Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I Promise Not to Drown You With Politics


I didn't have the blog in 2004 (it's hard to remember America without it, I know), so apologies if presidential politics isn't your thing. I'll be returning to the subject from time to time, but if it hogs the spotlight here for a few days, that's only because the last week seems strongly indicative of several trends. Here are three:

1. The media is absolutely, purely, objectively Evil. I do not like Hillary Clinton. Aside from John McCain, I do not particularly like any of the leading Republican candidates. But I watched several hours of election coverage last night, and whatever my cynicism about many of the candidates, that was dwarfed by what became, by bedtime, a stomach-churning disgust for the media.

This isn't new for me. We all know how bad it can be. But something's happened. It's gone from Bad to Irretrievable. The entire night was the story of the shallow media analyzing its own shallow analyses: A week ago, we thought Obama had little chance! Three days ago, we thought he was a human tsunami! Tonight, Hillary Clinton is pulling off the greatest political victory in the history of civilization! All of those arguments could have been proven wrong, at the time they were being made, by anyone with even a modicum of brain power and just a minute or two for quiet reflection.

I've been thinking a lot about the emphasis given to Iowa and New Hampshire. Complaints about the disproportion between their trendsetting power and their population are common. Increasingly so. And for many years, I've felt those complaints were valid. Now, at the very least, I'm on the fence. Iowa and New Hampshire may be small and homogenous (I've thought of the Onion's headline for last night, if they want it: "White People to Other White People: 'Not So Fast'."), but that first adjective is appealing to me. It's often said that local politics are what matter most, and in these two states, at least presidential hopefuls can approximate knowing people on a local level -- and, more importantly, vice versa. Larger states may have a claim for greater influence, but in those states almost everything is transacted through the media. After watching the media's performance last night -- mostly on CNN and MSNBC -- I'd like to keep as much as humanly possible out of its hands.

2. The Democrats don't want the White House. The clearest lesson of the past week, to me, is this: Even with a substantial early lead, barrels of resources, and a widely loved ex-president as her husband, Hillary Clinton requires a life-and-death struggle just to barely win over her own party. Given the current animus for President Bush across party lines, it's become impossible to say with certainty that Hillary is unelectable. But I've never been one to stand around waiting for certainty before I bellow an opinion, so here goes: Hillary is unelectable. Parsing why so many people have an instinctive dislike of her is useless. Maybe that instinct is completely unfair, unfounded. It can still keep her from winning the presidency, even if she runs against Huckabee or Romney. If she runs against McCain, she gets creamed -- and deservedly so. As one of Andrew Sullivan's readers wrote:
As a lifelong Democrat, come February 6th, I am rerolling (as the kids with their fancy computer games like to say) Independent. This party would rather brawl with, and lose to, the Republicans out in the schoolyard than try to come together and achieve anything loftier than keeping Roe v. Wade as good law. Someone get me a McCain '08 sticker ... These current Dems would have nominated Adlai Stevenson over Kennedy in 1960.
3. The Clintons are loathsome. Some reporters last night were trying to determine why the NH vote swung toward Hillary so late in the day. (By the way, I'm not shocked she won. If you are, seek help.) The possible reasons included "Hillary's show of emotion" and "Bill's anger." In short, whatever momentum the Clintons gained back came because they orchestrated their usual soap-operatic grotesqueness. From Bill's biting his lip and feeling our pain in the '90s, to Hillary's choked-up (and ludicrous) denial that her quest for power is "personal," to Bill's purposeful misreading over the past few days of Obama's statements about the war...the parade marches on.

It's funny. Most people I know who really love the Clintons are more liberal than I am. The thing I always figure liberals would dislike about them -- the solidly centrist agenda that Bill hewed to while in office -- is the very thing I like about them. But what I hate about them -- the smarmy, see-through act of them -- seems to resonate with many people. To make a last-ditch effort at turning this post into something tidy, even palindromic:



Blogger Dustin said...

John --

Respectfully, a couple of weeks ago, I was very unsure about who I wanted to vote for, Hillary or Obama. I think Obama is the better person; I think he's a helluva speech giver; I love his politics; and he could inspire me to leap off the Golden Gate bridge. But, like a lot of folks (esp. those from Arkansas), I have a powerful connection to Bill, so I waffled, really, up until you linked to that TV Guide article about Obama's favorite show being "The Wire" and Hillary's being "American Idol." There was something horribly false about that, which weirdly made my mind up for me.

But then, yesterday, as folks were going to the polls, I suspect a lot of them in NH felt just as I did: I'd love to see Obama win, but I'd hate to see Hillary lose even more. And I got kind of queasy about the thought of Hillary losing, not because Obama isn't a great guy, but because underneath those rousing speeches, I just got the feeling that Obama might not be able to be the sometimes ugly, calculating, political, shrewd, nasty person you need to be when you're going up against the Christian Right and Ralph Reed and William Bennett. And seeing the way that Obama folded yesterday when Bill took him to task (perhaps unfairly) for those comments about the war, I kind of saw John Kerry beneath those incredible speeches -- a guy that might get steamrolled by Congress and by the future Karl Roves of America. Maybe Bill was out of line, but the Republicans are going to be far worse than that.

So, by night's end, I was rooting heavily for Hillary. Not because she was the lesser of two evils, but because she was the greater of two Evils. And there is something very appealing to me about a powerful woman who is capable of politically outmaneuvering her opponents and kicking a little political ass. That's the sort of person I want in the White House -- someone that can put the beat down on the Republicans. Not someone who is gonna try to woo them with "sea to shining sea" speeches, which I fear won't have much affect on the Republican leaders. Maybe it's the cynic in me, after 8 years of getting pushed around, I want a big bully standing up for my political beliefs.

I won't disagree with you on your statements about the media, though. It was a gross display last night, but I just wanted to suggest that, for some folks, there is a reasoned explanation for Hillary's victory last night.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Beckylooo said...

Wow Dustin. I'm flummoxed. While I completely disagree with the way you chosen to frame your decision, I can't argue with any of your points. If you want a calculating, political attack dog, Hillary is most definitely your girl. But I don't think that means Barack doesn't have fight in him. You don't get to where he is without being a fighter.

That aside, John, I almost wholly agree with you, though I do think Hillary's electable, albeit just barely. But you you should know, the people I know who love Hillary feel that way because they've met her. They say she's warm and funny and kind and that the image of her we get through the media is horribly distorted.

In closing, fuck Chris Matthews and all those misogynistic assholes.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Subconscious Mind said...

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9:52 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Agreed, the Clintons, and Hillary in particular, are dirtbags. When I watch Obama speak, he's not trying to sell me anything. There's no shady "what do I have to do to get you in this car today" feel to it.

More importantly, the Clintons (and I would say a good chunk of their supporters) are all still living the '60s and the politics of the Me Generation (maybe the most accurate but worst fucking name ever). Hillary is right when she says the campaign is personal, because for people in that age range, all political or policy differences have become personal differences and have produced a country that is divided into two camps.

So as much as she, and all the other candidates of that generation, say they embody change, only younger candidates like Obama really understand that you can, as he put it, "disagree without being disagreeable." Which after the zenith of partisan bickering in the last few years, I would say we need to move towards now.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Dezmond said...

I generally lean towards the Republicans. Who would I least like to face on the Dem side? Obama. I think Hillary is more beatable. The Repubs have a chance if they nominate my candidate, McCain, or maybe Rudy (my second favorite). Huckabee is a smooth talker, but he has little substance. Romney is quite accomplished and a smart guy, but lots of people fear Mormons, so he is not electable.

I have been excited about Obama, despite my natural political leanings. I think a lot of people like me who inhabit that vast middle ground would feel the same way about Obama. I would still probably vote on the Repub side, but Obama would at least have a chance to sway me during the course of an election. But Hillary? You've got approximately 50% of this country who NO WAY, NO HOW would even consider voting for her. I am one of those people. I thought her BS crying act would be a huge mistake and would hurt her, but instead those gullible NH voters fell for the Clinton tricks. If there ever was an argument against democracy, that is it. The Clinton entitlement metality, like they are owed the White House, is infuriating. Bill Clinton may be able to twist Obama's record every different way, but John McCain would not take that crap.

Anyway, it is a fascinating primary season on both sides. I would love to see the Clintons go down in flames because they deserve it, if for nothing else other than their unwarranted hubris. While I do not agree with many of Obama's positions, I feel that he is one of those rare individuals who could truly alter the direction of this country through his force of charisma and the hope that he can inspire. I have not seen someone with that presence come along in a long time, and you Democrats (which is basically everyone who reads this blog other than me) would be absolutely silly not to go with him over Hillary. While many people felt Bill had something special, I never really saw it. But with Obama, I see it, and believe me, the Republicans fear it. They do not fear Hillary.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, dustin. You so abhor the Republicans' dirty tricks that you're rooting for someone you think is better at playing dirty tricks? Isn't it possible -- just possible -- that the Republicans aren't the only ones responsible for lowering political discourse to Rikki Lake audience-member levels?

Like desmond, I'm one of the few people on this blog who actually voted for Bush (twice). I only voted for him the second time because the Dems nominated John Kerry, a man whose personality and political instincts are a combination of anthrax and the flesh eating virus. And the Dems are threatening to make the same mistake again.

Hillary is the only candidate whose negatives outweigh her positives. That's not an ephemeral statement. More Americans say they would vote against Hillary (negatives) than would vote for her (positives). Seriously. Look it up.

And that's your "more electable candidate"? I think you're too close to the issue. I think you need to talk to some people who aren't so invested in Democratic politics.

Let me say it this way: If the Demsn nominate Obama, they'll walk away with this election. Not even close. It will be 1980 in reverse.

If they nominate Hillary, it will be a dogfight. You'll get the dirty pool you so desire, but you'll get it on both sides. That's hardly something that we should be actively seeking.

And like John, this is from someone who agrees with Hillary's politics more than Obama's.

Finally, I agree with John's point that the media coverage has been terrible. But it's not just limited to this election. We talked about it in classes in college. The media does this horse race stuff because a) it's easier to write stories about the horse race than the issues; and b) they've got to come up with new stories every day, and they can talk about minute changes in the politicos' "power ratings" every day. Unfortunately, it's the worst possible coverage. It does the least service to the politicans and American people.

Anyone who votes based on who's "surging" deserves the crappy government they're going to get.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's an article on The Politico about the media's abysmal coverage:

Here's a choice quote:

If journalists were candidates, there would be insurmountable pressure for us to leave the race. If the court of public opinion were a real court, the best a defense lawyer could do is plea bargain out of a charge that reporters are frauds in exchange for a signed confession that reporters are fools.

7:08 PM  
Anonymous PaddyDog said...

I used to love Hillary. She seemed to be the only first lady who wasn't ashamed of having a brain. She pissed me off by succumbing to the cookie baking challenge, but I was willing to give her one free pass. Then 2001 happened. She voted for The Patriot Act, she voted to go to war in Iraq. She voted to renew the Patriot Act. She lost me. She lost many women like me who are supposed to be her key demographic (40s, well-educated, liberal, etc.). Obama opposed the war at a time when everyone was on the "it'll be over in 3 weeks" bandwagon. Sure, he wasn't a Senator at the time but he was running a Senate campaign against a pro-war Republican (whose own campaign imploded) and he was willing to take the chance that his views would hurt him politically. Many people outside of Illinois don't realize that he was very involved in obtaining a moratorium on the death penalty here which required him to work closely with a fiercely unpopular Republican Governor. I could go on and on. The bottom line, however, is that I agree with John: Hillary is simply not electable. A nomination for her is the same as handing the Republicans the next 4 years.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

I agree with several other posters on this here comment section: the only 'change' Mrs. Clinton will make is to make all this dirty fighting and stupid name-calling more democrat oriented. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, connects with people across party lines and demographics, a major boost to his numbers if he becomes the presidential candidate. In a way, one could compare this to a bullfight: Mrs. Clinton would be the matador who tries to fight the bull head on, tire it out, then forcefully throw it down to the ground, while Mr. Obama is the guy who'll step to the side and make the bull trip itself. I will admit, I don't pay much attention to these things, and so I probably am not so informed, but I still believe Mr. Obama is more of a leader than Mrs. Clinton, and exactly what this country needs.

As more of a compromising man, I think an Obama/Clinton (with Obama as president) ticket would be powerful politically, but again Mrs. Clinton may just be the tipping point for many people.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Dezmond said...

Obama might accept a VP slot with Clinton because he is young enough to wait and run again in later election years. But Clinton would never accept a VP slot to run with Obama. Wouldn't happen, and I don't think Obama would want her as VP candidate.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Meg said...

You say if she runs against McCain she gets creamed? I'll take that bet. Hillary Clinton suffers an unfair reputation (she's dragged over the coals mostly for having exactly the same characteristics every ambitious politician has) and John McCain enjoys an unfair reputation (after all that water carrying for Bush, it amazes me that he still has a reputation for straight talk. See this for more:

But, in the end, Hillary Clinton can campaign circles around John McCain (take a look at their respective victory speeches in NH) and if she wins the nomination she'd beat McCain. I still plan on voting for Obama on the 5th - but don't underestimate Hillary. If you do, you'll end up looking like Chris Matthew and no one wants to see that.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Lilywise said...

Great post, John, and interesting comments. A friend just e-mailed me yesterday wanting to know where she could find solid, substantive information on the candidates' various health care proposals, education ideas, and foreign policy positions. How sad that it takes some effort to learn anything about policies, but if you want to know the current state of the media's navel gazing you can get poll data in about 2 seconds.

I was considering Hillary back when her health care proposal came out. She's hardworking, smart, and very detailed on policies. But I've found I can't get past the "Clinton-ness." I am sick to death of the Clinton's excuses: She's being ganged up on. The press favor Obama. Women don't appreciate her. Blah, blah, blah. I am tired of their type of politics.

And so I'm for Obama. And I'm a Republican who voted twice for Bush (though I'm not proud of it ...).

If elected, would Hillary get things done? Probably. But the political tone of our country would be worse than ever. If elected, Obama will get things done too. And he could change the tone of political discourse in a way that I think few people can.

The argument about Hillary's "experience" drives me crazy--my husband has been with me for over a decade and in no way is he qualified to take my job. Nor am I qualified to take his. Also, some of our most "experienced" presidents haven't been our best--George H.W. Bush, for instance.

If the Dems. nominate Hillary, I'll definitely be voting Republican. If they nominate Obama, they have a good shot at winning me over to vote Democratic for the first time ever in a presidential election.

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Dezmond said...

A recent poll released by CNN revealed the following: in a head to head match-up between McCain vs. Hillary or McCain vs. Obama, it is a virtual tie. ANY other Republican candidate against Hillary or Obama loses by double digits. If you are a Republican, then McCain is your man.

6:29 PM  

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