I want to explain why I want Barack Obama to be the Democratic nominee for President.
According to numerous polls, probably about 4-8% of the Democratic electorate, their decision to support someone is strongly motivated by a desire to prevent the nomination of Hillary Clinton. I'm not part of that 4-8%.. Despite the histrionic claims one often sees in left Blogostan, she's not Republican-lite. In fact, as a Senator, she's been quite liberal, probably more reliably liberal than her predecessor, Daniel Patrick Moynahan (who did, after all, serve in several posts in the Nixon administration). Furthermore, I think that should she get the nomination and go on to win in November, she will be a more liberal and progressive President than was her husband. And finally, if she is our nominee, she will almost certainly become our next president.
But the type of president who succeeds George W. Bush will not be determined solely, or possibly even mostly by the experience, character and ideological perspective of the person who wins. I think we are on the verge of a possibly transforming election akin to the 1932 election. In 1930 Democrats posted big gains in the House and Senate, and eked out narrow majorities in both chambers for the first time in a generation. In 1932, largely because of disgust with Herbert Hoover and the Republican party, the Democrats again scored huge gains, creating powerful governing majorities in both chambers of Congress. And the presidency was won, of course, by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Many readers have missed one of the main points, namely that FDR didn't entirely create the 1932 landslide, and that the President FDR eventually became was not foreseen by many observers of the 1932 election. In fact, in important ways, the 1932 landslide helped FDR being a great President. It was in part because he had a huge Democratic majority, and they had a powerful mandate from the American people, that they could embark on their bold crusade of fundamental change to ameliorate the devastation caused by the great depression. But contrary to the beliefs of many today, Roosevelt did not campaign on or enter office with a detailed policy platform. In fact, about the only concrete policy he espoused was to balance the federal budget, a policy he quickly jettisoned in favor of massive public spending and the accompanying debts to stimulate economic growth. Public spending to stimulate an economy is now axiomatic, but Roosevelt's administration was possibly the first to adopt such a Keynesian economic policy, something that was not foreshadowed in Roosevelt's almost content-free campaign.
Roosevelt also didn't win that election by as much as most people believe. In 1920 Democrat James Cox (with running mate FDR) got only 34% of the vote. In 1924 John Davis received only 29% of the vote, and in 1928 Al Smith took less than 41%. So the 57.41% Roosevelt received was a huge jump from previous Democratic performances. But his percentage was roughly equal to Eisenhower's total in 1956, and less that what Johnson (1964), Nixon (1972) and Reagan (1984) garnered.
What mattered in 1932, however, was the mandate from the voters, the 13 Senate seats and the 97 House seats that came along with Roosevelt's landslide. Roosevelt was one of our two or three greatest presidents because he took advantage of the political opportunity of an electoral mandate, 60 seats in the Senate and 313 in the House.
There's no way Democrats will gain the 73 seats it would need to get us to 313 in the House. But it's not inconceivable that we could hit 60 seats in the Senate. And even if we only pick up 20 or 30 seats in the House, with the much more cohesive House (where individual "mavericks" have less ability to gum up the works than they do in the Senate), Democrats could push through much more progressive legislation than the sclerotic majorities sustained by residual Dixiecrat influences that the Republicans finally swept out in 1994.
This is maybe the most important difference between a ticket led by Barack Obama and one headed up by Hillary Clinton. As I said above, I think Hillary Clinton will win if she's our nominee. But I believe Barack Obama could win in a landslide.
The Super Bowl was last night, so allow me a football analogy. For the last 30 years or so, we've been stuck in our own territory, and the other team has had the ball. Occasionally, like in the Clinton years, we get slightly better field position. But we've been on defense since the last days of the Carter administration. It's time we throw downfield and get in the end zone.
The American public wants change. They hate George W. Bush. They hate the political gridlock—AKA Republican obstructionism, even if they don’t realize that's the problem in Congress—and they want new leadership. They will vote for Clinton. But I believe many of them will embrace Obama. And the difference between a Clinton win at 53% and an Obama win at 58% is probably 12-15 extra members of Congress, and maybe another 3-6 Democratic Senators.
Having a bigger congress means the difference between a crappy national health care plan and something decent, maybe even something more progressive than a President Obama himself would even request. It also means no more of the horrible "compromises" we've been forced to endure from the Senate. In a Senate with 58 or more Democrats, centrist Democrats wouldn't be able to hide in the shadows and fail to support a decisive policy to end the war in Iraq. We would pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which in tandem with a more progressive tax policy could reverse decades of growing wage and wealth inequality, which in turn has led to less democratic politics and policies by our government. And a historic repudiation of the current Republican party could finally curtail the rise of the radical rightwing movement, which starting in 1964 and with great acceleration during the 1980's, took over the Republican party and has turned a conservative party in to a radical threat to the New Deal and the essential ideals of American democracy as first put forth by the Founding Fathers and as expounded upon by Abraham Lincoln, FDR and the New Deal Coalition, the Civil Rights movement, the feminist movement, and LBJ's Great Society.
Of course this is not guaranteed. Nothing in politics is. But right now, there are almost no voters whose votes we could ever win who say they will unquestionably vote against Obama. We all know many, many people who say they could never vote for Hillary Clinton. Many of these people, forced to choose between Clinton and John McCain (or maybe Mitt Romney) will end up voting for Clinton. But they will do it grudgingly, and she will probably not have the coattails that Obama appears poised to have. There is some excitement about the possibility of a woman president. But there is little excitement that that woman would be Hillary Clinton.
With Barack Obama, the excitement is electric. Just about all of us have anecdotes. I'll give you two. I was at my parents' house the night of Obama's keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. As it ended, my dad— walked in to the kitchen and said "who's that guy who just spoke, Osama or something? I'd vote for him." Despite getting most of his "news" from Fox, he's still open to supporting Obama. And my mom, who voted for Bush in the last two elections, also commented that she really liked Obama's speech. Recently, during a discussion we both had, she opined that she would vote for Obama is he got the nomination but McCain is Hillary did.. People can scoff that those are dumb or frivolous ways to decide how to vote. But the reality is that most voters don't arrive at their decision based upon long and measured consideration of the finer points of the candidates' policy platforms. There has to be an emotional tug. And with Obama, it's clear that many people feel that emotional tug.
There are other reasons I prefer Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton. In most areas their policy platforms are similar. But one area where I think Obama represents a clean and necessary break with the past is in foreign policy. Obama isn't going to give away the farm. The realities of American Empire are that we will continue to have a huge military exerting influence across the globe. But Obama, through his statements, and through some of his key foreign policy advisors (like Zbignew Brzenzinski, Richard Clarke, Lawrence Korb, Robert Malley and Samantha Power) points to a more pragmatic and sustainable foreign and defense policy than does Clinton. Most of Obama's advisors were opposed to the war in Iraq even prior to the invasion, while Clinton's team is heavy with people like Richard Holbrooke who got Iraq all wrong, and Michael O'Hanlon, who's probably in the running for most Google hits for his name, Atrios and the word "wanker."
Furthermore, it would help us immeasurably with the rest of the world to have as our president someone born to an African father and a globetrotting anthropologist mother, who spent formative years overseas (and not in a diplomatic or military compound), and who views himself and our country not as the center of the universe but as part of a larger global community.
I realize Obama appeals to independents as a "post-partisan." I'm a partisan, and as I've argued before, because the Republican party has become so radical, we can't wait for bipartisan solutions. But I've seen little in Obama's record or his rhetoric to suggest that in substance he's not a solid liberal. I find it hard to believe that he spent all those years representing an overwhelmingly Democratic legislative district, made up of African-Americans and highly educated and engaged liberal intellectuals, as some kind of moderate Manchurian Candidate, just waiting to become president so his Broderesque centrism could fully bloom.
Furthermore, I think it's a virtue that he's become a bit of a Rorschach candidate, with people imbuing him with whatever of their beliefs they think he holds. If people thinking he's "post-partisan" (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean) helps him be a progressive president, get us out of Iraq and pass a good national health care plan and fix our economy, that's fine with me.
Bill Clinton triangulated ideologically. Ronald Reagan triangulated rhetorically and symbolically. For the most part, he governed far to the right of anyone in American politics since Roosevelt, but Reagan, through rhetoric and symbolism, was able to convince people they were more conservative than they really were. Almost all polling shows that Americans are actually quite liberal, and are become more liberal. Obama wouldn't have to convince them they're more liberal than they are, he would just has to make them feel that it was moderate or mainstream to get out of Iraq and pass national health care. It would be great if he is perceived as moderate but governs from left-of-center great. If he can make people realize that liberal views actually are the mainstream, that's even better.
I'm not sure who will be our nominee, although I've thought since early in 2007 that Obama had a better chance than Clinton. I wondered during October and November, when Clinton erased Obama's financial advantage and ran a largely mistake-free campaign, whether Obama could pull it off. But now, I think there's a decent chance that he will not only survive Super Tuesday, but could come out ahead. I hope he does. I don’t wish this for negative reasons, because I fear or detest the idea that Hillary Clinton would be our nominee. I want Barack Obama to win because I want him as our nominee and I want him to become President.
I know for the political cognoscenti like, Obama appears to be running a content-free campaign. But he's not running his campaign like it was a debating-society contest about policy differences. He's trying to appeal to voters, and he is succeeding.
But he represents a profound change for the Democratic party. He is a fresh face with a compelling story of unity and erasing acrimonious divisions in our communities, our country and our world. It's not just a story that he conveys with brilliance and inspiration, it's a vision for America and the world that he embodies. I think Americans really are ready to move past the political gridlock and nastiness 40 years. I think they are ready to resume the progress of the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society. They want to be inspired, and they want to get past the racism, the political cynicism and the sense that we can't be better. They are ready to elect more and better Democrats to help him deliver on the voters' mandate for progress. And with a mandate and with more and better Democrats, President Obama will be able to break loose of the tactical battles of short-term gains and make the kind of bold advances that inspired people to elect and revere great Democrats like Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I think Americans will willingly embrace and ratify that vision with Barack Obama as our candidate, and that's why I hope he will be our nominee.