Friday, February 01, 2008

Steamroll vs. Handshake

Toward the end of this week’s cover story in New York magazine, John Heilemann sums up what he sees as the difference between Clinton and Obama supporters:
If you find yourself drawn to the Clinton candidacy, you likely believe that politics is politics, that partisanship isn’t transmutable, that Republicans are for the most part irredeemable. You suspect that talk of transcendence amounts to humming “Kumbaya” past the graveyard. ... If you find yourself swept up in Obamamania, on the other hand, you regard this assessment as sad, defeatist, as a kind of capitulation. You’re perfectly aware that politics is often a dirty business. But you believe it could be a bit cleaner, a bit nobler, a bit more sustaining. You think that paradigm shifts can happen, that the system can be rebooted. Most of all, an attraction to Obama indicates you are, on some level, a romantic. You never had your JFK, your MLK, and you desperately crave one: What you want is to fall in love.
There’s certainly something to this. It’s true that I’m more romantic than some of my friends who are still leaning toward (or at least willing to consider) Hillary. But I also think this clever summary doesn’t do enough rigorous thinking about the key difference upon which Heilemann bases his piece -- the difference between the candidates' "worldviews."
(Obama) believes that, as he often says, “we can disagree without being disagreeable.” He’s convinced that unity is attainable through the right kind of leadership: his.

Clinton doesn’t say so quite this bluntly, but she manifestly considers Obama’s outlook woefully naïve. Her view of the culture of Washington is darker, and of transforming it, more skeptical. And while she prefers to speak of achieving change through hard work—to paint herself as the candidate of perspiration as opposed to inspiration—at bottom she conceives of politics as an endless series of skirmishes.
I hope we can agree that describing Clinton’s outlook as “more skeptical” is an understatement. This is the woman who called imminent mudslinging against a fellow Democrat “the fun part,” and who, after losing Iowa, was talking most loudly about the fact that she can “survive the Republican attack machine.”

Despite the impression I may have given in past posts, I think Hillary Clinton is brilliant. She’s forgotten more about policy than many lifetime politicians will ever know. And to her credit, her aspect is much sharper and more pragmatic than the soft, creepy tones with which Bill promises to feel people’s pain.

But time and again -- even as Obama piles up endorsements from “red state” Democrats, and is spoken highly of by Republican colleagues -- Clinton trumpets her merciless combativeness as her greatest strength. But I believe part of the reason this country is so close to 50-50 in so many major elections is because all people have is their party. Uninspired candidates who don’t even attempt to transcend party have been the norm as long as I’ve been of voting age (which hasn’t been tremendously long, I admit, but neither am I a young idealist besotted with Obama).

But Hillary Clinton doesn't just decline to attempt transcending party, she insists we cannot. Her argument, as I see it, is that cynicism is productive. But hard experience would tell me that cynicism is only ever enervating in the long run. There’s a reason voter turnout is at an all-time high on the Democrats’ side -- many people are not just supportive of Barack Obama, they are excited by him. And excitement tends to spur action. Energy creates results, while cynicism might satisfyingly feed self-righteousness in true believers, but it creates deep apathy in anyone not interested in either side’s Kool-Aid.

In this week’s New Republic, a liberal blogger is quoted as saying, “Our community tends to be filled with people who ... are largely skeptical that it's possible to reach across the aisle and get anything other than slapped for your efforts.”

I get that. But what’s the alternative? If the majority of Americans believe the parties should move past their most cartoonish battles, won’t it take a three-dimensional person to help do that? Clinton firmly believes in the need to steamroll her opponents; Obama believes in shaking their hand while changing their mind. Has the former approach ever helped you get someone to work with you? (Not work for you; that’s a different story, though you could certainly make the case for Obama's approach there, too.)

I suppose this is the last I'll say on the subject until the Super Tuesday results are in. Happy voting, everybody.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

all of this mooning over the next jfk is adorably optimistic--we definitely need some incentive to want to care about the country after 8 horrifically disappointing and embarrassing years--but why is it that we can't feel the same kind of hope and magic for hillary? or, i guess, a better question is, why can't everyone else? since i certainly can and do.

5:09 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I actually don't glorify JFK's legacy like some do, and I'm definitely conflicted about having Ted Kennedy in my corner. As to why people can't feel "hope and magic" for Hillary, I'm in the camp that -- Obama or no Obama -- believes that question has about a thousand answers. I won't bore you with all of them.

5:52 PM  
Blogger lmha said...

I'll tell you why I feel no "magic" for Hillary. I can't resist. How much time do you have?

Let me begin with her written instructions to close the polls early, illegally, in Nevada, and a lot of other underhanded attempts to turn away voters. That's disenfranchisement, period. Then you add to that this BS about going against the pledge that everyone agreed upon not to campaign in Florida/Michigan. Then add to that her Iowa campaign chair--the CHAIR--sending out an email that "Barack Obama is a Muslim intent on destroying America." (wrong twice). Then her New Hampshire campaign CHAIR lying about Obama selling drugs (he didn't). Come on, that is no coincidence that has nothing to do with her or her ethics. Let's not forget the outright lies that her "husband" and she were throwing around a couple of weeks ago. Then there is her past, sitting on the board of Walmart, trial-lawyer hating, corporate defense lawyer, tort reforming, anti-justice career. And her attack on John Edwards for taking "trial lawyer money" in contributions (egads!)

But mostly, it's because she will never get any Republican to do ANYTHING except unite to defeat her. She will kill the downticket. And she fake cries. Or alternatively, cries for real, but over losing. And stays in a disgraceful marriage of political convenience. And comes loaded with so many scandals you could make a scandal-a-day calendar out of them.

Beyond that, she and her "husband" mock a huge grassroots movement imbued with enthusiasm as a "fairy tale."

She will say and do anything to win, yet change nothing. I can't stand the woman. And I'm a female lawyer in my early 30's with kids. if I don't like her, who will? I'll tell you. A bunch of older, desperate women who can't grasp that feminism in the 1970's existed so people like me could choose a candidate, instead of vote on gender lines. I'm not worried I'll see a woman president in my lifetime. That is so inevitible, it's silly to me to raise it in the fearful way these older women do. Talk about pessimists - and frankly, I can't think of a dumber reason to vote for someone.

But at the end of the day, I choose Obama for precisely the intangible leadership and inspriational qualities he alone can bring. He's not that different than she is on policy. So it comes down to leadership style and the ability to push your agenda through. It's painfully obvious which one can get that done. Yes, he's about 1000 times more inspiring, but that's not just a "feel good" superlative. It matters because it mobilizes people, people who normally don't participate or reach across party lines. 'Nuff said.

5:57 PM  

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