US Politics

Obama: Smart, Savvy Moderate is Best Hope for US

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 28, 2008

Hillary Clinton, like former president Bill Clinton, is a moderate Republican: corporatist, pro-war, socially conservative, friendly to big business, and possessed of a sense of privilege that she somehow intrinsically deserves the Democratic nomination.

Partly as a result of her sense of entitlement, she has run a lazy, sloppy, uncoordinated campaign that is hemorrhaging money and inadvertently exposing its ugly and dysfunctional inner workings as advisors quit, landlords are left high and dry, and Clinton has to loan her campaign millions of dollars of her own money to stay afloat.

Her reaction to Obama's tightly focussed, well-organized, broadly supported and well funded campaign has been to go negative, and I mean GOP hit squad negative: subtly fanning rumours that Obama is a Muslim, accusing him of plagiarism, accusing him of doubletalk over NAFTA, smearing his religion, claiming relentlessly that he has no experience, dismissing Obama's electoral victories and calling the states he wins insignificant, airing the ridiculous fearmongering "3 AM phone call" attack ad, and even going so far as to claim repeatedly that McCain is more experienced and better prepared to be president than Obama (though she backpedaled later).

One of the many bitter ironies of her campaign is that she, herself, is actually the candidate guilty of the attacks she has made against him: plagiarizing other people's lines, fabricating her 'experience', changing her story about NAFTA, and so on.

Out of the Gutter

The Obama campaign's measured, fact-based rebuttals against her smears demonstrate his competence and integrity, both at thinking on his feet and at surrounding himself with smart, capable, reality-based advisers.

His impressive speech on race, written by himself and delivered after the Clinton campaign tried to smear him over comments made by his former pastor, actually transformed a potential liability into an asset by elevating the discussion out of the gutter and - gasp - treating Americans like grownups for a change.

Her latest bullying tactic has been to sic a cabal of multimillionaire Clinton donors on Nancy Pelosi, implicitly threatening to boycott the party unless Pelosi reverses her position that the superdelegates ought to follow the will of the party membership.

Clinton: Sacrificing the Party to Save the Nomination

Obama is ahead in the popular vote, ahead in delegates won, ahead in states won, ahead in nearly every demographic, ahead in national polls, and ahead against McCain.

The only way Clinton can possibly win is if Obama totally flames out over the next couple of months in some appalling scandal, if she manages to convince the Democratic National Committee to change the rules and allow the Michigan and Florida votes to be counted, or if a large majority of superdelegates overturns the popular vote and hands her the nomination.

The first is highly unlikely, since Obama already aired all the skeletons in his closet a few years ago in his autobiography; the second would be patently unfair, as Obama wasn't even on the Michigan ballot, while the third would almost certainly tear the Democratic Party asunder and hand the election to McCain.

In fact, her campaign has been so vituperative that some pundits are actually starting to wonder if handing this election to McCain is actually Clinton's fall-back plan, giving her another shot at the presidency in 2012.

Another theory is that she's angling to be McCain's running mate. Since she's a de facto pro-war Republican anyway, this actually makes political sense, but it would be "bipartisanship" in the worst possible sense - a total Democratic capitulation to the statist Republican agenda.

Real Political Competence for a Change

Obama is no political messiah. He's a middle-of-the-road moderate (albeit with liberal tendencies), and he's more interested to "move forward" than to enforce the rule of law among existing criminals in government.

At the same time: he has run an incredibly smart, efficient and effective political campaign. He demonstrates common sense and political savvy even while under attack, he has good instincts, he understands the Constitution and is committed to upholding it, he takes special pains to be honest and factual in his dealings, he is capable of writing his own speeches, and he manages to reach out to people who live in different political worlds.

Clinton's and Obama's platforms are substantially identical; the real difference will inhere in how each responds to real events and crises as they arise. Clinton's 3 AM fearmongering notwithstanding, Obama seems to have a much better track record of making good decisions on the fly - the archetypal example being their respective decisions about Bush's war in Iraq.

Since the case against war was so compelling even in 2002, we can only assume that either Clinton was incapable of making a sound political decision or she chose expediency - not wanting to appear "weak" on national security - over policy. Either way, it bodes ill for her capacity to govern well.

Engaging Citizens

Perhaps most important, Obama eschews the dirty, meanspirited politics of personal attacks and smearmongering. Instead, he inspires people to believe that it really is possible to do politics differently. In a country whose government has spent most of a decade trying to prove the adage that government can't do anything right, this is a terribly important quality.

A whole generation of young Americans have come of age believing that the Bush administration represents government in general and are in real danger of abandoning politics altogether. Unlike Clinton and McCain, Obama is having great success at engaging those otherwise-disaffected young citizens.

To the extent that engaged citizens are necessary for a healthy democracy, there's no overstating the importance of this political inspiration in a country in which fewer than half of eligible voters bother to turn out on election day.

It's telling that Obama has managed to secure donations from over a million individual citizens, many of whom had never donated money to a campaign before. That's a tremendous accomplishment in a political oligarchy of top-down power brokers, and it helps to explain why Obama continues to outraise Clinton despite her tighter institutional backing.

The Experience that Matters

Ultimately, a victory for Clinton would be a victory for business as usual in the dysfunctional American political system, or what Ruth Rosen calls "the politics of fear" and Frank Rich calls "the audacity of hopelessness".

Obama, by contrast, manages to turn problems into opportunities - in other words, almost precisely what the USA needs right now. He managed this deftly in his handling of the Reverend Wright affair.

Obama's disagreement with Wright is not on the underlying facts of racist oppression but rather on whether, and how, it can be overcome (naturally, he argues that it can). The fact that he managed to communicate what - in the mainstream of US political discourse, at least - is a complex idea in a way that resonated with millions of people tells us a lot about what he would be like as the president of a horribly divided, badly mismanaged country.

This is the kind of experience that matters. He's written two books - by which I mean he sat down and wrote the books, not that he let himself be interviewed by a ghostwriter - was a lecturer in constitutional law, and cut his teeth as a community organizer in Chicago, a job that entails lots and lots of meetings and is based almost entirely on building relationships, not machiavellian tactics.

Back in 1992, a young, inexperienced Democractic candidate came seemingly out of nowhere to win the nomination, win the election after a long run of Republican presidency, and reinvigorate the party. At the time, Hillary Clinton was that young, inexperienced politician's spouse and political partner.

How much times have changed; how much they have remained the same.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By MediaWatch (anonymous) | Posted March 29, 2008 at 09:31:07

Obama is inspirational. Hillary is a fighter. Send a fighter to challenge the Republican spin mean machine before you send in pollyanna!

The media is now picking up on issues the Karl Roverites will exploit...Obama's racist reverend; Obama's suspect financier, Obama's less than patriotic wife, Obama's race....all will be worked against him, with race being part of the whisper negative campaign.

Hillary can withstand the shots; Obama will not.
And it will be 4 more years of Bush Sr., Bush Lite and McCain's policies of war and division.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted March 31, 2008 at 14:52:38

I don't normally weigh in on US politics, but I thought Obama's race speech carried the most balanced and inspirational words from a President since JFK's "strategies of peace" that ends with "not merely peace in our time but peace for all time."

He is exactly the kind of person who can deal with the 3 am phone call without escalating it into another bloodbath.

Hillary sinks almost to the level of Rove etc. by taking them on, Obama can do much better by refusing to play that game. I think America, and all of us, want to hear more inspiration and less fighting.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2008 at 00:13:46

i can't imagine it truly mattering who wins the nomination and subsequent presidential race. that said, perhaps the world will be a slightly more tolerable place with obama as president. and you've gotta admit, it would be pretty wild having a black man named obama as el presidente de los estados unidos.

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By Lora-Lee (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2008 at 20:10:34

This article fairly disgusted me.

I can't believe you're still spouting the sort of enraptured Obamania optimism crap that we were all, for good or ill, so comprehensively exposed to for a month or so after the Iowa win. Get over it - Obama is not a messiah. He is finesse, rhetoric, and the product of a vigorous anti-establishment movement in the Democratic party - nothing more. It is evident that even the American news media has generally put the messianic portrayal behind them. I'm rather disheartened to see that you have not.

To suggest that Obama is above vituperation is hopelessly ingenuous. Every vague remark, every doubt expressed as to the practicality of Obama's platform or his qualifications to serve as national leader has been spun beyond reason into a racially loaded attack. This is politicking of the lowest order and certainly on par with the most invidious tactics of the Clinton campaign.

To call Clinton a moderate Republican is absurd. She is indeed an establishment candidate, but the establishment which she represents is unmistakeably Democratic. If you cannot understand this, and the distance at which Obama stands from the Democratic core, then you really are not fit to be commenting on American politics.

In sum, your naiveté here is laughable.

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By David (anonymous) | Posted April 05, 2008 at 17:03:15

The Clintons already had their "fling" - pun much intended - and not only in office but in other ways before their presidency which a lot of people must have forgotten. They are a group of criminals. I can't say Obama is the one for the job, and frankly with the dismal condition the US will find itself as Bush hands over the keys, perhaps all the candidates are just the ones dumb enough to think they can manage the mess, or don't care about the outcome as long as they get into the history books. But one thing is for sure, the country needs a new direction, and the government needs to restore openness with the people, and restore dignity to the office. That's not a job for Bill's 3rd term. And the country needs to get out of the repeating rut of Bush, Clinton, Bush, and then Clinton again. There are more than 2 families in the country.

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By JesseJames (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2008 at 07:38:19

If am not mistaken there never was a black american president. In my own opinion also, America became a world power because all along it was governed by white americans. The original americans are whites never were they blacks. I do not see any good reason why americans should try a black man to govern america. Whites in america is a majority. I find it not only absurd but foolish of americans to allow themselves to be governed by a miniority black. Americans should look around worldwide. Countries that used to prosper with white governments are starting to crumble when blacks took over. We see these happen in Africa.

If americans no more like the Republicans, they should switch or vote into power the Democrats. Likewise, Democrats black or white should go Clinton because she is the strongest contender in the race for presidency. Obama is too weak to run againts the white Republican Mcain because white voters are a majority in America. It would be therefore the worst blunder for the Democratic Party to support Obama's bid for presidency.

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By Serious (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2008 at 10:32:47

Jesse James scares me.

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By JesseJames (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2008 at 22:43:10

Serious

If you are a democrat, you should open your eyes to the reality of American politics. I am urging all the democrats to open thier eyes wide to this reality. I understand Obama is quite popular with the young voters. Young people are hasty and go for the young and agressive, too; but they do not really understand the overall result or consequences for the wrong choice that they have made. America is a beautiful country. I hope Americans do not bring it to the dogs like the Zimbabweans did to their country.

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By Vic (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2008 at 13:02:13

That's funny, James. Bush is your whiter-than-white good ol' Southern boy . . . and look what he has done to "benefit" the u.s. and the entire world.

Additionally, race is becoming less and less "black and white", both literally and figuritively. That kind of change is imperitive to human social and biological development.

Any one who feels that race actually accounts for anything like leadership qualities is sorely mistaken. Race is merely the excuse those in power used to malign and marginalize human beings for their own personal gain. The reason you see one particular race ghettoized is due to them having been forced their by "higher" powers.

The return of leadership to the rightful heirs in a FEW communities (which you seem to believe makes up the guideline for every situation) is actually accurately attributed to the lack of experience of those in the position, and the incredible downward spiral the previous administrators forced them in to before departing. Given time and perhaps a few helpful nudges, they will be able to live up to the potential of being exceptional leaders.
But then, we are all human beings, so even they may end up being tyrrants like others before them. Ethnicity will never determine that.

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