Make no mistake about it. I remain a Hillary Clinton supporter. But I despair that she has lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama. She has lost the Wisconsin primary election tonight by at least 15% if not more. She may not have organized to win the Wisconsin primary as Obama did but clearly the voters knew her and they decided to support Obama. And, as various commentators have remarked, Wisconsin’s demographics are the kind that, if not unequivocally favoring Clinton, didn’t put her at any distinct disadvantage. It has a primarily white electorate with a substantial percentage of working class families.
While Ohio and Texas, and Pennsylvania, have not yet voted, I now expect that Obama will continue to surge and win those primaries as well. Do I continue to hope that Hillary will be able to reverse her slide in Ohio and Texas? Yes. Do I expect that to happen? No longer. Do I nonetheless urge voters to support her in those states? Absolutely. I was hoping for a smaller margin of defeat tonight that might have suggested that the time and energy she put into Wisconsin during the last week had paid off in making the race closer but the outcome suggests otherwise.
How to explain what has happened? I don’t claim any particular insight. It appears that Clinton did not organize in enough states. I don’t know the details but it appears that she pretty much wrote off the caucus states and perhaps many states that ultimately tend to vote Republican in the general election. But I don’t think her problems are primarily rooted in tactics or even her strategies. Barack Obama has captured the imagination of many Americans, particularly young Americans, African-Americans, upscale liberals, but not only them. A very dear friend who enjoys politics almost as much as I do wrote to me recently in response to my blog to explain why he is supporting Obama. He is a married, white, male in his 50’s. He wrote:
I think what you see is the American people starting to coalesce around this guy and throwing under the bus all the also-ran pols. He is creating a sense that things don't have to be the same, we don't have to accept more of the same with a Clinton or another Bush, not anymore. This young man has talent and an ability to unify people behind a vision that we are all in this thing together. Instead of focusing on cutting up the pie and divvying up the spoils and triangulating, I hear him saying, let's focus and work on what unites us and not what divides us. McCain has some of that, Clinton does not. Of course it is a great risk that he will have set expectations too high, but he is bright and no one expected him to get this far, so let's see. The Momentum game is interesting, but in the end this election is about a wave of expectation that things can be different and better for and between us. I hope he keeps going.
My reaction to my friend’s statements? I think he very articulately captured Obama’s emotional appeal to so many Americans including himself. But that tends to scare me as I can’t help but feel that he has been taken in by Obama’s political hyperbole. I remain unmoved by Obama’s rhetoric and unconvinced that he represents the best choice for president.
The notion that Hillary Clinton is the past while Barack Obama is the future is, in my view, pure nonsense. Her positions on social policy are as enlightened and forward looking as his. If she can be accused of seeking to take a moderate path, knowing that most Americans are in the political center, Obama has been even more attentive to cultivating support among moderates and preaching unity and common purpose, terms that tend to suggest a middle ground. And if triangulation is the act of a candidate presenting his or her ideology as being "above" and "between" the left and right sides of the political spectrum, I humbly suggest that Obama has been far more active and far more successful in portraying himself in that vein. He tacks left on one issue and right on another, appeals to the left in one context but to the moderate on another, all the while remaining purposefully vague.
As to Obama’s constant calls for unity and overcoming political division, what exactly does he mean? Are we to expect that Obama will bring America together on a woman’s right to choose, abortion rights or the right to life? Or on same sex marriage? How about on gun control? Will Obama bridge the gap between blue and red on immigration policy? Or on trickle down economics and American fiscal and monetary policy? Is Obama the one to make the hard choices on social security and Medicare and then be able to effectuate them? Will Obama, most recently exhorting his followers to join him to change the world, resolve the Israeli-Arab dispute, eliminate al Qaida, bring peace between India and Pakistan, restore America to hegemony vis-à-vis China and other parts of an economically surging Asia? Frankly, I doubt it. Do I believe Hillary will accomplish such worthy goals? No, but she is not campaigning on a platform of changing the world.
I’m not opposed to optimism when it comes to problem solving. But I find Obama’s rhetoric short on answers and long on buzzwords. Effectuating real change is enormously difficult. It takes much less for groups to maintain the status quo than to alter it. Change usually involves conflict and struggle. But to hear Obama talk of it, change is incredibly simple. Join his camp, vote for his election and you’re on the way to a better world. I’m sorry if I remain incredulous. Will Democratic voters in Ohio and Texas come to their senses and vote for Hillary? I hope so but I’ve begun to seriously doubt it.⌂