I didn't have the heart to post about the primaries yesterday. Although I have said all along that I will support Hillary if she wins the nomination, my fear is that if she wins, she will not be able to beat McCain.
I watched McCain's victory speech on Tuesday night. He is very dangerous to our progressive cause because he could easily appeal to a vast swathe of voters.
He is a veteran; in fact, his years in the Hanoi Hilton qualify him as a hero. This is a vast change from the chickenhawk we have in power right now and gives him a level of credibility on military issues that Bush could never have. It is true that many of us disagree with his stance on the Iraq war; but remember there are those out there who still believe in trying to win that war. And in one way, McCain is right: Whether or not we were right to go into Iraq in the first place, we are there now, and we need to figure out the best way to get out while not leaving it in such chaos that terrorists are left there to flourish. Yes, it's true that they weren't there before the war; but they are there now, and we need to figure out how to get rid of them.
On another front he is also dangerous. He is likable. Yes, again, a lot of people on the progressive side may not see that, but for a large number of people I think he will come across as an everyday kind of guy who is kindly and down-to-earth. Heck, I even liked him myself from the times he's appeared on The Daily Show. I think even Jon Stewart likes him. Don't be fooled by your own hostility toward him; many people will like him, just as they liked Reagan and voted for him.
A recent poll I saw still shows Obama beating McCain by about 12 points while Clinton only beats him by 4. It's a long election season and I'm afraid we may need that extra margin of safety.
Mother Jones has a good analysis of why Obama is better positioned to beat McCain. According to Mother Jones:
"No matter what advantages John McCain has, and no matter what nasty stuff the right wing throws at Clinton or Obama, there may be a nationwide resistance to conservative leadership after eight years of George W. Bush that is impossible to overcome for the Republican nominee.
And that is one of the two reasons why Obama is likely better positioned that Clinton. Obama better embodies change because he represents a different generation, in both thinking and appearance, than McCain. His foreign policy thinking is completely different—he didn't support the war in Iraq, didn't vote to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, sees the silliness of our policy toward Cuba, and rejects the Bush-Cheney approach to diplomacy that refuses to meet with rogue leaders. Clinton mirrors McCain on all of these issues (though she obviously has a very different view on Iraq right now). And in terms of appearance, Clinton and Obama are both divergences from the old white male archetype, but only one would represent the widest age gap between two major party candidates in modern history. Obama was born in 1961. McCain was born in 1936. That's a 25-year difference.
Also, McCain does well amongst independents. Obama likely matches him in that category, while adding a number of young voters. Clinton, however, finds most of her supporters in core Democratic constituencies."
For Obama supporters, the recent results in Ohio and Texas are concerning. Pennsylvania, the next big contest, is much more likely to be Clinton territory than Obama territory. If Clinton wins this state she will go on to make a case to the superdelegates that only she can deliver the big states with the high number of electoral votes in November. This is not necessarily true; the very strong Democratic turnouts in all of the state primaries so far would seem to mean that either Democrat would probably be able to deliver these states. But Obama does need to prove that he is able to overcome her advantages in these states and stand strong against McCain there in November.
So how does he do this? I personally feel Clinton has sucked him into her territory by constantly harping on his lack of "substance" - as a result he got on the defensive and is now making more "substantive" speeches. But as he tries to best her in her territory he may not be making the emotional connection he was making with voters previously.
It's time he got back to basics. No one doubts Clinton is good at policy; what she's not good at is that emotional connection. That's his strength and he needs to keep playing to it. Yes, policy matters, and he has a lot of it on his website. Yes, he should answer questions as to what he would do in various situations. But he has to keep making clear the differences between himself and Hillary, and it's not just policy.
David Brooks had a very interesting op-ed piece in the NY Times the other day before the Tuesday primaries, about Obama and Clinton. While I don't usually agree with Mr. Brooks, as he is a conservative, in this case he nailed the differences between them.
Describing speeches made by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in November of 2007, he compared them as follows:
"Obama sketched out a different theory of social change than the one Clinton had implied earlier in the evening. Instead of relying on a president who fights for those who feel invisible, Obama, in the climactic passage of his speech, described how change bubbles from the bottom-up: 'And because that somebody stood up, a few more stood up. And then a few thousand stood up. And then a few million stood up. And standing up, with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to change the world!'
For people raised on Jane Jacobs, who emphasized how a spontaneous dynamic order could emerge from thousands of individual decisions, this is a persuasive way of seeing the world. For young people who have grown up on Facebook, YouTube, open-source software and an array of decentralized networks, this is a compelling theory of how change happens.
Clinton had sounded like a traditional executive, as someone who gathers the experts, forges a policy, fights the opposition, bears the burdens of power, negotiates the deal and, in crisis, makes the decision at 3 o’clock in the morning.
But Obama sounded like a cross between a social activist and a flannel-shirted software C.E.O. — as a nonhierarchical, collaborative leader who can inspire autonomous individuals to cooperate for the sake of common concerns.
Clinton had sounded like Old Politics, but Obama created a vision of New Politics. And the past several months have revolved around the choice he framed there that night. Some people are enthralled by the New Politics, and we see their vapors every day. Others think it is a mirage and a delusion. There’s only one politics, and, tragically, it’s the old kind, filled with conflict and bad choices.
Hillary Clinton has fought on with amazing resilience since then, and Tuesday night may well bring another surprise, but she’s always been the moon to his sun. That night in November, he defined the campaign."
This is what Obama must continue to remember - he defined the campaign back then and he must continue to set that tone. It's time for him to go back to basics and do what he does best: Be the sun to Hillary's moon.