Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Primary coronaries (but not, thankfully, coronations)

I haven't posted anything about politics in a long time. But boy oh boy have I ever been following the "big race." You might even call me a junkie at this point.

Junkies don't always make the best writers. So I'll take the easy way out by pointing you to this post, in which the political blogger Publius comes pretty close to describing my own take on the events of the last week. Some salient excerpts:

Coming of political age in the Gingrich/late Clinton era, I’ve never really been inspired by any politician. It’s been a mix of outrage and ironic detachment from ’94 on. So you should forgive Ezra – and our generation more generally – if we use some flowing rhetoric from time to time. It’s a newfangled thing for us – and we’re not that good at it. It’s like getting drunk for the first time. You may utter some stupid stuff, but it’s still fun, so you don’t really care.

When the primary fumes pass, we’ll all come around to Clinton, especially compared to the GOP monstrosities. But with Clinton, my perception is that none of this inspired future is possible. Hers will be a competent, moderate, K Street-friendly administration. But I want more – and I think the nation could get more.


The problem is that the specific types of policy disagreements I have with Clinton are ones that generate strong emotions. Thus, it’s easy to mistake emotional-yet-ultimately-policy-based critiques with unfair sexism (though I’m not denying that sexism plays a role for many opponents). Here then is a brief rundown of those policy disagreements.

First, and most fundamentally, I think her actions on the national security front disqualify her. The Dems should not reward radio silence on Iraq, torture, etc. during the years it mattered with a presidential nomination. Period. It doesn’t make her a monster, or even a bad person. But it should at least mean you don’t get to be president. If you make an insincere political gamble, you have to pay that bill if you lose. Kerry paid it, and Edwards did too.

Second, and relatedly, I have fears about her national security judgment going forward. Specifically, I fear that she’s so afraid of looking liberal that she either won’t attempt bold change (e.g., Cuba, Israel/Palestine), or will be bullied into doing something foolish (Iran). Her past positions are strong evidence of what she’ll do in the future – see, e.g., Kyl-Lieberman – and it’s not good.

Third, on domestic policy, I think she’s got all the right stuff – she’s brilliant and has great policy proposals. But the fear is that those proposals will just collect dust in the White House policy shop. I’ve seen nothing since 1994 that indicates the slightest willingness to take political risk for something she believes in. She’s too cautious and scared (just like Kerry). Turning back to Obama briefly, I’m more convinced that he’ll at least try to aim high. I also believe that an Obama victory would create more favorable underlying social and political conditions for real progressive change.

Yes. Let me add (to expand on Publius's "underlying social and political conditions" point) that a vote for Obama, by legitimizing political idealism and imagination again, would at least start to pave the way for a world in which someone like Dennis Kucinich -- who in my view has a much saner, more humane, and more progressive platform than any of 'em -- could actually have a viable candidacy. (Assuming there was no horrible mis-step to inspire a conservative backlash, of course.)

There's also this interesting bit in the comments, from Adam:

I still think Obama can pull it out -- and man am I hoping he will -- but then I remembered that my nightmare scenario was Hillary coasting to the nomination and then getting annihilated in the general election, a la Kerry. [...] But right now that worries me less than it did just two weeks ago. Kerry's problem -- and Clinton's too, up 'til this point -- was not engaging, not being human, working off polls, etc. Gore made the same mistake. Clinton finally, blessedly, got something of a clue, and that shifts the whole dynamic of the race. This is about the Presidency, after all. Clinton a month ago didn't stand a chance in the general; Clinton in the last week could actually win the Presidency. In retrospect, I feel like her unfavorables might have been less about Hillary-hate than revulsion at the robotic brand of politics that's typified so many ridiculous Democratic losses.

Again, yes.

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