Everyone’s doing it, so me too!

Campaign buttons  How can Hillary Clinton possibly go up against Dionysus?

What qualifies me to mouth off about the presidential campaign? I don’t volunteer for any of the candidates. I don’t donate that dollar on my tax form to the U.S. campaign system. I have never seen any of the current presidential candidates in person, except for a highly adversarial Rudy Giuliani, whom I saw in the early 1990s at a town hall in Riverdale, New York. And I think I drove past Bill Clinton on the Saw Miller River Parkway one morning. All the cars around his slowed down to take a look, so maybe it really was him.

OK, nothing qualifies me to predict this early in the game — after Iowa and New Hampshire — what the final runoff will look like.

I’m calling it for Barack Obama vs. John McCain. Maybe Michael Bloomberg will play the spoiler.

Why not Hillary Clinton? You can dredge up all the negatives against her: She’s not a big proponent of transparency in politics. At least she wasn’t when she headed the healthcare commission during her husband’s first term. She cosied up to Yasir Arafat’s wife: A big no-no for Jews who care about Israel. She has that awful, flat, hectoring style of talking. She just aggrandized the role of LBJ over MLK during the civil rights era. Dumb, especially for a woman married to the first black president.

Mrs. Clinton managed to win in New Hampshire because the registered female Democrats got worried. A lot of them, I think, were leaning toward Obama. They might have figured, “I’ll vote for Obama, but the other women can vote for Hillary.” After Iowa, when, maybe, plenty of Iowan women figured the same thing, the women in New Hampshire freaked out. If they didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, who would? So they did.

Meanwhile, I think Hillary Clinton could embrace transparency, eschew extremist Palestinians and be generally more likeable and she still wouldn’t be able to best Obama. I wish this weren’t true, but I think no strongminded woman can go up against a handsome, charming man like Obama and expect to be victorious. Obama is Dionysus. People, especially women, are going to flock to him. They’re going to throw themselves at him.

Right now the only candidate who has a chance of beating him is John McCain. True, McCain doesn’t have Obama’s physical presence — did you ever notice his  71-year-old gut? True, he doesn’t have Obama’s “people-person” abilities. You can’t take your eyes off Obama. You can take them off McCain.

But McCain’s obvious trump card is his experience. Except for Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, I never even heard of any of the candidates involved in this presidential race until they announced they wanted to run. Mike Huckabee? Sorry. Never heard of him ’til about three months ago. John Edwards? Only knew him because he ran for VP last time around with John Kerry, another guy I had never heard of until he ran for president. Mitt Romney? OK, I knew he had some kind of connection to George Romney, a name I remembered from my childhood. The point is, none of these figures had any real national stature. And when they end up dropping out of the race, you won’t ever hear from them again. I hadn’t heard anything from Kerry until a few days ago when he threw his support, for what it’s worth, to Obama.

McCain is different. McCain-Feingold means campaign finance reform. McCain the former prisoner of war means a man who overcame personal suffering to become a political leader. Has the man ever said and done anything stupid? Definitely. Like the time he went to Iraq with an entourage of flak runners and military personnel and declared that he felt completely safe walking around Baghdad. I was embarrassed for him.

The thing about McCain is that he didn’t recede into the political fog once he had to leave the race the last time around. He kept his name out there without making himself a nuisance. He has thought through his ideas and sticks to them, even if they’re not popular. Not everyone’s going to agree with him about Iraq, where he thinks we’re going to be stuck for a long time. He doesn’t talk about bringing the troops home because he knows we can’t do that. And he seems to be for some kind of an amnesty program for illegal aliens. Most people don’t like the idea that immigrants who slipped into the United States illegally would get a free pass in a McCain administration, but most people also understand that our economy cannot run without the landscapers, dish washers and sweatshop workers who take on the low level jobs North Americans don’t want.

McCain is a homely old man who strikes me as sensible and politically skilled.

Obama is a devilishly handsome guy who strikes me as inexperienced and naive.

Hillary Clinton will not win against either one of them. The sad thing is, if I’m wrong, I probably won’t have the sense I was born with to keep my political opining to myself!

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  1. Jack Richman said

    I don’t pretend to know how this election will play out. Nothing about it seems familiar. It’s the first time since the mid-1920s that no president or veep was seeking nomination at their party’s convention. Others, like Truman in 1952, saw the writing on the wall and backed out before the convention.

    Speaking of parties, McCain-Feingold has weakened them considerably in an ill-advised and obviously unsuccessful attempt to drive money out of politics. Billionaires and even down-on-their-heels millionaires are free to buy greater influence than the rest of us either directly by self-financing their own bids for elective office or through surrogates, like MoveOn.org.

    The Internet is also playing an important role in weakening political parties because it makes it possible to tap small donors cost-effectively for the first time in history. Ron Paul of the Martian-Vegetarian Party is particularly adept at mining this source of moolah.

    It’s enough to make me nostalgic for having candidates chosen behind the scenes in schmuck-filled rooms.

    About the candidates: As far as I can tell, the last thing Hillary Clinton did on her own was get accepted into Yale Law School. I don’t think we’re in for a Clinton restoration, but I’ve been wrong before.

    Obama, despite his rhetorical virtuosity, is a well tailored but ultimate empty suit. He spent the bulk of his energy in Illinois and the Senate avoiding controversial and not-so-controversial votes. He has sought to distance himself from his madrasa-attending past by joining the racist and cult-like Trinity United Church of Christ church, which he will have to distance himself from as soon it gets the scrutiny it deserves. I think he’s in over his depth and if the press does its due diligence more will come to realize it.

    Edwards is proof that people are smarter as voters than they are as jurors. He got rich by convincing jurors to play Santa Claus with other people’s money. But when it comes to voting for people who want to control the public’s money, the public is more appropriately skeptical.

    McCain is a genuine hero who has the courage of his convictions, but many of those convictions are just plain silly. His attack against political free speech will not last. But he has done the country a grave disservice that has allowed George Soros, et. al. to have a greater voice in public affairs because his money laundering bill targets traditional political advocacy groups disproportionately.

    Romney is smart and capable and looks like he came out of central casting, but he strikes me as inauthentic. Huckabee is glib and funny, but he’s every bit at inexperienced as Obama – not my glass of tea.

    Giuliani is a stubborn, difficult guy given to upsetting apple carts – just what is needed in many quarters. He knows terrorism when he sees it, doesn’t waste his energy blaming the victims and understands what needs to be done to reduce the threat of future attacks. In short, he’s every bit as good as McCain on defense without McCain’s foolish tendency to court the affections of editorial boards. I changed my party affiliation so I can vote for him.

  2. modestine said

    Hi Jack. I trust Giuliani’s instincts about fighting terrorism. Who had the guts in the 1990s to ban Arafat — a killer with international cache — from entering our city?

    For me the problem with Giuliani is his snappishness. When I saw him at the Riverdale town hall in the early 1990s, he ridiculed every single person in the audience who asked him a question. Strangely enough, the audience loved him and the phalanx of fifteen or so deputies who stood in a row behind him. To my eye, Giuliani was crusty without being in the least bit winsome. He had no sense of humor about himself — a character trait I remembered long past anything he actually talked about, other than a proposed landfill in the Lehman College neighborhood.

    That image of the deputies standing in mute formation has stayed with me. I thought of it when I read the profile of Giuliani in the recent New Yorker article by Elizabeth Kolbert.* She observes that what Giuliani demands most from his people is loyalty. He doesn’t seek out other points of view. He doesn’t welcome criticism. Her assessment rang true with my memory of the mayor at the town hall meeting.

    So, sir, that’s my longwinded way of saying that, despite McCain’s silliness — and, as I said in my essay, I’ve seen evidence of it — I’ll break ranks with the Dems to give McCain my vote next November.

    Unless somebody better comes along. I’m not holding my breath.

    * Here’s Kolbert’s article in The New Yorker.

  3. The Dark Prince said

    Obama has done nothing to show that he deserves a chance, that he understands policy nuances, can run a government. Hill is only now beginning to work through her sense of entitlement. Read Maureen Dowd for some catty remarks…

    The Republicans are a joke. Giuliani makes me want to throw up. Romney is definitely The Candidate For Change. Sending 12m immigrants back after 120 days — what a joke. Huckabee is a foreign policy novice. McCain is too old — I remember Reagan growing senile on the job.

    I think this election is going to be about the economy. The Chinese are sitting on a trillion dollars. We have blown up hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq (ignoring even the human cost). Spent our way clear into recession through sub-prime greed. A huge mess.

    I am waiting to see who comes up with the better economic plan.

  4. modestine said

    Hi Vijay. You raise a point that I neglected to address in my essay: During this election campign, we may well be entering a recession. And, as you say, the rest of the world, particularly China, is poised to overwhelm the U.S. in terms of production, trade and cheap labor, to name a few.

    If the current crop of candidates does not start to take the economy seriously, then, I think, Michael Bloomberg is going to do the magicianly thing and present himself as this country’s best hope. I know the current candidates talk about strategy, but Bloomberg understands strategy in his skin. He reminds me of an elegant hound on a hill, sniffing the wind to feel in his gut what the currents mean and how he should respond to them. When Bloomberg senses people’s utter dissatsifaction with the candidates, he will pounce.

    As for Obama being ill-equipped to appreciate policy nuances, it’s possible — despite my afore-stated amateur punditry — that he is merely this campaign season’s Howard Dean. That is, his power and eventual downfall are inextricably entwined in the same phenomenon: Intense media attention. He’s new and unpredictable, and he gets people, especially people new to the political process, interested. But because he’s young, or because he’s perceived to be a maverick, or because he’s simply inexperienced, he can start to unravel. All it’ll take is a Howard Dean-like holler, and then he’s done for.

    McCain’s age concerns me a little, only because I’ve seen men in their mid-seventies begin to experience the first serious breakdown of the body. At the same time, I have known septuagenarians who have more physical stamina than I do, and a lot more mental savvy. I think the blame for Reagan’s senility falls less on him than on his staff, which sought to hide his mental incompetence from us. I don’t think that a second elderly president and his staff will be able to mislead us in quite the same way.

  5. Mirel said

    I am still undecided in this race, but I think the “inexperienced and naive” label on Obama, which Hillary is pushing, may be a bum rap. Yesterday, after hearing what Hillary had to say on Meet the Press, I read the complete text of Obama’s 2002 speech on the Iraq war, along with Hillary’s speech from the same time period in which she voted to support the Iraq war resolution. Obama’s speech was prescient and wise. It was Hillary who seemed naive, taking Bush at his word that he would only resort to military force as a last resort when it was clear even then that he was just itching for a fight. “Experience” is not all it is cracked up to be. Rumsfeld and Cheney had probably 50 years of experience between them when they entered the Bush Administration in 2000, and look where that got us.

  6. modestine said

    Hi Mirel! As I wrote in a previous essay, the vote on the war by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama creates a deeper problem for me.

    Clinton based her vote on what she thought was the available evidence at the time. That evidence, which the vast majority of the public and Congress believed, came from supposedly reliable intelligence sources. We know only in hindsight that this evidence was a bitches’ brew of wishful thinking and lies.

    Maybe Clinton shouldn’t have been so trusting. Maybe she should have been more skeptical, and maybe we should always be skeptical before we embark on invading another country. But her vote underscores a tacit belief in the institutions that she as a senator — and as president, if things go her way — has worked with and, to a significant degree, will be expected to rely on.

    Obama’s vote, which certainly looks “prescient and wise” in light of the post-invasion fiasco, suggests something troubling to my mind: What does Obama base his decisions on? Was he rejecting the UN’s presumption that Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction? After all, the U.S. intelligence agencies weren’t the only organizations who thought Iraq was preparing for war. Iraq had invaded Kuwait in 1993. It had used chemical weapons on the Kurdish population. It wasn’t unreasonable in 2003 to operate on the premise that Iraq would strike again.

    If you look at the 1991 Wikipedia entry, you’ll see a segment called “Iraq disarmament crisis.” It says: “The U.N. Security Council passes the Cease Fire Agreement, Resolution 687. The resolution calls for the destruction or removal of all of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons, all stocks of agents and components, and all research, development, support and manufacturing facilities for ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 km and production facilities; and for an end to its support for international terrorism. Iraq accepts the terms of the resolution on April 6.”

    In short, there was good reason why so many reasonable, even anti-war people, were worried about Saddam’s Iraq.

    As for Obama’s 2002 speech, he does make some assertions that, to my mind, seem kind of skewed:

    * “But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors.” Kuwait and the Kurds might have disagreed with the Senator.

    * “Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.” There’s plenty of oppression to go around in the Middle East. Our allies are brutal, but so are the Syrians, Iranians, Palestinians, etc. As for assuming that poverty and inequality comprise the “root cause” of terrorism, one need only remember that Mohammad Atta graduated with a degree in architecture from Cairo University. The entire 9/11 cohort was intelligent and well-educated.

    * Obama points an accusing finger at Wolfowitz, Rove and Perle. I’m OK with that, but why didn’t he point that accusing finger at the CIA? Is he angry at individual personalities, or “hacks,” as he calls Rove, or does he understand that there are institutions at fault here?

    For me the question remains, how does Obama make informed judgments? Is he fundamentally isolationist? Pacifist? Anti-war? Under what conditions would he intervene? Was his decision not to vote for the war based on a rock-bottom distrust of the institutions he would have to work with as president? Maybe he used his gut this time and he was lucky. How will he respond when, say, a Rwanda is begging for U.S. intervention to fend off countrywide mass murders?

    I don’t have answers. For me, the way Clinton and Obama voted have only muddled my mind in regard to these broader issues.

    P.S. I have nothing but gut feeling to go on here, but I always suspected that at heart Clinton did not want to invade Iraq. As a woman, however, she had to prove that — how can I say this delicately — she had as much testosterone flowing to her solar plexus as any male politician. I had to wonder if she actually needed a war-time vote to prove her vas deferens mettle!

    See also: Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary: Reflections by Women Writers

  7. Jack Richman said

    This war will continue for many years. Despite the cost and the many people “in whose name” it is not being waged, this war won’t be wished away. To the extent that we continue to thwart additional successful attacks, many will want to declare peace. But, sadly, it is not in their power to do so.

    This war will likely continue on and off for decades. If we as a people lack the strategic patience to keep taking the fight to the jihadists, they will again take it to civilians in the US. Once that happens, we would again find our resolve. That resolve could also wane over time. But if we want this over sooner rather than later and want to suffer fewer zetzs in the process, we will keep the heat on until the jihadist movement is crushed.

    McCain understands this and I would sooner vote for him, despite my many disagreements with him on other issues, than a candidate whose resolve on this is more in question.

    Giuliani has his share of shortcomings, to be sure. But politicians, like all people, are package deals. You have to vote for or against the whole package. You can’t pick and choose – that’s why consumers are happier with their choices at the market than voters are at the polls.

    Giuliani cleaned up my neighborhood and it’s never been better. His combination of support of social moderation and a strong defense is just what I’m looking for. He understands the threat we face as well as anybody. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “Now is not the time to go wobbly.”

  8. prozac said

    What is all this McCain idolatry and Obama bashing? McCain was a kid who had the misfortune of being captured by enemy troops and the good fortune and strength to survive it. He was, no doubt, a good soldier. Good soldiers loyally follow their commanders, know what is expected of them, and don’t question their leaders. This is an absolute necessity in the military. And it is these traits that McCain has exhibited and continues to exhibit with respect to Bush administration policy. But this country doesn’t need a good soldier right now. It needs a good leader. Does Obama get no credit for his perception and foresight and for expressing these views at a time when it was unpopular to do so? Does he get no recognition for understanding that you don’t authorize war without first taking into account its ramifications and making damn sure that the war is truly justified? To imply that he is anti-war or a pacifist (not that there’s any wrong with that) and that he came to his conclusions based on his “gut” or was “lucky” is not consistent with the very clear statements in his speech. This was not “luck.” It was a well reasoned and thoughtful assessment.

    And you don’t need to “go with your gut” to say that Hilary did not want to invade Iraq. Read her speech. It is all there. (http://clinton.senate.gov/speeches/iraq_101002.html) She says “My vote is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption, or for unilateralism, or for the arrogance of American power or purpose.” She wanted stronger UN resolutions for inspections to determine whether there truly were weapons of mass destruction. The mistake that Clinton made was believing that that Bush administration had enough sense to show restraint until this could be determined.

    McCain, like the good soldier he is, marched in lock step with a disastrous Bush policy that, to this day, has done nothing to benefit America and has, in fact, distracted us from the real threats to this country.

  9. modestine said

    Hi Prozac! I am not one to argue with a well-reasoned argument. Who can deny that the invasion was feckless? That it was strongarmed into existence with the help of irresponsible intelligence? That Obama opposed the invasion as far back as 2002?

    As I wrote in an earlier post, though, I do question a few of Obama’s assertions, especially the one where he says “Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors.” That would have been like saying that Hitler posed no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors.” If you were a Kurd in Saddam’s Iraq, or if you were a soccer player who lost a game, or if you were a girl that one of Saddam’s son’s took a shine to, Saddam posed an imminent and direct threat to you. And, as I said, there was plenty of confusion in 2002 about weapons of mass destruction to go around.

    The issue now is, what is America’s role going to be in Iraq? Whoever becomes president in January 2009 is going to inherit the mess. I cannot believe that even President Obama could just pull up stakes in Iraq and bring the troops home. I think everyone — including McCain — pretty much agrees that the Bush Administration mishandled everything from intelligence to troop levels. What all of the candidates should be talking about is how to proceed.

    I want to make one last observation about McCain. I don’t idolize him — and, for that matter, I don’t think I’m bashing Obama. But I do think McCain stands out from a crowd of preening nobodies who surface a year or so before a presidential election and fob themselves off as “presidential.” I can’t name one thing that Obama is known for. I’d say the same for Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee too.

    Your view of McCain is that he is some kind of military myrmidon who unthinkingly does as he’s told. I don’t think that people who join the military are any more susceptible to brainwashing or order-taking than the rest of us. I work in a highly hierarchical organization that includes many, many “good soldiers.” And, if you are picturing my tongue in cheek, you got it right. I’ve often said that if the top brass in any global corporation permitted employee executions, you’d regularly see seventeenth-century-style public hangings out in the parking lot.

    How true this is, I don’t know — but the story goes that McCain’s Vietnamese captors offered to set him free after learning that McCain’s father was commander of all U.S. forces in Vietnam. McCain could have used his connections to walk, but he chose to stay with his fellow POWs. Knowing what we know about human nature — that it is usually selfish and self-serving — McCain chose a hard and dignified path. No myrmidon would have done that.

    In the 1980s, McCain voted against a Reagan-endorsed resolution to keep U.S. Marines in Lebanon. If he were just a military robot, wouldn’t he have “marched in lockstep” behind anything the Pentagon wanted to do?

    There are a lot of real threats to this country, as you say. As flawed as McCain is — he was involved in the Keating loan scandal in the 1980s, for example — I think he probably understands them better than any of the other candidates. At least that’s how I think as of 11:54 a.m. on Tuesday, January 15!

  10. The Dark Prince said

    The Economy! The Economy!

    Citibank losing $1B/week?!?!? Merill Lynch posts another loss of $18B? These are, like, *big* numbers. This is going to hurt.

    Who has the policies to hep?

    Re: lets fight the jihadists in Iraq so we dont have to fight them in the US is about as amoral an argument as I have ever heard. Sure, lets bait our neighbors machine with a honeypot so all the hackers can go there, leaving our machine safe. Why? Just because we can. Decades of hard won high ground (Marshall Plan, the PL 480 plan that helped get me the best education in the world) lost to the caveman’s Might is Right.

  11. modestine said

    Hi Vijay. Sad, sad. We really did end up behaving like a bunch of yahoos.

  12. modestine said

    Hi Prozac! In the interest of fairness, I found an article on Salon.com that supports your argument that John McCain is basically a “good soldier:”

    John McCain’s real war record

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