaking of Bill, what will his role be? Will be a cabinet official? Will he be an adviser? Or will he continue to jet around the world helping tycoons seal deals with dictators while collecting fat donations for his library and his causes. I know that sounds harsh, but nothing bothers me more -- even the idea of John McCain as president -- than Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. It reeks of Bourbon or Bonapartist France. If Hillary wins, the vicious cycle will be reignited. Jeb Bush will be the only thing that can "save" the nation. He'll get two terms and then Chelsea will run against Jeb's son George P. Bush. Our democracy has become dangerously hollowed out over the last seven years. Dynasticism, irregardless of party, will not cure that hollowing out. It will make it worse.

Finally, I urge all of you to read the novelist Michael Chabon's piece in the Washington Post. No matter what, vote tomorrow. Signing off...

...and finally, two other friends weigh in:

Hillary: brilliant, experienced, polarizing. Obama: untested, inexperienced, inspiring. I think Hillary would be the better president by far, but I think Obama is more electable.

Here's my two cents. It's a synthesis, and intuition -- I don't have as many facts at my disposal. I see two pictures of the candidates in my mind's eye.

Obama: An inspirational man; one who made me feel good about myself despite my natural skepticism and cynicism of political speeches. He is setting big goals, getting us to focus on what we can be and to do more than we think we can. The picture is of broad strokes and bright colors.

Clinton: A dogged wonk who knows the ins and outs of every argument and knows how to play tough in a tough situation. She can threaten, if necessary, and cajole and push the right buttons. She knows how to get people to move on tactical issues like no one else.

Does everyone remember Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Obama represents the pinnacle: self-actualization. Clinton represents the lower levels: safety and sustenance. I just don't feel that we have the luxury of going for self-actualization when I feel so unsettled about my basic needs: containing the mess in Iraq/Iran/Pakistan/Afghanistan/Syria/Hizbulla/Palistinians/Israel. I'm nervous about the value of my home and my ability to afford it as the economy goes further out of whack. I am unsettled about our safety internally and my civil liberties. I am unsettled about keeping prying eyes out of our collective bedrooms, meeting halls and phone calls.

I think I must vote to get the house in order first, and then move on to the grandness of self-actualization. Let Obama be Clinton’s veep. After the house is in order, he can have a stage set for even better changes coming from his inspiration.

1 comment:

Karen Olson said...

I know it's too late in Massachusetts, but consider this when looking at "experience:"

Obama has one more year of ELECTED government service than Hillary has, taking into account his term as state senator in Illinois. Hillary has only served one elected term as US senator, before that, she had never been elected to any office. She lived in the White House with Bill, who ran the country, met with leaders all over the world, who was the president. She may have been his sounding board, but that doesn't count.

They both have years of service to communities and causes.

Obama said in his speech in Hartford that "some said he should wait." He says that if he waited, those who criticize him could knock all the hope out of him. C. is right: in four or eight years, he'll be John Kerry. I say let's go for that hope while we can.


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