Eric Harrington – Experience vs. Inspiration
(This piece was published early in the Democratic primaries but the basic premise translates to the current race. – E)
As I watched the 2008 Democratic campaign unfold, it appears to me that the choice between Obama and Clinton had been distilled down to a simple choice of Experience versus Inspiration. I don’t totally agree with this oversimplification of the subtle differences between Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton, but let’s take a moment to examine this supposition in detail and distinguish the candy from the cotton, as it were…
For Ms. Clinton, she has struggled with the leg irons of some bad choices early in her senatorial career regarding Iraq, and yet she as well as all her supporters that I have had the opportunity to speak with suggest that it is her experience that makes her a better candidate. Experience as a senator, including the wisdom gained from some bad choices regarding Iraq, and experience as a First Lady, and the wealth of understanding of international protocol that would logically come with it. But if we look closely at this concept it has serious weaknesses.
First, on the issue of experience, Ms. Clinton has 2 terms in the senate, Mr. Obama one. And while arguably she has been more sought out for partnership on various bills due to her political status and power, neither candidate has what could be even remotely described as extensive experience in the Senate. So thus, Ms. Clinton’s substantial edge in experience must really be primarily a product of her 8 years in the White House as first lady.
Bill Clinton was, and still is, a very popular president, but it is somewhat ironic that the very reasons the avid Hillary Clinton supporters now give to suggest she is a better choice, could have easily been used against Bill in 1991. The pinnacle of Bill Clinton’s experience prior to the presidency was to be governor of one of the smallest and most backward states in the union, better known as Arkansas. He was very smart, (a Rhodes Scholar) and very charming, but by the standards used in this election, highly inexperienced. Yet Mr. Clinton used his intelligence and charm to become (in the opinion of a likely majority of Americans) an excellent president, even with a presidency rife with scandals, legitimate or not. I believe most of the fondness for the Clinton presidency really stems from a nostalgic longing for the financial boon of the Dot Com ‘90s, which (as we all know now) had little to do with Clinton and much to do with a huge national pyramid scheme. But the fantastic aftermath of the Dot Com collapse was a changed world– for better because it gave us the internet– and for worse because it gave us the internet and the cheap telecommunications that was necessary to enable the holy grail of internationalism and American middle-class destruction better known as outsourcing.
Nevertheless, in 8 years of a presidency widely considered to be very successful, the Clinton administration can lay claim to really very few significant pieces of legislation beyond NAFTA. Hillary was thwarted by the Republican-controlled congress in her efforts for National Healthcare, and virtually everything Bill Clinton tried to accomplish, short of a few important environmental protections (virtually all systematically erased by the Bushistas) fell victim to the partisan Republican stalemate. Really the only major bill that was passed was previously mentioned NAFTA, something now recognized by all thinking Democrats and Hillary as a major mistake, and frankly more likely a stunning Corporate Republican victory that anyone wants to admit. Presently, while not a majority, the Republicans still hold enough votes to effectively stop anything and everything the Democrats may try to do, just as they did to Bill and Hillary. So why would Hillary be any more effective now? I am told, because she knows how to work the system now, i.e. she knows how to trade a bunch of bad things for one good one. I personally am fed up with the results of this working the system… That being said, I am still a big fan of Bill Clinton, more for what his presidency could have been than for what it was.
The irony is that Mr. Obama really is the Bill Clinton of this election. He is an inexperienced, green, platitude-spinning novice in national politics. But this novice has managed to energize and mobilize the Democratic Party in ways never seen before, and in ways Howard Dean could only dream about. Obama appeals to a far broader demographic than any candidate since Reagan. And he has accomplished this feat with intelligence, charm, and inspiration–the same ingredients used by Clinton in ‘91. The irony continues, in that the very term he uses as the icon for this inspiration is Hope, the same iconic term used by the Big Dog Bill in ‘91 and the name (as everyone knows) of Clinton’s home town. And both candidates follow a disastrous Republican era of war and debt. That is, however, where the comparisons end, for Mr. Obama is actually a very different candidate than Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Clinton’s political career was rife with scandal even prior to his run in ‘91. Granted, most of these scandals were sexual in nature (I share the opinion of Bill Maher that they should line the girls up at the Whitehouse back door, i.e. the Kennedy Model, given the stress they have to endure) and were known well before his presidential candidacy, and would have never have been even allowed into the political discourse by the more genteel and socially conscious mainstream media prior to the ‘92 election (or maybe more accurately the Gary Hart scandal.) And make no mistake, these taints were known by the Republican foot soldiers well before his election, and fueled a great part of the animosity against him by both the Republican hard right and their partisan Senators once he became president. God knows we can’t have a president that actually likes sex!
But Mr. Obama has no such taint that has been discovered, short of an unclear alliance with a certain super-hero named Super Obama Girl with her Hope-ray power-belt http://www.barelypolitical.com/obama-girl/episode/SUPEROG_20080131
and obvious anti-gravity capabilities demonstrated by the way she flies (at one point with Mr. Obama in tow), and in the way certain auspicious parts of her body miraculously seem to defy gravity. Time will tell, but the indications are that he is an honorable man on many levels. Bill Clinton was the lucky recipient of a very weak cast of Democratic competitors in ‘91, while Mr. Obama has risen to the top of what is arguably the strongest assemblage of presidential candidates ever. His momentum in the campaign is remarkable, sweeping red and blue states alike, bridging age, gender and race.
The difference between Mr. Obama and Hillary is really quite apparent and persuasive. I think both would make strong presidents, and infinitely better than what we have now. But Obama brings a sense of hope and possibility that hasn’t been seen since John F. Kennedy. He is multi-cultural and will make great strides in repairing America’s reputation as a land of opportunity for all races and creeds. He was educated in a Muslim school in his childhood, and had a Muslim father, and while that may put fear in the hearts of the truly ignorant, in reality it could be a tremendous bridge to the Muslim world. To the world of Islam, Obama’s heritage would be a clear sign that he understands what their religion really represents, good and bad, and that he respects it. And he is smart, very smart. For those saying he has no example of managing a huge operation like state or country, I suggest that he has managed one of the most revolutionary and successful national candidacies and campaigns in history. And in the end, with all the help in the world, that accomplishment is primarily his doing, his management, his leadership, that has made it all happen. His rise has been meteoric, and it simply cannot be attributed to mere luck and platitudes.
As for his ability to handle meetings with major players like Putin, or the Republican leadership, one only has to look at the last debate. I know it is suggested that Hillary won the previous outings against Obama, but those were less debate and more of a CNN sound-bite challenge. At the time, Hillary was the clear front-runner and the focus of everyone’s attacks, so all she had to do was survive to effectively win. But in the last debate, when the tides had already begun to turn and it was only Hillary and Barack and they were given enough time to actually SAY something, to actually DEBATE, a very different pattern emerged. In the eyes of America, Barack destroyed her at every turn. He was more clever, more succinct, more concise, and as always, more inspirational. Hillary, while attempting to reduce Obama to purely platitudes, spent the better part of the debate talking around the issues and hiding in rhetoric, while Barack concisely answered each question with sincerity, clarity, and a humorous jab. Every question. It was a tour de force.
I had really been on the fence until that night, having been a loyal fan of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and mostly given my clear misgivings regarding Mr. Obama’s suggested lack of gravitas, but in that debate I saw clearly, obviously that Mr. Obama could handle ANYONE one to one, just as he had so gracefully handled Ms. Clinton. It was in that moment that I truly recognized Obama’s remarkable skill as a politician and a leader; it was in that moment that I realized what Oprah, what Ted Kennedy, what the amazing grassroots movement had seen before me. In that moment I saw that Barack Obama is a different kind of candidate, and the best candidate than we have seen since, yes I will say it…since John F. Kennedy. I was 4 when Kennedy was shot, and it is one of the only things I remember that far back, and I remember vividly how the whole world grieved. He inspired everyone, and so can Mr. Obama.
I realize now that it is inspiration that we need, not experience. Experience can be bought. Inspiration cannot. Inspiration can rise above partisanship, because in the end, every partisan has to heed the voice of their constituents. Inspiration can, with extraordinary speed, change the course of world events. Inspiration can lead from the front, not from the back room where deals are cut… Inspiration can effect change without compromise.
Inspiration can heal this nation and the world, and I am convinced Barack Obama has the power in his hands to begin to do all that. Now it’s up to us to help him.