Adapted almost completely from my piece in the Faculty of Law student paper, the Ultra Vires. I know, it’s a bit late considering the last two weeks of primaries, but I stand by my analysis. Plus some of the links are worth reading.
It’s down to Hillary and Obama and a plurality of students at the U of T’s law school, like most Canadians, has thrown its support behind Obama for President. We’re in good company: the popular video riffing on the recent Obama ‘Yes We Can’ speech features Scarlett Johanssen, the woman who plays McDreamy’s ex-wife from Grey’s Anatomy, some familiar looking white guy pretending to play guitar, and of course the video’s producer, will.i.am. The Grateful Dead have thrown their lot behind Obama, though we’ll have to take their word that Jerry sends his best to the campaign from his great tail-gate party in the sky. The support of Joan Baez means an end to self-imposed exile from party politics.
I’m backing Obama too, though, on the basis of his strong anti-corpocracy message, I was a supporter of Edwards until his exit from the race two weeks ago. But I’m doing more than supporting Obama’s candidacy. I’m going to make the call – he’ll get the nomination. I’m currently batting 1000 in such predictions: I could have been two bits richer if someone had put money up against my call for Dion in the recent Liberal leadership race. As I suggested, the combination of anti-Rae and anti-Ignatieff sentiment combined to put Dion, no matter his failings, in the hot seat. The result was more complicated: without Gerrard Kennedy’s endorsement in the closing minutes of the Convention, I might have lost that bet.In that way, Obama has something in common with Dion: the strength of a key Kennedy endorsement or more exactly, the support of a handful of them. Though the clan is divided – with the noted environmental activist Robert K. Jr. backing Hillary – the endorsement of Ted Kennedy, JFK’s daughter Caroline and Maria Shreiver will certainly give a boost to the Illinois senator, not least because of skewed media coverage of the matter. Despite the split in the Kennedy support, there is no doubt that the shine of Camelot has been lent to Obama, not Hillary.
The candidates aren’t that far apart on policy. Since the beginning, the choice between the two has seemed like a choice between hope and experience. Ezra Klein puts a finer point on it, colouring the choice as one between Clinton as manager and Obama as visionary. There are good reasons to support a manager for President. America has painted itself into a corner in Iraq, flushed its economy down the toilet while running its debt up to unfathomable numbers, and tarnished its international reputation through divisive unilateralism, de facto endorsement of torture and spying on its own citizens. Supporters of Hillary point to her experience as proof that she will be a steady hand at the tiller while America tries to sail out of these shallows. She is, for Democrats, the ‘safe’ candidate. Obama, on the other hand, is so full of enthusiasm that (no exaggeration) he brings tears to the eyes of many Canadians with hope about what the United States can be.
Writing two weeks ago, one day before the Democratic race was shown to have not one but two horses, Michael Chabon suggested that arguments against Obama were pragmatic, not substantial. Sure, his friends said, Obama might be charming, intelligent, and sincere, but he is too good to be true. Someone so nice can’t cut it in the snakepit of politics, they said, and Democrats need someone who can win. His speeches may have inspired famous Californians to march to the beat of a new drummer but in American politics, Hollywood support is often a burden, not a blessing. Up until last Tuesday, arguments against Obama were founded not on his character or on his potential as President but on his ultimate chances as Democratic nominee.
Here’s the catch. Americans are ready for a Democratic president. Polls say that they’re ready for change, independents are voting in record numbers in democratic primaries, polls have the democrats in the lead, and election markets have a democrat taking the prize by a 50% margin. More importantly, Hillary may be slightly ahead of Obama in polls among Democrats but American voters, buoyed by McCain support over Hillary among independents, are much more likely to elect Obama as President with McCain as the Republican nominee.
Until now, Democrats have supported Clinton because they thought that Americans prefer safety over promise, security over potential, sound mind over the possibility of something greater. Polls show the opposite, that Americans as a whole, not just Hollywood, much prefer the visionary to the manager. In short, with McCain as challenger, Democrats can choose the ‘safe’ candidate who is more likely to lose, or take a risk on someone their fellow Americans like and who, in their hearts, they already like more, too. Even the persistently self-defeating Democrats can’t screw this one up.