Saturday, May 05, 2007

THE FRONT RUNNERS

I’m feeling especially out of touch this morning because I watched both Presidential debates and, apparently, what I saw and what the talking heads saw were two different things. After the Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton was hailed for her performance. Her demeanor was just fine, they said – not shrill, as you might have expected. As for the GOP, we were told that the loser among the top tier was Hillary’s fellow front-runner: Rudy Giuliani. Rudy, say the talking heads, “stumbled” in answering a question about abortion, and looked like “a deer facing headlights” in responding to another question about the differences between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites.

So score one for the “liberal” New Yorker and against the “conservative.” Right? Not if I’m doing the scoring.

Before I explain why the debate further cemented my opposition to Hillary Clinton, let me preface my comments by pointing out that I’m not one of these anti-Clinton conspiracy theorists. Whitewater doesn’t interest me. Nor do I blame Hillary for the death of Vince Foster or anyone else. In fact, I respect her intellect, knowledge of policy, passion for governing, and ability to get things done on the Hill. If I lived in her state and she were running for Senate, I might even vote for her.

But just because you can play defensive line doesn’t make you a good quarterback. And just because you’re an effective Senator (most of the time), doesn’t mean you could get the job done as President. Hillary, I’m more convinced than ever, most certainly cannot.

To me, the defining moments in the Democratic debate were the comments by the top-tier candidates regarding their original positions on Iraq. First, you have Obama. His point was simply stated: he opposed the war from the start. Does he score points for that? Mega points. Second, you have Edwards. Did he oppose the war? No. So he doesn’t get mega points. But he admitted that his instincts were to oppose it, and he simply didn’t listen to them. Edwards stopped short of calling himself a wimp, but he might as well have. He apologized, owned responsibility for the problem, and blamed no else but himself for his vote. For that, he might not merit points, but nor does he merit scorn.

That leads me to the Democratic front runner. Hillary addressed the issue without a hint of noticeable remorse. She apologized – in a manner of speaking – but her regret was in trusting President Bush and his people not to take us into the war precipitously. Her mistake, in other words, wasn’t one of not relying on her own instincts, let alone in showing cowardice; rather, she was simply too trusting of the Administration. They’re the ones responsible for our problems in Iraq, not her.

Now, maybe the talking heads weren’t offended by that exhibition, but I was. It’s one thing for Hillary Clinton to blame the White House for her vote to authorize the war back in 2002. But once the Administration went in and found no WMDs, did she speak out against the conflict? Personally, I marched against the war at the same time that the media claimed we were “winning” it. Strangely, though, I didn’t see Hillary at those marches. Apparently, she was still being hoodwinked by the Administration.

Here’s what Hillary said to NPR’s Juan Williams in June 2003 – three months after the war began in Iraq -- when it was clear that the WMDs did not exist:

“I think that from my perspective, the vote I made, which was a very difficult vote, was based on my assessment of the evidence presented to me. In my mind, the jury is still out as to whether or not that evidence merited my vote or anyone else's ... But I knew from my husband's administration that he certainly received the same kind of intelligence reports -- that here was a man who was intent, obsessed with having weapons of mass destruction. So I'm not ready to say either that the intelligence was wrong or that the intelligence was selectively applied and skewed for a certain result.”

Leadership? Courage?

Here’s the reality: if Hillary is on your side, she can be an effective advocate. But if she’s not, she’ll fight you tooth and nail, and she’ll never admit to a mistake unless she has backed into the tightest possible corner. You’d think she would have found that corner with respect to Iraq, but apparently not. She can still (over)play the “blame the Republicans” card, just as she did when her husband was besieged with the Lewinsky scandal. In that matter, blame could be laid on every doorstep – including Bill Clinton’s. The same applies here. But Hillary can’t bring herself to blame herself other than to say that she was too trusting, the poor girl.

Folks, she had access to the intelligence! She claimed to have assessed it herself, remember? She then saw the results on the ground. But while we were marching, political expediency prevented her from speaking out against the war until it became crystal clear that she couldn’t continue to support it and receive her party’s nomination. Is this someone we should trust to make decisions on future wars?

And the issue here isn’t simply one of national defense. Let’s say that her political machine is powerful enough to put her in the White House. I doubt it will happen, but let’s say it did. Do you possibly think for a second that she would be able to rally the nation behind any important cause? Do you possibly think that conservative Americans and right-leaning independents will warm up to her and join her in an effort to combat poverty or global warming, or to provide universal health care coverage? George W. Bush campaigned for President in 2000 saying that he will be a “uniter, not a divider,” and in fact he served that way as Governor of Texas. Well, we’ve seen what happens when a President is unable to unite more than his core constituency, and we’d see it again if Hillary takes the reigns.

So, if you like gridlock, vote for Hillary. If you don’t, you might want to look at other candidates whose negatives aren’t quite as high as hers. It’s no wonder the GOP is so desperate for her to win the nomination. If she loses the election, the Republicans keep the White House. And if she wins the election, the Government won’t be able to push through any major, progressive initiatives. Talk about a win-win for the GOP.

If not Hillary, who? You know my answer: the man who is known for his intellect, charisma, multi-cultural background, positive approach to politics, and ability to tap into both progressive and spiritual traditions.

No, I’m not alluding to Rudy Giuliani. But I have to say, while all the talking heads were criticizing Rudy’s performance this week, I was actually somewhat impressed. Stylistically, Rudy was obviously not on his game. Nobody could deny that. And yet there’s more to a performance than style. Every now and then, we should consider substance.

Mitt Romney, the man who is most closely competing with Rudy for GOP fundraising dollars, pointed out the traditional way to earn the GOP nomination. A former Governor of Massachusetts, Romney gathered his experience by being a pro-choice politician. But now that he’s running to be the leader of the conservative party of the entire US of A, he could ill afford to be anything but pro-life. Like Reagan before him, he said, he has done a complete 180 on the topic. The new Mitt is pro-life and proud of it! From the looks of the guy, the issue didn’t give him any sleepless nights either. He simply saw the light. Praise Jesus. Praise God.

Well, that was Mitt’s approach. Opportunistic, wouldn’t you say? Rudy chose another path. He’d be OK, he said, with the Supreme Court repealing Roe v. Wade and also OK if the Court upheld that decision. The talking-heads couldn’t believe what a lousy, unprepared answer he gave. Doesn’t he know that Presidents need to be decisive?

Well, I think he does. He sure seemed to know that when the topic involved the war against terrorism. Funny, though, but abortion is different. It’s not an issue that merits decisiveness so much as compassion. I think Rudy gets that.

This is what he said that mattered most to me: First, that when he was Mayor of New York, abortions were legal but they dropped substantially in number. Funny, but crime took a nosedive as well. So did poverty. Facts are facts: Rudy doesn’t just talk about the need to help the poor, he’s actually done something about it. Second, it was pretty clear during that debate that Rudy still respects a woman’s right to choose. He might oppose abortion personally, but at a time and place where it would have been expedient to take a little gel to his hair and flip flop (like Romney), he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Now, my fellow progressives, you can lambaste the guy all you want for not proudly proclaiming his pro-choice stance, but what he did was as close as you could get to doing so without committing political hari-kari. He risked coming across like an angst-ridden boob – the antithesis of presidential – when he refused to join with all the other GOP candidates and line up for life. Why? Because he almost certainly believes that a woman does have a right to choose. That signal was sent loudly and clearly to any open-minded progressive who has two functioning ears, just as it was sent equally clearly to Republicans. And the result, in the short run, will be less money for Rudy and more for Mr. Hair Gel and that ol’ war horse, John “Pro Life from the Start” McCain.

Can Rudy win the GOP nomination? You bet. But he probably has only one shot. He’ll need Hillary to get the Democratic nod. If the GOP knows they’re going up against her, they’ll be motivated to fight her with the same ruthlessness that she fights them. And they’ll find the candidate most likely to appeal to the center. That candidate, as the GOP debate illustrates, is Rudy Giuliani.

7 comments:

Mary Lois said...

I have long been baffled how Sen. Clinton and her apologists claim that saying "I wouldn't vote the same way if the Republicans hadn't deceived me," is the same as an apology for a wrong vote. Is she anti-war or not? Certainly not. Will she ever admit that it was she who made the mistake? Certainly not.

I'm willing to take the pundits' word for it that she "won" the "debate." (I use quotes because surely nobody thinks that was a debate.) She lowered expectations when she went in, so that all Obama had to do was not do superbly well and she clobbered him with her cool. Her supporters thought she won; however, being in the "Anyone But Hillary" camp, I was only convinced of what I already knew was true about her. She is rigid and unable to bend.

Romney's supporters think he "won" on the Republican side. Maybe so. He still looks like a Vice President to me.

But I still like Obama, and I still think that dark horses are going to come out on both sides. I don't think any of those people in those "debates" are going to be the candidates of their respective parties a year from now.

Daniel Spiro said...

You see things the way I do.

The worst thing I can say about Obama is that he will probably not be as good a President in 2009 as in 2011 or 2015. To me, that's not much of a criticism.

Mary Lois said...

Yeah, but he'd be a great Vice President this time, under either Gore or Edwards, and then a President for the ages! How about that scenario?

Daniel Spiro said...

Obama a VP for Gore or Edwards?

Here's the problem. I don't know if you are a sports fan, but if you are, circle back to 1995 or 1996 and the world of golf. Let's say a 20 year old Tiger Woods was to play the role of Gilligan. Who would be the captain? There wasn't anyone large enough to fill that role. There's wasn't anyone whose talent remotely approached his. And there may not be a Democratic around today -- other than Hillary (I'm talking upside only) -- whose talent remotely approaches Obama's.

Edwards? Do you mean the guy whose experience in government, federal and state, might even be less than Obama? The guy who couldn't touch Dick Cheney in a debate because he was afraid to mix it up? The guy who supported the war in Iraq because he was afraid to "trust his instincts"? The guy who looks like a game show host and who twice spent $400 of his campaign funds on a haircut? The guy who styles himself a fighter for the poor, but who built a house that is 28,000 square feet -- that's the inside of his house, not the extent of his property? The guy who, in short, seems to have nothing going for him except his rhetoric and his hair, and who has proven nothing more clearly than his cowardice.

Sorry. I can see nothing but humor ahead if Tiger -- or the equivalent talent in the political arena -- played second fiddle to such a limited talent.

Gore? More of a possibility. I'll grant you that. His gravitas way exceeds that of Edwards (in my view, at least).

But again, this is a guy who ran an uninspired campaign against Bush. Then he apparently went into a doozy of a depression after he wasn't allowed to take office. Then, even though he had to realize that we have a field with two extremely talented contenders, he has refused to enter the fray, all the while watching those contenders amass tens of millions of dollars.

Had Gore joined the race a year ago, I would have likely hoped for Barack to step back and play second fiddle. But not now. I'm not sure Gore has the emotional strength to become the most powerful man in the world in 2009. Nor, as I now think about it, do I think Tiger should play second fiddle to a talent like Al's either.

This much, I might concede -- for two years, maybe those two guys would be a better President than Barack. I just don't think we'll be electing a President for two years, or for that matter, four. Obama would do well enough when he starts out. He's smart enough to remember the political equivalent of the Hippocratic oath and wise enough to live by it.

And by the way, as I type this, Tiger just won his 57th PGA tournament and he's only 31. At that age, he's supposed to be "too young and inexperienced" to excel to such a degree at his sport. But then again, at what he does, Tiger is a genius. I'm betting Barack is one too.

Mary Lois said...

Edwards? Actually I was thinking of the guy whose causes, including the elimination of poverty, were chosen out of conviction rather than what might get votes. (The poor are not a voter base.)

I wouldn’t put his poor showing against Cheney down to fear – I’d be willing to put it in the “everybody makes mistakes” department, rather like Obama's apparent weakness in the the Democrats' debate a couple of weeks ago.

And what reason did the others give for supporting the war? They were afraid to trust their instincts, but more afraid to say so. His looks don’t bother me, in fact, I think he’s kind of good-looking, and that’s refreshing in politics. Enough has been said about the haircut! I didn’t know there was any such thing as a $400 haircut, but I’m sure Bill Clinton does, and so probably does George W. Bush and a few other sartorial giants in Washington. How he spends his personal fortune is not the issue – for gosh sakes, Nixon had gold faucets in his bathroom in San Clemente if the publicity was to be believed, and that was in the 1970’s! I didn’t exactly approve of Hillary Clinton carting furniture out of the White House that she didn’t bring in. The days of the politician staying true to his humble beginnings ended at the same time the money got so big that none but zillionaires could even consider running.

Maybe Gore ran an uninspired campaign against Bush, but he did win, after all. I didn’t vote for him that time because I thought Nader was the best man in the race (and by your yardstick of aceticism he still will be if he runs this time. In fact, he may be the only candidate who has never had a $400 haircut).

Let me say this, if Gore does happen into the race he’ll have my support -- knowing, as Sen. Clinton would say, what I do now.

Daniel Spiro said...

Gore will have a lot of people's support if he runs. He'd certainly get my vote if he emerges victorious in the primaries.

So, too, would Edwards. I certainly didn't mean to criticize him for being handsome. But personally, I haven't seen much beyond the looks.

You compare his extravagance to that of Nixon, but Nixon wasn't running as an anti-poverty candidate. I realize I'm in the majority of the Democratic Party in thinking that politicians should set a personal example to show that their public views are sincerely held, but that's my view. I guess it's the way I was raised: I come from a line of people who didn't look to feather our own nests, or show off as much as we could have.

If Edwards thinks it's cool to build a 28,000 square foot mansion and he's our leading anti-poverty fighter, then why should other rich people sacrifice by paying higher taxes? Why should corporations sacrifice for the common good -- why shouldn't we all look out for ourselves? If Gore wants to build a swimming pool and guzzle all sorts of fossil fuels at home and he's our leading proponent of environmental conservation, then why should other people sacrifice by conserving energy?

I'm not saying you have to go as far as Jimmy Carter and enroll your only child in the D.C. public schools -- though it did give rise to some pretty fun Saturday Night Live sketches -- but the best politicians recognize the need to keep the blatant-inconsistencies to a minimum.

Anyway, I realize you made other points there and I can argue with them too, but I'd rather say that the beauty of a democracy is that we can agree to disagree. Even if the new President is John McCain, I'd still try to begin his administration with a modicum of hope.

Betty C. said...

I read your whole post and the ensuing debate with interest. I try to keep up with US politics as well as I can, but since I got dual nationality, I have been following the French scene more closely. It's fascinating too.