Why Obama Over Hillary

The Real Buyers Remorse

George McGovern was on Colbert tonight. He pledged his support for Clinton back in October, and he’s too much of a class act to turn back, but he qualified his statement by saying that he hadn’t known Obama back then.

That’s a pretty remarkable thing to mention as you’re telling the world who you’ve backed! But that’s basically what happens to voters in general. They like Obama better after they have a chance to get to know him.

First, they rued the day Bill Clinton left office (or rather, the day Bush took office). Then Hillary ran, was called a front-runner, and suddenly they thought they have a good chance of being able to say Clinton and White House in the same sentence again. They got on-board.

But then they get to know Obama a little bit. They hear him speak, they get inspired, but more importantly, they believe that he believes the things he says. I think we all realize that Hillary, maybe even more than Bill, says what she thinks she needs to say. It’s all political. If she has a position, it’s a considered position which might have gone the other way had there been a sufficient political payoff on the other side (e.g., her vote for the Iraq war). Obama has his beliefs, they guide his positions and policies, and he is who he is.

And so after voters have a chance to see this dichotomy, they waver. Eventually, if Obama has sufficient time to campaign in the state, they get buyer’s remorse for their early decision to back Hillary and start crossing over.

Where’s My JFK?

The so-called “greatest generation” had Roosevelt. Our parents had JFK. Where the hell is our once-in-a-generation leader? This guy might well be it. He could be that and much more. The first president I knew, when I was a kid, was Nixon. I’ve had Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush. Due respect to president Carter, but that’s a pretty pathetic string of names. It’s time we had our JFK.

Hillary talks a lot about what a historic time this is. We’ll have a black nominee, or a woman nominee. But then she also envisions either her or Obama getting past McCain, and that’s going to be more historic still. So Hillary hopes to make history simply by getting elected. That’s her one, singular, all-consuming goal: get elected president.

Don’t you get the feeling that Obama’s presidency will be historic not because he’s a man of color, but because of the deeds he will do, the change he can engender, and the fact that he can lead us to accomplish some genuine good in the world?

He’s a politician, but he’s a politician in order to put himself into a position to do something. Ambition is Hillary’s only motivation.

Potential For Greatness

In tonight’s interview, Colbert tagged McGovern as an idealist, identified Obama as the same, and then asked McGovern which presidents he thought were also idealists. McGovern cited Jefferson and Lincoln. Hillary’s campaign would offer this as evidence that an idealist can’t be elected in our modern world. I would say that we’re pretty damn close to doing just that, and if the third idealist president is anything like the last two, we could be in for a once-in-a-century kind of leader. I’m not saying Obama’s definitely the next Lincoln, but he’s the only politician I’ve known in my lifetime whom I genuinely felt had the potential to leave that kind of legacy.

Hillary, by contrast, wants to be “ready on day one”. A once-in-a-century leader like Jefferson or Lincoln doesn’t ever suddenly (or gradually) become “prepared”. Leaders like this just are. But for Hillary, I think that a work-a-day, forgettable presidency might well be served by her preparation of one and a half terms in the Senate, plus knowing in advance the optimal layout for furniture in the White House.

So our choice might boil down to this: consider potential epitaphs. “Hillary Clinton: first female president” versus “Barack Obama: greatest president since Lincoln”. Again, there’s no guarantee, but lets at least try for something more here.

Come on people, we can elect a woman next time… maybe even one without all the baggage.

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