Thursday, January 03, 2008

Iowa Caucus Rollup

If the news channels are to be believed, the Iowa Democratic and Republican caucuses have been won by Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee, respectively. I write about almost everything else on this blog, so why not politics?

First, the Republicans (disclaimer, I'm a registered Democrat). In the case of Huckabee, I think the Republican's chickens have come home to roost. Huckabee is the candidate of the hard-line social conservatives and religious right; supports outlawing all abortions and several forms of contraception, believes being gay is a disease, thinks we should teach creationism in school, etc. The neocon and anti-tax wings of the party have always courted this bloc of voters that Huckabee represents, even though deep down they're not nearly as extreme in their views, because they needed the votes. This season, though, neither of those two wings produced a candidate that the values-voter could rally behind. There's Guiliani, the pro-gay, pro-choice, thrice-married, cross-dressing New Yorker; there's Romney, who's blatant pandering and opportunism was too much for even the most extreme to absorb; there's Thompson, whose campaign was so lackluster that nobody even noticed his carefully honed positions on issues like stem-cell research and civil unions; and then there was McCain, whose stance against torture, interestingly enough, actually hurt him among evangelical voters. Given that list, is it any wonder the values-voters went so heavily for Huckabee?

And now for the Democrats, which is (to me at least) much more interesting. For whatever reason I could never really get excited about Edwards, so it was always between Obama and Clinton for me.

Originally (in early/mid 2007) I was an Obama supporter. I didn't really have anything against Clinton; I thought her to be a competent politician who had the misfortune to be married to a president that conservatives spent quite a bit of effort trying to destroy back in the 90's. She's nowhere close to being the calculating, lifeless automaton that the media makes her out to be, but just because I know that doesn't mean that most of the population does, and she will always be a divisive figure. Better, I thought, to support the less divisive Obama, who was making quite a name for himself with some impressive speeches.

The problem, though, was that the more I listened to Obama's speeches, the more I found that they weren't actually impressive, they just sounded impressive. He was a great orator with an incredible gift for rhetoric, but when you stripped that away, he didn't seem to actually be saying anything at all. Worse, when he actually did say something, it generally wasn't very progressive. He invited a prominent cure-away-the-gay homophobe to lead one of his rallies, criticized health-care proposals, repeated the absurd notion that Social Security is in some kind of crisis, etc. And so I moved back to Clinton, who is divisive, but who at least wasn't parroting Republican talking points.

And the thing is, now that I'm on the Clinton bandwagon I'm beginning to have more and more concerns about the Obama campaign. I know some of this is probably a psychological desire to find fault with the candidate I don't support, but hey, it's my blog, so indulge me. Obama supporters generally fall into one of two categories.

First, there are the cult-of-personality supporters. These are the people who have vague ideas about Obama's positions but don't know details; their support is premised entirely on the fact that he's a great speaker who just has that special something. This is great, as far as it goes, but it's a lousy thing to base a campaign on. The Culters seem to believe that simply because he's Obama the world will magically move away from the hateful politics of the past and towards some kind of progressive utopia where moderate Republicans completely ditch their party and support liberal initiatives, and where the nastier rulers of the world suddenly realize the folly of their ways and reform their countries into Switzerland. That, quite frankly, has a snow-ball's chance in hell of happening.

The second, and much stronger in my view, category of supporters are those who do so almost entirely based on Obama's position on foreign policy. I won't deny that Clinton has a lot to answer for here; her early support for the Iraq invasion will be a permanent black mark on her career, and Obama is rightly proud of his early opposition to it. But the Obama camp doesn't just leave it at that, they use it as a launch pad for arguments that span the entire gauntlet of right, wrong, and crazy. They are right that Clinton's positions were objectively pro-Bush in the early years of the war, but then they claim that means Clinton's foreign policy will be just a continuation of Bush's. Huh? Bush's policies have been an absolute disaster, but that doesn't automatically imply that the correct policies are those that are farthest away from what we have currently. I'm honestly starting to worry that there's a branch of the Democratic party whose disgust with Bush is so great, that they are now unable to look at anything except through the prism of how it would have played out in an argument to go to war with Iraq. Raise some concerns about Iran and you're automatically branded as some neocon chicken hawk whose policies led us to war. The Bush years have so twisted the political discourse that anything other than complete pacifism can be turned into an objective argument for supporting a continuation of Bush's failed policies. But that's simply not right. These are complicated issues, they deserve more consideration than what a lot of people are giving.

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