Sunday, February 3, 2008
On Super Tuesday, I'm voting for Barack Obama.
For the first time, I've been watching the presidential primaries with the sense that I have to make up my mind not just as a dedicated political observer, but as a voter in a genuinely contested election. (My primary votes in Utah in 1992 and in Massachusetts in 2000 and 2004 came after the Democratic nominations were effectively decided; I was moving from Utah to Massachusetts in 1996 and didn't vote in the irrelevant primaries that year.) After a lot of reading and conversation, I've concluded that Barack Obama would be the best Democratic nominee — and that he's the best choice for president. I'm excited to cast my vote for him on Tuesday. Here's why:
Obama changes the national political dynamic. He presents liberalism in a way that Americans who wouldn't call themselves liberals find compelling. He expands the Democratic coalition. He attracts independents — and even conservatives. He unmistakably represents America's diversity. And, perhaps most importantly, his vision is aspirational but deeply rooted in his own story and in the hopes and experiences of millions of others; it's not just talk.
As much as I admire Bill and Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton would govern a polarized nation. Hillary Clinton simply can't overcome the deep divisions sown by Bush's Rovean politics, even if she can stitch together an electoral victory. Although Democrats adore the Clintons, other Americans are much more ambivalent about them — and the Clintons' enemies (who make up the entire conservative establishment) are eager for a no-holds-barred war against them. It certainly doesn't help Clinton that political reporters tend to find her calculating and manipulative, but like John McCain. And even though Clinton and a Democratic Congress could begin to repair some of the damage of the Bush years, she'd have to do it in a highly polarized political climate. And it wouldn't only be conservatives' fault: As George Packer writes in his not especially flattering profile in the New Yorker, Clinton has a with-me-or-against-me disposition. (Also worrying: perpetual newsmaker Bill Clinton. Do we really want two for the price of one? Or is Clinton fatigue catching?)
Obama, however, appeals to people who aren't already part of the Democratic base. Both Obama and McCain show real strengths in drawing moderate and independent voters; Clinton does not, especially against McCain. What really strikes me is that Obama has more endorsements from Democratic senators and governors in Republican-dominated states (Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia). This suggests that red-state Democrats believe they'll fare better if Obama is the head of the ticket. He can expand the Democratic Party; she can only rally its base.
Republicans know it, too. They're quite sure they know how to defeat Clinton; they're not so sure about Obama.
Obama premises his campaign on the belief that Americans want to come together, and that they can. He radiates conviction on this point. He doesn't just reframe liberal ideals; he embodies them. (With help from pop star will.i.am, he even makes liberalism sing.) Clinton, a master of policy and strategy, may be a brilliant technocrat, but she does not offer a compelling story about America's meaning or an overarching vision for the country. "Experience" is not a vision. Her supporters might shoot back that hope is not a plan. In Obama's case, however, hope is most definitely a tactic — a way to build a movement that can demand real change.
(More: "Why Obama matters," Andrew Sullivan, Atlantic Monthly 12.07; "The choice," George Packer, New Yorker 1.28.08; "In chase game with Bill, media's 'it,'" Michael Calderone, Politico 2.1.08; "Two presidents are worse than one," Garry Wills, New York Times 1.26.08; "Over-Billed," Noam Scheiber, New Republic 2.13.08; "Political consensus or political orthodoxy?" Michael Oreskes, New York Times 2.3.08; "Red-state Dems sour on Clinton," Josh Kraushaar and John F. Harris , Politico 1.15.08; "GOP doubts, fears 'post-partisan' Obama," Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post 1.7.08; "Why Republicans fear Obama," Byron York, National Review 1.22.08; The 'theory of change' primary," Mark Schmitt, American Prospect 12.21.07; "Ask not what J.F.K. can do for Obama," Frank Rich, New York Times 2.3.08)
Copyright © 2008 by Philocrites | Posted 3 February 2008 at 2:49 PM