February 6, 2008

This Primary is Killing Me

So I have been paying a bit too much attention to the presidential primary lately. I ought to know that I get nothing in return for this attentiveness other than anxiety and the ability to make shallow and occasionally witty observations about politics to my friends. And yet, I can't help myself. I like reading about history, and trying to understand human events.

So hopefully, by dumping out the contents of my brain in this blog entry I can get it out of my system and get back to worrying about things I have some control over.

First of all, I like Obama. This would not be a problem for most people, but I like being contrary, and instead everything about me is right in middle of his demographic. I'm 23, male, well-educated, from a liberal state. I am in academia and going into science. I use facebook. I am not religious. I have a gmail account. This is his wheelhouse.

And pretty much everyone I know is supporting Barack. It makes me feel silly to be part of this mob, but it just can't be helped. I wish I wasn't so predictable, but I actually like Obama, and can't begin to imagine how cool it would be to actually like the president, rather than to simply prefer them to the alternative. There is though, a certain "empty vessel" quality to him that causes supporters to believe that he reflects their own attitudes more closely than he probably does. Fortunately for me, I'm not obsessed with the minutae of anyone's views. Presidents do not get to determine the exact details of any policy, those are decided in Congress. I just want the president to be a smart Democrat who doesn't annoy or anger me, so that I can ignore the news more easily. It is the broad outlines that are important. I think he would help build a solid majority in the House and Senate, inspire the public to embrace more progressive views and take advantage of the fact that the country is listing leftward right now. Unlike most Democrats in recent memory he actually appears to have a spine, and doesn't simply water-down rhetoric to appeal to the mushy middle that doesn't actually prefer to vote for candidates who seem to be apologizing for their views. Electing someone like that would really help me get back to ignoring the news.

There is a thing George W. Bush did when he was running in 2000 and 2004 where he would drop cloaked biblical references into his speeches to signal religious votes that he was one of them. Obama seems to be doing the same thing. The best example I can think of off the top of my head: every speech I have heard him give uses the word "science" or "scientists" at least once, whereas this is not something other candidates make a point of doing. This seems like code for bevy of issues that are important to the left like global warming, evolution, stem cells, and religion in politics. Well, not to mention the fact that he has actually expressed opinions about these things too...

Here are some thoughts in no particular order about the candidates:

The night we bombed Iraq I tossed and turned for hours before puking and falling to sleep in a cold sweat. And not because I am some hyper-sensitive humanitarian, I just knew it was going to set off a cascading, long-term disaster in about 50 different ways. Anyone who knew less than I did, as a (then) 18 year old college freshman, about Iraq in 2003 should not be president. They probably shouldn't be anything.

I have heard a lot of people say "We all know that both candidates have an equal chance of winning the general election..." Back up there, hypothetical person, "we" don't know anything. This statement is untrue for several reasons. Firstly, Clinton sets up a lousy contrast with McCain. Her primary campaign is based on the notion that she is experienced by virtue of (in the minds of most people) being famous for longer than her opponents. 7 years in the Senate, wherein she regurgitated Bush's talking points, caved on practically everything of importance, and supported the war, shouldn't count for much. McCain spent roughly the same amount of time being tortured in Vietnam, and then another 30 years in the Senate. Equating the years she spent attending the funerals of minor world leaders with those he spent being an actual Senator is going to seem pretty flimsy. When she tries to take advantage of public sentiment favoring withdrawing from Iraq he'll simply remind us that she voted for it. Obama on the other hand will draw much cleaner distinctions. He can hammer McCain non-stop for his bellicosity. He isn't pretending to be experienced, and can sell his candidacy convincingly as a break from the past. He is a probably the best political orator in a generation and he is much, much younger. McCain will seem tired, old, and cranky in contrast to Obama.

Secondly, there is no elasticity in public opinion about Clinton, everyone knows her already. Anyone who already dislikes her is not going to be won over. And those who do dislike her do so vehemently. With McCain the Republican nominee, conservative voters are going to feel a lack of enthusiasm in the election...unless the Dems nominate the person they already hate more than anyone else. Obama is not well known, on the other hand, and the more people see of him, the more they like him.

Most people are predicting a Democratic win in the general election either way, but I don't see it. It seems to me that Obama would win by a significant margin and H-bomb, barring something unforeseen would lose, but probably narrowly. I'm sort of invested in the Dem race so I can't predict it with any accuracy, but unfortunately for us, the cool, inspiring candidate who the young clever people like never wins the nomination. This is what gives me a sense of dread about the rest of the campaign, but who knows.

On that same note, here is a nightmare scenario I would like you to contemplate: Sen. McCain taps Huckabee for VP to shore up religious voters. The Democrats nominate Clinton and lose. After 15 minutes in office, McCain dies, since he is about 150 years old, leaving Huckleberry in charge. Jesus replaces Washington on the $1 bill. The End.

It is so stuck-up and wrong to say this, but for lack of a better understanding of Hillary voters, I think they just don't follow the news very closely. Polls well in advance of elections essentially show name recognition. No one is really paying attention, and when asked, they simply go for the one they have heard of. When pundits are surprised about shifting trends shortly before the election day, that is really just voters waking up and looking at candidates for the (usually) the first time. My fear about this front-loaded primary was that following Iowa and NH there would just not be enough time for Barack to overcome his opponent's superior fame. He was on an upwards trajectory, and given another week or so, he likely would have won more delegates than he did. As a cynic, I was fairly blasé about his candidacy until I heard him speak, and then I was floored. The more time there is for people to hear him speak the better.

It is a minor miracle that Edwards dropped out when he did, though it was still late enough to do some damage. Edwards and Obama were splitting the liberal, thoughtful, anti-war, anti-Hillary vote. If he had not run at all, Obama would have won all 4 of the initial contests and would be far closer to capturing the nomination. Though he does indeed try promoting important issues, John Edwards seems quite opportunistic. I think he hasn't endorsed either remaining because he can't figure out which will win, and he would like something in return.

I think some of the subconscious appeal of Barack Obama is based on his name. It is so utterly ridiculous, that it triggers a rebellious impulse to support someone whose moniker conventional wisdom would deem an automatic loser. It is kind of a fuck-you to the establishment who pours over this kind of nonsense.

The next day that there will be a large number of delegates up for grabs is March 4th when RI votes along with Ohio, Texas, and Vermont. There are a few Obama-favoring contests between now and then, but there is an entire 2 weeks preceding March 4th with nothing on the calendar. We are much smaller than OH and TX, but I have no doubt that both candidates will show up and certainly both will advertise here. It is sort of cool, considering that everyone here had been disappointed that with the front-loaded schedule we would have no impact at all. Considering the paucity of contests around the same time though, it seems that we will get much more attention than we would have if we were part of Super Tuesday. And having split up Connecticut and Massachusetts, both campaigns may think they have a good shot at our precious 32 delegates. Probably by leveraging our state motto, pictured below.

Well, I feel a little better now...


Jere said...

I've felt for years now that Obama would be the next prez. I remember being in the car with my ex, listening to an NPR story about him and thinking this. And we broke up in October 2004. So it's been a while. Yet last year I was at a Colbert Report taping with my friend and his younger sister (she's like 29 and living in NYC), and I said something about Obama and she was like "who's that?"

That's when I realized he just wasn't fully known yet. So I just feel like there are STILL some people who will vote for him who right now don't know who he is. (Although at this point you'd really have to be going out of your way to avoid the news to not have heard of him.)

And if we end up with Hilary, we just have to hope McCain's "let's stay in Iraq for 1,000 years!" just makes everybody automatically vote against him. (And then we have to convince Hilary to not start a new Iraq in Iran.)

(Ryan) said...

This is true. I think also, regarding the people who don't know who he is, there are also people who know who he is a little, but have not heard him speak at any length. And subjecting undecided people to a 5 minute long Obama speech would probably be enough to sway like 8/10 of them (something that isn't really true of his rivals).

The funny thing about the bit you said about McCain, is that a lot of the people who have been voting for him are against the war! They just must think that secretly, despite all evidence to the contrary, he is too.