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Hillary or Obama: Experience or Inspiration?

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It's a cliché of the Presidential campaign: Hillary is experienced, Obama is inspirational.

 

Why? Obama has slighted his own record, while Clinton has hyped hers. When people have compared the legislative accomplishments of the two candidates, the cliché is not borne out: According to exhaustive searches (by others, not by me), Obama's record in the US Senate is impressive, especially since it has been amassed in less than a full term. Hillary's is extensive, but, while hers is mostly concentrated in the areas of health, children and women, his has covered the waterfront: foreign policy, ethics, domestic and economic policy, and also women and children. And he has succeeded in passing a fair percentage of his bills. Further, in his years as a state legislator, Obama was no slouch, either.

 

Yet the media continue to present Obama not as experienced, not as a talented legislator, but as "inspirational." And the media presents Clinton as experienced. Is this based on her term and a half in the Senate, and her 8 years as First Lady? While she was active as First Lady, she did not have the highest clearance, and did not visibly engage in policy-making after she (and Bill) were burned by her disastrous healthcare initiative; it's true she was behind the scenes; she probably influenced Bill's policies, but we won't know how much until all his presidential documents are released.

 

The reason why I raise this is not because I'm for Obama (I am), but because I'm curious as to why the MSM has essentially bought Hillary's characterization of herself and of Obama. I also wondered why Obama hasn't more successfully presented his own "experience." Another lacuna: was anyone aware of his foreign travels as Senator, until the picture of him in Kenyan (or Somali) garb surfaced, apparently distributed as an attempt to add substance to the rumor he's a closet Mooslim?

 

Obama was mollified when Hillary disavowed the tactic in the Ohio debate, but I wonder why he didn't point out that he was simply doing what even W does on foreign trips: put on native garb to appeal to his hosts? Even Coolidge did that back in the 1920's; he appeared in an Indian Chief's headdress. Perhaps it was because a black man in native garb doesn't look silly; he looks native. So far Obama has not risen to the implied smear that it's somehow reprehensible to be a Muslim; he's only denied that he ever was one.

 

Obama defends his legislative record from Hillary's charges of inexperience and lack of substance. The important thing to notice however is that he doesn't tout his record as the reason why people should vote for him, the way Hillary does hers, despite his having amassed an enviable list of legislative accomplishments in his shorter tenure.

 

He could run as someone who had gotten things done, but instead he runs as someone who can inspire, and who can bring people together. That he unites different people is evinced by the significant number of his enacted bills that had Republican co-sponsors, so the claim seems genuine.

 

Actually, experience has been over-sold in the campaign. As a commentator noted while watching Senators Gravel, Biden and Dodd gain no traction against the two current Democratic contenders: if it had been experience that the voters wanted, one of them would have prevailed, not either Hillary or Obama. Neither of them had the experience of either Dodd, or Biden.

 

Maybe it was for this reason that Obama has not touted his legislative prowess quite as much as he could have: he intuited that it wasn't what the voters were interested in; it wasn't a laundry list, either. It was a commitment to do things differently.

 

Here is the interesting part: how differently?

 

Obama's campaign has now surpassed a million donors, while most other campaigns are happy with a hundred thou or so--and large donors make up the bulk of their funds. This is significant. He really isn't beholden to big money interests in the same way as Hillary, or McCain, for example.

 

But Obama is beholden: to the "Obama movement." It's likely that Obama's positions are more centrist than those of many of his followers, but he's beholden to them instead of to big money interests. What might be the effect of this?

 

When (or if) Obama runs against McCain in the general election, it's possible that he'll moderate some positions further, to appeal to the vast muddle of the undecided, but he will still be beholden to his "movement." It's the movement, including MoveOn, Progressive Democrats of America and so on, or, more broadly the "netroots," who have funded him. Therefore, instead of caving to special interests because he owes them, he's more likely to come under pressure from a broad, popular, progressive movement. And he owes them big-time.

 

One of the drawbacks of the laundry list approach was demonstrated by Hillary, when she responded to Barack's proposal to open up the process to write health care reform: she objected that it would mobilize the opposition and nothing would get done. In fact, it was her closed process back in 1993 that defeated comprehensive health care reform package; it made people suspicious of it and of her, and receptive to the health insurance anti-ad campaign that effectively derailed it. The health care debacle probably helped the Republicans take over Congress in 1994.

   

Which is why it is important that Obama is not campaigning with a laundry list: he has position papers on a whole array of issues, but because he's not actively and repeatedly referencing the positions he's taken on them, he will have much more room for changing them.

 

Who knows what the netroots could accomplish with Obama: it's possible that by the time health care legislation is fully crafted it could look a lot more like single payer than he is willing to commit to now, for example.

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I am a writer and retired college teacher. I taught college courses in Economics and Political Science (I've a Ph.D) and I've written as a free-lancer for various publications. I now write a website and a blog at (more...)
 
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