Thursday, March 06, 2008

Getting Back to Basics

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.


Odessa said...

i do agree with you that obama has a solid chance of beating McCain. i think that this country is ready for change and obama represents that change. he belongs to those very few born leaders and positive thinkers who believe in their dreams and can inspire others to do the same. i like hilary too, but obama has that special charisma that can empower everyone to create change.

the next couple of weeks should be very interesting.

Christopher said...

The Borg Queen is flushed with arrogance now and she has vowed to take her case all the way to the Denver Convention and "beyond."

The "beyond" can only mean one thing: crawling to the SCOTUS to demand they insert themselves once again in the election process and hand her the delegates from Michigan and Florida.

I see where limp noodle Howard Dean has buckled to the pressure of the Clinton machine and says he supports a "do over of both Florida and Michigan." The only saving grace is the economy is in a recession and neither state has the estimated $20 million to stage another caucus to shut the Borg Queen the fuck up.

There seems to be two schools of thought about November when it comes to the possibility of the Borg Queen being the nominee:

1. people like yourself who say they will support the Democratic candidate whoever it turns out to be

2. people who say they won't vote for Hillary Clinton under any circumstances

I fall into the second category. If the Clintons rob Obama of the nomination, I simply won't vote. I can wait until 2012 and Al Gore.

Mauigirl said...

Hi Odessa,
I agree - the next few contests will be telling. I know that neither candidate can win, mathematically, without the uncommitted superdelegates putting it over the top - but whoever has the momentum will sway those superdelegates.

Christopher, "beyond" is a scary thought. Regarding Michigan and Florida, I am all for a do-over if they can pull it off - Hillary won both of those contests. In Michigan, Obama wasn't even on the ballot, since he actually listened to the DNC and believed it wouldn't count. The worst case scenario is if she convinces them to use those delegates as they fell back then.

It's not fair to change the rules in the middle of the game.

I hear you about Hillary, but we don't know how bad off this country will be by 2012 and if McCain is the president, he very well could go for a second term and win it. After all, we elected "W" twice, hard to believe.

I'm not sure Al would run in 2012...I'd be hoping Obama made another try for it if Hillary is the nominee and loses to McCain in the fall.

Randal Graves said...

Hey, what's wrong with the moon? How about black pit of despair instead? ;-)

And I'm definitely voting for the Dem nominee, whomever it is. Underneath that hero/regular guy stuff is a warmonger. Sure, he can speak the English language better than Bush, but it really would be a third Chimpy term.

Christopher said...

Maui Girl,

Hillary is a Clinton first, and a Democrat second.

In fact, the reason I can't vote for her is, I think and I believe, she's more of a conservative than is her good pal, John McCain.

If she gets in, expect to see her riding atop the first tank into Tehran. She's a neocon Hawk pretending to be a Dem.

John J. said...

I largely agree with you in this Maui, but I think that Obama can show that he is stronger on policy than Clinton. To do this though, he needs to get out there. For the past three weeks, on all the talk and pundit shows (as well as late night) all I see is Clinton, and maybe an Obama supporter. Obama meanwhile has been doing the inspirational speeches to packed houses.

This has given Clinton almost unopposed access to the people that matter the most, the undecideds. The people Obama is talking to in his speeches are mostly the "converted." To really and truly have a good chance in PA, he needs to go on a mass media blitz, not on a speaking tour. He needs to take her on where she is strongest.

Show how is foreign policy plan is better than hers. Show how his health care plan is better than hers. Show his education plan, especially the early ed, where he trounces her.

Even more importantly, show where she has mislead the public and the media.

Don't get me wrong, he needs to keep up the inspirational speeches, but I haven't seen him really leave those. What he has added to his speeches has only strengthened them, imo. But it is clear that surrogates can't speak to the public the same way Clinton can and so he needs to take the initiative on this.

Distributorcap said...

problem is her "win at all costs" campaign is marking Obama as damaged goods, also helping mccain

and hillary as SO much baggage -- it will be a field day for the gop machine

and no matter what she does, she will never have that emotional connection she needs -- and frankly i dont think mccain has it either -- while he can be appealing in some ways (his soft spoken voice does wonders for his lack of knowledge on many topics) -- he is a terrible debater and speaker....

where are the really good people?

Mauigirl said...

Randal, I agree - McCain is not what we need right now and I hope enough people realize that and will vote for whichever Democratic candidate we end up with.

Christopher, I hope that isn't the case if it does turn out that Hillary gets the nomination. But I definitely see your perspective on it!

John J, good points, I do think Obama can make the case on his policies - I just don't want him to go too far in the negative direction or in the policy direction - as long as he keeps his emotional connection he can win.

DCap, I know, I am concerned that her attacks are wounding his image. And it's true that McCain is not a great speaker, some people don't mind that - look at those loved Bush and said they could have a beer with him.

The really good people probably don't have enough money to win. That's the problem. It's all about the money.

Comrade Kevin said...

With all respect due to McCain and the torment he went through, I wonder how that kind of abuse for such an extended length of time damaged him.

I fear his Presidency because I think he would be more inclined to bear grudges against enemies or potential enemies and want to be vindictive rather than conciliatory.

Mauigirl said...

Comrade Kevin, I too have that concern about McCain...he seems stable, but I've heard he has a temper - and just yesterday I think it was, I read that he got quite testy with some reporters. Sounds as if he doesn't have great diplomatic skills, to be sure. Hopefully if he shows this often enough he may lose.

Sue J said...

Good post Mauigirl, but I'm afraid I'm still not convinced that Obama is more qualified than Clinton to be president. I understand what you're saying about the emotional connection, but I have to say I still choose substance over emotion.

Just one quick example, and one that also addresses someone's comment earlier claiming she is more conservative than John McCain, is on LGBT rights. On paper Clinton and Obama look very similar on this issue. However, their actions are strikingly different. While Clinton has appeared at many, many gay and lesbian events -- even marching at Gay Pride -- and has talked with the gay press many times, Obama has not met with this constituency. Instead he repeatedly surrounds himself with homophobes such as Donny McClurkin, and then afterwards says he doesn't agree with McClurkin. You can't have it both ways.

I think with time Obama would be a great president. I just don't think he's ready yet. I know it's a cliche, but I still believe actions speak louder than words.

I know I'm outnumbered here, so I'll duck my head now. ;-)

Mauigirl said...

Sue J, thanks for your thoughts about this. I have to admit I am a little uneasy about Obama's connection with McClurkin and I agree he sometimes seems to have a tendency to want things both ways.

I think I understand this. His thing is being collaborative and reaching out to constituencies that Democrats don't usually reach out to. Perhaps this results in him sometimes seeming to want things both ways.

I applaud his wish to reach consensus and be collaborative. But I do know there are certain times where you need to stand firm or just make a decision.

The company I work for was bought by another company a few years back and I noticed the difference in culture immediately. The new company is very into consensus building and as a result it seems to take forever to get anything done. Too much talking and not enough action. I suppose the consensus thing can be overdone.

My husband is in the middle of reading a book about Roosevelt and Churchill and it reminded me (as he read it aloud to me periodically all week!) about Neville Chamberlain believing he had an agreement with Hitler. When that didn't work and Churchill took over, he refused to ever compromise or negotiate with the Nazis. So I agree there are times you can't have it both ways.

What I do know is Obama's instincts are right - and to your point he does need the experience to know when he can be inclusive and collaborative and when he can't. The thing I believe is that he is a very quick study. I think he has learned a great deal just from the primary season and would continue to learn very quickly. I think one of his biggest positive points is that he is open to other ideas and can learn.

Unlike other people who support Obama, I am not completely against a joint ticket with Hillary if it comes to that. Obama could have all that experience of being VP and then be President after Hillary.

But of course anything can happen in 8 years and that might make him miss his chance. And I have no idea if she would be open enough to work with him and gain from HIS good points if she were president.

I never expected this election season to be so unusual. No matter what happens, it is a truly historic election.

TomCat said...

Maui, looking forward, it appears to me that Clinton will not make up the difference in pledged delegates and Obama is narrowing Clinton's lead in super delegates. Barring unforeseen events, that drastically change the relative popularity of the two, Obama should emerge as the nominee. However, should the opposite occur, can only hope that there are not enough people foolish enough to stay on the sidelines and hand it to McConJob. With four more years of Bush policy, there may be no country left to salvage in 2012.

Diane M. Roth said...

thank you mauigirl. I really needed to read this. I've been kind of depressed. I don't know what will happen. I kind of think that it will be hillary-mccain and mccain will win.

I don't want this to be the case. I think I'll come over here more often to get a dose of positivity. recently I've been places where it appears that obama is the devil. I don't think he is perfect, but I agree with a vision of change that comes up from the grass roots. from his background in organizing, I think that is what he is advocating.

As someone who has been involved in organizing, I can tell you how hard it can be sometimes, getting a coalition together and framing something that is both good AND can get enough support to pass. We worked on something in my city on immigration.

but we recently had a victory on transportation!

grass roots change can happen, but more people have to get involved, participate. I do think that is what Obama represents, but his own presence/charisma both helps and hinders the cause.

on the one hand, he is very inspiring.

on the other hand, people do begin to think it is about him.

Mauigirl said...

Tomcat, I hope you're right that Obama's lead can be insurmountable and he will be the candidate. Hillary's contention that she wins the "big" states is untenable; many of those states (NJ, Mass., etc.) are reliably Democratic no matter what. If Obama can muster support in less certainly Democratic states like Virginia, we have a better chance of winning against McCain. But to your point, I hope if the opposite happens that there will still be united Democratic support for a Hillary ticket. Who knows, it may end up being Obama-Hillary or Hillary-Obama and either may be a great ticket.

Diane, glad you came and found something positive here! There are a lot of other great bloggers on my blogroll and among the commenters that you may like as well. I totally agree with you that grass-roots organizing and trying to get things accomplished is not an easy task - good points.