Thoughts on the Democratic Primary

The primary is getting exhausting. It’s bad enough that anti-McCain smears get in-depth rebuttals by the media while anti-Obama smears get turned into debate questions. Now we have to deal with a fight on the Democratic side so nasty that it could drive voters away from the party and once again prove that Democrats have a supernatural ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. That said, despite how nauseating I’ve been finding the campaigns, there are some stark differences between the candidates. Here’s where I stand on the top three Dems.

Hillary Clinton – Right now, my approach towards the Democratic primary is ABC, Anyone But Clinton. She seems like a good enough person and I honestly believe that she’d be much better than any of the Republicans running for president. That said, I despise her campaign. I’m not to the Andrew Sullivan-level of irrational hatred, but I think the reasons for voting for her are largely bogus and the reasons to vote against her are mounting every day.

For starters, Clinton’s biggest selling point has been her “experience”, but as Timothy Noah wrote at Slate, Hillary’s claim of experience is incredibly dishonest :

[D]uring her husband’s two terms in office, Hillary Clinton did not hold a security clearance, did not attend meetings of the National Security Council, and was not given a copy of the president’s daily intelligence briefing. During trips to Bosnia and Kosovo, she “acted as a spokeswoman for American interests rather than as a negotiator.” On military affairs, most of her experience derives not from her White House years but from serving on the Senate armed services committee.

Even if she was able to claim Bill’s experience as her own, what is there to brag about? NAFTA? Welfare reform? Dont Ask, Don’t Tell? The Communications Decency Act? Easing media ownership laws? Defense of Marriage Act? If she wants to run on her husband’s record, then it’s worth pointing out that the Clinton Administration wasn’t the progressive paradise that she’s promising.

During the Clinton years, there was one big “accomplishment” that she can claim…her failure to enact universal healthcare. Considering that one of her biggest promises on the stump has been universal healthcare, I’d expect the “most experienced” candidate to have a better pitch in this regard than “second time’s the charm”. If Hillary can learn from the mistakes she made in 1994, who’s to say the other candidates can’t also learn those lessons?

Of course, another point against Hillary is that I don’t think she’s truly taken the lessons of the Clinton years to heart. She came into Washington in 1992 and the GOP establishment destroyed her and her husband. She was seen as arrogant for trying to use her position as first lady to strive for universal healthcare, demonized as a corrupt witch for Whitewater, and had to sit idly by while the GOP leadership in Washington dragged the nation through impeachment. Yet though all of that, she and Bill are still naive enough to believe that they can triangulate their way towards legislative victories and trust people who have shown them nothing but contempt.

Yet once Hillary became a Senator, for all of her talk about the “vast right-wing conspiracy”, she was foolish enough to give the benefit of the doubt to people who have proved themselves to be untrustworthy. She voted for the Iraq war, the bankruptcy bill, declaring Iran’s revolutionary Guard a Terrorist organization, etc. She’s obviously not as bad as the Republicans in this regard, but for somebody who’s been through the bullshit she’s been through, I’d expect a little more skepticism.

For all the futile centrism of the Clinton approach to governing, that same “play nice” act doesn’t seem to apply to her fellow Democratic candidates. After New Hampshire, she claimed to have “found [her] voice”, but the last two weeks make it clear that her campaign’s new voice is just as vile and two-faced as the old voice. This good cop / bad cop horseshit she’s been playing with her surrogates is shameful to watch. The worst part is, it’s probably going to work. If they get Obama to argue back, then they can subvert his post-partisan appeal by making it look like both sides are being nasty. Or they might just get lucky and some of their slander will catch on.

The best thing I can say about Hillary right now is that if she becomes the nominee, we’ll have a Democrat who isn’t afraid to bring a knife to a gun fight.

Barack Obama – I’ll cop to being won over by his speeches, being inspired to the point where I start to believe that he’ll be able to unite people behind a progressive agenda. When the excitement of his speeches wears off, however, I can’t help but think that Obama’s insistence that he can unite Americans behind him is as naive as Clinton’s that her experience will enable her to get universal healthcare through Congress.

After watching Edwards’ campaign fail over the last few weeks, Obama’s become my de facto candidate of choice (ABC, remember?). Unfortunately, looking at the polling over the last couple of contests, I think he’s screwed. He does great with independents, but that doesn’t win him the Democratic nomination. I’ve long assumed that Obama is more liberal than Hillary, but that really isn’t based on anything more than a hunch. It certainly isn’t supported by the substance of his stump speeches.

But I still suspect that Obama’s got a lefty radical side that we’re not seeing on the campaign trail. I was clicking around a few political sites when I found this photo that really struck me :


Drawing a flowchart titled “Relationships built on self interest” that connects corporations, banks, and utilities and draws a line showing the flow of money to elected officials? This is the kind of stuff that only John Edwards has been talking about in this campaign, yet it looks like Mr. Kumbaya was teaching “Rules For Radicals” classes. Where has this Obama been?

Downplaying his liberal past (and present?) isn’t doing him any favors among Democratic partisans. While it hurts him that Clinton has been out-polling him among Democratic voters, the real kicker is that Obama got his ass kicked in Nevada. Like Iowa, the primary seemed tailor-made for Obama. Since Nevada allowed same day registration, Obama should have been able to mobilize a lot of independent voters to the essentially open Democratic primaries. Also, like Iowa, the fact that it was a caucus should have delievered Obama a lot of “second choice” support, but with Edwards only getting 4%, the assumption that Edwards supporters would automatically go to Obama now seems discredited. Doing poorly in that caucus doesn’t bode well for the rest of the primary campaign.

Which is a shame because he’d be a better president than Hillary.

John Edwards – At this point it’s a foregone conclusion that he can’t win the nomination. I still think he’d be a great president, but the media blackout of his campaign made it an uphill battle. Assuming he loses in South Carolina as bad as he did in Nevada, then I’m guessing he’ll drop out. Or maybe stick it out until Super Tuesday. In fact, the same media who spent the last year ignoring his campaign is now finally paying attention, but only to wonder aloud whether or not he’ll play “kingmaker”.

I hope he sticks around. It would be easy for Edwards to follow the standard losing campaign playbook and use a concession speech to drop out and maybe endorse either Obama or Clinton. Considering that Edwards has been bringing up issues that the other mainstream candidates would rather avoid addressing (like the stranglehold corporate lobbies have over our democratic process), it would be a letdown to lose his advocacy on the campaign trail. If Obama or Clinton want the support of the remaining Edwards voters, they should earn it by addressing the issues that Edwards has made the centerpiece of his campaign.