I had intended to post frequently about political matters during the long run-up to primary season. I had intended to attend candidate rallies and be more active than I ever have been in the 29 years I've lived in New Hampshire. I even started another blog dedicated to the primary, but I abandoned it before it got to critical mass -- and I won't even bother to link it from here. None of this happened, because life intervened. I was simply too busy.
But I was not too busy to pay attention.
It's been a long process here, and I've been following quite closely. I had made up my mind who I was going to vote for several months ago. (Emphasis: had). When Senator Obama made a serious (IMHO) gaffe in a debate by committing ot meet with the leaders of Iran and Korea in his first year of office, and Senator Clinton called him on it, I decided against him and for her. All the supposed negatives be damned -- she has the combination of policies I agree with, ability to make political deals, and ability to organize a campaign that I felt I could support.
But in recent weeks, as Senator Obama demonstrated his ability to truly mobilize young voters, culminating in his Iowa win, I decided to give him serious reconsideration. Surely, his inexperience in diplomatic and other matters would be countered by his good sense in selecting his cabinet and advisors, and his ability to be an inspiring leader. And his ability to bring in an influx of youth to the Democratic party, finally offsetting the influx of youth in the Republican party that occurred in the late 70's through the 90's, is something that -- in the long-term strategic interests of the Democratic party and liberals in general -- should not be ignored.
But it's still not a lock. I still have some significant concerns about Senator Obama.
But first, let me step back a bit, and talk about the other candidates.
The Other Democrats
I like Senator Biden. I like him a lot. I liked him when I first heard him speak in 1977. I liked in his 1988 campaign, before he and it imploded. He, Senator Dodd, and Governor Richardon all have better claims to experience than any other candidate. I like his ideas this year. Unfortunately, his campaign's inability to gain traction shows that he hasn't used all his experience to gain sufficient political capital that can be translated into campaign support, and that doesn't bode well for his ability to use political capital as the President. So, I could not support him this time around. He's already dropped out. He'll make a great Secretary of State.
Although I haven't followed Senator Dodd for as long as I have followed Senator Biden, I have similar feelings about him -- both on the postive and the negative. An additional negative, though, is that he comes across as even stiffer than Al Gore or John Kerry were.. He's also already dropped out.
Governor Richardson has the postive of having "Richard" in his name . His positives and negatives are about the same as Biden's. If he is capable of being a better campaigner in the #2 slot than he has been in the primaries, he could make a great Vice President.
It's not an accident that I'm listing John Edwards, who is considered a major and viable (for now) candidate after three candidates who nobody ever believed had a chance. It's because he has plummeted so far in my personal estimation in the past few months that I really wish I could just ignore him. He's done one good thing, IMHO, which is to prove that the Democratic candidate who should be referred to as "shrill" is not Hillary Clinton. His commercials in the last few months have essentially degenerated into "Things need to change. I'm a man of the people, and I'm going to make them change, and I'm the only one who will do that". His campaign shows his approach is that of the trial lawyer that he was and really is, rather than the politician that he needs to be.
Dennis Kucinich is the Liberal's liberal. Too far left even for most of his own party. He's the only Democratic candidate who could actually lose the upcoming general election in a landslide. And that even includes Mike Gravel.
Mike Gravel. The guy's got a lot of guts, I'll give him that. He has some good reasons for being angry, but those reasons are mixed in with a lot of bad or misdirected ones. And on top of that... ROFLMAO!
Many New Hampshire residents are in a position to decide between voiing in the Democratic or Republican primary tomorrow morning. I'm not one of the, I'm registered as a Democrat, so I can't vote in the Republican election. But that won't stop me from commenting on the candiates.
Mitt Romney says he is for change. His positions on issues prove that the only thing he's for changing is his position on issues. He's an empty suit. The myth that experience as a business leader qualifies one for high national political office is a downright dangerous one. The methods of running a business have almost nothing in common with the methods of running a government. People saw through it with Ross Perot. I hope that they see through it for Romney.
Governor Huckabee might be the Republican candidate most likely to be able to give the Democrats a good run. Then again, maybe not. It's very hard to read how his almost progressive stand on socio-economic issues would fare. Would he hold enough centrist Republicans in the party to offset the lackadaisical support he would get from economic conservatives? As for my own feelings about him, I think it best to use a metaphor that is consistent with the fact that he is a preacher: I think he's a wolf in sheep's clothing. The home-spun, friendly, man-of-the-people image and almost populist approach to socio-economics is a cover for the fact that he is an evolution-denying social conservative who wouldn't merely continue the dangerous trend of mixing religion and public political life that GWB has given legitimacy to. He likely would accelerate it.
Senator McCain is a man I used to respect. There was even a time when I convince myself that I could vote for him, though that was quite a long time ago and unfortunately in the intervening years he has compromised on way too many of the principles that I had thought set him apart. Even recently, I have still respected his brave stands on torture, and on immigration -- the latter of which almost completely buried his candidacy. But he is wrong on Iraq, and wrong on too many other things. And in his commercials, he pronounces Washington as "Warshington". That gets on my nerves. We can't have a President who mispronounces the name of our Capitol! That's even worse than "Nookyuler".
Rudy Giuliani is a dangerous man. He's a wolf in wolf's clothing. His suggestion that the election of his successor should have been postponed because of 9/11 is but one of many signs of how dangerous he truly is. He has made himself out to be a hero of 9/11, when he was anything but. He was there, and he put forth a strong and resilient image that was important for everyone to see in the leader of New York City, but that's about all that one can say in his favor. He is second only to Romney in changing his positions, and worse even than McCain in compromising his principles in pursuit of the Presidency. (He's not worse than Romney on principles, because it is readily apparent that while Romney has many personal principles as a result of his Mormon beliefes, and those personal principles are mostly admirable, but he has never had any public policy principles).
Represenatiave Paul is the personification of the intellectual bankruptcy of Libertarian-cum-Strict-Constructionist thought. He has but one real core belief: the US Constitution interpreted strictly as it was written. He justifies all his positions on all issues by this. And like many public figures whose one core belief is that the Bible is literal truth, he sticks faithfully to his core belief in the literal truth of the US Constitution... except when it says something he doesn't like. He is running commercials in New Hampshire that include his position on ending "birth-right citizenship". Never mind that Amendment 14, Section 1, clearly states that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside". Plus, he's on Jay Leno right now, and I heard him say "You can't exscape it," which is almost as bad as "Warshington".
I liked Fred Thompson on Law & Order. As a candidate, he is a non-factor.
Also a non-factor is Representative Tancredo, but I actually have to say something about him. He should be sent back to Italy, which is where his grandparents emmigrated from. He isn't merely a demagogue on illegal immigration, he is anti-immigration in general. He is also another evolution-denier. I actually agree with him on one immigration policy: cutting back (or eliminating,which he has favored) H-1B visas, but his near-hysteric statements about illegal immigrants swarming over the Mexican border "to kill you", Miami as a "third world country", etc. reveal a McCarthy-like paranoia, and the stain of racism behind his anti-immigration position.
What ever happend to Representative Hunter, Senator Brownback (evolution denier), Tommy Thompson, Jim Gilmore? And, oh yeah, Alan Keyes. ROFLMAO!
The Decision For Tomorrow
Okay... back to my thoughts about Senator Obama and Senator Clinton.
Try as Senator Obama might to portray this choice as one between "change" and "status quo", I'm not buying it. The difference on issues between Obama and Senator Clinton is minimal. They are both for change. All the Democratic candidates are for change. (The Republicans all say they are too. "Change" is without question the most over-used and abused term in this election cycle.)
I think there's a very simple way to frame the choice between Obama and Clinton. It's not experience versus youth. It's not idealism versus pragmatism. It's definitely not change versus status quo.
It is inspiration versus perspiration.
The major difference between Obama and Clinton is in their approach to change, and the tools they are best prepared to use to create change. Obama's major asset is his ability to be an inspriational leader, and that will be his approach to change. That is what he will personally bring to the table as President, and leverage in order to bring about change. Clinton's major asset is acumen for hard-nosed political infighting, horse-trading, deal-making, "sweating the details", doing the hard work of politics and GASP!!! compromise. That will be what she personally brings to the table as President and what she leverages to bring about change. Of course, Obama's inspirational leadership would be aided by a strong team of in-the-trenches operatives, and of course Clinton will have the ability to inspire... but when chosing between them as candidates, I believe that their primary asset is where you have to look.
So, now I wrestle with a question. Have inspirational Presidents been better Presidents than perspirational Presidents? Of course, there have been a few Presidents who are blessed with strength in both assets, with FDR and Lincoln amongst them. We don't have anyone with that combination in either party this time around. It is truly rare.
Right now, I'm thinking (out loud, or in writing anyhow) about John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. JFK stands out as the most recent Democratic party President who was inspirational. Although I was born only months before the 1960 election, I've read enough to know that the excitement that Obama is generating is most reminiscent of the excitement that John (and Bobby in 1968) Kennedy generated. I have no doubt that if Obama is the Democratic nominee, we will all soon be hearing repeated references to "Camelot 2", ad nauseam. It is borderline heresy for a New Englander to speak ill of JFK, and LBJ is saddled with the legacy of Vietnam... but LBJ was the more effective President.
The following is all gross oversimplification. If I go into detail, I could be writing past the time that the polls close!
It was Kennedy who got us into Vietnam. Johnson, trapped by shadow of JFK and by Cold War political dynamics, escalated the war and then failed to find a way to either win it or find a face-saving way out. Who was more at fault? There's some evidence that Kennedy might not have escalated the war. He had begun limited withdrawal from Vietnam before he was assassinated. There is also contradictory evidence, that the limited withdrawal was just to send a signal to the South Vietnamese leadership and that Kennedy's rhetoric was clearly pro-escalation. I call this one a wash. Neither inspiration nor perspiration was better.
But let's take a diversion to what some may believe to be Kennedy's great diplomatic success: diffusing the Cuban Missile Crisis and avoiding nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. As I understand the history, this view misses the mark by a wide margin. The precipitating events for the crisis were the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and the placement of US missiles in Turkey. The former was conceived under Eisenhower, but Kennedy didn't stop it even though he changed the plans in ways that effectively guaranteed failure. The latter was also on Kennedy's watch. The key to solving the crisis was not Kennedy "making Khruschev blink", but rather Kennedy agreeing to remove the missiles from Turkey so that Khruschev would not lose face by withdrawing missiles from Cuba, and Khruschev agreeing to keep the agreement on Turkey secret so that Kennedy would not lose face at home - preserving his ability to be an inspirational leader, but certainly not as a result of his inspirational leadership.
As for the rest: Kennedy inspired the race to the moon, but Johnson won it. Apollo 8 orbited the moon in December, 1968 -- after Nixon was elected but while Johnson was still in office. Kennedy inspired the Civil Rights movement and other social changes of 60's, but Johnson is the one who go them through against fervent opposition. Johnson was the master of huge stock of political capital, and he knew how to spend it. He knew how to cut deals and call in his political debts. He achieved the things that Kennedy inspired. It would not be fair, though, to say that the ideas were Kennedy's. Johnson was not merely implementing Kennedy's program. Johnson was instrumental in passing the 1957 Civil Rights bill, and there is evidence that Johnson wanted and encouraged Kennedy to do more on Civil Rights. Kennedy merely inspired the country at large to consider politically supporting beliefs that were already widely held (except, of course, in certain regions), but which were intransigently blocked by some of the most powerful entrenched political figures of the time. Johnson built on that political support to close the deals.
So, there you have it, My thoughts the night before the primary. There's much more running around in my head. I could write about Reagan as an inspirational President, versus Bill Clinton as a perspirational President. I could look at things from another angle or two. I could balance the short-term inspirational/perspirational question (which I think pretty clearly balances more in favor of perspirational, in case you haven't picked that up) versus the long-term benefit of inspiring an expanded youthful base for the Democratic party. But I've said enough. Now it's time to sleep on all this, and more, and come to a decision and vote in the morning.
1. Tim Tripcony01/08/2008 03:25:46 AM
My two cents (in case it's not too late): one key advantage I see in Obama is that he's able to garner broad support without having to demonize the other side. Some Republicans may fear him as a difficult opponent in the general election, but few loathe him the way most loathe Hillary. Given the large amount of independent and Republican voters supporting him, he'd likely have more capital to spend from day one than Hillary, with her rhetoric of "turning up the heat".
Which brings me to another observation: a key premise of her candidacy has been that she is more electable because she's used to confrontation from Republicans, and can not only survive it, but claims to welcome the opportunity to be their punching bag. But during the ABC debate the other night, one outburst from Edwards was enough to fluster her into a defensive, strident, almost desperate response. If a single expression of populism from someone "on the same team" evinces such defensiveness, is she really as equipped as she claims to stand up to a true opponent? Probably more importantly, would she come across as an effective leader in the process? No matter how valid the actual content of her rebuttal, in that moment, she did not strike me as being even remotely presidential. One of GWB's many, many shortcomings is his tendency to throw a tantrum whenever he doesn't get his way. He's the only two-year-old I've ever seen with gray hair. In general, Hillary's response to the recent shift in momentum leads me to suspect she might be prone to tantrums as well.
Obama keeps his cool. If nothing else, that bodes well for compromise, because it allows the conversation to continue. We don't need 8 more years of a president telling his/her opponents on any given issue, "I'm the decider. End of conversation." If you're presiding, you're a president. If you're simply dictating, you're a dictator. Inspiration alone isn't enough, but inspiration as a tool to bring people of disparate perspectives together, find common ground, and finally get something done... as Obama would say, that's change we can believe in.
2. Matt White01/08/2008 03:34:11 AM
What a great write up Richard. We only get a little of the detail about the election over here across the pond but this post has helped bring me up to speed on all of the candidates enormously. It's going to be an interesting year ahead.
3. Gab Davis01/08/2008 07:49:57 AM
Great write up thanks. Question for you though - you list Reagen as inspirational and Clinton (male) as perspirational. I've always thought the appeal of Clinton lay in his speaking - sounding engaged, informed, enthused and competent (not something any of us are used to hearing from our political leaders) and for that I would have categorised him as inspirational first and foremost. It's certainly what I find most interesting about Obama since someone needs to unite all those younger disinterested and disenfranchised voters and he's as far away from what's on offer from the other side as it's possible to get.
4. Rob McDonagh01/08/2008 10:11:00 AM
Well, I'm a firm Obama supporter, and have been ever since I heard his speech at the last Democratic convention. Nothing he's done since then has persuaded me differently. I think you have a point about the inspiration he would provide, and I think it's important to realize that in his case that inspiration clearly spans party lines in a way we've never seen in my lifetime (but I'm only 41 ). I have a pretty conservative Republican friend who is seriously considering re-registering as a Democrat JUST SO SHE CAN VOTE for him in the Massachusetts primary. This is a woman who voted for W. Twice.
I do think you're giving Hillary too much credit for her ability to compromise and not giving Barack enough for his ability to do the same. Of the two of them, he is in a much better position to convince moderate Republicans to support him in Congress. Political reality has to include acknowledgment of Hillary's unique position in American politics. Hillary is HATED (there's no word strong enough for it, really) by 80% of Republican voters - much more strongly than W is hated by Democrats even now. If Congressional Republicans go along with Hillary's policies as President, they'll be crucified in their home districts. Obama? Not so much. And I think you'll agree that most politicians do whatever they have to in order to be reelected. With Hillary in the White House, Republicans in Congress will have no choice but to oppose every single thing she tries to do, loudly and vehemently.
5. Timothy Briley01/08/2008 10:44:33 AM
Well I voted a two weeks ago here in Florida. (Why anyone would go to the polls when they can absentee vote here so easily is beyond me). Many of us here on the Gulf Coast are still angry at both parties for scheduling the primary on Fat Tuesday. It's not just a matter of priorities, it's a matter of logistics.
As far as Obama is concerned, I'll quote Thomas Sowell:
"By far the best presentation as a candidate, among all the candidates in both parties, is that of Barack Obama. But if he actually believes even half of the irresponsible nonsense he talks, he would be an utter disaster in the White House."
At the end of the day, all I can think is 300 million people and these are our choices?
6. John Head01/08/2008 01:41:41 PM
Rich, you and I learned long ago that we should not discuss politics ... but I can't fault most of your descriptions of the candidates on both sides .. minus a few things. First, Rudi is more like a general than a president. He did what a general does in NYC in 9/11 .. he rallied the troops. that is all he is good for now too.
My politics find me being a financial conversative and a social moderate. I typically vote for the right side because I believe the financial side is where I can not compromise. Now, it is known that I am active in lots of conservative groups, but I have voted for democrats that are smart and not into pork. I hate big government ... and am pretty anti-union.
For me, the person I vote for at the high level offices typically is because I believe I can trust them. I know that Hillary is not trustworthy. I have joked I will move out of the US if she is elected ;)
The problem with Obama is that he really is all talk. And I can say that, I live in IL. He got elected to Senate without any good challenge because the Republicans had a meltdown (the Jack Ryan fiasco and then Alan Keyes ... ugh). Because of the scandle with Jack Ryan (and for the record, I think that stink about that and Clinton with Monica was BS ... I was pissed at Clinton because he lied under oath and didn't get penalized for it ... anyone else would be in jail, not just lose your law license), Obama was really never challenged on his ideas. Since being elected Senator, he has barely been in IL. He has not worked for his voters in a manner I consider to be positive .. in any way. He got elected State Senator so he could run for the President, and that bothers me. If he gets elected, I can handle him. I think it will be good for IL. I think he will be a good face to the US after a lot of mistakes of the past 16 years (yes, I said 16 .. lets get real, if Clinton had any balls, we could have stopped much of the current terrorism and the need for the current Iraq
So if you need to vote for someone, please pick Obama over Hillary. She is just scary.
7. Richard Schwartz01/08/2008 10:44:59 PM
@1 Tim: Point taken. Watch for an upcoming post.
@2 Matt: Yes, it will be an interesting year. It just occurred to me that my older daughter will be of voting age when the general election comes around.
@3 Gab: Clinton absolutely had personal charisma, but I differentiate that from an inspirational leadership style. He was a very detail-oriented, policy micro-managing, deal-making political infighter. Now, I should consider that perhaps Obama really is that, too, and just uses his inspirational style (to great effect) as a campaigner. But I have to say that there's little evidence of that.
@4 Rob: Yes, Hillary has very strong negatives with a lot of people. Those same people are the least likely to vote for any Democrat. One thing I didn't bring up in my post was that I put a great deal of thought into two questions: 1. Given who the GOP is likely to nominate, will the general election be closer if the Democratic cancidate is Clinton, or Obama? 2. Is it possible or likely that the Democrats could take both houses -- with a 60/40 majority in the Senate? Apart from that, watch for an upcoming post.
@5 Timothy: Twice in the last 8 years I've thought "300 million people, and this is who won?
@6 John: Quite right about it being unwise for us to discuss politics. Guess we're not wise. I'll just cut to your last line, and repeat: watch for an upcoming post.
8. Rob McDonagh01/09/2008 02:39:33 AM
@7 Well, the plural of anecdote is not data, but in the case of the Republican woman I mentioned, who voted for W. twice but is now a die hard Obama supporter? She despises Hillary, would never consider voting for her, and would even vote for Romney over her (and she's from Massachusetts, so she knows exactly how two-faced Mitt is). All of which is just to say that there are SOME people who hate Hillary but who would vote for at least one Democrat - Obama. Of the 40-something percent of the population who have a strong negative opinion of Hillary, only 3/4 of them are Republicans (Republicans make up 33% of the population, give or take a few thousand voters) - the rest are independents. Those independent voters are up for grabs - unless your nominee's name is Hillary Clinton.
9. Lars Olufsen01/09/2008 04:51:13 AM
First of all - I'm from Denmark, which kinda puts me on the sideline when it comes to US primaries.
But I can't help thinking that the 2008 election will be decided a lot more on "absolutely not" than on "best choice".
I fear that a large number of democrat voters might decide based on "absolutely not" voting for a woman or an african american (apologies if it's not the politically correct terms - I mean no offense) instead of deciding based on political issues.
Of course it might be balanced out by republican voters "absolutely" voting for a woman or an african american despite political views.
Or, maybe I'm really the bigot here, for even thinking like this, when there are few or even no signs of these '-isms' playing a part so far.
Hopefully, it will be a good clean fight and not end up like the Volusia county error!
10. Rob McDonagh01/09/2008 12:50:14 PM
@Lars, you have the democratic and republican parties reversed (not trying to be critical - it is impressive that you are as accurate as you are, since this isn't your country - I'd have no chance of getting European political parties right). Democrats are liberal, Republicans conservative - liberals more likely to vote for women/blacks, though of course all generalizations are inaccurate with respect to individuals.
And hopefully - hopefully - racism and sexism won't be relevant. Realistically, they will have at least some impact. The odds are, though, that the racist and sexist voters are unlikely to vote for a liberal/democrat anyway, so they don't really hurt Obama's or Clinton's chances. The way they might hurt would be if they motivated people who otherwise wouldn't bother voting to come out and vote against Obama or Clinton. That's hard to predict, though.
11. Lars Olufsen01/11/2008 06:17:37 AM
@Rob, I don't think I got them wrong, but I might not have made myself clear then.
Obama and Clinton are democrats and the liberals. My fear is that liberal voters will "defect" to the republicans due to sexist or racist reasons and "absolutely not" wanting to vote for one of these candidates, should they get the nomination.
But I do agree with you, that it would probably be more of an issue had it been the republicans that fielded a woman or an african american candidate.
I just hope America decides on the best candidate based on politics and not on politicisms.
12. Scott Brown02/01/2008 09:57:39 PM
Homepage: http://Somewhere in These Once-United States
I must confess up front, I'm a Paultard. A Paulaholic. A Paulitical Animal. Why would a registered Democrat campaign, contribute (a lot), and vote for a Republican candidate, you ask? (You didn't ask, but I will tell you anyway.)
You said it Rich, he's a libertarian. And a strict constitutionalist. He's a maniac on the subject. (We can take offline those sloppily placed three words--out of 80--on a subject quite other than legal citizenship, definition of, in Amendment 14, Section 1).
I like that about him. So much so that I re-registered Republican just so I can vote for him in the NM primary. I mean that he's a libertarian, not that he appears monomaniacal, we've had enough of maniac. But given a predictable lunatic or a slithery sociopath, I'll take the loony.
Paul, at least, is a maniac who helped give life to 4,000 Americans. The current maniac has managed to get a similar number of us killed for no useful purpose.
I agree with most of your observations concerning the candidates, they pretty much mirror mine. From afar, I think Lars has a pretty good lens on American politics (or maybe the NSA is forwarding him copies of my emails), with his observation that there may be a lot of us voting "absolutely not" rather than "best choice." I only first registered to vote at all, in order to vote against a candidate, rather than for one (not that it helped, it was a buggered electronic voting machine which wouldn't let me change my choices once it decided what party I was for; love to see a Diebold or its ilk in the hands of Lotus Notes QA for about six hours--I'd spring for the pizza).
Anyway, the candidates. I can see only one who tells us what's really going on his head. He's been a broken record for ten terms in Congress. Any true Paultard could stand up in a debate and take Paul's place, because they know what his position is on everything. Try that with anyone else.
Is that such a bad thing? He's a student of history, and economist and fiscal conservative, wants to bring the troops, all of them, home and put them on our borders, get rid of pork and failed institutions, take back control of our money from private banks, give control of states affairs back to the states.
The man is transparently mad. I like the transparent part.
I hear a lot of things, now that I'm retired and can actually spend time to listen. One is that Paul may have some good ideas, but he'd never be able to push them through the Washington snakepit. Fine, so what's the worry? He's harmless, no?
But what if he actually did bring the troops home immediately? Stopped all the subsidies and unfair protections to big-oil and -agribusiness and -pharma such that true free-market competition became the order of the day? Stopped taxing American businesses right out of the country, people right out of their homes? Stopped borrowing from our future nemeses money our grandchildren can never pay back?
I'd pay the price of admission just to see the show. (Hmm, seems I already am!)
But I'd not be entirely surprised to see Obama get the top slot, with HillBillary as VP (be pretty funny, actually). At least it wouldn't be a total, unbroken continuation of dynastic ping pong (BCCBBC...C?). Decades of rule by the same two families catering to the same few densely consolidated multinational corporate interests. 'Cause if Hillary comes out on top...
Um, where's the scrunchyface emoticon pointing a gun at its head, Rich?