Archive for May 21st, 2008

The Democratic Battle

What a primary season for the Democrats! Obama has been the front runner since February, but has been unable to put away Hillary Clinton who somehow redefined herself as a working class plain Jane fighter, rather than liberal sophisticate of the White House years. Donning a southern accent she found her home right where one would least expect her to be popular: in the rural conservative section of the Democratic party. Her message shamelessly shifted form to fit the audience, whether talking about her joy in shooting guns to feeling the Holy Spirit inside her. No one knows if they can believe her, but that’s the political game and she played it well.

Yet ironically her underdog status has prevented the media and Obama from really digging in at her weaknesses. The idea that she’s more electable than Obama is questionable. Hillary Clinton is not trusted by most Americans, she is still a figure that brings out the ire of conservative voters – ones who might otherwise not vote for McCain – and there is that nagging question about power. The Clintons made a lot of money in the eight years since Bill left office, and have a lot of inside connections. Putting them back in the White House doesn’t mean a fresh face ready to change and clean shop, but an old couple of faces, used to and comfortable with power. These issues would surely rise up if Clinton were the nominee. And even the historic position of being the first female President would be called into question – she’s where she is because of her husband. Without Bill, there would be no Hillary candidacy. She’s not self-made like Condoleezza Rice, she’s there due to family, more like Benazir Bhutto or Indira Ghandi. That doesn’t mean she’s not competent, and it certainly can’t be compared to southern Governors whose wives run more to keep the husband in power, but it would be another question mark. Her experience can also be questioned – she’s mostly been a spouse of a leader, not a leader.

Yet Obama clearly has weaknesses that Hillary has helped bring to the fore, and actually that’s a good thing for him. Better to have Reverend Wright and his problem with working class Democrats made clear now so he can develop strategies to counter that, then rise up as a surprise in September or October. Michael Dukakis, for instance, didn’t know his weaknesses until it was too late; he didn’t have a Hillary Clinton to put him through his paces in the primary season. Moreover, there is no way Obama would have campaigned and organized as hard as he did the last few months without her. He introduced himself to voters across the country, advertised, raised money, and developed GOTV organizations at a level that will serve him well in November. Assuming Clinton and Obama can patch things up and unify the party, her organizational strength, while not as strong as his, will also provide an asset. This could make a real difference in swing states, where a slight change in voting turn out can alter the race. Finally, Obama will bring out minority voters in districts that are usually Republican because minorities vote in such low numbers. This could re-shape Congress.

Clinton is right to continue the fight through June 3rd. I grew up in South Dakota, it would be an insult to South Dakota and Montana to end it now, and not let Clinton supporters in each state have their chance to voice their opinion. The angry tempers on each side are due to the emotion of the fight, but fundamentally the candidates are both strong. With McCain making gaffes on foreign policy (recently he didn’t seem to realize that Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful man in Iran, he has mixed up Shi’ite and Sunni, and doesn’t seem to understand that al qaeda is an enemy of both Hezbollah and Iran), it appears perhaps McCain is a bit lazy – he’s not really learning the details, but running a campaign based on themes and slogans. In the debates that could come back to haunt him, and undercut his effort to put foreign policy first. Foreign policy usually doesn’t win election campaigns anyway, and on domestic policy the Democrats seem to have a clear advantage.

Perhaps the reason why Clinton fought so hard is that she knows that whoever wins this nomination has a superb chance against McCain, and therefore it isn’t necessary to prematurely put on a united front. Given that this has kept the Democrats, the democratic message, and the candidates in the headlines, with McCain more likely to get on the news with some misstatement, the gnashing of teeth by Democrats over the length of this process is misplaced. And, as the “appeasement” flap this week showed, President Bush will probably give Obama ample opportunities to engage the President, thereby at least subliminally making it seem like it’s as much Obama vs. Bush as Obama vs. McCain. In all, this has been an historic battle for the Democrats, and one that has benefited their party far more than it’s hurt it, even if political junkies, prone to the emotion of the moment, don’t get it. They will come November.