Sunday, February 3, 2008

Who's the Better Bet Against McCain?

There are clear and obvious differences between both Democratic candidates and Republican frontrunner-again John McCain. Lots of folks, however, think that Clinton and Obama are similar enough on the critical policy points -- despite style differences -- that the larger question facing party loyalists is which of the two makes a stronger showing against the Maverick.

One of the biggest bones of contention between Democrats and Republicans is, of course, the war in Iraq and the overall conduct of the War on Terror. While I think both Democrats could score easy points against McCain's intractable position, there is no denying that Obama has an advantage here. It's a no-brainer for McCain (or some swiftboat-like entity) to accuse Clinton of being just as complicit in the move towards war because she also voted yes on the Iraq War resolution. Obama, on the otherhand, can say McCain showed poor judgment on the Iraq War from the get go, and Mr. Surge has no defense against that. (As Obama said in the most recent debate -- sure, Clinton has experience from day one, but it's better to be right from day one.) Democrats looking to cast their vote strategically might not want to let this obvious rhetorical and policy advantage slip through their fingers by choosing a nominee that also voted for the war.

Of course, the war has a flip side as a voting issue. There is no denying we are waist-deep into the mess, and the idea of experienced leadership to pull us out of it is not only attractive but reasonable. In times of war, Americans have often been reassured by turning to veterans. The Republicans have a bona fide war hero in McCain. While the top two Democrats don't have military experience, Clinton does have a lot of experience, period -- which could be an important counterpoint to a nation weary of war that's also in the process of selecting a new president. Of course, there are still lingering gender stereotypes about a woman as commander-in-chief, but I think Clinton's confident manner puts a lot of them to rest.

There is another factor to consider. The right-wing base -- including the all-important talk radio royalty as well as TV talking heads and bloggers -- has its knickers in a twist over the idea of riding the Straight Talk Express all the way to the White House. They are scared spitless that McCain is a closet liberal -- there are even attack ads running to that effect, designed with an eye towards derailment. Interestingly enough, while Republicans like to bash Clinton as a lefty liberal, it's Obama who has the truly liberal record. In fact, for 2007, the National Journal rated Obama as the most liberal senator in the U.S. Senate -- compared to a relatively middle of the pack composite rating of 16th for Hillary. This liberal tag is sure to be used against Obama, but then again it will be used against Clinton, too, however inaccurately -- so this one's a draw. Besides, I'm tired of running from the word liberal like my mama's coming after me to wash my mouth out with soap. It's time we reclaimed it, with pride.

Unfortunately, about the only thing that can rally the entire vast right wing conspiracy behind John McCain might be -- Hillary Clinton. I've always thought the way she's been demonized was grossly unfair, not to mention inaccurate -- then again, considering the source, truth-telling was not exactly the first priority. I mean, what has Hillary really done to earn such animosity, besides stand by her hugely successful, philandering husband? Wait, maybe it's the hugely successful husband part -- despite the mud and special prosecutors and impeachments thrown his way. Hillary Clinton is polarizing by association, because right wingers have spent the better part of two decades unsuccessfully trying to convince the American people that Bill Clinton was the devil incarnate. Fair or foul, the right wing can't wait to go to war against the Clintons again -- and they will marshall resources the likes of which we've never seen to stop a Hillary presidency. Conversely, if it's Obama versus McCain in the final round, they just might dislike McCain more -- due to simple muscle memory. But, let's face it, the reflex to hate Hillary is stronger. No way around it -- it's a liability that has got to be factored into the equation.

Perhaps most importantly, voters are overwelmingly in favor of change this election cycle. If Obama is running, he is clearly the candidate of change. If Clinton is running, McCain could almost make an argument that you would get more change out of a Maverick White House than you would under another Clinton administration. It's that whole Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton dynasty thing. We've had a Bush or a Clinton on the ticket since 1980 -- think about it. Then again, Hillary's assertion that it took a Clinton to clean up after the first Bush, and it well might take another Clinton to clean up after the last Bush, has a certain appeal.

Then again, all this strategic analysis about who's a better bet against McCain might not be as relevant as in prior election cycles. This year, I think it's universally understood that a pure base strategy loses in the end. You need independents, and you need the youth vote who -- while more reliably Democratic, also has an independent streak. Given the whole John Kerry debacle, I'm not sure that voting for the person you think is the most electable is the best choice. I say, go with your gut -- and go for a historic first in the White House in November, as long as it's a Democrat.

No comments: