It was this article by Nicholas Kristof that finally did it for me. It was one too many of more and the same: "analysis" of Hillary Clinton that made virtually no attempt to look at her politics or her positions, but focused instead on her marriage and equated a husband/wife partnership, with a father/son dynasty.
If there's a simple sum-up to why I picked Clinton, it's because the alternative was agreeing to a lot of things that simply don't sit well with me - even something as obvious as not picking the candidate endorsed by the New York Post, which strikes me as a great starting point (especially when their essay is essentially "we don't agree at all with Obama, and we probably wouldn't endorse him in the general, but he's not Hillary Clinton"). RedStar defines some of the things that don't sit well, I've defined some others. But really, it's everything. It's everything this election is about, and everything we say it isn't. In thinking about it - and I thought about it, a lot - I had to set aside my own inclination not to write this stuff down; why I settled on Clinton, I think, is something worth sharing, because I've realized that the past year led to this moment, in ways I expected, and ways I didn't. Which is why supporting Clinton comes down to four "big ideas" I'd like to break down below the fold:
- This election is about change... but that's not enough. One thing I've said all along is that the change aspect of this election is built in: no one - no Republican, and no Democrat - represents a continuation of the Bush Administration's policies across the board. And let's be clear, we're dealing with a failed Presidency of fantastic proportions; even after lowering expectations assiduously for seven years, the President still fails to meet even the base, lowest expectations for leading this country. He leaves this country worse, in nearly every way, than when he came upon it. A change is absolutely necessary... and change is what we shall have. That's why I start with the premise that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama represent a real change for this country, but of a certain sort. The truth is, the real prospects of change in this race are long gone - Dennis Kucinich, for me... the hardest conservatives (Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback) on the other side. What we're left with is a certain modest approach to change that may be enough - with both Obama and Clinton, we will see a more robust pursuit of Democratic proposals and policies than we have quite possibly in 30 years. And it's this sense that change is coming, whoever we pick, that has made Obama a disappointment for me. Dismissing Hillary Clinton as "more of the same" is absurd - the notion that she, in any way, represents a continuation of Bush policies flies in the face of her record, and her commitment to government and public service. That she represents "more of the same" as what we had in the first Clinton Administration strikes me as a selling point, not a flaw (more on that in a moment). In the end, what I've waited for, for months, is a sense that Barack Obama would offer a clear, policy driven description of change that focused on specific, actionable elements that showed him to be the "different politician" he suggests that he is. Instead, it has been a frustrating exercise in vagueness and half-measures, and cautious approaches that seem little different from any other politician. I need more.
- The Party of Howard Dean, not John Edwards. Despite a lot of post-mortems suggesting that his impact on the campaign can be felt in how we talk about this race, the party that is choosing a candidate is not an idea built by John Edwards; what we are, as Democrats, is a party still living the aftermath of Howard Dean's aborted run in 2003-4. It was Dean's determination to challenge party orthodoxy, and the notion of a "Democratic establishment" that brought new voices, a fresh energy, and a new generation of voters into the process. If anything, the John Edwards who showed up at the start of the race was miles from his 2004 presentation, simply because he'd been radicalized by all that had happened since. And, in many ways, the "establishment" still hasn't gotten the message - blogs have become casually tolerated, but not fully understood. Dean himself has invigorated the national organization as head of the DNC, but he has alienated some core constituencies - not least of which is the Clintons. Indeed, if there's a moment's hesitation I have with Clinton it is the prospect that she will replace Howard Dean with Terry McAuliffe or a reasonable facsimile, which would be highly destructive. I remain hopeful that popular pressure would make that option unlikely, and regardless, what Dean hath wrought can't be undone, however she might want it to be so. More to the point, what's key to the change of the Dean Revolution is a renewed interest in Progressive positions and issues. And on that, both Obama and Clinton have shown a willingness to engage the "liberal wing" of the party with ideas and policy prescriptions that are ambitious and bracing. But they are also highly similar, despite attempts on all sides to try to find pockets of nuance. This is wonderful, in many ways; but it makes the voting decision no easier. That said, I think that's why Democrats have turned out so strongly - these are the issues we care about, and really, we can support either candidate come November without a lot of tension. That, in itself, is a positive change.
- Beyond Iraq. Dean, too, was the first national Democrat to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy on Iraq - willing to step up and say that congressional Democrats had not done enough to oppose the war. And in 2004 that was important and necessary... but what we face now is what comes next, not what's come before. The debate over who voted for what when, and what it might mean, obscures the fact that we can't undo the past; and in terms of going forward, both Obama and Clinton have been realistic in their assessments: we need to eave Iraq, but in a way that makes sense, and in the context of better foreign policy on many fronts. It's on these foreign policy questions that I think Obama's rookie nature has been most pronounced. It's taken him some time to learn the nuances of "foreign policy speak", and even with that, here too, he's been maddening with vague bromides about "doing things differently" without saying which things or what the difference is in comparison to others (except John McCain, which is rather the lowest bar here). By contrast, Hillary Clinton has been detailed, focused, and clear. She has not shied away from discussing the decisions she made in 2003, but more so, she's talked about what Presidents need to do, and why she's ready to do the things that are needed. It's really, in listening to her detailed answers at debate forums that I've been most impressed; stripped of the layers of interpretation, she comes across, to me anyway, as practical, and from the start until now she has seemed Presidential all along, something that cannot be said of Obama. Iraq has never been my litmus test; even if it were, both candidates meet my criteria. But most of all, we need to think about where we go from here.
- Gender and Race. Ultimately, because so many other things are so close, I come down to the issues that underline this race, that make us all to some degree uncomfortable. It's ironic that after years of wanting new kinds of candidates, we as Democrats face the dilemma of an embarrassment of riches - a black man and a white woman who both represent the prospect of historic change for this nation. I have no better way to navigate this dilemma than anyone else - what I have is an exposure to feminist ideas since childhood that have driven my politics and my choices. And what I know is that Hillary Clinton represents one of the most qualified people, male or female, to run for the office of President. And in the end, the feminist my mother raised me to be is a man who has to take the opportunity to vote for a woman when it's presented. And I don't know that we'll be presented with a woman with the strengths of Hillary Clinton again for a long, long time. Win or lose, Barack Obama has changed the landscape of American culture and politics - bringing the perspective of mixed race to the table, and finding validity in both white communities and communities of colors. That's huge. It's just not, in itself, a reason to make him President. Voting for Obama, for me would be about picking an idea, not a person, or a set of specific plans... I need more than that. And Hillary Clinton is the person, with the specifics, who offers more. And that's why she's my choice. And why I think as Democrats we should choose her. But mostly, we need to keep being active and involved.
So vote. Vote for whom you think is best. And share your perspectives here, too. See you on the other side of the primary.