Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I Pulled The Lever For Obama

Forced by the calendar to make a choice between Hillary and Obama (today of course is primary day here in New York), I broke with certain members of my family whose opinions I deeply respect and cast my ballot for Obama. I would certainly be happy to vote for either Hillary or Obama in November--not just as a superior alternative to any likely Republican, but as a genuinely talented leader with smarts and good instincts that I think would make a fine president.

I voted for Obama partly on the (admittedly weak) grounds that he is probably the underdog in the nominating race. I wouldn't have wanted Hillary to cruise to an easy nomination, which is what many pundits were predicting six months ago; I have enough concerns about her hawkish foreign policy leanings and her apparent accommodation to corporatist interests that I want her to suffer a bit (figuratively speaking) before being nominated. (A vote for Edwards would have been even more effective in lodging this sort of "protest.")

If Obama had a big lead, I would probably have voted for Hillary. I wouldn't want him to cruise to an easy nomination, either.

On a more logical plane, I find that James Fallows does a fine job of summarizing the way I see the pros and cons of both candidates. I'll quote him at some length:
--On domestic and economic and environmental policy, it's a wash. The Clinton and Obama positions are similar to each other and different from any Republican's. Some people think there is a huge difference in their health-care proposals. Having seen administrations come and go, I am absolutely certain that the difference between Clinton's and Obama's stated objectives in 2008 matters much, much less than what either of them will be able to get through the Congress in 2009 and afterward. Thus: an important distinction in domestic policy is which candidate will bring in a larger bloc in Congress to work with.

--On foreign policy, Clinton and Obama actually do differ, and I agree with him more than with her. He (like Al Gore) was against invading Iraq before it happened; she was for it. He (like Jim Webb) opposed the infamous Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which at the time was undeniably an attempt to legitimize military action against Iran; she voted for it. (Obama, to his discredit, failed to show up to cast his No vote, but his position was not in doubt.) He has criticized the current flat-earth idiotic US policy toward Cuba; she has defended it (as Fareed Zakaria has pointed out in a strong recent essay). I understand the argument that Sen. Clinton has to take these positions to maintain her "credibility" and appearance of strength. To me that matters less than that she keeps voting in what I consider the wrong way. Thus: the positions and "mindsets" differ, and and I like his better.

--On style and governing philosophy, she is for incremental policies and incremental politics--"experience" and "competence"--based on the underlying belief that Republican obstructionism makes nothing else possible. Not even for a dreamer like Obama. He obviously is trying for something more--as Bill Clinton was in 1992, when I preferred him to an incomparably more experienced and time-tested President.

--On straight electability, just unknowable. Given that everyone in the country already knows her and a large minority say they don't like her, a narrow victory seems the most that is within Hillary Clinton's grasp. People can argue that Obama would be capable of much more--or, on the contrary, even less, and that not even a narrow win would be possible once the smear machine got through with him. There is simply no way to be sure now, when it's time to vote. Thus: also a wash.

--On diversity and opportunity, a breakthrough either way. But on a deeper level of "diversity," we have the prospect of returning a husband-and-wife team--Bill Clinton's emergence has made this unignorable--already in the White House for eight years, versus fresh blood.

Any vote for anybody is a gamble. Who imagined that the George Bush of 2000, with his "compassionate conservatism" and critiques of "nation building," would become the man we've known in office? We have no idea what surprises will confront a President Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or Romney, or McCain, or how they might respond. We have to place bets--roll the dice, if you will--based on what we do know, which for me is the elements above.
Like Fallows, I think "electability" is a chimera. And like Fallows, I don't place a lot of importance on the details of the candidates' respective health care programs, although here I part company with my aforementioned family members as well as other people I respect, such as Paul Krugman.

Note that, in his column, Fallows never actually tells us whom he would vote for--he just lists these as the main elements he would consider in making a choice. But to me, the combined logic of these points adds up, though narrowly, to a vote for Obama.

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