Thursday, 22 February 2007

Barack Obama v. Hillary Clinton: it's on!

For a while now, watchers of America politics have known a fight within the Democratic Party over the 2008 presidential candidate was imminent. For every election there are multiple candidates of the same party vying for the nomination to run. However, in this case, there are two popular and spotlight-worthy candidates running for the most esteemed political post in all the land. Of course, there has been plenty of hype to go around; enough, in fact, to feed a small country. There has been prior idle speculation over a deep Obama-Clinton battle, but most of that was just politics as usual; people making a big deal out of nothing. This time it is the candidates — or rather, just the Clinton camp — creating much ado about next-to-nothing.

Obama kicked off his campaign earlier this month and was recently attacked by Austrialia's right-wing prime minister, John Howard. Clinton has not been as lucky in her coverage in the press, or on this blog. She announced her candidacy late last month.

Washington Post:

An increasingly acrimonious competition between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton to enlist the Democratic Party's leading fundraisers and operatives burst into the open yesterday, overshadowing what was billed as the presidential campaign's first gathering of candidates in Nevada.

While Clinton (N.Y.) and Obama (Ill.) have not for the most part taken their competition public, their campaigns in recent weeks have been trumpeting each victory, such as the recruitment of a major Boston-based rainmaker by Obama and a prominent African American state senator from South Carolina by Clinton.

The back-and-forth between the two campaigns has largely been fodder for political insiders. Yesterday, however, David Geffen, the music and film producer who is one of the party's most prominent donors, made the fight more public. In an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Geffen said that Clinton is "the easiest to beat" of the Democratic field and skewered her unwillingness to apologize for her 2002 vote to use force in Iraq. "It's not a very big thing to say 'I made a mistake' on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can't," Geffen said.
After seeing the comments yesterday morning, the Clinton campaign immediately issued a call for Obama to disavow Geffen's remarks and return his $2,300 donation, arguing that they were contrary to Obama's pledge to run a positive campaign.
Obama weighed in later. "It's not clear to me why I would be apologizing for someone else's remarks," he said in Iowa, where he had gone instead of the candidates forum because of a prior commitment. "My sense is that Mr. Geffen may have differences with the Clintons, but that doesn't really have anything to do with our campaign."

All this over a minor donation in what is expected to be a billion dollar campaign? Still Geffen has raised roughly $1.3 million for Obama. To clarify, the $2,300 was just the amount Geffen had raised on Tuesday.

Personally I do not care for Clinton's politics. She is much more phony a politician than Obama, and her attempts to join multiple assumed ideological sects — the national security hawks, moral, anti-violent video games, etc. — have not fared well with me. I am fine with a politician bringing people from all areas of the spectrum together, but someone who tries to get the votes of people by contradicting their policies and trumping special interests for the political capital I don't like.

Obama, on the other hand, wants reform but knows he cannot get it. He has taken the mentality of gradual, moderate reform, which would eventually lead to what he wants; often times the progressive change this country needs. He knows the general public in the United States are not progressive at the moment and plans to meet in the middle between radical reform and none at all. (See this Harper's article.) Better than nothing, if you ask me. One problem would be if the reforms have a poor short-term effect, like some of the effects of free trade, Obama might loose the support of the people.

Clinton is better than a lot of other politicians and potential Oval Office contenders, but the need felt by her to please everyone might cause her to loose her target base. She also needs a clearer stance. On many issues she has remained opaque on her views in order to maximize popularity; on others she has just followed the Democratic party-line — all too often. Clinton is neither a maverick nor a firebrand Democrat nor a clear-cut candidate nor something in the middle. Obama is more of a Democratic maverick, though he needs to break away from his party a bit more often.

If Sen. Clinton does not feel the need to apologize over her vote for the Iraq war, that indicates she thought — and still thinks — the war was a good idea. Obama, on the other hand, has taken the more moderate approach of saying he was wrong. I doubt the issue of changing one's mind over the decision to go to war with Iraq will be as big a deal as it was in the 2004 presidential election, when the Republicans spread the mostly-erroneous Kerry "flip-flopping" label, not to mention the dirty Swift Boat campaign. (The 2000 and 2004 GOP candidate, George W. Bush, is actually worse on flip-flopping than Kerry.)

Currently Clinton is still more popular in the polls than Obama, though who would vote for her in the Democratic primaries remains to be seen. (Newsweek has a detailed poll from early this year/late last year.) Clinton's numbers have dropped as Obama's have grown in recent weeks, however. Each have nearly a quarter of the polled Democratic backing; it is only natural scuffles have begun and shall intensify.

I will not give out my final, or even preliminary, verdict on these candidates until we all learn more and I read up on them, their votes and stated policies.

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