Saturday, January 05, 2008

Waking Up To The Obama Victory

I have to say, my reaction to the Obama victory in Iowa is a lot like Kevin Drum's:
It's funny how sometimes you have to wait and see how you actually react to something to know how you're going to react to something. I've been sort of fitfully supporting Hillary Clinton for the past few months, but I have to say that I don't feel any disappointment tonight over her loss. Just the opposite, in fact. My arguments against Obama have mostly been fairly abstract ones, but emotionally I'm as susceptible to the famous Obama charm as anyone. And the idea of a young, charismatic, black guy as our next president is pretty damn inspiring. Just sayin'.
My regular readers know how much time and energy I've spent defending Hillary from the viciously sexist attacks being mounted by everybody from Chris Matthews to Andrew Sullivan, so you know I have nothing against her and (God knows) would gladly vote for her over any conceivable Republican in November. But I also must say that I don't find the prospect of voting for Hillary particularly exciting. She comes across as someone with a good resume, a good checklist of positions, a lot of intelligence and toughness--and a personality and style that may well be liabilities in a presidential candidate.

By contrast, Obama would earn slightly lower points from me for his resume and his policy positions (with the big exception of Iraq, where he is stronger than Clinton). But he has a big advantage on the personality front. He is a charismatic speaker and an energizing presence. And the events in Iowa suggest he may really be able to generate enough excitement among young people to make a meaningful difference in a general election.

And what about his (to me small) deficits on the resume and policy fronts? I'm not terribly worried about those things, for two reasons. One, I think resumes are usually overrated as measures of presidential potential. Looking back, I don't see much correlation between pre-presidential experience and presidential greatness. George H. W. Bush had a gold-plated resume in 1988, and was a mediocre president--a lot worse than Bill Clinton, whose resume was much more modest. Today, the most impressive resume (in terms of sheer "experience" and "credentials") is that of John McCain, who I think would be a crummy president.

Second, I don't find the policy differences among the three leading Democrats tremendously compelling. It's really pretty rare for newly-elected presidents to actually carry out the policies on which they ran in anything like their original form. Pressures from Congress, public opinion, and intervening events almost always play a major role in reshaping what presidents actually do. So I don't think the current differences among Obama, Clinton, and Edwards on (say) health care reform are terribly meaningful, nor do I expect those differences to correlate very closely with the kind of health care system we will actually end up with five years from today.

I've voted many times for Democratic candidates who made me feel the way I feel about Hillary--competent, smart people with good resumes and respectable policy positions who were unfortunately not very charismatic or effective as politicians. Every time, I said to myself, "Well, he's not the most exciting person, but he'll do a good job, and he'll certainly be better than the Republican." And all of that was true--but it didn't help Mondale or Dukakis or Kerry to get elected.

Which is why I have to admit I won't be heart-broken if Hillary ends up losing the nomination. I don't think this makes me sexist--does it?

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