This year we Democrats are in a rare and lucky position: we’ve got two good candidates to choose from. On Tuesday, I’m voting for Obama over Hillary. But in November, I’ll be happy to vote for either of them.
Right now, my preference is based on the following considerations:
Pressing the reset button internationally. After the last eight years, the U.S. needs to start over with the rest of the world. It’s hard to remember today, but there was a brief moment after 9/11 when the whole world was behind the U.S. What that moment called for was a unity government — and indeed, a diplomacy of global unity. Bush threw all that away in a blaze of arrogant partisanship and a go-it-alone rush to a misbegotten war. In the process he wrecked his own reputation and the nation’s.
Obama’s in a position to clear the decks and press “reset” with all of the strategic goofs and moral gaffes of the last eight years — and he’s in a better position to do so than Hillary. He was against the Iraq war, unequivocally, from day one. His briefer sojourn in the Beltway means there’s more of a chance he’ll be willing to try new approaches.
The Muslim factor. Obama’s time spent abroad, including his familiarity with Indonesia’s Muslim culture, has led to a scurrilous whisper campaign against him, suggesting that he’s Muslim himself. (Hey, change one letter of his name and you get Osama!) It’s a lie, but lies have been known to turn elections.
It seems certain to me that if Obama is the candidate, he’ll have to confront this lie directly at some point. More importantly, I think he can turn it around to his advantage. Because at this moment in history, we could really use a person in the White House who actually knows something about Muslim culture and society.
As we struggle to defeat Al Qaeda and its sympathizers, we need to carry the conflict back to the hearts and minds of the moderate Muslim world, which Bush — through policy errors, strategic blindness and moral failures — has ceded to our enemies. Obama represents a rare opportunity to reclaim this ground.
Electability. Hillary Clinton is a known factor to the American electorate. She has a lot of support. But it’s hard for me to see how she’s going to get too much more than she has today. And while this year’s GOP is comatose, her face remains one of the few stimuli that could conceivably cause the Republican right to hold its nose and vote for McCain.
Obama is simply a wild card. It could be that large numbers of white Americans will smile and nod and, in the privacy of the voting booth, decide not to support a black man. I think it’s worth testing that legacy against contemporary reality.
In the primaries so far, Obama’s been rallying young and disaffected voters back into the voting booth. That could make a huge difference in November: rather than limiting a Democratic campaign to a desperate hunt for one point over the 50-50 line that has marked Bush-era politics, Obama’s new throngs could tip the election in a stalemate-breaking way. It’s hard to see how Hillary could manage that.
Positive vibration. It’s hard to remember any political campaign as relentlessly upbeat as Obama’s, or as unwilling to sling mud. That’s part of his success story, and, evidently, part of his personality. It has worked beautifully to date, and it might work all the way through the election. But it worries me a bit.
When the GOP turns the slime machine on full blast, will Obama be able to deflect or defeat it? We just don’t know. Maybe his charisma will pull through; maybe he’ll show the charm and grace that Kerry just couldn’t muster and, with smiles and deft one-liners, sidestep the crap that will surely fly at him and defang the attack dogs.
But the hard-earned conventional political wisdom of the last decade is that when they come at you swinging slurs, your only choice is to hit back hard and fast. That doesn’t seem to be Obama’s way. And it’s a little troubling for any Democrat to contemplate a candidate who isn’t ready to rumble.
Still, I’ve always believed in voting one’s hopes over one’s fears!
There are no revisions for this post.