(title courtesy of Bad Gods)
Here’s how it went down. First, Hungarian Great Bela Tarr, who resides in Iowa, posted his predictions for the caucuses at his blog, Days of Industry (previously plugged in this space). His Democratic predictions went like this: Obama 40, Edwards 26, Clinton 24. Having seen polls showing a dead heat between the three candidates, that struck me as unlikely, so I posted a comment:
I think we’re seeing a little extravagant optimism here—if Clinton does that badly, I will wear the silliest hat I own everywhere I go for two days.
(I used the word “optimism” to reflect HGBT’s dislike of Clinton, not my own; see below.) HGBT asked if that was a promise, and if there would be pictures; I replied that yes, if Clinton finished in third with more than a fifteen-point deficit, as the post predicted, I would honor my promise and take pictures.
Well, you know how it actually shook out: 38/30/29. Obama did better, and Clinton worse, than I predicted, but she still finished well above the 15-point gap I specified. Nevertheless, HGBT had the temerity to send an e-mail to, like, everyone, with the subject line “The question is: will Tom man up?”
I did not wear my hat everywhere (or anywhere) I went; I consider myself vindicated by the results, if just barely. Nevertheless, the exchange (and the election itself, obviously) forced me to clarify my thoughts about the candidates, and I thought I would share those. And I did end up making a concession regarding my vow—read on for details.
Here’s the thing: I don’t hate Hillary Clinton, and I don’t even dislike her. I hold her Iraq vote against her, definitely, and I hold her Kyl-Lieberman vote against her even more, because it confirms the suspicion that she will make poor foreign policy decisions in order to appear tough. At the same time, I don’t know if the best answer to the problem of political pressure is to support someone who has never had to face it, at least not in an environment like the post-9/11 Congress. (Let’s not forget that Obama conveniently wasn’t present for the Kyl-Lieberman vote.) As for Clinton’s rich family background and business connections, I take the force of that, and it does affect my opinion, but … well, hell, what were JFK’s populist credentials? What were FDR’s? And I do think experience matters. Clinton has had specific tests—the test of living and fighting through the right wing hate machine, the test of winning a Senate race contested by someone other than Alan Keyes—that are going to be vital for Democratic presidential candidates and presidents.
So on the intangibles and symbolics, it’s a wash—Obama makes me happy, Clinton makes me confident. On the issues, I see very little difference, and what I do see (the health care proposal, mainly) favors Clinton. I like what Gail Collins said in the Times about the two candidates’ positions on “reforming health care or getting out of Iraq or stopping global warming”: “We all know there’s only the thinnest of lines between Obama and Clinton on these matters—a line that would instantly be obliterated by the mangle that is known as the United States Congress.” Honestly, listening to and watching the debates has left me without any political preference—both are equally good and equally bad on the exact same issues. Is Obama super-principled on gay marriage, for instance? Why, no; this ain’t The West Wing. (Though I do sincerely think his joking response to questions about his youthful drug use are positive and a good sign.)
I also don’t buy the argument that the Right’s hatred of Hillary is itself a reason not to support her, because (the reasoning goes) it will make her impossible to elect. Aside from the inadvisability on nominating candidates based on what the Right claims to want (“Can anyone say ‘Don’t throw me in that briar patch!’?” one commenter notes), people need to understand that whoever the Democrats nominate is going to be treated with absolute bile and hatred, period. Hillary’s learned this already, and Obama, if he’s nominated, will learn it too; I hope he’s ready. Glenn Greenwald puts it well, in a post that HGBT also linked to:
There’s a prevailing sense that Obama is not as offensive to the right-wing GOP faction as other Democratic and liberal candidates in the past have been, or that he’s less “divisive” among them than Hillary. And that’s true: for now, while he tries to take down the individual who has long provoked the most intense hatred — literally — among the Right. But anyone who doesn’t think that that’s all going to change instantaneously if Obama is the nominee hasn’t been watching how this faction operates over the last 20 years. Hatred is their fuel. Just look at the bottomless personal animus they managed to generate over an anemic, mundane, inoffensive figure like John Kerry. At their Convention, they waved signs with band-aids mocking his purple hearts while cheering on two combat-avoiders.
On the subject of divisiveness…I wish Obama would talk less about the need for bipartisan cooperation. This has manifested itself, for instance, in his campaign’s implication that it should “not exclude” homophobes, or his suggestion that there’s a Social Security crisis. Here’s what I believe: even in a period of comity, partisanship and bipartisanship are neutral methods of achieving political goals; in a given situation, you use whichever one will work best in the short- and long-term. As long as you’re following legal and ethical standards, partisanship is no worse than its opposite. Luckily, perhaps, compromise and bipartisanship are usually necessary to achieve at least some of your goals, so the tyranny of the majority is avoided. But bipartisanship isn’t its own reward.Now, we are not living in a period of comity: the Republicans are not going to be a bipartisan party for the foreseeable future, so a vow not to be partisan is the same as surrender. “…[F]undamental change can’t be accomplished by a politician who shuns partisanship,” says Paul Krugman. Or, going back to Gail Collins:
If Clinton wants to be Franklin (and Eleanor) Roosevelt in this campaign, and John Edwards is channeling William Jennings Bryan, Obama is, for all his early opposition to Iraq, the most conservative visionary in the group. Big change is hardly ever accomplished without political warfare. When the red and blue states join together and all Americans of good will march hand-in-hand to a mutually agreed upon destiny, the place they’re going to end up would probably look pretty much like now with more health insurance.
My great hope (and in fact, I’ve come to believe it is true) is that Obama is using “an end to partisan bickering,” combined with “change,” as a smokescreen for what will be a partisan, liberal (not to say progressive) agenda. You’ll remember that Bush did exactly the same thing in 2000: “a uniter, not a divider.” You can’t argue with success: Bush not only convinced moderates that he was one of them, but fooled many progressives, including this one, that there was little difference between himself and Gore and thus convinced us to support Nader or just drop out. Then he was inaugurated, and the rest is history. If Obama gets to the White House and starts a New New Deal, then great. I’m not going to go crazy for him out of the suspicion that that will happen, though.
So, it saddens me to watch Clinton being taken down, because I think she’s been treated unfairly by all sides of the political spectrum. (Maybe she’ll win today and make this obsolete, but I doubt it.)* And the nasty reactions to The Laugh, The Cleavage, and (recently and most hypocritically) The Getting Emotional prove that some of this unfairness is based in sexism. John Edwards has lost my vote, for instance—his opportunistic tag-teaming with Obama following Iowa, topped off by his crypto-sexism, reflects a sliminess (born out of desperation, perhaps, but still) that bugs me much more than anything Clinton has done. (Digby has a great post about the sexism leveled against Clinton, and how it’s bad not only for Clinton herself, but for all progressives.)
I am excited by Obama. I am excited about his moving rhetoric and the enthusiasm he seems to be awakening all over the country (another record turnout today, apparently; it makes my heart beat faster). And as regards my vow at Days of Industry: while the letter of the law is on my side, I was quite surprised that Obama won so decisively, and I feel the need to reflect that. So, in that spirit, here’s me in “the silliest hat I own” (NOTE: hat is silly in context, not in its own right):
*Update (1/8): Come around children, and hear the song about a guy named Tom who was always wrong! Clinton won tonight, which I’m glad of, if only because it means my vote will mean something on February 5th. Now, if only I knew who I was voting for… (By the way, John Edwards, when I said you lost my vote, I only meant, y’know, for the time being. There’s still time for one of the other two to piss me off more.)