Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tell me again how we're a democracy?

A reporter Vice President Dick Cheney that two-thirds of Americans oppose the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and Cheney said,


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Choosing between Clinton and Obama

The policy difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—the difference in what they would attempt to accomplish in office—is negligible. Both would pull us out of Iraq only very, very slowly (too bad). Neither is in favor of extending "marriage," by that name, to same-sex couples (too bad). Both kowtow to the ethanol lobby (too bad), though Obama bends over further. Neither one would normalize relations with Cuba (too bad), though Clinton is slightly more reactionary about the island. Both believe there is hope for Iran and North Korea, but neither would move the U.S. toward a two-China policy. And on and on and yes, I have checked out all their position papers. The Washington Post seems to think they can be distinguished from each other, based on the less than 10 percent of their Senate votes that differ, but I consider them all very fine points.

The difference between them in political service is also negligible. I might give Obama a little more credit, for a longer time served in elected office (but then, those are state years, not federal years). But as I've said before, I consider Clinton's time on public policy matters before the Senate to be worth about the same as Obama's time on public policy matters before he was elected in Illinois.

Clinton has more experience in election campaigns and with the media. Obama is the better public speaker.

Both are lawyers, with similar educations and some time in pro bono or community work (counting First Lady duties here as similar to nonprofit efforts).

Both can get very, very proposal-wonky. Both have been begged by their campaigns not to go off on geeky, detailed, white-paper answers in their personal appearances. Obama took this advice earlier than Clinton did, but both now are "working the house" in about the same way, which is heavy on inspiration and light on perspiration. (You can win the White House on strength of personality without knowing much about which policy lever moves what social measure—see Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush Jr. You can also win if you have both sufficient personality and wonky goodness—see Bill Clinton. You cannot win by being adept with policy detail if people don't find you personally appealing—examples too numerous to give here—unless the opposition has a candidate who violates these rules even more drastically—see Nixon.)

No president will "change the way business is done in Washington". I'm not voting based on any (empty) hope that a candidate will work some miracle on our political system.

Obama is more electable, by a little. Many, many more people hate Clinton—nationwide, in key markets, and in the media—and baggage matters. But Obama's youth and "inexperience" and middle name and more will provide plenty of general-election ammunition.

Neither has served in the military. Neither has been divorced, neither has been charged with infidelity or (sanely) with corruption, neither has been homeless or unemployed, and so on.

So what the hell is there to choose by? Policy, experience, and electability are, separately and collectively, a wash.

Of course, Obama is black and Clinton is a woman. Both have faced obstacles as a result of these characteristics. Racism is less acceptable than sexism in America, but I can't even begin to estimate which of those is more extensive or has more of an impact on its victims.

Also, they have different personal styles. Obama is well known for seeking compromise; Clinton is well known for not giving in on political positions. Obama is well known for speaking softly in private, attempting to bring opponents together and to have good relations on all sides; Clinton is well know for being abrasive even to her allies.

In the end, those are the two areas that distinguish these politicians the most. I'm not making my choice based on race or sex, though I know that others will. (And as a white male, even if I wanted to make one or both of those my criteria, it would be a horrible idea to say so out loud.)

I hope Obama wins. I believe he would be listened to by more people, on both sides of the aisle and in all houses, than Clinton would. I don't believe that he would accomplish a long list of things that she wouldn't, or that our politics would suddenly become a lot more civil, or that the nation would take better care of its citizens. I do believe that, on balance, all of those areas would be a little better as a result of Obama's personal and political styles than they would from Clinton's.

That's my take on why to vote for one or the other. It's just my words, no practical effect; I had already voted for Dennis Kucinich when he dropped out, and my second option would have been Bill Richardson. The post below this one looks at the horse-race aspect of why or the other will actually be the nominee.

Edits: The list of policy topics above is, necessary, short; and so it inevitably omits an issue that is, for someone somewhere, the only thing they decide on: abortion, the death penalty, the environment, and so on. This post was not an attempt at an exhaustive comparison of their positions, so don't go off on me for those omissions.

A dead heat down the homestretch

News outlets depend on drama, even when there isn't any. And sometimes they choose the wrong drama, as they did this morning with all kinds of pro-Clinton headlines (at least in the San Francisco area). The real story here is that rank-and-file Democrats are split down the middle and that means the party leaders get to choose the nominee.

Nothing really happened yesterday to swing the Democratic nomination either way. Neither candidate scored big enough to win. Depending on which wire service or political poll site you believe, the delegate count last night had Clinton's net gain somewhere between +11 and +23, out of 370 available. Total pledged so far are something like Obama 1,340, Clinton 1,206 (needed to win: 2,025). Clinton is ahead by about 10% among the unpledged "superdelegates"—the big wigs who are allowed to change their vote—so Obama's overall lead is 1,542 to 1,447 (both totals +/-25 depending on how you count the supers).

With just over 600 pledged delegates left to select, a candidate would have to win all 12 remaining primaries, by 100% to 0%, to lock up the nomination. And that ain't going to happen. Ordinary-people voting is so close that the superdelegates are going to decide this.

What will happen: over the next couple of months, if one candidate wins a really big chunk of the remaining primaries (say, 10 out of 12) or more than 2/3 of the remaining delegates, there will be a lot of pressure on the other one to drop out. Enough of the 350 or so not-yet-announced superdelegates will start declaring themselves for the candidate who has momentum that people will say the other candidate "ought" to drop out for the good of the party.

If the two candidates split the wins and split the delegates, then the supers will wait until the convention, in August, to make their decision. They'll do that because they'll know they can go there and be treated like royalty, each side begging for their vote—and because they will want to seriously sniff the public-opinion aroma as long as they possibly can before committing.

By the way, I don't have any problem with the presence of superdelegates. I think this election is exactly proving the value of the setup the Democratic Party installed after McGovern. No winner-take-all primaries—a good thing. A mix of primaries and caucuses—another good thing. In most elections, someone builds a big enough lead and they're nominated. But when nobody gets clear of the competition, the nomination is brokered by a combination of public opinion and party leaders. I would change the timing (I'd like the whole process to take place from March to early June), but I wouldn't modify anything else about this.

That's the horse-race portion of my musing. I'm putting my comments about the substance of the two candidates in a separate post.

(n.b. I love it when I'm right. I said two weeks ago that the opera wasn't over yet and that the candidates could be tied going into the convention.)