Choosing Hope in the Primary
THE PAST SEVEN YEARS HAVE BEEN like no other in our history. Seven years ago we were a confident, solvent nation that was respected abroad. Today we are staggered by the quagmire of Iraq, an ominous recession and this administration’s colossal incompetence and are widely distrusted, even among our allies. The nation that rescued Berlin from the Soviets via airlift and sent a man to the moon was suddenly incapable of sending school buses to rescue victims of Katrina. The next president needs to reverse this course.
Fortunately, the Democrats have fielded a bumper crop of candidates this year and each of the three remaining candidates would make an excellent president. John Edwards deserves special recognition for having run a heroic campaign to remind us of the uninsured, the homeless vets and many others abandoned by this administration. Edwards, however, placed a huge bet on Iowa that did not payoff and his sputtering campaign has lost its viability.
Four generations after women were granted the vote and 40 years after the death of Dr. King, the choice is between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Clinton stands out in the field based on her breadth of experience from the House Watergate Committee, leading education reform in Arkansas to her years in the White House and Senate. With past Democratic presidents having had shaky starts as they grew into the job, there is something to be said for having a White House veteran and a seasoned team — especially in today’s dangerous and uncertain world.
Clinton has performed well in the debates, proving she is a skilled communicator and the capable street fighter the party lacked in 2004. She has been battle tested like no other candidate before her and remains steadfast despite unrelenting and often indecent attacks. Having witnessed reporters making cruel comments in her presence in New Hampshire in 1992 (well before she became a national figure), I believe the “divisive” label so often attached to her unfairly blames the victim since she was condemned at the outset merely because she did not “stay in her place”.
Sixteen years of these attacks, however, have taken a toll in terms of how Clinton is defined. Her 46 percent disapproval rate has changed little since she first took office — although if nominated, she will get an opportunity at the convention and in the debates to change this perception.
Untouched by the “Clinton Wars,” Obama has captivated Democrats and independents alike by fusing the pragmatism of post-partisanship with the idealism and eloquence of the Kennedy era. As the Gainesville Sun noted, Obama “resonates the politics of hope and personifies the politics of change.”
What distinguishes Obama is his combining the “Audacity of Hope” with the bold daring of leadership. Unlike his opponents, in 2002 Obama had the vision and fortitude to stand up and oppose a war with Iraq recognizing that such a war would “require a U.S. occupation of undetermined costs, with undetermined consequences.” Similarly, even though the nearly 50 year Cuban embargo is widely considered a failure, Obama was the only major candidate willing to risk alienating Florida’s Cuban population by proposing to reform it. Obama is also the only major candidate to oppose the death penalty.
This may prove to be decisive to the only age group carried by Bush in 2004 — “Generation Jones”. Jonesers were born between 1955-1964 and came of age during the Carter-Reagan era when the left was in full retreat mode and perceived as weak. Jonesers may embrace Obama since by rejecting the politics of caution he demonstrates that he is a different type of Democrat.
The one hesitation many have about Obama is whether he has the experience needed to get elected and do the job. Obama has not endured the volume and ferocity of attacks associated with a national campaign and this week’s testiness and attacks on former President Clinton heighten this concern and suggests that he may need to toughen his skin. Obama’s 12 years of elected experience, however, is comparable to other recent presidents such as Bush I, Clinton, Kennedy and Nixon, who had 12-14 years prior experience. Like Kennedy, Obama has assembled a seasoned team of advisors that includes national security advisors to Presidents Carter and Clinton and a number of other Clinton administration alums.
In articulating the politics of hope in his Iowa victory speech, Obama explained that hope “is the bedrock of this nation; the belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us.” It was a man from Hope that led Democrats back to the White House in 1992. That torch has passed to a new messenger of hope who is ready to do the same.