So, Barack Obama has scored an incredible victory in South Carolina, receiving 55 percent of Democratic votes, to Clinton's 27 percent and Edwards's 18. According to exit polls, his margin of support was more than 4-to-1 among African American voters! (Story here.)
MSNBC reported that nearly twice as many Democrats turned out to vote in this primary, compared to 2004:
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, more than 532,000 votes had been tabulated in Barack Obama's commanding victory here. The returns easily eclipsed the 280,000 people who voted in the Democratic primary in 2004.
These numbers must be freaking the pants off Republican and Clinton strategists alike.
As for Obama, I wholeheartedly agree that he’s charismatic. The guy’s Hollywood handsome and possesses Cicero-like oratory skills. Even one of my best friends in Dublin, a no-nonsense sort of cynic when it comes to American and Irish politics, was gushing today about Obama’s ability to inspire. Obama’s victory speech last night touched eloquently on issues of the economy, healthcare, education, social injustice, diversity, and the fact that huge numbers of voters have been motivated by his campaign to engage in the political process, many for the first time. Moreover, I would love to participate in the historic election of the first African-American as president.
So why am I not jumping on the Obama bandwagon? Why does he inspire wariness and disappointment in me, rather than enthusiasm--nearly to the degree of antipathy, but not quite, I feel toward Hillary Clinton, the first woman with an historic chance to win the presidency?
Both Obama and Clinton highlight, I believe, how out-of-step I am with the average American voter. Far to the left of just about everyone I know, I was strongly against both Gulf wars from before their inceptions, I want the troops out now and the military budget cut drastically—those tax dollars we do spend on defense should go toward training, education and support of the actual troops and their families and not into the pockets of Haliburton, et al. I believe in same-sex marriage, not civil unions—it’s a clear-cut issue of equal rights and social justice.
I back single-payer universal healthcare along the lines of Medicare for all, support a woman’s right to chose as one of the most fundamental of all rights, and unabashedly call myself a feminist. I am in favor of raising corporate tax rates to levels they were in the 1960’s or higher, staunchly support immigrant rights and the notion that immigration benefits the US much more than it takes away, believe white collar crimes should be punished with stringent sentences served not in cushy country-club, low-security institutions but in the same prisons where we now send those convicted of non-violent drug offenses—make space for the CEOs by removing the drug addicts and getting them into proper treatment programs.
I could go on but I think you get the idea. To me, Obama comes across as a centrist at best and, more worrying, image over substance. He stresses the meme of change—which due to his success, has been picked up by every other presidential contender, be they Democrat or Republican. “Change, change, change!” we hear—code for NOT BUSH, upon which we can all agree. But where are the specifics on exactly what will be changed and, even more importantly, how?
The almost messianic-like devotion of Obama supporters scares me. I am wary of his emotional appeal in the same way I am wary of, say, commercials for Army recruiters or Shell Oil. I worry that he has insufficient political experience and political will to stick to his guns while navigating the powerful, avaricious and entrenched special interests that dominate Washington. I fear he will be eaten alive by slick lobbyists, the conservative media, “defense” industry reps and generals, and long-term members of Congress—whom he will be forced to negotiate with or rely upon if elected. And I don't like his tepid--or even non-existent--stand on LGBT issues.
Look at what Washington forces did to Bill Clinton during his eight years in office—and Bill by the time he became president had, IMO, more political experience than Obama. Don’t get me wrong, I am anything but a Hillary or Bill Clinton fan. In fact, other than the fact that both Hillary and Barack are centrists, Hillary strikes me as the direct opposite of Obama: cynical, entrenched in the establishment, and completely out of touch with the average American voter. If she ends up with the Democratic nomination, I’ll have to hold my nose to vote for her.
One thing she ain’t, though, is inexperienced or a political pushover. Say what you will, she has been tempered in the crucible of go-for-the-jugular presidential politics and remains standing. Surrounded by advisors like Terry McAuliffe whom I particularly detest for their test-the-wind refusal to take a moral stand on any issue, she is hooked in and skilled in the bloody arts of Washington politics. That huge scampering sound you’ve been hearing for the past several weeks are Clinton advisors scrambling to find a message that will convince American voters that Clinton is actually a candidate of change rather than the well-established political insider she really is.
Now that Kucinich has dropped out and Edwards is falling increasingly behind, I don’t like either of the choices the Democratic party and mainstream media are offering us. What it comes down to for me is that I am alienated from the American political process, which forces all candidates to the center or to the right and then compels them during their campaigns to remain vague on the nuts and bolts of their policies and instead employ code phrases and grandiose or vague political slogans—like “change,” which when you get right down to it, can be for worse as well as for better. GW Bush brought us “change”: in the form of a gutted Habeas Corpus, a trillion-dollar deficit, and the murder or dislocation of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan among other things.
It drives me mad that ill-informed American voters pick their presidents on the basis of whether or not they’d like to have a beer with them. Such an utterly insane process brought us the likes of the current occupant of the White House. And while I agree with much of what Obama says and believe that as a candidate or president, he will be an enormous improvement over GW Bush, I believe his campaign only continues the have-a-beer-with-him tradition, although with him it may be more “who would you like to date.” (Remember the swimsuit photo in People magazine?)
The last thing a Democratic candidate wants to do when being evaluated on such trivial and irrelevant terms is take a strong position on something controversial like same-sex marriage, raising taxes to fund social programs, or withdrawing the troops immediately from Iraq. Is it because few American voters want to discuss such topics while having a beer over the barbeque? Also, god forbid you might alienate a potential voter.
You notice I said “Democratic candidate.” Republicans, less afraid of controversy, often take stands that appeal to their rightwing, so-called Christian base. I think the Dems could learn a thing or two from Republicans, namely, risk a few principled stands to appeal to their leftwing base. Centrist voters might actually respect principled stands, especially if passionately and clearly explained.
And in the end, isn’t leading the way on such principled stands the very definition of “leadership”?