Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama vs. Clinton: Making a Convincing Argument?

One of my blog readers emailed me the other day and told me they were still on the fence about whether to vote for Hillary or Barack. Then this question was posed: You are vehemently opposed to Clinton; could you outline why for me?

I always like an honest question and I really respect this person based on what I've garnered from their blogging and comments, so I approached this with enthusiasm and reciprocal honesty. Here's what I wrote:

Let me say at the start that I have absolutely loved this year's presidential race. It's had a little bit of everything in terms of diversity: gender, race, religion, veteran status, marital status. I think this is the first race I've a) been truly, actively engaged in and b) felt like it was really representative of America. I mean, we have/had a woman, a black man, a Mormon, a Vietnam vet and former POW, a minister, a single man, a Hispanic. It's just been so breathtaking and exciting to watch.

That said, I've been watching Hillary and Barack with great interest and hope. As a woman, I want so very badly to vote for a woman and have a woman president. I find it ironic and unacceptable that as the greatest democracy in the world, we have yet to have a woman president. Meanwhile, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Greece, Germany, and Great Britain have all had/have female leaders. In the case of India and Pakistan, I find this particularly gratifying and ironic and wonder, "Why the hell can't American have the same?!"

Here's the thing, though. As much as I love that Hillary is running for president, I'm just not convinced she's the woman who should be setting the precedent for a future of women presidents. When George Washington was president, he understood the magnitude of the office he had taken and how the perceptions he would create would form how the office was handled after him. After his two terms, Washington could have easily been anointed king, he was so loved and respected, but instead he stepped down and paved the way for the precedent we have today: a democratically elected officer charged with defending and protecting the Constitution of the United States.

My fear with Hillary is, she'll set the wrong tone and precedent for leadership as a woman. She--or any woman for that matter--is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, she would need to be strong and forceful--almost man-like in her demeanor and decisions, otherwise, she'll be seen as soft and wishy-washy, which is a bad precedent to set. On the other hand, in overcompensating for the perceived weaknesses in women, she'll be seen as harsh and a bitch. Either way, she'll have to delicately tread a line between being a strong female and being a compassionate male.

My other concern is, the baggage she brings with her. I love Bill and I think he was a great president. I think Hillary will be a great president. But just as Bush Jr. brought daddy's croonies and baggage to the White House with him, I fear Hillary will be burdened with the same. More than that, I fear Bill will meddle in ways that will cast a pall over her presidency and she'll be judged for Bill's meddling and not for her own brilliance and accomplishments. If she (and he) would issue a statement outlining and delimiting his role as First Gentleman now, that would go a long way toward clarifying and reassuring many voters who perhaps are dubious about her presidency based on his influence in that presidency.

I don't know if that makes sense. Let me see if I can clean that up a bit. If he said, "As First Gentleman, I'm going to continue focusing on the philanthropic work I've been engaged in as a former president and I will serve at the pleasure of the president, but mostly I'm going to step back into the shadows and quietly support my wife", I'd feel a bit more reassured because I know he'd have a focus for his legendary energy and passion and, while he'd be an asset on some policy issues, he'd understand that he needs to be asked first rather than asserting himself. I don't think he can do that and that could bite Hillary in the ass big time, leaving her ineffectual as a president. (She'd look like she was hanging onto Bill's sleeve like a little girl.)

The other thing that worries me about Hillary is, she's so polarizing. You either love her or you hate her. There's no in- between. I think, as a party and as a nation, we have too much at risk in this election and we'll be faced with a lesser-of-two-evils scenario. If people have to choose between McCain and Clinton, most will choose McCain, especially among male voters. While I'd love to see a woman in the White House, I'm willing to wait another four or eight years for that to happen if having her as the Democratic nominee means McCain will end up as president. We need to be unified (which, as the primaries show, we still aren't and that's beginning to look bad for us and good for McCain, who is currently asserting himself as very presidential with his tour of the Middle East and visit with Britain's PM, Gordon Browne) and Hillary isn't a very unifying voice or personality.

Finally, there's an arrogance and hubris about Hillary that is just as disturbing as the arrogance and hubris shown by McCain. Having lived and worked in Washington as long (or as short, depending on your perspective) as I have, I'm sick and tired of that attitude of entitlement, self-righteousness, backstabbing, and arrogance that permeates politicians and the work that is done in this town. Obama may be naive, as some pundits have suggested, but I'll take that right now over hubris. It can't be any worse than what we currently have.

I want very badly to vote for Hillary and if it comes down to a McCain-Clinton competition, of course I will. But I'm really hoping for Obama. He strikes me as a man of wisdom, confidence, hope, vision, and healing. If he is elected president, he'll spend his entire presidency proving himself, but I think he can do it and be effective (or, at least, as effective as one can be as president when you're battling Congress, lobbyists, and special interests.) I think he'll surround himself with wise, smart people and won't engage in cronyism. He has less baggage and fewer favors he owes, so he can pick good people like Clinton the First did and was able to do. (Bush Jr. surrounded himself foolishly with daddy's hand-me-downs--Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, I think was a mistake. Clinton the Second will likely do the same, taking on some of Clinton the First's old advisors and cabinet members. That would be a mistake.)

That's alot. I'll stop there. No wait! I'll add this. I've just said I don't think Hillary is the right woman at this time. Problem is, I'm not sure who the right woman would be at this time or any other time in the near-ish future. There are so few extraordinary women in the national political arena right now, it's discouraging. If Hillary is the best we've got, well... I think we can do better and it might be worth the wait.

P.S. Let me add this anecdote, too.

The other day, I had a rare political conversation with my mother and sister. To my great shock, my mother--who is a dyed-in-the-wool, redder-than-red, I-think-GeorgeWBush-is-God Republican--said, "If it comes down to a McCain-Obama election, I'll vote for Obama." I nearly fell out of my chair, I couldn't believe. She then went on to say that if it comes down to McCain-Clinton, she'll vote for McCain. (No surprise there. But my mother? Vote for Obama?! Hell must be getting ready to freeze over!)

I think a lot of folks in America may feel similarly in both parties. There are those on the Republican side who can't stand McCain and are horrified he's the presumptive nominee. If Obama ends up as the Democratic nominee, they'll vote for him as the lesser-of-two evils. On the Democratic side and throughout the Republican party, if Clinton ends up as the Democratic nominee, there are moderate Dems and a lot of Independents, as well as all of the disgruntled, I-don't-like McCain Republicans who will vote for McCain simply as the perceived lesser-of-two-evils.

That said, if the Democratic ticket ends up either Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton, I don't think either is a bad choice. What you'll get are folks who will vote for Clinton as president, but as they're pushing the button, they're really voting for Obama. Same thing if the ticket is Obama-Clinton. You'll have people voting for Obama, but only because Clinton is on the ticket. I'm hoping, if Clinton ends up on top, that Obama will have the humility to accept the running mate's position, but I doubt it. Clinton sort of jumped the gun on that a couple of weeks ago and should have waited until after all of the primaries before extending that offer to Obama (that's part of what I mean about hubris. If the tables were turned and Obama did the same to Clinton, I'd be disappointed in his presumptiveness. Both of them need to cool their heals, finish the primary process and then see where they're at.)


Cele said...

Between your arguements and Obama's actions, words, and demenor of the past few days, my mind has been made up.

Adriana Velez said...

Well reasoned argument. I wonder if it's less a matter of being the right woman and more a matter of Americans finally being ready for a different kind of leadership.

Did you hear that Tracy Morgan commentary on SNL? In response to Tina Fey's commentary in support of Hilary -- "Bitches get things done... bitch is the new black!" Tracy said "black is the new president, bitch!" Of course, he preceded that line with lots of "you know I love you, Tina."

j.m. tewkesbury said...

Cele: I've been impressed by him in the last several days, too. What a classy guy!

Adriana: Good question. I think for me it's a bit of both: I'm not sure Hillary is the right woman and I'm ready for a different kind of leader. I heard a little bit about Tracy's commentary, but not much. In truth, I can't stand him. Love Tina Fey, though. Her 30 Rock is brilliant.