Wednesday, May 7, 2008

All over but the shouting.

So last night pretty much marked the end of Hillary Clinton's campaign, or at least the end of her as a viable candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Whether she'll hang on for another couple of weeks or even months remains to be seen, but with Obama's decisive victory in North Carolina and near-steal of Indiana from her at the last minute, he gained enough of an advantage both in delegate count and popular vote that it's become impossible for Hillary to make a convincing argument to the superdelegates as to why she should be the one they support. I'm sure we'll see more superdelegates making their way into the Obama camp over the next few days, and now that it's become public knowledge that Clinton lent her campaign an additional $6.4 million last month on top of the $5 million she lent it earlier in the year, it's obvious that she's having to struggle just to stay alive.

Now the discussion is once again about Hillary becoming Obama's running mate. I have no idea if this discussion is actually affecting the decisions of the Obama campaign, but I for one certainly hope that it's not. A lot of what makes the Republican party want to run against her so bad this year is her associations with Bill Clinton and the divisive politics of the 90s and the Clinton era. They feel like they can bring out a lot of their base that may otherwise stay home due to their lack of support for John McCain by having Hillary Clinton to vote against. If Barack adds her to his ticket, he resurrects a lot of that animosity that will otherwise die if he's the Democratic nominee. Furthermore, by positioning himself as the candidate for change, as the candidate who cares about populist issues that have been left behind by the politics of the last 20 to 30 years, Obama has had occasion at times to go after both the Reagan/Bush/Dubya legacy AND that of the Clintons. This is fair, if you ask me, because the Clintons definitely represented a more "lifestyle" approach to liberalism, in which they backed socially liberal causes like abortion and gay rights, but took a more pro-business stance than the party of Roosevelt and Kennedy had ever been comfortable taking in the past. The idea of the Democrats supporting NAFTA just like the Republicans was, if not quite a betrayal of their traditional working class base, certainly a different prioritizing than had previously existed in the party. Ross Perot was the only one who ever talked sense about NAFTA back in the early 90s, and time has proven him right. So now, Obama can disassociate himself with the causes of the rich lifestyle liberals who Clinton represented in the 90s, the ones who made money by sending working class jobs overseas and condemning the workers of states like Ohio to the dead-end job purgatory they live in now (making it truly ironic that voters like that seem to be one of Clinton's strongest bases in primary voting). But he can't do that with Clinton on the ticket.

And to that point: I'm certainly hoping that this general election race in the fall sees Obama reaching for those populist issues, bringing concern for everyone in the country and not just the rich back into the national public debate. In the 90s, and continuing up through 2004, we saw both the Democrats and the Republicans courting big business as an economic platform. Both parties were adamantly in favor of the interests of the moneyed class, and neither party gave a damn about the economic concerns of those who were less well off. Granted, there was the attempt by the Clintons to create a national health care policy, but they handled it so badly that the Republicans were successful in spinning it to make it look like "the government telling you what doctor you can see" instead of "the government helping you to be able to see a doctor at all", which is what it was.

And of course, we all saw what happened to the Democrats when they shifted the debate to issues of lifestyle and away from the types of concerns that actually impact people on a day to day basis. Working class voters, who are more likely to be socially conservative, saw that they had no one to vote for who would care about their economic interests. So, all things being equal, they cast a vote against the godless latte-drinking big city elitist liberals. They voted for laws against gay marriage, and restrictions on abortion, and anything that struck them as "Christian", regardless of the fact that the Republicans were even quicker to move their jobs overseas, leave them with the military as the only option, and then send them to the Middle East to die for cheap oil (that hasn't really even been that cheap). At least they could agree with the Republicans on SOMETHING.

Obama has taken back the Democratic ability to say to the voters with populist economic concerns: "Look, I agree with you about important issues." This is something Hillary Clinton has been notably unable to do. She's tried on issues of free trade, by pretending she never really liked NAFTA--a policy she vigorously supported right up until she started running for president--and she's tried to make herself seem like a candidate that will help the working folks out during the recession, but only by adopting the same sort of flawed thinking that has led George W. Bush to mail everyone checks (and vastly increase the national debt) in an effort that will undoubtedly fail to stave off the recession for more than a week or two. A gas tax holiday? Never mind that it was John McCain's idea in the first place--even ignoring that, it's a dumb idea. It creates more problems without solving the problem it's meant to address. Best case scenario, we'd have 3 months of gas prices being 10 cents a gallon lower than they would be anyway. And guess what--10 cents off $4 isn't really much at all. Besides, as Barack Obama pointed out during his vocal and principled opposition to this tax holiday, he voted for a similar holiday during his tenure in the Illinois state senate, and saw the gas companies merely increase their prices to be in line with where the prices would be were the gas tax still in place. So consumers paid the same price, but instead of the money going towards government, it went to oil companies and their profit margins.

I'm getting a bit afield of my point here, but it all supports the same larger argument--having Hillary Clinton on Barack Obama's presidential ticket might seem like a good idea from some angles, but on the whole, it's just going to create the same sort of bad situation that would exist if she herself were running for president. If the roles were reversed, there'd be every reason in the world for Hillary to take on Obama as a vice presidential candidate, in order to reap the profits of his grassroots approach and huge support base in the area of younger voters and independents--as well as African-Americans, of course. But since a lot of what has led Obama to win the nomination has been the contrast he established between himself and Hillary Clinton, all he'd do by turning around and adding her to the ticket is make himself seem more like her. And for both the new voting base he's created and the Republicans who will be contemplating whether to vote for John McCain in the fall, this is the worst step he could take.

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