Obama v. Clinton

Ken AshfordElection 2008Leave a Comment

There’s an emerging meme going around about the salient difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Andrew Sullivan put his finger on it:

One difference between Obama and Clinton does not seem to me to have been stressed enough. They are of different Democratic generations. Clinton is from the traumatized generation; Obama isn’t. Clinton has internalized to her bones the 1990s sense that conservatism is ascendant, that what she really believes is unpopular, that the Republicans have structural, latent power of having a majority of Americans on their side. Hence the fact that she reeks of fear, of calculation, of focus groups, of triangulation. She might once have had ideals keenly felt; she might once have actually relished fighting for them and arguing in thier defense. But she has not been like that for a very long time…

Obama is different. He wasn’t mugged by the 1980s and 1990s as Clinton was. He doesn’t carry within him the liberal self-hatred and self-doubt that Clinton does. The traumatized Democrats fear the majority of Americans are bigoted, know-nothing, racist rubes from whom they need to conceal their true feelings and views. The non-traumatized Democrats are able to say what they think, make their case to potential supporters and act, well, like Republicans acted in the 1980s and 1990s. The choice between Clinton and Obama is the choice between a defensive crouch and a confident engagement. It is the choice between someone who lost their beliefs in a welter of fear; and someone who has faith that his worldview can persuade a majority.

I think there is some truth to that.

Hillary has the battle scars of the 1990’s.  She was taken to task for her feminism (the whole "stay at home and bake cookies" remark), her reaction to Bill’s philandering, and her health care plan from the 1990’s was ripped to shreds.  As a result, she’s much more polished — or perhaps — timid.  Or put another way, "politically saavy", which isn’t necessarily a good thing.  As Ezra says:

Hillary’s approach to politics often seems predicated on survival, with accomplishments to be jammed in-between the cracks.

Sullivan characterized this as "fear", although I’m not so sure.  It may just be smart.  In the end, it may be exactly the way to play it, if the 2008 White House is the objective.

Obama, on the other hand, seems to be, well, just who he is.  He’s going to take harder hits for it, to be sure.  But you get the sense that he is simply speaking his beliefs — not catering to the polls and not trying to play it safe.  He’s a progressive, and by God, he’s going to speak like one.

How this plays out in the long run is tough to say.  The difference between the two became very noticable in the latest Youtube/CNN debate, particualrly over one question regarding whether or not each would, as President, meet with enemy leaders of rogue nations.  Obama gave an unabashed "yes"; Clinton said "no" because she didn’t want to be "used" for "propaganda purposes".  Objective observers noted that Clinton "won" that round, but the two campaigns have been sparring about it all week:

The rival camps of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama clashed today over the meaning of Obama’s claim in a Democratic presidential debate that he’d be willing to meet with leaders of rogue nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran.

Clinton supporters characterized it as a gaffe that underscored the freshman senator’s lack of foreign-policy savvy while Obama’s team claimed his response displayed judgment and a repudiation of President Bush’s diplomacy.

In a memo from Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton, the campaign contended that Obama’s comments played well with focus groups that watched the debate and "showed his willingness to lead and ask tough questions on matters of war."

Obama "offered a dramatic change from the Bush administration’s eight-year refusal to protect our security interests by using every tool of American power available — including diplomacy.

Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, portrayed Obama’s response as naive — and scheduled a conference call for reporters with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to reinforce the contention.

I have been leaning Obama over Clinton for the past several months — well, years, really.  But I have been impressed with the Clinton campaign and she’s moved up a few notches in my estimation.  Still on the fence, and I haven’t counted out Edwards either.  But it’s nice to see these schisms because ultimately, my decision will probably come about as a result of them.