Tuesday, May 20, 2008

All the Little Things in Politics

I have just found myself with a renewed interest in the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. I have described my interest in him before, most notably in my second post. (Was that really three months ago?) Now, I don't take these things lightly. If I form an opinion, and more importantly, if I talk about it, I like to know that I've done my research. I like to make an informed choice.

There are a lot of people out there who seem to delight lately in going up to someone at an Obama rally with a video camera and ask why they like him, then proudly replaying the footage over and over when the hapless Obama fan don't have an answer. If they come up to me, they'll be both sorely disappointed and mildly annoyed as I talk their ears off.

It's not to say that I haven't considered Clinton or McCain; I have. However, I differ significantly with McCain on policy issues (this wasn't always the case; I was kind of rooting for him in 2000). I'll probably talk about that later when we get into the general election season. Today, I'd like to talk about Obama and Clinton.

I've always thought it would be great to have a woman president; in fact, I've believed that this is long, long, overdue. Also, I don't have many (a few, but not many) differences with her stated opinions when it comes to policy. The reasons I oppose her are a little more complex.

See, I've found a bit of a pattern having observed political campaigns over the past eight years or so. The manner in which someone runs their campaign seems to me to be highly reflective of the manner in which they hold office when they win. If someone runs a highly deceptive, immoral and divisive campaign, their activities in office are also likely to be highly deceptive, immoral, and divisive *cough*W*cough*.

So with very few policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I decided the best idea would be to sit back and observe how they run their campaigns and how they treat their opponents. Here are some of the things I've seen.

March 2, 2008: In an interview with 60 minutes, Clinton is asked directly whether she believes Obama is (as Stephen Colbert puts it) a secret Muslim. She replies with the following:

"Of course not. I mean, that, you know, there is no basis for that. I take him on the basis of what he says. And, you know, there isn't any reason to doubt that."

When pressed, she clarifies:

"No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know."

I take him on the basis of what he said? As far as I know? Not that it would matter to me, but seriously! Can't you give your opponent a fair shake? I know that in the realm of politics, this sort of thing is ho-hum everyday stuff, but have a little integrity. Sowing seeds of doubt on a sensitive topic like this is just repulsive.

March 10, 2008: After Clinton's win in the Ohio primary and narrow loss in Texas (yes, it was a narrow loss, the networks called it wrong), she made suggestions on TV several times that Obama would make a good vice-president. He was ahead in pledged delegates. He was ahead in states won. He was ahead in the popular vote. But she says oh, well, maybe he'll be a good vice president. That struck me as a more than a little condescending. This isn't the kind of politics I want to see going on in the White House.

March 18, 2008: So in March, the videos of Obama's former minister, the infamous Reverend Wright, came out and were looped on TV continuously for about two months (and those of you who insist the media is solidly pro-Obama must have had your TVs turned off for about... er... two months). Now Obama could likely have prevented those months of looping clips. Soon after they were released, he got up in front of the podium, and could have easily said, "I denounce this man and what he stands for, and I don't agree with any of these horrible comments. I stayed in his church for the sense of community I felt with the congregation and nothing more." Issue solved, right? Well, Wright was the man who officiated at Obama's wedding, who baptized his children, and with whom he had a long-standing relationship. Rejecting him like that would have been pretty heartless. So he got up in front of the TV cameras, and gave a speech in which he explained his relationship with his former minister, and in which he encouraged a discussion on race and the differences between his generation and Reverend Wright's generation. It wasn't the politically expedient thing to do, but it's difficult to deny that it was the honorable thing to do. Only a few months later when Mr. Wright got up in front of the cameras again and made (frankly) a complete ass of himself did he and Obama part ways.

March 21, 2008: Bill Richardson endorsed Obama, and in his endorsement speech, he told a story that really says a lot about Obama's character. Here's a piece of the transcript:

"And I also realized that here was a really good guy.
"And I'll tell you -- and I'll tell you why. And I'll tell you why. I'll tell you why. You all watched those long, tedious Democratic debates, right? I could barely get recognized at any of them.
"The one time when I was recognized -- and I was sitting next to Senator Obama -- I said, "Finally I've been recognized." So I turned to him, and we started chatting a little bit. And then, all of a sudden, the moderator, instead of going after other candidates that hadn't been recognized, came back to me and asked me to answer the question. Well, needless to say, I wasn't listening.
"And I turned to Senator Obama in horror about to say, "Could you repeat the question?" And Senator Obama whispered, he said "Katrina, Katrina." And so I then gave my answer on Katrina."

Now that's the kind of politics, the kind of cooperative spirit that I want to see in the White House.

Various Dates: So the major political parties have some weird rules about the primaries and caucuses. They arbitrarily let some states go before a certain set date and punish others for trying to do the same thing. I don't agree with the system, but there you have it. I'll probably have a whole big rant about the primary system another time, but my point here is about political expediency. All of the candidates agreed to these rules, and when it became clear in December that Michigan and Florida were going to have their delegates revoked for holding their primaries too early, Clinton spoke on this:

"You know, it's clear the election they're having isn't going to count for anything. Obama's name did not even appear on the ballot in Michigan."

But we've all heard Clinton's calls in the past month, over and over and over, decrying the injustice that their delegates won't be seated, despite the fact that most of her opponents weren't on the ballot in Michigan (she won 55% of the votes against "Uncommitted"), and she herself stated that the elections shouldn't count. Personally, I've had enough of this sort of hypocrisy at the highest levels of our government.

And finally, May 14, 2008, the event that prompted me to write this post: Barack Obama, when asked a question by reporter Peggy Agar, responded, "Hold on one second, sweetie, we're going to do — we'll do a press avail." Then he never even answered her question. This "sweetie" caused a bit of outrage among various womens' groups, but then the reporter was surprised to find a voice mail on her phone the next morning, and it was then played on TV. The voice mail said this:

"Hi Peggy. This is Barack Obama. I'm calling to apologize on two fronts. One was you didn't get your question answered and I apologize. I thought that we had set up interviews with all the local stations. I guess we got it with your station but you weren't the reporter that got the interview. And so, I broke my word. I apologize for that and I will make up for it.
"Second apology is for using the word 'sweetie.' That's a bad habit of mine. I do it sometimes with all kinds of people. I mean no disrespect and so I am duly chastened on that front. Feel free to call me back. I expect that my press team will be happy to try to make it up to you whenever we are in Detroit next."

Dude! A politician apologized about something! And it wasn't even a half-assed apology made weeks after the event! How long I have waited to see this day! How long... how very very long...

Go Obama

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