Debate: Democratic Primary

January 26, 2008 at 3:18 pm Leave a comment

It’s small wonder that Democratic debates increasingly resemble mud-slinging contests: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s personal differences are far more vivid than those of policy. Both brand themselves as inclusive “Change” candidates. Both promise tax cuts for the middle class, action on the environment, fairer pay across race and gender, universal healthcare, and a quick withdrawal from Iraq. Both would maintain support for Israel and uphold capital punishment. Both say “tomayto”. A look at the pair’s near-identical Senate voting records reveals Hillary is slightly less keen on biofuels than Obama, and that’s about it. But the Democratic primaries won’t be decided by ethanol. Scratch beneath the surface and there are matters of substance that can, and do, sway American voters.

In increasingly troubled economic conditions, Hillary has the knowledge and composure to execute a responsive fiscal policy. Clinton and Obama have both proposed $70bn stimulus packages to turn the economy round (though Clinton got there first). But while Obama’s focuses on brute tax cuts, Hillary’s emphasises relief targeted at mortgages, heating bills and unemployment insurance, with additional pledges to improve energy efficiency. It’s a brave, detailed plan, in keeping with Hillary’s professed to determination to deliver more than symbolic change. Her 16-page, budgeted healthcare plan is similarly precise.

Knowledge, intellect, experience: these are the qualities the New York Times cited in endorsing Clinton over Obama. The gulf in experience between the rivals is undeniable. Hillary is the closest thing this presidential race has to an incumbent. Clinton, 60, spent eight years in the White House while Obama, 46, was lecturing law in Chicago. Clinton has been a senator since 2001, Obama since 2005. If you’re wondering why Obama never voted for the Iraq War, it’s because he wasn’t there. The importance of Hillary’s time as First Lady should not be underestimated: Bill Clinton described himself as a “two for the price of one” president. It’s not “Vote Hillary, get Bill.” It’s “Vote Hillary, get Team Clinton again.”

Americans trust in Hillary’s experience, as polling from the primaries reveals. The New Hampshire polls, including the initial exit polls, were plain wrong, implying voters are embarrassed to admit they support prosaic Hillary over media-darling Barack, but support her they do. Obama has overwhelming African-American support, but Hillary leads with Whites, Hispanics, and liberal-leaning voters. Across all races, the poorer you are, the more likely you are to vote Hillary. Clinton’s core support comprises those who need change delivered, not those who merely like the idea.

Of course, there’s never been a female president before. With few differences between the candidates, the chance to strike against misogyny enters the equation. Hillary would champion women’s rights with regard to pay, abortion and access to contraception. True, Obama would become the first black president, but he would do so without support from Civil Rights leaders, who regard him with suspicion. He was, after all, brought up by his “white as milk” mother. Clinton’s ability to be more than a figurehead is beyond doubt.

Hillary is dependable. She can secure a strong win no matter whom the Republicans nominate. The dangers of a 46-year old wildcard are clear. The Democrats see John McCain on the horizon. The moderate, 71-year old Vietnam veteran threatens to hog the middle ground, charm the independent voters and steal the election. Obama’s time has not yet come. He would make a great next-but-one president, and a great vice president: a combined Clinton/Obama ticket would obliterate any GOP contender and put “Change” firmly on the agenda. That’s what Democratic voters really want.

The Democratic contest has been portrayed as a battle of pragmatism versus idealism, gender versus race, experience versus youth, even prose versus poetry. But, for Democratic voters, it’s all a matter of who is likeliest to deliver the specific, significant changes they crave after eight years in the wilderness. That is why they will choose Hillary.

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Entry filed under: Varsity.

Nick Cohen — What’s Left? Alaa al Aswany — Chicago

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