Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Choosing Without Enthusiasm

Hillary Clinton hedges on a question about whether she supports Elliot Spitzer's plan to issue drivers licenses to illegal immigrants because "...this is where everyone plays gotcha." And guess what? Everyone plays gotcha.

But if you watch the clip, her answer makes sense. She basically says that in the absence of a comprehensive Federal reform of immigration policy, states are being forced to patch together stopgap measures like Spitzer's. And while she understands the logic behind the measure, she would rather solve the problem as President on the Federal level than live or die by taking a position on what Spitzer can cobble together with his measly gubernatorial powers. And rightly so.

Is it a hedge? Yeah. But she's running for President, not governor. I've got to agree with Kevin on this one. If this qualifies as a killer moment, we've forgotten how to choose a Democratic candidate for president.

Which brings me to a post I've been meaning to write about how, in trying to figure out who I'll vote for in the California primary (which apparently might still matter this year), I realized that I've... forgotten how to choose a Democratic candidate for president. Because if you think about it, the last time we really had a choice was back in 1992. Gore was a shoo-in in 2000, and four years ago Democratic thinking was too skewed by the almost pathological need to beat Bush to call it a real choice.

This year, the candidates would really seem to offer a chance to define the direction the party is going to take into the next decade: Traditional Democratic populism, represented by Edwards; centrist pragmatism represented by Hillary; or a hard-to-define transformative politics represented by Obama. It would seem to offer that chance, if it weren't for one thing: The perception of inevitability that Hillary Clinton has managed to achieve this early on in the race, which is already transforming the logic of the primary from an ideological referendum into an electoral calculus.

Of course that's the genius of the Clinton machine, which is to politics what Billy Beane and Roger Elias are to baseball: Reducing elections into stat sheets of zip codes and donor lists. But it comes with a cost, to the party and to the candidate.

By all rights, I should be an Obama man. He is, for all intents and purposes, a third party candidate with a first-party platform. And with the exception of Ross Perot, I'm a sucker for third party candidates, starting with John Anderson in the first election I followed as a twelve-year old in 1980, through to Ralph Nader in 2000. (Yes, I would have voted Nader in 2000 had I voted. Relax, it was in California.)

In the meantime, though, I've moved considerably to the political center. Call it age, maturity, fatherhood, six years of living in France... Well, maybe not maturity. But at any rate, I've come to feel that politics should really just be about governing. Transformation is best left to individuals in the private sphere, not charismatic leaders in the public arena. And if you take that away from Obama, what's left? An opportunistic, not-very-experienced politician with an ordinary platform.

As for Edwards, like I said, I've moved considerably to the political center. And I've spent six years living in France. I probably should get more excited about his platform, but I can't bring myself to do the necessary work. My problem, I know, not his. But I doubt I'm alone in that.

Which brings me to Hillary, who I must say has surprised me with her ability to charm and impress. I've never had a strong negative impression of her, but like everyone, I'd assumed that too many other people did to give her any hope of winning. I'm not so convinced of that anymore. Her positions (the ones she's willing to articulate, that is) are responsible, well-considered and don't cross any red lines for me. She's one of two candidates on either side (John McCain being the other) who wouldn't face a very steep national security learning curve upon taking office.

Most importantly, she represents change, but not drastic change. And I think that in our desperation over eight years of Bush, Democrats (and reasonable people in general) have exagerrated, not the damage he's done (which is considerable), but the extent to which we need to yank the wheel back to the other side of the lane divider. Just enough and you avoid oncoming traffic. Too much and you wind up in the ditch on the side of the road.

So for the time being, I'm leaning towards Hillary. Without any passionate enthusiasm, to be sure. But I'm not so sure that's a bad thing.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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