Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Clinton v. Obama: Scattered Thoughts

I didn't watch much of tonight's debate, and I don't intend to review the transcript. However, the post-debate coverage has made mention of the fact that Hillary Clinton, repeatedly, described herself as "a fighter."

This is true. She and Bill are both fighters.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, is a peacemaker.

That's the difference, really.

Hillary delights in the political campaign- and she, like her husband, sees actual government process as nothing more than political campaigning in another venue. Barack Obama, on the other hand, sees the campaign as nothing more than a means to an end- the end being to get things done through the political process.

This trait in Obama is shown quite well in a recent article by Noam Scheiber, which describes Obama's advisors, and by extension Obama, as placing pragmatism over idealism.

And, yet, it's not just the details of Obama's policies that suggest a behavioral approach. In some respects, the sensibility behind the behaviorist critique of economics is one shared by all the Obama wonks, whether they're domestic policy nerds or grizzled foreign policy hands. Despite Obama's reputation for grandiose rhetoric and utopian hope-mongering, the Obamanauts aren't radicals--far from it. They're pragmatists--people who, when an existing paradigm clashes with reality, opt to tweak that paradigm rather than replace it wholesale. As Thaler puts it, "Physics with friction is not as beautiful. But you need it to get rockets off the ground." It might as well be the motto for Obama's entire policy shop.

On the other hand, Arianna Huffington writes that Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama, is the true lover of words with little or nothing behind them.

Clinton's use of words is disturbingly reminiscent of the way the Bush administration has used words: just saying something is true is magically supposed to make it true. Call it Presto-change-o Politics.

. . .

Now let's look at Hillary Clinton's rhetoric and what is says about the campaign she's run. It started with her absurd claim that her vote for the war was really a vote to send inspectors back in. The name of the bill? "The Joint Resolution To Authorize The Use Of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq." Saying it was about sending inspectors back in doesn't mean that it is true that it was about sending inspectors back in.

. . .

Or how about the Clinton campaign's abracadabra rhetoric, designed to make the reality of what they agreed to about Florida and Michigan -- poof! -- go away. They even set up a website that attempts to pull a rabbit out of the electoral hat. The site list several "facts": "FACT: Florida and Michigan should count, both in the interest of fundamental fairness and honoring the spirit of the Democrats' 50-state strategy." As Ezra Klein notes: "It's almost as if they thought putting it after... the word 'FACT,' would be like a Jedi mind trick."

. . .

It is Clinton who uses words to deny reality, and expects them to magically change it. Haven't we had enough of that over the last seven years?

The two articles both come close to the point, but miss it by a fraction. Obama is a pragmatist because he wants to get things done- and if that means going across the aisle, mending fences, and finding common ground with people who'd love to see him on the unemployment line, well that's what's going to be done. Clinton, on the other hand, would rather use rhetoric and clever speeches to manufacture achievements, or blame others for the lack of achievement, than to actually do what is needed to make things happen- compromise.

This is why, with four fewer years in Congress, Obama has had more actual bills and amendments passed than Clinton.

This is why (among many other reason) Obama would make a better president than Clinton- either Clinton.

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