For several months I wrestled with the choice of voting for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.
My starting point was that I felt very loyal to Hillary, quite frankly, because she is Bill Clinton's wife. Bill will always be a favorite president of mine. He's who I switched sides for in 1992 after growing up in a Republican household as an aspiring Alex Keaton. I even got in a car accident the day after Bill Clinton was elected because the roommate who normally drove us to work called in sick, because we were hung over from drinking champagne in celebration the night before. And I still love the guy.
While other people may gripe or feel cynical about the partnership that she and Bill have always had politically, with her being his most important adviser even though she occupied no official role in the administration, I've always considered it a strength. Just as she was an asset to him when he was president, so too would Bill be an asset to her as president. Of course there may be differences between them as leaders, but I certainly wouldn't apologize one bit for essentially voting in both the Democratic primary and the general election to re-elect Bill and Hillary, or Hillary and Bill.
In fact, I think the elephant in the room of this entire campaign, as well as over the course of the George W. Bush administration, is that we as America's voters should have been able to keep electing Bill Clinton.
I've always been against the constitutional amendment limiting presidents to two terms. That's a matter of checks and balances that should be left to the voters. The Republicans ran through that amendment after the Franklin Roosevelt administration when he beat them in the general election so many times in a row. But that kind of multi-term presidency had always been the exception to the rule in American history anyway. It isn't as if FDR's extra long stay in the White House signaled some dangerous new era where presidents would grow into dictators with a permanent grip on power.
I think it's treating the voters like children to suggest that we can't be trusted to elect the same person president for more than two terms. It's one thing if you don't like Bill Clinton and don't want him to be president. Vote against him! But if the majority of the country would prefer him as president to any of the 2000, 2004 or 2008 candidates--and I believe that is the case--we should be allowed by the law to make that choice.
And as for Republican opposition to this idea, let me ask: What if Ronald Reagan had been twenty years younger in 1988. Do you really think the Republicans wouldn't wish he could run for a third term? And even as a Democrat, I say in that hypothetical situation that the voters should have had that option. I'd have rather won at the ballot box than because somebody was prevented from running.
But obviously Bill Clinton isn't going to return as president. So is Hillary the next best thing? Well, that's what I felt for a long time. And I would still love to have her as president. Absolutely positively. Hell, anybody would be an improvement.
Ultimately, though, I've come to see more of the young Bill Clinton who I fell for politically in Barack Obama than in Hillary. A cynic might say it's merely all about me being seduced by great male charisma. Obama is the first person in either party to come along since Bill Clinton who is just overflowing with it. But there's more to both guys than just charisma. It's about hope. And looking back the last fifty years, those from the left who have projected and radiated hope in that way are really maybe only Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and John F. Kennedy.
As president, Obama would probably require a learning curve that Hillary wouldn't. I really liked one of Hillary's campaign slogans: "ready from day one". She definitely would be more ready at the beginning than Obama.
Ironically, though, thinking about Hillary being ready and experienced from the beginning makes me think with great regret back to all the time wasted during Bill Clinton's eight years. First the years of learning how to get things accomplished without gridlock, then hemmed in by a Republican congress after 1994, and then that totally ridiculous Monica garbage. I actually keep a newspaper clipping on my bulletin board from last year with a headline that reads, "Gingrich admits Clinton-era affair" as a reminder of the gargantuan hypocrisy that led to Bill Clinton's impeachment, and how it all just didn't matter at all. I couldn't care less if Bill is a weasel in his romantic/sexual life. Better that than a perfect husband who makes America the world's biggest pariah, and all after that rarest of moments following the 9/11 attacks when all the usual political barriers, both domestic and international, faded away in an outpouring of goodwill. Can you actually think today of the semen stained dress that captivated the media during the Bill Clinton impeachment and not bust out laughing at the absurdity?
When I sat down to write this, the idea was to talk about why I intend now to vote, however reluctantly, for Obama over Hillary. But I guess you can't talk about those two without talking about Bill.
One other thing I've got to say about Hillary, though. Today, as I glanced at The Oregonian's opinion page and found what seemed like Jack Ohman's 10 millionth cartoon based around Hillary being a mean bitch, I started to feel like I wanted to vote for Hillary just out of spite to all those who vilify her. In all my life following politics, I've never seen anyone attacked so much as she and Bill, by the media and the general populace. Many millions of Americans seem to outright hate Hillary Clinton as if she's an Antichrist with an ever-changing hairdo. And after 16 years, I feel really fed up with it.
Yet unfortunately, it's that very hatred of Hillary that also may play a role in my not voting for her. Like I said, I'd love to see the first woman become America's president, and for it to be Hillary in particular. But in the general election, what I want is for "Democratic Candidate X" to defeat "Republican Candidate Y". And I'm not sure Hillary's baggage, however unfair to her it may be, will allow that. I don't know if that means America is just still too sexist, or if people just have it in for her. But I think history will remember Hillary Clinton as someone brave and tough who took much more flak than just about any of her male counterparts.
Meanwhile, a much greater specter awaits in November. After being left for dead politically as a presidential candidate, John McCain now seems like the most likely one to get the Republican nomination. It's true I'd have much preferred McCain to George W. Bush, but in 2008 he represents something that feels unthinkable even though it's extremely plausible: the Republicans keeping the White House for a third straight term.
Funnily enough, after all this talk of presidential politics, I haven't even mentioned that Barack Obama is black. The stunning possibility of a black American president—with apologies to Jesse Jackson, easily the closest we’ve ever come--has been muted somewhat, I think, by the fact that we also have a female as the other main Democratic candidate.
Given what a horribly tragic and tumultuous racial history this country has, maybe my almost forgetting he's black is the best compliment you can give Obama. I don’t mean that I need to forget he’s black to vote for Obama—just the opposite, actually. If anything, in a general election I'd be extra inclined to vote for an African American candidate. Maybe I'm even guilty of some small measure of benevolent racism in that regard.
Even so, I find myself wanting to vote for Obama because he's Obama, not because of his culture or race or anything like that. Much as those things make us who we are, and how we are perceived by others, I think Obama has risen up into a class of people whose message and sense of self demand to be counted as something beyond such knee-jerk labeling. I'm not sure I believe in Americans enough to make him president, but I'd sure love to be pleasantly surprised.
And regardless, January 20, 2009 is going to be cause for a party.