Like most of us, I became aware of Barack Obama when he gave his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
I was impressed and infatuated immediately and am not ashamed to admit that I had one of those “God Bless America” moments and was moved by the sincerity of his convictions, the accuracy of his assessment and eloquence of his prose.
Between then and now I have never viewed him, his politics or his policies in a negative light. And when I heard the speech on race that he gave recently in Philadelphia, I was once again impressed. The man is truly remarkable; and I believe that speech to be on par with any and all great moments in American political history.
Make no mistake, Barack Obama has earned my respect. But respect isn’t — at the very least shouldn’t be — the only criteria for selecting a president.
And while I have faith that he would be a great leader, faith is, by definition, a belief in things unseen — it’s the metaphorical equivalent to crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.
We live in too grim a world for that selection process. And given the über-qualifications of both candidates, the overriding similarities of their positions and policies and the sincerity of their convictions, deciding between the two is difficult.
But for me, the magnitude of the consequences dictates that I err on the side of intelligence and not emotion.
Whomever we elect to succeed George W. Bush will inherit a cluster-fuck of epic proportions: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the complete evaporation of foreign allies, an energy crisis in full bloom, a prison camp at Guantanamo, an economy in recession and an ailing — and aging — populace that will demand the health care reform they have been promised.
There is no time for a learning curve — and that is where the similarities between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton come to an end. The biggest difference between the two is 14 years — but those 14 years consist of experience the job demands.
Both candidates were stellar students and earned Ivy League degrees. Both have used their law degrees and government involvement to advocate for civil rights and children’s rights, as well as improving the quality of life for working-class families, and reforming public education and health care.
Both are “junior” senators from their respective states; with Clinton serving one additional term; Obama having experience in the Illinois state Legislature; Clinton serving as first lady of Arkansas; and both having a bazillion other accomplishments.
And they both have been dragging around those “first black man to do this” and “first woman to do that” designations the entirety of their academic, professional and political careers.
But Hillary Clinton has been doing it longer and under more difficult and demanding circumstances.
When Clinton first set up an office in the West Wing in January of 1992, she was the first wife of a president to do so. For those of you who don’t remember the political scuttlebutt that far back — it was heresy. She was part of a presidential administration in a way no first lady had ever been officially and publicly before or since. And while her responsibilities and involvement in an official capacity were not entirely related to being commander in chief, not one could be considered irrelevant.
Among them: the first and most complete attempt at universal health care ever undertaken by the American government. A plan that dared to “socialize” medicine in this country — the work of a woman, no less — didn’t get far in the early 1990s. “Hillarycare,” as it came to be known, was a mammoth failure that carried with it a rabid determination to put the little woman and liberalism firmly in their place — outside the room where the grownups were doing business.
She was also a senator from New York when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred; and while not all of her subsequent responses have been heralded as positive, she has the experience in dealing with this type of attack and the human and economic repercussions that Obama doesn’t.
And while first-hand experience, even failure, isn’t necessarily a positive indicator of ability, on these issues, I believe, it makes the difference between success and failure.
Whether Obama or Clinton wins, both will have limited power and will need a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate in order to end the war in Iraq, pass economic reform, make significant environmental impact and pass a universal health care plan.
And whether the Republicans are in the majority or the minority, they are going to fight tooth and nail against every single one of those items.
Clinton has already been chewed up and spit out by that machine. This time around, she has the benefit of hindsight, experience and her own maturity. She has also earned the respect, even if it is begrudgingly, from her peers in Congress.
It’s been a long time since she had an office in the West Wing, and when she did it wasn’t always a rewarding place to be. But when she goes back next January, no one has to tell her to dial 9 to get an outside line and America doesn’t have to wait for the brash new puppy to get his overly-optimistic and slightly-arrogant ass handed to him by the old dogs.
We also don’t have to believe in as many things unseen; her presidency requires less faith and replaces it with confidence.
This is no time to give the rookie the ball. We need to elect a president who has already been bruised by the process, knows the protocol and pitfalls and has been made wiser by her failures — as well as more resolute.
While all people might be created equal, all things are not equal in value. Clinton’s 14 years of experience qualifies as more necessary, more relevant and more reliable than Obama’s youthful promise.
Both candidates have earned my respect; but only Hillary Clinton has earned my vote.
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