Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Road We've Already Tread or Why One Woman Can Do it Better than Barack Obama or John McCain

Dodd's out. Biden's out. My two favorite Senators and presidential candidates are out of the race.

Meanwhile, February 5th, the day of the Massachusetts primary fast approaches and a number of questions run through my mind: Do I take experience over change? How much should I base my vote on Iraq war policies? Do I vote for a Republican or Democrat?

A lot of these questions aren't too hard to answer, or at least you'd think I would have answers to them given the amount of commentary I have posted on this site about the candidates and their proposed policies.

I wrote a post on New Years Eve reaffirming my support for Senator Chris Dodd. Being in Iowa only hours later broadened my perspective on the race for the Presidency, but arriving at what was the world capital of spin and political positioning nearly made me lose sight of what this election is about.

During the four hours of travel back to Boston last week I read Senator Joe Biden's book, Promises to Keep. Masterfully woven into his stories of growing up as a Catholic boy in the new suburb of Delaware are unforgettable messages of spirituality, purpose, and respect. Certain fragments of Biden's religious values and snippets of the principles his parents stood for and communicated to the young Biden still echo in my head.

Biden and Dodd are men whose words on the campaign trail never received the attention they deserved. Very few Americans ever heard Biden's chilling speeches on the Iraq War or Dodd's uplifting call to begin a new era of national service. Biden and Dodd's promises were promises to keep, and I trusted them more than anything. As happens in twenty-first century elections, however, the voices of knowledge and clarity of political vision were practically ignored. Instead, voters in Iowa cast off Biden and Dodd and opted for “change.”

As he recounts, Biden was urged to run for president by Democratic strategists in 1984, the year he delivered what's become one of his most famous speeches at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. After giving his speech Biden wrote that, "I hadn't sufficiently appreciated how each person might hear something different from what I'd intended. After all, each person has a little something different buried in a broken heart. In Atlantic City on that day I could tell that people were moved to get up and stand with me."

Barack, anyone?

Public and party reaction to Biden's speech was tremendous. Biden resisted their pleas to run: "Why Run? To do what? I simply could not visualize myself running the bureaucracy of the federal government. I didn't think I knew enough about how the government functioned, and I wasn't sure I knew the people to call. Even after eleven years in the Senate, I didn't know and trust enough of the right people...By my own standards, I wasn't ready to be president."

Biden waited four years and announced his candidacy for the presidency in 1988. He was forty-two years old, and "after a decade on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and nearly that long on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I knew the world and America's place in it in a way few politicians did."

Despite his time as a community organizer in Chicago, that intimate knowledge of what it takes to be President cannot be said for Obama, forty-six years of age and only beginning his third year as a U.S. Senator.

And with intelligence committees and foreign relations I think of John McCain.

John McCain would prove a formidable opponent to any Democratic challenger in a general election. His experience and personal integrity are second to none. Throughout six years of a Republican presidency, McCain has consistently pointed out and fought for what he believes is in the best interest of this country and is not afraid to criticize those who stand in the way of the progress he feels is necessary even if they are from his own party. McCain has the guts that many only dream of, his heart is a compassionate one, and more than anyone he's taken hits for the things he's done throughout his career. He would be the perfect man for the job —except for his policies.

What makes McCain the wrong choice in 2008 is that he seeks to remedy the problems of Washington instead of the problems of America and its people.

On Iraq, McCain sees our invasion as being one conducted with too few troops—a failure of military judgment—not a moral wrongdoing. On health care, McCain sees problems in wasteful spending and the tax code, not in our shared responsibility of taking care of those who cannot care for themselves. On abortion, McCain sees problems of activist judges and the interpretation of the Constitution, not a woman's rights and personal decisions.

On experience, Senator McCain is the clear winner, but America needs more than a foreign policy tactician and a call to clean up Washington.

Midway through page 11 of his book, Biden recounts one of his mother's sayings: "You respect the habit, she used to say, you respect the vestments, you respect the uniform, but you do not not have to respect the person in it." Earlier, "they abuse their power, you bloody their nose."

In August of 1997 Hillary Clinton, then the First Lady, penned an editorial for the New York Times about the S-CHIP program she was urging the passage of, and that she is often credited with sparking the introduction of in the Senate. Clinton wrote:

"Even as we celebrate this progress, we should recognize that passage of a bill, no matter how historic, does not guarantee success. Whether this legislation fulfills its promise depends on how hard we are willing to work in the months ahead."

Clinton's nose was bloodied by Republicans when she presented universal health care coverage to America in 1994, and the failed proposal resulted in a Republican windfall in the midterm elections that year. But Clinton didn't stop. It was S-CHIP in 1997 and in 2008 it's universal health care. A month ago Clinton said in a speech, "I believe the way you get change is by working hard for it. Persistence, perseverance, even some perspiration - that is how you change lives, you change institutions." Hillary Clinton didn't give up in 1994, 1997 or 2007, and she's still going in 2008. In her words, "I think you actually learn more about people when they may not be successful than if they just slope through life. I had a choice: I could have said 'ok, we didn't do it, I'm not trying anymore.' Or, what I decided to do was to say 'ok, we didn't do it, let's regroup and see what we can get done.''

What separates Hillary Clinton from Barack Obama is that Obama, without the years of trying, failing, and regrouping, has consistently passed on the issues that require tough stands and only talks about the regrouping and changes that need to be made. On juvenile justice bills, on anti-abortion legislature, on important gun regulation bills, Barack Obama didn't get his nose bloodied because he "passed" and voted neither "yes" or "no" on over 100 pieces of legislation in the Illinois Senate. Obama's time in the United States Senate has not been much better, with Obama abstaining from voting on legislation designating the Iranian Guard as a terrorist organization and legislation condemning the liberal group for comments made against General David Petraeus.

So far, Barack Obama hasn't stood for change or taken a stand on critical issues like abortion and gun control.

In racing up the stepladder of political success Obama has shouted the themes of his campaign without taking the time to prove that they are core beliefs he's capable of and willing to stand behind when the going gets tough. If he had made the difficult decisions, if he had taken the lead in the political arenas he promises to change as President, this opportunity would be his. What Obama needs is an extension—time to prove that he not only has the values we like to see in a leader but that he also has what it takes to lead—not a promotion to the Presidency.

For her experience, her willingness to fight and argue for what she believes in, and her strength to return to those who used her name as a punch-line in the past , I will vote for Hillary Clinton on February 5th.

(all photos: © 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

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