Friday, January 04, 2008

Some Thoughts About Politics

As veterans of this blog know, I have long been a Barack Obama fan. Not always, though. When Obama first ran for the U.S. Senate, in 2004, he was in a Democratic primary crowded with better known and better funded candidates. Son Number Two called my attention to him as someone worthy of support, but I didn't want to waste my vote on someone who had no chance. He seemed to come out of nowhere to win the Democratic primary that year, and then, when he gave the electrifying speech at the Democratic convention that year, I was convinced that this is a man destined for great things.

The knock on Obama has been that a black man cannot get enough votes from the white majority to win a presidential election. I didn't buy that argument even before the Iowa caucuses last night. Obama won white votes in the Democratic senatorial primary in Illinois, enough to defeat better funded and better known white candidates, and elections of people like Wilder, the black governor of Virginia, the capital of the old Confederacy, show that things like race are not as important as they once were. Sure there are overt racists who will not vote for Obama because of his race, but they weren't going to vote for the Democratic candidate in any event, certainly not for Hillary Clinton.

I have also long disliked Hillary Clinton. I went to hear her speak on the campus of the Big U in our town in 1992 when her husband was running for president, and came away impressed only with what a bad impression she made. Although she has my sympathy for how badly she has been treated by her husband, the media and professional Hilary Haters, like Rush Limbaugh, I do not think she has the capacity to lead. Not to say she isn't smart, but there is a difference between brain power and leadership.

As I have observed politics over all these many years, I have come to believe that a candidate's ability to reach people trumps almost everything else. The candidate has to come across as understanding the concerns of ordinary people and to be likeable, someone you'd want to have a beer with (if you were a beer drinker.) Hillary has a tin ear for how she comes across, in contrast to her husband who is almost magical in his abilities.

Hillary's campaign seems to have been built primarily on her inevitability as the Democratic candidate, the one with the money, the organization and the toughness to beat the Republicans. Lately, she has embraced "change" as a mantra, but she has a fundamental problem having to argue both that she is the most experienced candidate and she is the candidate of change. Although it is not impossible for an experienced person to also be an agent of change (think Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights Act of 1964,) those two concepts are not usually associated. Bill Clinton could probably make the sale on that idea; Hillary cannot (or more precisely has not up to this point.)

Obama has that undefinable ability to reach people. As does Mike Huckabee. I noticed the banner behind the stage on which Huckabee gave his victory speech last night in Iowa read, "I Like Mike." Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency twice with the almost identical slogan (minus one letter) "I Like Ike." Another thing I noticed, having watched both the Obama and the Huckabee victory speeches last night is that their messages were almost identical. Huckabee could have been reading from an Obama script as he proclaimed that people were tired of the bickering in Washington; that Americans were one people, that we should not be tearing each other down, etc.

I don't think Obama has the nomination wrapped up. Clinton still has a substantial lead in the opinion polls in New Hampshire. She has her husband stumping for her full time. She has money and organization. But she has lost the argument on electability and inevitability, and without those what are her assets? I do not believe she will get many votes because of her likeability. With five days to turn things around in New Hampshire, what is she going to do that she hasn't already tried?

If Obama does win New Hampshire and wins South Carolina, then I think the battle is all over and Obama will be the Democratic nominee.

Which leads me to my next subject: "Heartbreak." Time after time, I have gotten excited about a president, only to have become disillusioned. I thought Jimmy Carter really was going to make a difference. After four years of his bungling, I voted for Ronald Reagan, as a protest. I really did think Bill Clinton was going to make a difference. Actually, he did accomplish many things, including getting rid of a deficit that had been predicted to balloon indefinitely for years; getting an economy to boom nonstop for eight years; passing legislation that helped people like the Family Medical Leave Act and other things. But his inability to keep his pants zipped, eventually distracted from his many accomplishments.

Nevertheless, I haven't learned my lesson. I still have hope. Go Obama, go.

11 comments:

easy said...

Yo, Dude.. easy on my candidate. Actually I'm ambivalent about critiquing the Democratic candidates, because any of the top three would be light years better than Bush. Edwards talks the talk I want to hear. I'm not astute enough to know whether his policies reflect the rhetoric. It's fun having such wealth to choose from.

rdl said...

Thanks for helping me make up my mind. Go Obama go!!!

Amishlaw said...

Well, Easy, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but if Hillary is your candidate, she just doesn't have what it takes. The nose dive she has taken in Iowa, from early front runner with lots of money, lots of organization and lots of experienced help, to third place is exactly what would happen in the general election. To nominate Hillary would be like nominating Kerry all over again. You can't get people to vote for someone they don't like (with the exception of Nixon in 1968, but those were special circumstances.)

RDL, I'm speechless. I actually convinced someone? (I suspect you were already leaning in Obama's direction.)

easy said...

We elected a guy because we thought he would be fun to have a beer with. How did that work out? So let's talk about experience, knowledge, and competence. You're a lawyer, assuming you work for a firm, do you give the most difficult and crucial tasks to a young upstart? Not that I won't gladly cast a vote for Obama if he's the nominee, but I would like to hear your answer to my question

Amishlaw said...

Easy, obviously, Bush didn't work out. I didn't vote for him. (Actually, Bush is an example against my argument. Gore actually got more votes than Bush, the beer drinking buddy did. Oh, well, the exception that proves the rule.) My argument was based on electability.

As far as experience, knowledge and competence, tell me how Hillary has an advantage over Obama. She wasn't in charge of anything in the Clinton years, except the failed attempt to reform health care and the failed attempt to get Lani Gaunier confirmed as attorney general.

Obama is in his mid-40s. He didn't just appear out of nowhere. He worked on Wall St., he was a community organizer, he was a state senator. He knows how to get people working together to get things done. There are a number of examples in the state senate where he worked with Republicans to improve things. Gun control, for example. He didn't get guns outlawed in Illinois, that would have been impossible. But he did work with Republicans to tighten the loopholes. Same thing with capital punishment. He didn't get it outlawed, but he got vastly better procedures through in capital cases. Same thing with taping confessions. Although he has ideals and knows how to inspire people, he is very much a realist to achieve what can be achieved, rather than to get nothing done because you didn't get everything you wanted. The next president is not likely to have a Congress that will just do what he/she wants. That's why the ability to work with people to improve things incrementally is so important.

easy said...

I guess if I don't defend Clinton with specifics, I've just helped you make the case for Obama. Can't say that's a bad thing. I'm sure that vaunted Clinton machine will fill in the vacumn I might leave.

Patry Francis said...

Thanks for the Illinois perspective. For the first time in many years, I'm feeling really excited about an election. Now THAT'S the hope!

rdl said...

You're right i was leaning but thanks for the push.

Lydia said...

Hey, you could start writing for Slate, Amishlaw! Did you see their piece on how Huckabee and Obama seemed similar? I'm pretty sure you wrote this first :).

Honestly, I've had a soft spot for Hillary since I heard her on the stump for her husband at the big U (of M) - she made the opposite impression on me. But I'm still with you on the Obama-wagon, for several reasons. I also agree with easy that regardless, it's nice to have a wealth to choose from!

becca said...

I apolgize if this comes off as complaining but I have a few questions to throw out.

I really hate to see the outcome of our election decided by a minuscule % of total voters in three states(IA,NH & SC) By the time we have primaries in many states, possible candidates are already off the ballot thanks to the premature deciders in a few states and the media frenzy.

Why couldn't the primaries fall on the same date across the country? Does the current system offer more democracy Iowa and New Hampshire? Do they deserve all that attention and all the campaign dollars spent in those states? By the time they get to many states to campaign the funds are dried up and they're calling repeatedly for more money when the bulk of it was spent long before in the "early primaries"

It would seem that fewer dollars would be spent if the primaries occurred on the same date (or within a few days)

Your thoughts?

Amishlaw said...

I agree with you Becca. Hopefully, there will be some changes before next time comes around. I've heard of proposals to divide the country up and have regional primaries. I think that makes a lot of sense. And, let's have the primaries start in June or so. This is ridiculous to start the campaigning so early. Everyone gets sick and tired of hearing the politicians by the time November finally comes around.