Monday, January 28, 2008

Athletic Support

h/t Karyn Mannix for graphic

The post I wrote yesterday, pleading with John Edwards to get out of the Democratic primary and force voters to truly choose between the likely nominee in November between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, ruffled some feathers. That was not my intent, altho I should have seen it coming.

I make no apologies for my stance, nor do I retract it. I firmly believe what I said.


A curious dynamic occured in the comment thread, and it's interesting to take note of it. There was a visceral reaction to what I posted, almost as if people took my anger, directed at Edwards, personally. That raised a question in my head: do we take elections a bit too seriously for the wrong reasons and not seriously enough for the right ones?

Let me give you an example: I, for one, could give a rat's ass if Hillary wins, or Barack wins, or even if John wins. I'll support them in the general election, just like I supported Kerry, Gore, Clinton, and so on, all the way back to Humphrey in 1968. I guess this allows me to not be influenced by passion: knowing that the candidate that wins the nomination will get my support anyway, I can sit back and dispassionately look at their positions, the current political climate, and whatever exogenous factors might crop up in any individual campaign, and choose whom I believe is the best candidate to lead us not just in the election cycle, but in the position, should that candidate win.

In this instance, I chose Hillary. When someone takes a shot at her, I will respond, but try to stay on point and make my response short and factual.

Now, I contrast that with the passions I feel about the issues: I can write tomes about Africa (I meant to today, but this Edwards thing sidetracked my thinking), or baseball and steroids, or poverty.

It just seems to me on those items there IS just one right and many wrong answers. Those will stir up the blood for me.

I get that Edwards speaks to these issues. So do Obama and Clinton, altho you'd never know it to hear Blogtopia (© Skippy the Bush Kangaroo) speak about them.

And I get that a lot of people have pinned hopes on Edwards, viewing him as the only anti-corporatist candidate left, now that Kucinich is gone. Personally, I think that's a mistake, but I won't defend that position here.

It's this emotional connection. That's intriguing to me.

Passionate politicians are a rarity. Nowadays, because of the function of the money needed to campaign, a candidate shows his or her passion at her peril. Think about it: when a candidate expresses himself in admiration of something, take Obama's comments about Reagan, then he's immediately smacked down by his opposition.

Clinton emoted her exhaustion and frustration, and the Edwards camp immediately jumped ugly about "strength to lead".

In short, the political process is one that emotion has to, by necessity, take a backseat to the mechanics of campaigning and policy. The rare politician who can inspire AND manage a campaign is a treasure.

Bill Clinton had this ability to balance. He called it "compartmentalizing." He could "feel your pain," and address a detailed comprehensive policy in the next breath.

Clinton's balance was slightly skewed to the wonk.

Obama too has this ability, albeit in a slightly different balance: his inspirations are stronger than his wonk fu. The problem I have with Obama is I can look past the inspirations to the exhalations, and find him about equal with Clinton in terms of stances, and she is miles ahead of him in terms of policy.

Edwards lacks a balance, completely. He is, in my view, all sizzle, no steak. To extend this metaphor, people hear the sizzle, smell the aroma and are attracted to it because they hunger for that steak. People talk about how his stimulus package was first to be unwrapped, before Clinton and Obama had theirs wrapped up, but even Edwards package was smaller than Bush's, as Joe Klein, of all people, points out.

So I'm having trouble wrapping my cynical, old brain about this whole emotional context that people bring to the defense of their candidate of choice.

Maybe I've seen too many wars. Maybe I'm just an easy target for venting frustration that Edwards ideas didn't take root and bear fruit with the electorate. Maybe I'm wrong for not feeling passion about any of the candidates running. Maybe my old friend Caroline Kennedy is right to point out that people need to be inspired in order to get involved.

And maybe I'm right. I don't know that I am, but it feels like it. In my view, any candidate who ends up the nominee is going to face a firestorm that makes the (Bill) Clinton elections look like a walk in the park, and any Democratic President is going to find it extremely hard, if not impossible, to enact any effective reform in the first term (barring a major shift in Senate seats, something that's not as likely as a Democratic presidency).

So any emotional attachments we make to a candidate are going to be, and this is the mildest scenario, sorely tested. I suspect we're going to be thoroughly disillusioned and people who are "inspired" by this candidate or that one are going to have a rude awakening. This is why I think it's important that, this time in particular, we get it right and not get sidetracked by a sideshow put on by someone for their ego's sake.