Monday, June 2, 2008


It looks like the Democratic primary season will come to its long and tortured end tomorrow with elections in Montana and South Dakota. Presumably, Barack Obama will finally get the required delegates needed for the Democratic nomination, but Hillary Clinton claims she can win the popular vote for her party's nomination. The fiasco with the Michigan and Florida primaries has put the whole process in question, since these two states are deciders in any national election. All of this chaos leaves a divided Democratic party that is uncertain whether or not it can win against a solid veteran like John McCain.

The only logical way for the Democratic party to launch a successful campaign this fall is to have both candidates on the Democratic ticket. Given Obama's lead in delegates, he is the logical Presidential nominee, and with Clinton as Vice-President, the voters will get more or less what they wanted. I'm not so sure that's what the candidates want, however. Two big egos with significantly different approaches and constituencies, I'm sure neither feels that one can chart his/her own individual destiny with the other in tow. But that's the only way the Democrats can haul in the votes needed to win. Just as John Kennedy had to swallow his contempt for Lyndon Johnson and put him on the ticket to bring in the (then) solidly Democratic South, Obama desperately needs Clinton's strong showing with blue collar workers and Hispanics. With Clinton as the presidential nominee, she could bring along some moderate Republicans as well, but I believe she's too divisive a figure to win the whole shooting match, even with Obama as VP.

After the debacle that has been George W. Bush's presidency, a vast majority of Americans are screaming for change. What kind of change, no one really knows. At least there's no clear consensus. Everyone's idea of change is different, and with a candidate as ambiguous as Obama, he can represent everyone's concept of change at the same time. People can impose whatever hopes and dreams they have on him because he hasn't been around long enough to stand for anything specific. Clinton, on the other hand, has a long track record and, to most people, she's neither fish nor fowl. Too liberal for many Republicans; too conservative for many Democrats. Even women are divided about her, as many young woman prefer the youthful exurberance of Obama over someone they associate with their mother's generation. Overall, I think Obama has the slight edge.

But I'm still uncertain about Obama. He has a tinge of Jimmy Carter about him. I'm afraid he might sweep into the Oval Office believing that he has a mandate and piously assume that he will be able to push through whatever legislation he wishes without resistance. As history has taught us, Congress never responds well to that approach, usually dragging their feet and stonewalling just to prove a point. It's especially bad when presidents attempt to push too many bills at once. I'm concerned that the old-timers in Congress will laugh at Obama's inexperience and turn him into a lame duck before his first term is even over. After a couple years of no change, the public will turn against him.

This is particularly bad with regard to Iraq. When Richard Nixon tinkered around with the Vietnam War and didn't move quickly to bring the troops home, the war was no longer the Democrats mistake but his own, and history has branded him with that legacy. Not that I necessarily advocate a quick withdraw from Iraq, but I believe that if a future President Obama cannot make some effective changes in the situation in Iraq within his first year in office, it will be as much his war as it has been President Bush's.

And what about McCain. I still think the Democrats can pull themselves together and convince enough Republicans to go along with them on the Change Train. I see John McCain as Hubert Humphrey in 1968 or Bob Dole in 1996: honorable public servants who have done a great deal for their country, but simply ran at the wrong time. Because there's really something bigger in play right now, and that is the generational change occurring in the country. After more than two centuries of old white men running the country, there's an underlying yearning for a woman or an minority to take the reins. It didn't seem likely that a woman and an African-American male, both offering remarkable credentials, would become viable candidates in the same year, thus making the choice for the Democrats all the more difficult. A Democratic ticket offering both could resolve that conflict, and make one heck of a statement to the world that we have truly moved on.

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