Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Clinton or Obama? Obama or Clinton? I Might Get to Choose After All

Now that the Democratic primaries in Texas and Ohio are over and both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama remain "alive" as viable candidates with a chance of winning the Democratic nomination, I guess the time has come for me to start paying more attention to the candidates. "What," I hear you ask (at least the metaphorical "you" that I imagine reads this blog), "you haven't been paying attention so far?" Well, in all honesty, no, I really have not been paying too much attention to the policy differences between Obama and Clinton (I'm going to try to go back and forth in which one I mention first...) because up until this morning, it did not look like it would ever really matter what I thought or which candidate I prefer. But with the race still neck-and-neck, it looks like Indiana's May primary might still matter. So the time has come to start thinking about which candidate I'd prefer. (For some previous thoughts on the primaries, see my previous posts "Obama, Huckabee, and Iowa...Oh My! - Yawn..." and "New Hampshire Primary Result Good for Democracy").

One thing I can say for sure: Absent some dramatic change in circumstances or the revelation of a critical new piece of information, I will be voting for the Democratic candidate to beat Senator McCain. The fact that the right-wing talk radio hosts dislike McCain gives me some reason to believe that we won't be in terrible shape if he wins, but his views on Iraq and certain social issues (and the impact that he could have on the Supreme Court) are more than ample reason for me to vote Democrat in November. So, the question becomes, who would I prefer to see running against Senator McCain and who will I vote for in May? I don't have an answer yet. But I do have some initial thoughts.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Let me first admit to two things: First, I look back on the Clinton administration fondly. Sure, there were problems, but they never seemed that bad to me. Come on, who really cared about Whitewater or people paying to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom? And so what if President Clinton got a blowjob in the Oval Office? To paraphrase an oft-used phrase, "When Bill lied, nobody died." And ask this: Why exactly, was the President being asked about his sex life under oath anyway? So, like I said, I look back on the Clinton administration fondly (especially when compared to the current Bush administration which, in my not-so-humble opinion, will go down as one of the worst presidencies in American history). Second, I always liked (maybe admired would be the better term) Hillary. Sure, she bit off more than she could chew when she tried to reform healthcare. But I didn't see anybody else jumping into that morass to even try. Better to have tried and failed.... And, it was refreshing to see a First Lady who was more than just an ornament on the President's arm and who was involved in more than just cute little pet projects.

I think that Sen. Clinton has the experience to be President (for an interesting discussion on the need for experience, please read "Does Experience Matter in a President" in the February 28, 2008 issue of Time; the print version of the story has in interesting graph showing the experience of each of the former Presidents when they took office), has many of the traits that I'd like to see in a President, and appears to have views that are mostly in line with my own on many issues.


Something has always bothered me about Sen. Clinton. I can't put my finger on it, but something has always been ... well ... er ... um ... off. For one thing, she has always seemed like too much of a politician; I often wonder if she believes what she says or says what polls tell her that people want to hear. Add to that the huge opposition that she generates among conservatives, and I worry about her electability. For some reason, people love her or hate her; the question is whether the haters will stay home in November or come out en masse, even if it means voting for John McCain. And why can's Sen. Clinton simply say that, in hindsight, she should have been a more vocal opponent of the Iraq war? I don't want a President that cannot admit to past mistakes.

Barack Obama

I don't know as much about Sen. Obama as I do about Sen. Clinton. What I do recognize is that he is a terrific orator and motivator. We must take seriously anyone who can motivate young adults to become active and involved in the political process, rather than cynical slackers who believe that their voice doesn't matter. Like him or not, Sen. Obama deserves a great deal of credit for getting young adults involved in his campaign and for getting them to vote!

His excellent oratorical skills, combined with the positive vision of hope that he continually discusses, strikes a chord. I think that we need a President who will use the office as a soap box or bully pulpit to try to bring the country together. (Does anyone remember President Bush saying that he would be a "uniter, not a divider"?) I think that Sen. Obama could be the sort of transformative personality that the political process needs. Just think of some of the great phrases that President's have uttered throughout history and the great change that those words were able to instigate.


Several things worry me about Sen. Obama, too. I'm not sure if experience matters, but I have this sense that it can't hurt, and Sen. Obama simply has very little practical experience in the areas that will matter most. I'm not worried about his ability to work with others or to pick good advisors or good Supreme Court Justices. But Sen. Clinton's campaign advertisement asking who I'd feel more comfortable with in a foreign policy crisis does ring true. I guess that I'm not yet convinced that there is much substance behind Sen. Obama's style. I appreciate that Sen. Obama is willing to admin that a business deal with indicted businessman Tony Rezko was a "boneheaded mistake", but if he can make a boneheaded mistake in the purchase of a house, what might he do in the case of a serious issue?

And, while I don't buy into the ridiculous allegations and rumors that Sen. Obama is a closet Muslim, I do have concerns about how he will handle the Israeli-Palestinian situation (and no, I don't think that President Bush will manage to get a final peace treaty before he leaves office) and I'm troubled by links between his Pastor and the Nation of Islam (although I do recognize that he has denounced and rejected the comments and "help" of Louis Farrakhan). For too long, Jews and African-Americans have not worked well together. Perhaps, Sen. Obama can bring these groups back together, but if not, then I have some serious worries. I guess what I'm getting at is that I want to be sure that, if elected, Sen. Obama would, to put it crassly, be good for the Jews.

Finally, one person I know said that they would not vote for Sen. Obama because of his race. I was shocked when I heard this because the person who said it has never previously uttered a racist comment (at least not to me). When I challenged this person, they said that it wasn't that they disapproved of an African-American President, but that they didn't think that the country was ready for an African-American President. I do worry that a sentiment like that might be more widespread than I would like to think and that such prejudice, even if espoused in the nature of "not me, but others" sort of irrational fears, could manifest itself in troubling ways, the least of which would be the election of Sen. McCain instead of Sen. Obama, were he to be the Democratic candidate


So now the time has come to start doing some more research, to pay more attention to the nuances in the differences of the candidates' respective positions, and to think hard about who I would prefer as our nation's first non-white male President. Right now, I don't know who I'll vote for in May. If you have strong feelings one way or another, please let me know; but be sure to give me concrete examples and reasoning. Hopefully, I'll be able to share more of my thoughts as I progress through the decision-making process.

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At Thursday, March 06, 2008 9:58:00 AM , Blogger Charles said...

Outstanding observations, Mike. You give voice to a number of my own feelings and concerns.

I too have a sense that there's something lurking beneath Hillary Clinton's oh-so-polished exterior, and the nagging suspicion that there isn't anything lurking beneath Barak Obama's, but can't quite put my finger on any concrete examples of what those things may or may not be.

At Thursday, March 06, 2008 12:29:00 PM , Blogger Charles said...

Take a look at today's column on The Week, discussing the possibility of a joint ticket. The last paragraph makes a lot of sense to me.

I like The Week, because it gathers opinions on all sides of a given issue, from various print and online sources, and presents them without taking a side.


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