Monday, March 03, 2008

Primary Fatigue

A month ago Wisconsin had it's primary, and in the run up to that vote I had the chance to see both Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton speak. Unfortunately John McCain didn't come to Madison.

I was going to write about those two Dem rallies, but frankly I've gotten pretty tired of the whole primaries thing. After hearing the two candidates speak, I had to take a break from political news. In any case, it should all be over soon. Today Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico, 4th most popular presidential candidate, hispanic, and former (Bill) Clinton cabinet member, endorsed Obama. This should send a pretty strong signal to the Clinton camp that it's time to call it quits.

As for the two rallies I witnessed; I'll start with the Obama rally. Obama is a rock star, the crowds were huge, at the end of the day I think 20, 000 people showed up for the rally, though the arena only had room for 17, 000 of us. I was there a few hours early and got pretty decent seats. The crowd was young - many of the campaign volunteers looked like freshmen. There were quite a few families. Appropriately enough, Obama came out to U2's "City Of Blinding Lights". The crowd loved every minute of his speech - people in my section of the arena were on their feet the entire time. Even so, I found the speech to be mostly empty phrases, and vacuously true statements (much like U2's last few albums - zing!). Some unnamed "they" apparently are trying to "tell us" that some poorly defined thing cannot be done and you better believe that we're going to show them that we are smart enough and good enough, and enough doggone people think like us that we're all, collectively going to win the White House and change the world. For my tastes it was too much good feelings, and rainbows and My-Little-Ponies, and not enough actual policy ideas. I never really paid too much attention to Canadian leadership fights, but I certainly hope that we have demanded more detailed plans from our leaders before sending them into an election. At any rate, my bah-humbug was in the minority.

In the month since then Obama has gotten (finally) some criticism in the media for what McCain calls his "empty platitudes." But this doesn't look like it will be enough to lose him the nomination, and once that is secured he can put together a platform calibrated to the general election.

I should also mention that campaign coverage in the media has been both pro-Obama and anti-Hillary to an almost overwhelming degree. The closest Canadian comparison I can think of is the shameful smearing of Stockwell Day over his private, religious beliefs concerning evolution. Slate magazine has an ongoing series called "The Obama Messiah Watch" which keeps track of some of the most egregious cases of the media's pro-Obama fawning.

I don't mean to suggest that Obama has bad ideas, only that the people voting for him by and large don't know and don't care about his policy positions. Which, in my estimation, is bad for democracy - regardless of how great he might be.

Interestingly most of the leading state and city's male, Democratic politicians endorsed Obama including our mayor, and our governor. Most of the leading female politicians support Clinton including our congresswoman, and our lieutenant governor.

OK, on to Hillary: Her rally was delayed due to a rough day of weather that alternated between freezing rain, and snow. Even though the rally was held right downtown, and I live right downtown, and the most direct route from my apartment to the rally was along Madison's main street, it was still a very slippery walk. Apparently there's some sort of illness going around that prevents the city from clearing the sidewalks of snow and ice. The rally itself was much smaller than Obama, with a crowd of about 3000. The crowd was older and whiter, and more feminine. But it wasn't a Lilith Fair type of crowd, it was decidedly older - there were more young women at the Obama rally. (I don't actually know what a Lilith Fair crowd looks like, but I'm going to guess that it's mostly 20-30 year olds.)

Some of Clinton's rhetoric had been getting on my nerves such as her promise to get American troops out of Iraq "within 60 days of my becoming president of the United States of America." It always struck me that this was a promise that came across as being an overly-calculated attempt to cut into Obama's anti-war support. It also seems like she's probably promising more than she will be able to deliver; I very much doubt that any of the candidates would actually pull out of Iraq so suddenly, regardless of what their campaign might have promised. During the rally she modified her promise to say that it might not be doable, but that 60 days is what she will direct her military planners to aim for. During the rest of the rally she outlined a slew of policy ideas, some of which were pretty good (I think some would even be able to get bipartisan support), some of which I booed (in my mind). She attacked Bush much harder than I had previously seen from any (serious) candidate, calling him "probably the worst president" in American history. By contrast Obama's biggest attacks were reserved for John McCain (or second biggest if you include his attacks on the unnamed "they" that are trying to keep us down).

Anyway. I'm getting bored with the constant coverage... and this is only the primaries. There's still 8 months of campaigning left before the actual election.

As boring as the coverage is it's worth remembering that each of these candidates would bring about major changes in the American political landscape. A female or black president would be historic and would change the way people think about politics and gender/race. Even though women won suffrage much later than black men (at least, constitutionally... in practice the opposite was true in many parts of the country), I think the American people feel much more guilty about their historical mistreatment of blacks, than their mistreatment of women. An Obama win would, I think, have the effect of assuaging a lot of built-up white guilt and minority disenchantment. For a country obsessed with race, healing those wounds might well do more good, in the long run, than any policies that the next President might implement.

A McCain win could the political landscape in a different way; if he can get elected despite having low support amongst the social conservative wing of the Republican Party, we might see a major shift of power within a party that is struggling to update its image.

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