Posted by: Robin | March 4, 2008

Prophet vs. Pragmatist

Today the Texas and Ohio primaries are happening as I write. Politics are not my purview beyond what I need to know for my vote, but I have to say I am very anxious about the outcome. I am a democrat, and when the presidential primary cycle began it felt like for once the party had an embarrassment of riches. I, like many, was very attracted to Obama, but from long before I heard Hillary Clinton’s mantra about day one, I didn’t feel I could vote for him. He was too inexperienced. I remembered too well the first year of the Bill Clinton era when a bunch of young, idealistic, bright staffers with little experience of Washington or  understanding of the enormity of the bureaucracy and pressures came to the White House and made mistake after mistake, wasting their newly-elected capital. With the world in the state it is, and our economy, we can’t afford to elect a president who is not ready to go from the start. One journalist described Obama as running more like a prophet than a politician. I agree, and I’m not sure, as attractive as that is, that we have the luxury of electing a prophet.

While Hillary Clinton has in the past, as another journalist said, not always been on a first name basis with the truth (and it does make me nervous), that charge is not one I’ve heard since she became a politician in her own right. She cares passionately about important things, but she is also a pragmatist and a gifted architect of consensus. She is a known quantity, and she in turn knows most of the people she’ll have to deal with if elected. There aren’t going to be the surprises that mired her husband’s presidency. If Obama becomes the democratic candidate and even president we can be pretty certain the same unrelenting digging will follow him that followed the Clintons (though hopefully with less to find). That makes me nervous, and it is a terrible waste of our time at this critical juncture.

That said until two weeks or so ago, I thought I could be comfortable with either of my party’s candidates. No longer. I did hear on Nightline the other night a bit about Obama’s time in the Illinois legislature and some of his supporters that concerned me, but my reaction is more an intuitive response to watching him over time. He is wearing on me. For someone standing for change, his demeanor seems to change very little. I do not think I have ever seen him do anything spontaneously human. Each move is studied. Everything is almost rigidly close to the vest. The recent appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show was a case in point. She insisted he dance with her, like she does all her guests. He stood undecided for several seconds (his visit was by satellite from the campaign trail; he looked to by in a college or high school gym) before looking to his right off camera, and then slowly he began to move. Once he started he looked pretty good, but his moves, too, were measured. I’m not sure I want a president who can’t spontaneously enter into a moment of harmless play without prompting or deciding first if it is beneath his dignity or serves his ends. Maybe this instance is unfair to judge by. Maybe he was just waiting for the music to start.

Bottom-line, I don’t feel I know the man any more now than I did a year ago when he did an Oprah interview. Then he was a man with charisma and a brilliant mind with good ideas, but a bit of an absentminded professor in his home life. The man I’ve watched is somehow both dispassionate and intensely on message. He is a prophet in the wilderness calling for change, but would we really want Jeremiah or John the Baptist for president? State dinners would be pretty interesting with locusts and honey on the menu. I’d feel lots better if I saw him once in a human, spontaneous, genuine moment, and though this may never be read beyond a vast audience of ten, I needed to say it. Thanks for listening!



  1. What do you think Hilary will be able to accomplish?

  2. Balance the budget, end our oil dependence, eliminate hunger in the U.S., provide universal health care, straighten things out in Iraq and inspire world peace, of course! Oh, and reduce taxes! And McCain will . . .?

  3. I don’t know, the only human things I have seen Hillary do lately are passive aggressively lash out like a cornered puppy. I feel like her attitude in the past weeks confirmed my feeling for Obama. It seems to me that she has exposed herself as pure ambition. I am not interested in America teetering back and forth between the Bushes and Clintons anymore. I AM ready for a change. I might regret that, and maybe that is naive youth, but I don’t believe in Hillary.

  4. We’ll find out. I hope you are right. I’m glad you feel so strongly about it.

  5. Don’t be too quick to seek a human spontaneous moment. Isn’t that what killed Howard Dean’s whole campaign 4 years ago? One enthusiastic hollar, screech, woop (however you want to call it), and the press declared him unsuitable for public office.

    I do agree that Obama is performing and studied in his actions. However, I also see Hillary as performing. When she shed a tear regarding the rigors of the campaign trail, I found it completely superficial and a play to people who demand that she show her “feminine” and “human” side (although if Obama ever shed a tear in public he’d be harshly criticized for it). Yet America seems to want a woman still to be vulnerable and caring, and a man to be strong and dignified and they each play to these expected personas.

    Similarly, while I’m not sure Obama will be able to bring about change, I’m not sure Hillary can either. She had a shot at health care reform and it got nowhere. She voted for the war and only criticized well after the tide was beginning to turn. The Clinton’s have significant corporate interests supporting them, (as any candidate must these days) that I imagine limit her willingness to really challenge global capitalism and the inequalities, injustices and even wars it encourages.

    I’m torn between the two. Perhaps it’s just over-exposure. The more I see of each, the less I like either. But I do feel like for both the Republicans and the Democrats the best people seem to be rising to the top. I didn’t like Edwards and was glad to see him pushed to the side quickly. I think McCain is a strong candidate although I disagree with much of his politics. But among the pool of Republicans I am glad that he seems to be the leader. PA still has yet to have its primary and I don’t know which democrat I will vote for. It may be irrelevant by the time PA has a chance to weigh in.

    Anyone have an interest in Nader this year. Or old hat by now?

    By the way, hope all is well Robin!

  6. Allison, how good to hear from you! I’ve been in my thoughts a lot recently. I’ll drop you a line to catch you up on the news.

    I envy you being a Pennsylvanian! As I have watched the aftermath of Tuesday’s elections, I’ve been painfully aware of the over exposure issue. How could any of us stand up long under that, and how difficult it makes it to be fair. I seem to be in the minority about the superficiality of Hillary’s tears. I just don’t think she’s that good an actress, but that’s beside the point. If you reach clarity let me know. I can’t shake a growing uneasiness, and not sure where it’s coming from. Nader? I really don’t get it!

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