Saturday, December 15, 2007

Why Barack Obama is ahead of Hillary Clinton in Iowa

I love Iowa. I got to spend some time there during Howard Dean's campaign. People in Iowa take democracy very seriously. They read. They meet the candidates in person. They evaluate carefully. They take their responsibility of being the first vote in the nation VERY seriously. Democracy, to many Iowans, is not just about a vote. It's a way of life.

I love the Caucus system, too. It forces you to vote in public, on the Democratic side. You literally stand in clumps to support your candidate and there's a public head count. There's no question, to caucus attenders, if their vote was counted accurately, because everyone sees it happen.

I've been following the polls lately to see who is ahead, but more importantly,who is rising. As we relearn in every cycle, it's not who the press touts necessarily that wins, but who's got the "mo" - wonkspeak for "momentum." I was surprised and, I dare say, pleased to find Barack Obama either ahead of Hillary Clinton or tying her in every recent major poll in Iowa and New Hampshire. For nearly a year, Obama was in third place, behind Edwards and Hillary. Edwards' numbers haven't changed that much. Hillary's have dropped. So the one with the mo is clearly Obama, and I don't attribute that all to Oprah Winfrey's first political endorsement.

I think it's largely attributable to the fact that Obama has run a 'clean' campaign, devoid of slurs against his opponents. And I think that's when Hillary's campaign took a major stumble - when her staffers started talking about Obama's past drug use, as a youth. I also think Obama's response to such attacks were refreshing as well. Instead of saying he "didn't inhale" as Hillary's husband had, Obama said of course he inhaled. "That was the point."

And that leads to what I really think is working for Obama and against Hillary. Obama doesn't talk down to people. I happened to catch one of his town hall meetings today, and far from the usual platitudes such as "I support Social Security" without detail, Obama gave the audience a detailed lesson in what works with Social Security, what doesn't, how the hype that it needs fixing is overblown, but how there's a grain of truth under the hype that does eventually need to be addressed. I realized right then, that's why Iowans like him. He treats them like they're intelligent enough to understand most questions don't deserve a yes or a no, but a nuanced explanation. He doesn't see the world in terms of black or white. Neither does Hillary, but I think she or her advisors think it's better for her to just say something strongly, even if it's not 100% true, than to appear to waffle. But the way Obama does it, it isn't waffling. It's letting you in on the facts he knows, and when he shares those, you find yourself in the same position as well, because the less black and white response is what the facts demand.

I also caught the Republican debate earlier this morning. I was surprised and pleased to see the current frontrunner, Governor Huckabee, state clearly why arts and music are as important to one's education as reading and arithmetic. He stated we need to develop both the left and right brain. Bravo and amen. I've been saying that for years, but it was shocking to find a Republican willing to say the same thing.

I also see Huckabee's appeal, in that he's not snide or sarcastic, but comes across as warm and genuine. But if I were a Republican, I'd be all over Ron Paul. He's dead right when he says the most regressive tax in America is inflation, which is caused by the issuance of currency backed by almost nothing at all. He is the only candidate in either party who understands this part of the equation, and I think it's an important one. If he shared my Democratic values, he'd be the one for me. But he's too conservative for my reality. He's not what we need.

Obama, on the other hand, would put a very new face on America to the world, one that is sorely needed. One that shows we're not this racist, divided society. One of the things I've noted most in Obama's record is his willingness to work on bi-partisan initiatives. He's not one to demonize opponents. He's not one to say "you're either for us or against us." He is someone who might yet be able to pull the country back from the divisions that threaten this country.

I get upset when people write to me about "rethuglicans" or "dumbocrats." Until we see each other as people first, last, and always, we will never have the conversations we need. I truly believe the division between the right and the left is far less, and far less significant, than the division between the haves and the have nots. But it suits the goals of the haves to keep us warring with each other, and creates a semblance of Democracy, when in fact we've rarely had leaders who truly challenged the elites to do better for America. Those that have, notably Lincoln and Kennedy, have been shot down.

But back to Clinton and Obama. I wouldn't count Clinton out yet. She's sharp, she's tough, and she's been through two presidential campaigns before. She's got more experience in her left pinkie than anyone else running. But this all can work against her, as well. People are tired of the past, and want to have something new to look forward to. A lot of Democrats I know are terrified that the one thing that could unite the beaten down and disillusioned Republican base is someone they can agree to hate, and that would be Hillary. Not all of them hate Hillary. I've talked to several Republicans this year that assured me they'd vote for whoever the Democratic nominee was because they think their party is headed in the wrong direction. (After Obama's appearance, one of the callers to C-SPAN claimed to be a Republican who was fed up and liked the calm intelligence Obama showed, and that he would be supporting him.)

Edwards fans and supporters of other candidates, I'm sorry if you feel left out. But the race, at this point, is between Clinton and Obama, and I'd be very surprised if that changed. But we'll see. Of the three, I like Edwards the least. But I'd take him over Huckabee, Giuliani, Paul, or any of the other Republican candidates.

For those interested in following the latest polls, this is one of the best free sites with solid information: Real Clear Politics. Have fun. And don't miss your own primary. My state, California, has moved its primary up much sooner so as to be more relevant to the selection of our candidates. I'm happy to see that, even as that must place an additional burden on the campaigns, who can't get to everyone!

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Deighved H Stern MD said...

I thought the best illustration of why Obama leads, and Hillary is dropping was provided by the following quotes from The Daily Kos (not all of them directly from the candidates):

San Francisco: "Will you join Sen. Chris Dodd's hold and proposed filibuster on any FISA bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecoms?"

Sen. Joe Biden: "Yes."

Barack Obama: "To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies."

Hillary Clinton: "I am troubled by the concerns that have been raised by the recent legislation reported out of the Intelligence Committee...As matters stand now, I could not support it and I would support a filibuster absent additional information coming forward that would convince me differently."

How anyone - liberal or conservative or libertarian - can find Hillary Clinton trustworthy is a mystery to me. That opinion is based on far more than the above quote, to be sure.

I like Obama, because he comes accross as sincere - maybe the most sincere-sounding Presidential Candidate from a major party in my adult memory. It is a lot easier to give answers that mean something when YOU mean what you say, say what you mean, and stand on principle, rather than rely on your ability to get as many people as possible to believe you mean what THEY want you to mean.

Incidentally, I like a lot about Ron Paul, and he fits my personal politics a lot better than yours, but I think you are both wrong about inflation. Inflation favors neither rich nor poor. How that plays out depends on where you are in life, the context in which it exists, and the aspects of the economy driving it. Many of the older baby boomers got rich largely as a result of the inflationary 70s and early 80s, and what that did to their real estate holdings. Income generally kept pace, and inflation on items purchased with debt far outpaced interest on that debt. That period of inflation hurt bankers more than the middle class. And that is why ever since, the Fed has run it monetary policy in a way that reflects an attitude that inflation is the worst thing in the world that could possibly happen. Unemployment? No problem. Exodus of industrial base? Big deal! Working people being able to pay off loans of valuable money with payments in cheap money? DISASTER!

Whatever inflation we are about to face is going to be far different from that we had 30 years ago, and will probably not be so kind to the middle class... yet there are some reasons for hope that it might. There is an excellent discussion on a closely related topic in Der Spiegel at http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,520700,00.html

2:43 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Well, personally, I will be quite thrilled to see my own debts devalued. But it's hard to see people like my parents, both retired, watching prices go up around them while their income does not. Those are the people who will be hit hardest by inflation, I fear - those with fixed incomes and rising prices.

Yes - good example re the FISA bill and retroactive immunity. I support a filibuster on that too. I think it sets a horrible precedent otherwise - if the government asks, just do it, legal or not. That's no way to run a country.

7:10 AM  

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