The case for Obama

by Bryan

As non-political as I try to make this blog, I want to make the case for Barack Obama in today’s primary election. My friends are pretty much split along Hillary/Obama lines, but I can’t let the arguments I hear for Hillary go unchallenged. Let me also say this at the outset: if John McCain wins the Republican nomination, and we have a Presidential race of McCain/Obama or McCain/Clinton, I will already be happy with the President no matter whom it is. I understand that many will disagree with me, but I don’t care to argue the point. That’s how I feel. But I feel Barack Obama is the best choice, and that the arguments for Hillary hold little water. Here they are:

1. She has more experience

It is true that Hillary Clinton has more Senatorial experience than Obama and is older, and therefore has more professional experience. I think most of the “experience” people refer to here is Clinton’s time in the White House. I do not believe proximity to the President has any bearing on how good a President will ultimately be, though it would help Hillary on day one, the moment she pledges to reform the broken White House. Clinton proponents have stressed that someone with intimate knowledge of the White House has a distinct advantage over someone like Obama, who has spent little time in the Oval Office. This argument has many holes in it, the first being that Bill Clinton himself came into the White House with no White House experience, though he logged executive experience in Arkansas. None of the presumed candidates for President have executive experience, so either:

a) Bill Clinton’s executive experience helped him to become a good President, or
b) Bill Clinton’s executive experience did not help him become a good President

If the answer is “a,” and we’re granting Hillary executive experience by proxy, this would go directly against her own contention that the President alone is responsible for their decisions, and bears the weight of the office. She said this in response to fears of a co-Presidency, which she said “didn’t work” the first time. If it “didn’t work” the first time, then why would we grant her any credit for executive experience? (Plus, if we were really worried about it, we’d have Romney/Richardson).

If the answer is “b,” then it’s a moot point, and any supposed knowledge runoff to Hillary wouldn’t benefit her, nor would it detract from Obama’s campaign. Outside of her White House years, Hillary’s record is not distinctly any more or less impressive than Obama’s, and vice versa. But her “experience” in the White House, while relevant in a few key areas, should not be a deciding factor in the Presidential race. (And obviously, if you think the answer is “c: Bill Clinton was not a good President,” this discussion probably isn’t relevant.)

2. She will be ready on “day one”

First of all, between the inauguration and the Presidential ball, this should really be “day two.” Jokes aside, I agree with Hillary here: she will be better on Day One. This is the one area that her proximity to the White House will help or, more importantly, the access to her husband’s former team of leaders. We’d probably get a team of people very familiar with the workings of the White House, and negotiating that bureaucracy is an actual challenge that Hillary would be better faced to meet. If Obama was elected President, I could see his bridge-building agenda getting off to a slow start, and I could see him hitting a few speed bumps with the bureaucracy. The advantage for 2009 is solidly for Hillary.

But here’s the thing: we are electing a President for four years. The same factor that would allow Hillary to have a stable team in place on day one would be limiting on day 366, or day 700. Obama would need to learn the landscape to find a team of new leaders and thinkers, just like Bill Clinton did in 1993. Bill Clinton had a terrible two years in office but rebounded to thump Bob Dole in 1996, and this should make it clear that it’s not about day one at all. The colossal disaster that is George W. Bush’s America cannot be fixed in a day, and probably can’t be fixed in four years. If you think Hillary is the better Presidential candidate across a four year term, by all means, vote for her, but “day one” is her zinger, and it means next to nothing.

3. She will have the best adviser in the world

There’s no denying Bill Clinton’s political talents and his intelligence, and there would be no denying his effect on a H. Clinton presidency, real or imagined. No matter what Hillary says, there will always be the perception that Bill is pulling some strings, and in politics, perception and reality have a funny way of mixing. Now for a lot of people, that’s alright. They like the idea of Bill Clinton being close to the White House.

But let’s look at it this way: we only trust Bill Clinton’s judgment because we saw it in action as President. Does Hillary receive any credit as an adviser to her husband’s Presidency? Hardly. It’s more about what she took from it than what she gave to it. Those simply nostalgic for Billy should remember that memory plays tricks on people, and that nostalgia is a dangerous tool when picking someone who will lead as the idealized time period falls farther and farther into the past. The world has changed significantly since Bill Clinton was in office, and it’s only going to continue to change.

Like the arguments for Hillary, you’ve heard the arguments for Obama before: he will unite people, he has better judgment (mostly, he was against the war from the beginning), he represents a necessary break from the Clinton/Bush past, he’s more likely to be elected, and, most importantly, he has the greatest potential as President. I buy into all of these arguments, and here’s why I think they are important.

I was already solidly pro-Obama when I read the incredible cover article to the NYT magazine last Sunday, entitled Waving Goodbye to Hegemony. The article describes the world as it is now, which is to say, it describes the world a lot different than most Americans think of it, or would like to admit. America is now merely one of three major world powers, with a voracious China and a self-confident European Union both rising in the days of American excess. The new world will be shaped by the decisions of the second world-countries that fill in the map between the powers, except for Iraq, countries long ignored by America. The next President will have to find a way to fix our horrible problems of poverty and inequality at home while literally carving out America’s place in the world. There’s no magnetism to the Stars and Stripes any more. We have to find our piece of the pie wherever we can get it, and we start by presenting ourselves as the country we want to be through our President.

If we elect Barack Obama President of the United States, it will be the greatest moment in the history of our country. I do not begrudge anyone at all who wants to vote for Hillary because of her gender, nor would I ever cross words with anyone on the subject. Against anyone else, Hillary would have my vote, and for that inarguably awesome reason. But the story of race is the story of America. Lincoln is our greatest President because he abolished slavery, and the world has watched us since then, and it has waited for us to turn the ultimate corner, and we have not. If we elect Hillary Clinton, we will be following in the wonderful footsteps of Argentina and Chile, who recently elected women leaders, and we will be applauded. If we elect Barack Obama, we will be following no one. We will be leading again, living up to the promise of our country by taking the one step long thought unfathomable. We will have a President with dark skin, and he will be the right man for the job. It would be our greatest triumph, and we would reap the benefits.