Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why I'm with Obama

I supported John Edwards from pretty early on. When it was clear last month that his campaign just wasn't going to make it, I knew I'd have to make a decision, but I tried to put it off for a while. The fact is, I like and respect both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I see them both as intelligent, passionate public servants with their hearts and heads in the right place. They're also both absurdly ambitious, but pretty much anyone playing at that level has that trait.

In terms of experience, I consider them roughly even. Yes, Hillary has been a U.S. senator a few years longer, but Obama was a state senator for a while, and I think that pretty relevant experience, too. I don't really consider the job of First Lady as relevant White House experience. Yes, she was there, she saw history happening first hand, she met all these heads of state, yadda yadda, but so did Laura Bush, and I wouldn't consider her ready for the presidency. Hillary Clinton did play a policy role in the 1990s, but it went profoundly sour in 1994, and after that, she voluntarily withdrew from policymaking for a few years -- something an elected official simply cannot do. So it's not particularly relevant experience, and if it is, I wouldn't say it went all that well for her.

Another important criterion is electability. Again, I see this as a wash. Yes, many polls show Obama doing better than Clinton against McCain, but as I've mentioned earlier, this is probably misleading. Everyone knows her flaws, while Obama's have yet to be widely revealed and examined.

So, on the major dimensions I care about -- experience, competence, intellect, electability -- I see these two as pretty even. One other dimension of interest, however, is inspiration: the extent to which the candidate can bring people into politics, make them feel good about their country, get them involved in fixing its problems, etc. I wouldn't rank it as highly as the others, but all else being equal (and I think they are equal), I believe inspiration matters. And, fairly or unfairly, that one clearly goes to Obama.

To be sure, inspiration carries its own problems. A lot of Obama's supporters clearly believe he's the Messiah. These people are pretty annoying, and they're in for a great deal of disappointment should Obama become president. Nothing against Obama -- no one can live up to this kind of hype.

So I'm largely supporting Obama in spite of his backers rather than because of them. Nonetheless, I'm proud to do so. Yes, he's the Adlai Stevenson/Gary Hart/Howard Dean/Macintosh computer of 2008, but that candidate actually has a good shot this year, and I think it would be good both for the Democratic Party and for the country if he won.

1 comment:

SAM said...

I worry that McCain could beat either Obama or Clinton. But I suspect the Clinton/Obama ticket is unbeatable. Or the Obama/Clinton ticket, for that matter. But I think Clinton/Obama makes more sense (she's the policy wonk, I'm aching for good governance) and VP Obama still gets us all the international soft power and a great deal of the domestic inspiration. And Obama is significantly younger, so 16 years is much more feasible with him as VP.