Thursday, January 31, 2008

Exit Edwards...Now Whither My Vote?

Well, there goes the scrappiest of the Democratic contenders...and he takes with him my full sympathy and respect. I was looking forward to voting for Edwards next Tuesday, even though I'd more or less resigned myself to the fact that he was not going to be our nominee. Oh believe me, I tried to talk myself out of voting for him. What irony was it that I, an Asian woman who's spent the last two years working for large corporate law firms, should end up going for the Southern white male trial lawyer running on an overtly anti-corporate populist platform? Some observers might mutter some nonsense about self-hatred, self-subjugation to the white male colonial paradigm, or stupid female susceptibility to good looks. But the truth is it took a while for me to warm to Edwards. I didn't like him much in 2004. I thought he was a little smarmy. Even now, I don't necessarily think he was the best of the 2008 Democrat hopefuls, or the most qualified, or even the most electable.

What I liked about him was that he stayed on message, and his message - "I fight for the little guy" - simply appealed to me more, even with repetition ad nauseum, than Obama's "I represent change and hope" or Clinton's "I've got 35 years of experience." And while I was skeptical at first of Edwards' sincerity, I gradually came to believe his advocacy was genuine. Whatever I might have thought of his trial-lawyer background or his meager track record as a senator, he came across to me as a man who believed every word he was saying on the campaign trail. I've always thought that a good politician must convince himself that he believes everything he's saying, at least at the time he says it. A great one convinces others, too. Part of Edwards' problem was that he was a good politician, not a great one. Still, he did convince me, and a fairly significant number of others.

But it was more than just his rhetoric that attracted me. Time and again, Edwards took the lead in putting forth policy proposals that, whatever their merits or failings, clearly reflected the concern he voiced for the working and middle classes. And in so doing, he pushed Clinton and Obama to follow suit. At the debates, he continually brought the discussion back to these bread-and-butter issues, which would likely have fallen by the wayside otherwise. Now that he's gone, I can only hope that the two remaining candidates remember to keep those topics, and not the fact of their rivalry, at the forefront.

And now that he's gone, I'm back to Indecision 2008 with respect to the two remaining Democrats. As I've said before, I'd happily vote for either of them in the general election, over any and all of the Republican candidates. Never mind the bickering or sniping between their camps or the Clintonian double-teaming and dirty tactics. That's politics, even if it shouldn't be, and the worst that the Clintons have done still pales in comparison with what the Republicans have done in nearly every recent Presidential campaign (except Bob Dole's, for which I respect the man) and are sure to do to whoever clinches the Democrat nomination. So I am not suffering from the disillusionment that appears to have afflicted many Democrats in recent weeks. Let's not lose sight of the big picture, folks: we desperately need to elect a Democrat President this year (three words: Supreme Court appointment); both Clinton and Obama are smart and qualified; and either of them would be an infinite improvement over the monkey we currently have in the White House. Nor do they appear to be particularly far apart on matters of policy, though I will say Clinton seems to talk about the specifics more than Obama does. The main difference I perceive in terms of how they propose to govern is that Clinton would operate thoroughly within the political system as it stands now (and by the way, she's proven to be able to work effectively with her Republican colleagues in the Senate), while Obama suggests he can transcend politics-as-usual.

To the latter, all I have to say is: how? How exactly do you propose to do that? Charm alone, however considerable, won't get that beast of a bicameral legislature to fall in line with your hopes of unity. Now to be fair, Obama has always struck me as a quick study, and he's shrewd enough to adapt his ideals to the need for political efficacy. But I remain uninspired by grand promises - unless they're accompanied by specific proposals of reform - that any one man, even a man of Obama's gifts, can effect a fundamental change in the sausage factory that is our national government.

So, in the end, I think my choice has to come down to electability...and there, it's anyone's guess who has the advantage, or rather, the least disadvantages. But I continue to fear that the unreasoning bile the words "Hillary Clinton" seem to arouse is still more of a threat to a Democratic victory this November than Obama's race, name, and lack of experience combined. Against all Obama's weaknesses as a candidate, he has his tremendous charismatic appeal. Against Clinton's - well, she has the loyalty of her base and her battle-tested armor from Republican attacks over the past ten years. Unfortunately, these assets, while possibly more durable, simply aren't as galvanizing as the "audacity of hope" Obama offers his true believers. Of which, however, I am not one. Not yet, anyway.

Update, 2/2/08:

I love how Edwards is getting better and more appreciative media notice now that he's dropped out than he ever got while he was running. In addition to Krugman's belated nod to the "Edwards effect," there's also this very similarly-themed piece in The Guardian. Granted, the latter's a British perspective, but still...


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