Earlier I discussed
how I came to abandon my earlier objections to the idea of Hillary Clinton becoming President. But why is she a better choice than the Democrats' other major contender, Barack Obama?
The most important question, of course, is who would do a better job as President. On one of my major domestic issues, embryonic stem-cell research, both candidates appear equally good; both oppose the Bush administration's restrictions and would remove them if elected. On abortion rights, Obama has offered unstinting support
for Roe vs. Wade, but there is still some dispute
over his voting record on the issue; Clinton, of course, is unequivocally pro-choice. Given that Roe vs. Wade may stand or fall by the next President's Supreme Court appointment(s), I'm not comfortable with any ambiguity on this matter.
One domestic issue on which there is a real difference between the two is illegal immigration. Both candidates -- in fact, all eight of the original major candidates, Democrat and Republican -- started off as "soft" on this question, but Clinton's position has hardened as the campaign progressed. On the hot-button symbolic issue of driver's licenses for illegal aliens, for example, Obama is in favor
, while Clinton is opposed. It's interesting, by the way, that in spite of this contrast, Hispanic voters have overwhelmingly favored Clinton in every contest so far -- a fact which casts doubt on the popular view that most Hispanic US citizens support illegal aliens.
It may be, of course, that Clinton's harder stance represents a concession to the views of the electorate rather than her personal conviction; but I am more concerned with what a President will do than with why he or she will do it. After the massive grassroots rebellion which derailed
the Bush-supported McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill in June, Clinton surely realizes that any effort to push another such travesty would doom her chances of re-election. It's most probable that she would take no action on the issue one way or the other, at least in her first term; and given four years of federal inaction, the individual states would probably pass tough and effective laws of their own, as Arizona and Oklahoma have already done.
The experience issue weighs heavily in Clinton's favor. Both candidates have rather short histories as legislators, but Clinton's eight years as First Lady must certainly have given her an in-depth view of the Presidency and all it involves which very few individuals who have not actually been
President can match.
A subtler but very important question is realism. Part of Obama's appeal is a promise to transcend the conflicts which roil American politics, but this actually suggests a disturbing naiveté. Those conflicts have real substance to them. The conservatives are not at all ready to stop their assault on abortion rights, science, homosexual equality, the separation of church and state, and so on. In these struggles, we must either win or lose; we cannot "transcend" them, and the rightists would quite justifiably view such rhetoric from a Democratic President as a sign of weakness and lack of stomach for the fight, and redouble their attacks. The time to extend a hand of reconciliation to one's enemies is after
one has beaten them. I think Clinton understands that these are ongoing battles which need to be won;
I'm not sure Obama does.
The same applies in the even more critical field of foreign policy, where the difference between Obama's idealism and Clinton's realism is starkly clear. There are conflicts that can't be solved by discussion and compromise. We've had enough of Bushite idiocies such as gazing into the eyes of Vladimir Putin (a former KGB officer) and "seeing his soul", or not only saying but apparently actually believing that Islam is a "religion of peace" which has merely been hijacked by extremists. Obama seems more likely than Clinton to repeat such errors.
For more on Clinton's foreign-policy realism, see here
This contrast is related, by the way, to the common objection that Clinton is simply less personally likable than Obama. Never having met either of them, I have no sense of whether this is true, but it also strikes me as irrelevant. We are not voting for the person we would most like to have as a dinner guest. George Bush seems to be an affable guy, but that has not made him a good President. In dealing both with the Republican opposition and with hostile foreign powers, a certain ruthlessness is actually necessary; the fact that Clinton possesses this trait is a point in her favor.
Before a President can lead, of course, he or she must win the general election. In choosing between Obama and Clinton, one must assess which of them would be more likely to prevail against McCain.
I don't think the current polls showing Obama doing slightly better than Clinton against McCain tell us anything useful. The election is nine months away. Much can change in that time; nine months ago, for example, Giuliani was the clear Republican front-runner.
Clinton has shown a pattern of doing better in actual voting, relative to Obama, than the polls anticipate, New Hampshire and California being the best-known examples. My suspicion is that many people, when responding to polls, are moved by Obama's inspiring rhetoric; but in the voting booth, where the actual decision has to be made, they give more weight to Clinton's experience and gravitas. The same factor must be considered when trying to predict voters' likelihood of actually voting for either Democrat in November.
Obama has won most of the states which held caucuses, while Clinton has done better in primaries. A caucus is a bizarre and undemocratic
process which lacks a secret ballot and disenfran-chises those who cannot afford to take hours out of the day to participate; a primary is a much better model of a real election.
A consistent pattern in the state contests so far is that Clinton has appealed more to older voters and Obama to younger ones. Older people have a much higher voting turnout rate than younger people do; that is, Clinton's supporters can be relied on to vote in great numbers in November, but we can't be so sure of Obama's.
Perhaps most important, having been in the public eye since 1992 and hysterically demonized by the right for almost as long, Clinton comes to the contest "pre-swiftboated", so to speak. Every speck of mud the right-wing attack machine could possibly find to throw is already out in the open and is thus already taken into account in her poll standings. Obama is more of a blank slate -- part of his appeal to idealists, I think -- but is thereby also more vulnerable to smears which will come as new to the general public.
Finally, there is no avoiding the significance of the gender issue. The most emotive moment of Clinton's Super Tuesday speech (video here
) comes when she mentions her mother, who was born before women were able to vote but may soon see her daughter become President. Such a choice by the American people would be a truly historic event.
And consider those vast benighted regions of the Earth where women have a status somewhere between second-class citizens and domestic animals. Think of the message it would send to the women -- and to the men! -- of those cultures, if the world's most powerful and advanced nation elected a woman as its leader.
If Obama is the nominee I will vote for him over any Republican, but this is my case for favoring Clinton.