Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Dems' Day of Reckoning

So today is the Democrats' (latest) day of reckoning - this time in North Carolina and Indiana.

As the race for the nomination continues, we're getting a clearer picture of the character of candidates Clinton and Obama, and what we might expect if either are elected President. As David Brooks puts it in today's New York Times:

"Th[e] contrast between combat and composure defines the Democratic race. The implicit Clinton argument is that politics is an inherently nasty business. Human nature, as she said Sunday, means that progress comes only through conquest. You’d better elect a leader who can intimidate. You’d better elect someone who has given herself permission to be brutal.

"[By contrast,] Obama’s campaign grows out of the longstanding reform tradition. His implicit argument is that politics doesn’t have to be this way. Dishonesty and brutality aren’t inevitable; they’re what gets in the way. Obama’s friend and supporter Cass Sunstein described the Obama ideal in The New Republic: “Obama believes that real change usually requires consensus, learning and accommodation."

"That’s regarded as na├»ve drivel in parts of Camp Clinton.

"Campaign issues come and go, but this is a thread running through the race. One believes in the raw assertion of power, the other the power of communication."

Brooks offers the rivals' differing appearances on last Sunday's talk shows as Exhibit A:

"Hillary Clinton went on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” incarnating her role as the first Democratic Rambo. The Clinton campaign seems to want to reduce the entire race to one element: the supposed masculinity gap. And so everything she does is all about assertion, combat and Alpha dog dominance.

"A few questions in, Clinton rose from her chair and loomed over Stephanopoulos. The country hasn’t seen such a brazen display of attempted middle-aged physical intimidation since Al Gore took a walkabout on the debate stage with George Bush. It was like watching someone get elbowed in a dark alley by their homeroom teacher.

"But her attempt to take over the show was nothing compared with her attempt to dominate the truth. For the first 30 minutes, she did not utter a single candid word, including, as Mary McCarthy would say, “and” and “the.”

"She peddled her sham gas-tax holiday and repeated her attempt to blame Indiana’s job losses on outsourcing and Nafta. Stephanopoulos asked her to name a single economist who thinks a tax-holiday plan would work, and the daughter of Wellesley and Yale took the chance to shove the geeks into their lockers: “I’m not going to put my lot in with economists.” ...

"Barack Obama gave off an entirely different vibe on “Meet the Press.” His campaign has been in the doldrums for the past few months. He’s never come up with an explanation about how he would actually transform politics, and his conventional substance is beginning to overshadow his unconventional style.

"But, as Sunday’s contrast made clear, Obama still seems like a human being. He still seems to return each night to some zone of normalcy where personal reflection lives. He wasn’t fully candid when answering questions about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but there are some inner guardrails that prevent the spin from drifting too far from the truth. Thoughtful and conversational, he doesn’t seem to possess the trait that Clinton has: automatically assuming that critics are always wrong.

"Obama still possesses his talent for homeostasis, the ability to return to emotional balance and calm, even amid hysteria. His astounding composure has come across as weakness in the midst of combat with Clinton, but it’s also at the core of his promise to change politics. He vows to calm hatred and heal division." ...

"Still, amid the storms of the presidency, their basic worldviews would shape their presidencies. Obama is instinctively a conversationalist and community-mobilizer. Clinton, as she says, will fight and fight. If elected, she’ll have the power to take the Hobbesian struggle she perceives, and turn it into remorseless reality."

So Democrats, and all Americans, do have a real choice - and having seen the candidates' behavior in this hotly-contested race, we'll get what we deserve.