Saturday, February 9, 2008

Consent of the Governed I: Democrats

At last! An interesting Presidential race! On both sides! Not since 1976 has there been a prolonged duel for both political parties in the Presidential primaries. Despite the predictions by the pundits that the massive front-loading of the primaries would result in a premature end to the campaign, the opposite has occurred with splendid results for the quest of enhancing political debate and voter participation.

I played my role in the political process by voting in the New Jersey Primary last February 5th. It was the first time in my memory that my vote actually counted for something. In the past the New Jersey Presidential primary was held in June and the nominations for both parties were usually resolved by that time which made my vote moot.

Not this time. To paraphrase a Maureen McGovern song, I was torn between two candidates. Don’t laugh. It wasn’t funny. For the first time ever I really had to think about who I wanted to run for the Presidency. In the weeks preceding the primary I had to do some serious soul-searching. Although I am anti-war I didn’t consider Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vote to approve President Bush’s use of force a significant reason to reject her. (Don’t forget Democrat George McGovern campaigned for President against the Vietnam War in 1972 even though in 1964 he had voted to approve the Gulf of Tonkin resolution which got America into the war in the first place).

Even though Barack Obama is the far better orator than Hillary is and I had the opportunity to listen to Obama speak on C-Span I wasn’t going to let Obama’s elocutionary talents to be the sole criterion for selecting him. I need more than eloquence to make a decision. (Although Obama is very good on the stump I don’t consider him in the same league as John F. Kennedy, FDR, or Abraham Lincoln: the greatest Presidential speakers of all time…or even the late Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X for that matter!)

And yet….

And yet my local newspaper The Philadelphia Inquirer endorsed Obama and the brother and daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy—Senator Ted and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, respectively--endorsed Obama for the Presidency. But part of me wonders about that endorsement? Do the Kennedys really consider Obama more worthy of the Oval Office or are they afraid that Hillary Rodham Clinton (as did her husband before her) will go a long way in eclipsing the rather thin Presidential legacy that the late John F. Kennedy left behind? A very distinct possibility if Hillary wins the nomination and the Presidency.

In the end my decision came down to who could best withstand the hellfire—and that’s the best word to describe it—of a Presidential election and being President itself. For all his attainments—Barack Obama hasn’t really been tested yet. It’s all well and good to run neck and neck for the race so far but what happens if he gets the nomination and has to face the Republican nominee in the fall? Even if he wins in November, does Obama have the inner fortitude to withstand the verbal putrefaction of conservatives and the political obstructionism that is soon to come? If you think the conservative attacks against Bill Clinton in the 1990’s were bad the attacks on Obama will be even worse—much worse. I don’t think Obama really knows what political opposition in the 21st century is really about. He thinks he knows but he really doesn’t—not yet.

Hillary Rodham Clinton does know; has known since 1993. People talk about the Bill Clinton administration. Actually it was the two of them together running the country. Bill Clinton could never have won in 1992 and 1996 without Hillary. There is no debating that question. He could never have survived the impeachment and trial in the Senate as a result of the Lewinsky scandal without Hillary at his side. The hellfire Bill Clinton faced Hillary faced as well.

The real root of conservative hatred for Hillary Rodham Clinton is based on this: both Bill and Hillary Clinton succeeded politically where others before them failed. They succeeded because they had the wisdom and audacity to beat the conservative movement by using their own weapons against them. There is a substantive legacy of achievement which came as a result of their success. We can only speculate whether Obama can move the country again. We know Hillary can because she and Bill Clinton did so in the 1990’s.

In the end, I chose for the person who has been tested by the hellfire and emerged strengthened, shriven, and sharper than before. When I entered the voting booth on February 5, I pulled the lever for Hillary. Even if she falls short of the nomination—a distinct possibility, I won’t regret it. If Obama gets the nomination over Hillary I will vote for Obama but my heart went with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

No comments: