Clintonites say Obama, if elected, wouldn't have the experience and the gusto necessary to stay afloat in the destructive waters of American politics. However, former DNC chair and Bill Clinton campaign manager David Wilhelm has not only endorsed Senator Obama, but went on record as stating that Obama has "the unique ability to encourage cooperation as a 65-percent president after the divisive years of a 51-percent majority" (Philip Elliot, "Clinton Ex-CampaignManager Backs Obama"). What's more, they claim Obama is too focused on ideas and can't possibly do the all-important task of building coalitions to get important legislation passed for this county.
On the other hand, Obama's fans feel as though Clinton has been too willing to cross the aisle and compromise with Republicans, the greatest example being her votes and opinions on the controversial war in Iraq. Not to mention the fact that another Clinton in the White House has that inevitable aura of elitism to finish the trend: Bush, Clinton, Bush II, Clinton II. Of course, no one should be discounted simply because they are related to the powerful - if that rule were applied across the board, Washington would be a ghost town. Nevertheless, they shouldn't be propped up because of familial ties either. Having the same last name doesn't prescribe a list of policy preferences.
Sen. Obama doesn't seem to entirely get this; when Obama retorted "Wait up Hillary, I can't tell who I'm running against" at the recent Democratic debate, he wasn't joking. His campaign speeches have repeatedly lambasted the Clintons for being unable to form a working majority in Congress in the 1990's - last I checked, Hillary didn't enter the Senate until 2001. He also has been quoted as saying
Keep in mind, we had Bill Clinton as president when, in '94, we lost the House, we lost the Senate, we lost governorships, we lost state houses. And so, regardless of what policies they wanted to promote, they didn't have a working majority to bring change about.So it seems that Obama is sincere about his confusion. Still, for some odd reason the major outlets seem to have reached a consensus on one fact: the slightly more liberal Obama will be able to build a better (read: bigger and/or more stable) coalition than the overwhelmingly centrist Clinton model. Firstly, Obama can unite the Democrats. Pundits from both sides of the aisle have predicted that, if his momentum keeps up, the all-important superdelegates, once thought to be a stronghold of Clinton supporters, will soon be swinging to Obamaland. Columnist William Kristol says this could happen as early as March (New York Times, 11 February 2008, A25). Secondly, Obama can unite the country. Winning the Democratic primary race is important, but the real test will come in November, when either Clinton or Obama will have to face off the equally-attractive-to-independents John McCain. In a recent opinion column in the New York Times, Roger Cohen pointed out that,New York Times, 11 February 2008, A16
Republicans, likely to be led by McCain with his appeal to independents, are unanimous in saying they’d rather face Clinton than Obama. Many independents will never vote Clinton but might vote Obama. This calculus will weigh: the Democrats know they will seldom, if ever, get the stars so aligned for victory. Failure would be devastating...In making their own choice, Democrats now need to think carefully about how best to counter a more defined Republican challenge.Nicholas Kristoff has reported that polls place Obama ahead of McCain in a hypothetical general election while the same study found that McCain beat Clinton by four percent. Obama also has the highest approval among self-identified independents, and even sits well among evangelical Christians. Kristoff quoted the granddaughter of Republican icon Dwight 'Ike' Eisenhower and Obama supporter as saying, "Obama would appeal much more to Republican voters...[n]ot all Republican voters, but certainly those who might be somewhat in play." These are the practical considerations. Although I despise it and the system that creates it, tactical voting is a steadfast reality in America's first past the post election system. If Obama is more likely to both a) bring a strong Left base to the general election and b) attract the many self-proclaimed moderates of America to his campaign, then it only makes sense to put him at the top of the ticket. If there's one thing Democrats can agree on, hopefully it's that the ultimate goal is to steal back the White House.
As important as tactical voting is, picking a winner means nothing if your winner is soulless. Take that for what you will, but what I mean is that if you don't agree with a candidate on the major issues, then you really shouldn't vote for them, regardless of popularity or probability. After moving down the line from Kucinich and then to Edwards, pullouts and campaign suspensions have left me but with one choice: Barack Obama.
Both Clinton and Obama have positions I disagree with: both support the continued embargo of Cuba (Edwards did not) and both believe the death penalty should remain a legal option in America (Edwards did not). Both of them voted for HR 6061 to establish a physical barrier between the United States and Mexico, a bill that is one of the most Republican-endorsed, blatantly symbolic, impractical, and, in this author's opinion, unabashedly against the American tradition of freedom and acceptance in recent memory. However, there are several issues that are important to me where Obama gets it right and Clinton just doesn't get it.
On the issue of campaign finance reform (my baby plank), Senator Clinton failed when she voted in 2002 for HR 2356, which effectively raised the limit of individual contributions and Political Action Committees, these a major loophole by which campaign regulations are often bypassed. In comparison, Obama worked to pass a tough law that banned the use of all personal money for legislator campaigns in Illinois, a state which was prior to that ranked worst in campaign finance regulations.
My favorite sound byte on the issue of 'illegal immigrants' came from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) who refused to answer the question on the premise that, to him, there is "no such thing as an illegal human." Unfortunately for all involved, Kucinich dropped out. Hillary Clinton takes the ever-precarious position on the fence of this issue. At a CNN debate in January, she had this to say:
...[W]hat we've got to do is to say, come out of the shadows. We will register everyone. We will check, because if you have committed a crime in this country or the country you came from, then you will not be able to stay, you will have to be deported.On the contrary, Obama has clearly worked as a state senator in Illinois to give aliens driver's licenses, job training, and health insurance. In a 2006 floor statement given in the US Senate, Obama said the following:
But for the vast majority of people who are here, we will give you a path to legalization if you meet the following condition: pay a fine because you entered illegally, be willing to pay back taxes over time, try to learn English -- and we have to help you do that, because we've cut back on so many of those services -- and then you wait in line....
I will not support any bill that does not provide this earned path to citizenship for the undocumented population--not just for humanitarian reasons; not just because these people, having broken the law, did so for the best of motives, to try and provide a better life for their children and their grandchildren; but also because this is the only practical way we can get a handle on the population that is within our borders right now.Barack Obama has direct familial ties to the immigrant heritage of America, and I will feel astonished and betrayed if he sides with the neocons and employs the politics of fear to justify discrimination against humankind just because they stupidly chose to be born on the wrong side of an arbitrary border.
But of course the most controversial, and one of the most important, issues on which Senators Clinton and Obama differ is the Iraq War. In 2003, Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
I was one who supported giving President Bush the authority, if necessary, to use force against Saddam Hussein. I believe that that was the right vote. I have had many disputes and disagreements with the administration over how that authority has been used, but I stand by the vote to provide the authority because I think it was a necessary step in order to maximize the outcome that did occur in the Security Council with the unanimous vote to send in inspectors. And I also knew that our military forces would be successful.Although she finally relented in 2005, it does seem suspicious that this about-face came so close to her decision to run for President. On the same token, Clinton has wisely, although hypocritically, reversed her position on setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq just in time for the 2008 campaign, saying in 2005 that it was time for "not a rigid timetable that terrorists can exploit, but a public plan for winning and concluding the war" only to vote in 2007 in favor of a timetable. Of course, realizing one's mistake is hardly a fault, but the ideal would be good judgment from the start
To conclude, if you didn't already know, Barack Obama is heardly perfect. His recent approval of the ridiculous amount of US aid given to Israel merits a serious loss of points. Of course, we should take such incidents with a grain of salt: most all major US politicians are hesitant to fly against the traditional logic of subsidizing, to the tune of $3 billion per annum, Israel's aggression. What's more, in 2006, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz ranked Senator Obama dead last in its consideration of which presidential candidate would be "best for Israel." That has to count for something.