By popular request (ok, it was only Tiara, but by the standards of this blog that is popular), here are my thoughts on the Democratic primary race.
My early favorite was Edwards. I voted for him in the 2004 primaries, and he continues to take the lead with ambitious, detailed policy proposals that, if implemented, would make a real difference. His focus on poverty, when no one else on the national stage was talking about it, shows both great character and political courage. He has been equally courageous with health care and global warming plans.
With Obama, on the other hand, I had doubts early on. He is a remarkable speaker, but his soaring rhetoric, while unquestionably inspiring, did not give many hints of policy substance. That doesn’t matter too much, though. There’s no way to predict the political environment or problems that a president will face when in office, so it’s more important to trust a politician’s instincts and character, in whatever situation he or she may face, than to know policy specifics.
But the policies can tell a story about character. That’s what Edwards’ focus on poverty has done for him. It shows he will look out for those who lack the power and influence of typical Washington players.
The Obama campaign’s heavy focus on bringing people together and changing the very nature of politics raised some warning flags. The typical voices decrying polarization in America are faux moderates like Joe Lieberman and John McCain, or vanity projects like the Unity ’08 nonsense. It may be satisfying to pretend to be too good for either party, or too high-minded to engage in actual politics. At some moments in history it may even have been true that neither party represented what America needed.
But the story of the last decade is of the Republican Party run out of control, and a government run by very bad people. It took the Democrats a while to catch up to the cutthroat tactics of the right wing, and it took the American people a while to catch on to the giant scam that is the Bush administration, but now all that has started to change. A strong Democratic leader will need to start undoing the damage to our country and the world, but now is also an opportunity to do so much more. With 2008 looking very likely to give the Democrats control of both Congress and the White House, it will be a huge, and possibly fleeting chance to make great progressive changes on all fronts.
With that said, I’ve developed more faith in Obama recently. He may be just the type of leader who can make those changes, by inspiring us to take the necessary steps. If any of the candidates are to be the liberal Reagan, he is it. And the few times he has given some specifics on what he would do as President, they were pretty good.
I think Obama would unquestionably be the best candidate in foreign affairs. More than any other candidate, he seems to have a real understanding of the disparities in the world. Electing someone who grew up in Indonesia with a Muslim father would vastly improve our standing abroad, and it would show off a face of America that desperately needs reemphasizing. And his poetry isn’t half-bad, either.
So if we are keeping score, that puts Edwards ahead in domestic politics and Obama up on foreign affairs. I would happily vote for either, and I think they both would make great presidents.
Of course, the elephant (donkey?) in the room in all this is Hillary Clinton. Frankly, a lot of her support right now baffles me. But I get a strong impression that her campaign isn’t being run for me. It’s not only a gender thing, though that is what the media is most obsessed with. It’s generational. Clinton is very much a baby boomer, and while I can imagine the themes of her candidacy (Celine Dion theme song being the most recent example) being appealing to my mom and grandmother, they don’t do much for me.
That is a superficial complaint. However, I also have real doubts about where she would take the country. Most of her thinking about the presidency was doubtlessly developed during Bill Clinton’s administration, but that was a very different time. And the tactics he used, of triangulation, moderation, small but popular proposals, are exactly the wrong way to fix today’s problems. We need bold action and a leader who can stand down Republican bullies who are surely waiting to spring back up against the next Democrat in office. Bill Clinton may have survived his term in office, even remaining popular throughout his term, but he did it by moderating himself in many ways, not convincing us to go in brave new directions.
And it’s not only a matter of tactics. I think she truly believes in the moderate solutions. She won’t apologize for her vote on Iraq, because she still thinks it was the execution, and not the very concept of imposing democracy by force, that was flawed. This raises grave doubts about whether she would withdraw all the troops from Iraq, or undertake foolish new wars in the future. Mark Penn, her leading pollster and, by some accounts, de facto campaign manager, runs a polling firm that has a union-busting department.
And while her policies are too moderate, her reputation among a big part of the country is as a huge liberal. We need a liberal who sounds moderate for the Democratic nomination, not the reverse.
Not to mention that I very much don’t want us to spend three decades trading the presidency between two families. If President Obama symbolizes a bright new face for America, Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton would be a door slamming on the idea that anyone can become president.
So those are my thoughts. If that was more than you ever wanted to hear, well, you asked for it! For anyone who’s reading this, I’d love to hear yours.