Friday, February 08, 2008

The extent of the Democratic Party conflict and problems

As I read around the blogosphere, I am surprised at just how many people are writing about the Obama - Clinton conflict as though it was the most critical thing for Democrats since - since forever maybe? It's time to sit back and put a bit of perspective on the situation. Is Hillary really an ogre tied to the corporations and the DLC? Is Obama just a hyper ambitious politician who can spin speeches and paint visions of a better world, but makes no promises that he can be pinned down on? Does the very existence of America and the Democratic Party depend on the decision between which of them to nominate for President this year? How much hyperbole and manufactured division can we take? How does this last month's conflict fit in perspective over the longer period?

I am a long time Democrat who voted for LBJ in 1964, and I watched Nixon and Joe McCarthy in black and white on TV. I also voted absentee for Nixon in 1968 from where I was stationed with the Army in Germany because I trusted Nixon's promises to get us out of Vietnam, and I learned firsthand what Republican lies meant. I've seen it go downhill since then. This year is the best for Democrats that I have ever seen.

Right now the Democrats have two really fine candidates (unfortunately, I thought it was three but my favored candidate, Edwards, is gone) and the question now is which of the two will we support. I see Hillary stronger at getting stuff done. At my age, I have learned that experience counts a great deal and Obama hasn't got it on the national level. Hillary was well prepared to start the campaign and has responded really well to roadblocks. She is also a known quantity. We in the public have a decent idea of what to expect from her, though one thing I do expect is some surprises, mostly positive. She is one of the best debaters on the national scene. If Joe Biden could get to the point as effectively and as clearly as Hillary can, he would have been President. She has also done a masterful job of dealing with the anti-Hillary Press. She knows the Democratic Party nationwide in a way Obama will take years to achieve. Compare her to Obama.

Obama has great rhetoric and he appears to have really good organizing and fundraising abilities. His ability to motivate and bring in the youth vote is better than anyone I have ever seen run for President. Plus the media likes him (today only - they hide the expiration date.) He's new on the national scene, but he has a great personal story, and he is amazingly difficult to dislike. His speeches are good, although his debating style is somewhat lacking. I am enough of a wonk and an analyst that I find his great visionary rhetoric lacking in the detail needed to explain how to achieve that vision, but I recognize that the very detail I crave turns most audiences off, and Obama is speaking to his major audiences, not so much to me. I can recognize that his ability to speak of visions and gloss over the engineering detail is a lot of his strength as a politician even as I find it somewhat discomfiting, since I am looking for more of a road map than a vision. I already have my own vision, and it is described in the Constitution. But my vision requires a Democrat as President, and Obama may well be the man who can get that job. Which brings me to the question of policies.

I preferred the policies that Edwards promotes to what either Hillary or Obama has announced, but both of them are very bright and educable. The most important thing about the policies either Obama or Hillary present in the campaign is still the 7,000 political appointees the incoming President will appoint to the Plum book positions anyway. Those are the people who will implement and shape the policies that the President directs, and the nature of our government will be determined by the collective character of those appointees, just as the collective character of the Bush administration has been determined by the appointees that Dick Cheney selected in 2000 and 2001.

As long as Democrats replace the Republican cronies, incompetents and Cheney's made men, either candidate will be a major step forwards for America. The most important point to remember is that both Hillary and Obama will be selecting the personnel from the same pool of Democrats, and they will be replacing the mostly incompetent and corrupt Republicans who hold those positions today. Ultimately, policy is more a personnel matter than it is one of campaign rhetoric.

It'll be nice to see political appointees who have read and understand the Constitution, unlike the un-American individuals like John Barton and David Addington or like FEMA's Michael Brown. Those personnel selections are much more important than which to the two otherwise very similarly qualified candidates the Democrats nominate. But of course, there is the Republican reaction to the ultimate Democratic nominee to consider.

Will Clinton's nomination energize the Republicans to oppose her? I live in Texas. Believe it. The nomination of Hillary for President will bring the crazies out of the walls and from under the rocks. The Republicans in the South and Texas are haters to begin with, and they make a fetish of Hillary-hating. But if you think they won't come out equally to defeat a Black man, you are living in a fantasy world. This is going to be the nastiest Presidential campaign I have ever been aware of, and that goes back to 1960.

As we Democrats make our choices for the Presidential nominee this year, we have a great opportunity. The differences - the reasons to choose one candidate over the other - are miniscule compared to the many, many great qualities they both bring to the race. For a while I thought that Obama would shake up the D.C. establishment more than Hillary, but as I watched Hillary in last Sunday's debate, I realized she already knows how to make the changes and Obama has to learn how to do it. She may not promise as much change as Obama does, but that may be because Obama doesn't know how difficult making all that change is going to be.

I can't even use identity politics to decide. First Black President vs. First Woman President? Both are outstanding steps forward for America, and neither significantly MORE important than the other. And still, I have to decide which to choose.

That is the real problem this year, of course. There are two really outstanding candidates to choose from, and we have to choose only one of them. For too long Americans have been offered only a single competent candidate for President. It has been easy to choose that one while putting down the others. The decision was made for us, we did not have to choose between two similar and essentially equally competent candidates.

The Press (especially TV) and a lot of people are trying to force the choice into the old decision-making model by anointing one candidate and down-rating the others. They don't know any other way to decide. They have never been offered two essentially equally qualified candidates and then been required to decide between them. When there are two such qualified candidates, the process of anointing one and demonizing the other will be clearly seen by many as unfair and simply wrong.

What we Democrats are going to have to do is each make our individual choices, then use institutional processes to select which candidate will be our party nominee. We should rejoice in the difficulty, because it means we are a lot less likely to make a mistake of the kind American made when Bush was selected in 2000. Neither Hillary nor Obama would have made the series of panicky and incompetent decisions as President that Bush did in 2001 and since. Our problem is a good one. When we choose our candidate, we will be selecting against an almost equally good candidate, and that can't be comfortable. But it is great for both America and for the Democratic Party. So I think I have made my decision. Now we have to go through the party selection process to see how everyone's individual decisions get lumped together.

My choice is down now to the fact that Hillary is a known quantity, and Obama is too new on the scene for me to believe that he is capable of doing what he promises. I simply do not think that Obama has been on the national political scene long enough to understand the overall complexity of America well enough to know which way to jump when he has to make a quick decision. Of course, as Somalia showed, Bill Clinton wasn't ready for the decisions that bush 41 dumped on him, either. JFK was handed a similar situation by Eisenhower when the Bay of Pigs invasion was initiated. Between Hillary and Obama I think that Hillary is better prepared.

So as I run my precinct primary election on March 4th and then run the caucus to choose delegates to the county convention, I'll go as a Hillary delegate.

Noise, venom and hurt feelings. There's a lot of that in political campaigns. The old saying that politics in academia is so nasty because there is so little at stake really applies here. Logic doesn't provide an easy decision when the choices are so equally matched, so all we have is politics. What we shouldn't forget, though, is that for the first time in half a century, either choice is probably as good as the other, and both are very, very good.

So from this perspective, here's what I see happening between now and the Democratic Convention.

I really think it is coming down to an effective tie for delegates when the Democratic voters and caucus-goers are counted, so the final decision is going to the 20% Superdelegates at the convention. Those are Democratic Party professionals and they will choose the person with the greatest likelihood of coattails. Since that will have the greatest power to build the Democratic Party, that's the way the decision needs to be made.

Undemocratic? Forget such kneejerk ideological reactions. There is more to consider than just voter impressions, especially when they are essentially tied. There is also the question of how to build a better Democratic Party, one able to prevent the conservatives from destroying America as it has for the last thirty to forty years. Jimmy Carter's worst flaw as President was that he did nothing to build the Democratic Party at a time when the Goldwaterites, John Birchers and unreconstructed Nixonites were bringing the political evangelists and Reagan Democrat racists into the Republican Party and building the Reagan coalition. Party-building matters. A strong Democratic Party is better for America and for Americans in the long run. If the voters are essentially tied when it is time to choose a Presidential nominee, then it is appropriate for the party professionals to consider the realities of electoral politics. If the superdelegates get it wrong, then American democracy will correct them on the first Tuesday in November. So as things look right now, the Superdelegates may make the final selection between Hillary and Obama, and that's not a bad thing to have happen. They really can't go wrong deciding between those two.

My bet is that Hillary will get the nomination. If so, I would hope she offers the Veep to Obama, and since he is young and desperately wants to become President someday, he'll take it. He'd be a fool not to. I remember the shock when Kennedy chose his bitter rival, LBJ and no one thought it something they could do, but they did it. This nomination hasn't been nearly that nasty.

On the reverse side, though, if Obama gets the nomination, then I'd love to see Hillary stay in the Senate and replace Harry Reid. I've seen reports that he isn't wild about the job and would be happy if Hillary took it. She'd be superb. (Obama doesn't have the experience yet.)

An Obama, Hillary, Pelosi government would be an outstanding opportunity for the Democrats to bring democracy back to the U.S. and break the stranglehold of the conservative movement, allowing America to work on the problems of the American people instead of the International corporations and the wealthy.

Since Romney suspended his campaign yesterday, it looks like McCain will be the Republican Presidential nominee. His challenge is going to be to unify the Republican base, get the radical extremist right-wingers and talk show hosts to vote for him, along with the social conservatives. If that's not challenge enough, he has to do it in such a way that he can draw in the independent voters. On top of that, McCain's support of the Iraq war and his known bad temper make him a person who will be easy to Goldwaterize as a radical crazy extremist militarist who cannot be trusted with nukes or the military. While I don't think that McCain will be easy to defeat, all the Republican swiftboaters in the country (see here and here) are not going to make McCain's success easy. I expect this to be the nastiest Presidential election I have ever seen.

What it all comes down to is that the Democrats need to get back into control and start to work to repair the damage done by thirty years of the Reagan Revolution and the conservative movement. Either of the two current candidates for the nomination can do that. We simply have to decide which one, and then all of us support that person. And we will!

The disaster of conservatism is about to be lifted from America's neck. We Democrats just have to decide which road we will take to get there.

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