Monday, February 04, 2008

Obama or Clinton?

The US voters are making history with the Democrats virtually assured that either a man with African heritage or a woman will be their candidate for president. Tomorrow night is the Democratic caucus in Alaska. From what I hear, there will be a large turnout in Anchorage, possibly even stretching the capacity at Begich Middle School for the Anchorage caucus. But which candidate is the best? I've boiled this down for me to three criteria.

General Electability in November

Are Americans less racist or less sexist? Or put another way, are they more willing to vote for a man with African heritage or a woman? Blacks, with 9% of the seats in the House of Representatives reflect their 13% of the US population much better than do women with 16.1% in the House. But in the Senate, where whole states, not gerrymandered districts ,vote there is only one African-American - Barrack Obama - for 1%. But women have 16% of the 100 seats. That still means 84% men in the Senate and House.

[2/5/08: Added the missing decimal point Ropi pointed out in the comments. This post was postponed because I had trouble finding reliable numbers for blacks in Congress. That story is in the previous post. A good webstie for information on women in politics is Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.]

David Broder has an interesting article on districts where women win.
The scholars could find no significant differences in terms of geography or social characteristics between those districts that elected African American men and African American women. Almost without exception, they were heavily Democratic, urban and working class.

But the picture is very different for white women running for Congress. "Female Democratic House members tend to win election in districts that are more liberal, more urban, more diverse, more educated and much wealthier than those won by male Democratic members of the House," they write. "They come from much more compact, 'tonier,' upscale districts than their male counterparts."
The fact that a woman and a man of African heritage are the finalists for the Democratic nomination says a lot about the changing demographics of the United States. I we are in a period of flux - the old rules are starting to dissolve, but I don’t know that the new rules are in place yet either. Will enough voters ignore gender and race to elect and man of African heritage or a woman as president?

Stand on Key Issues

I don’t think they are too far off on the issues, though Obama focuses on the fact that he never supported going into Iraq and Clinton did. But it isn't simply the issues we face now, but the issues that the President will face once in office - the 9/11's and Hurricane Katrina's that weren't anticipated. Which candidate has the imagination to find better ways to do things?

Ability to get things done

No matter how great their policies are, without the competence to get them through Congress, they have nothing.

Hillary Clinton surely has learned a lot of lessons in the eight years Bill was President. As a former first lady and second term Senator she knows a lot of people both in the US and overseas. Of all these people, how much does she owe them and how much do they owe her? More particularly, which people does she owe? The Clintons also have a high negative rating among a sizable minority of people. This could cause the kind of constant sniping Bill Clinton faced during his eith years. These are people who will always be trouble. On the other hand, Bush has much higher negatives and has managed to get his way a lot of the time.

Barrack Obama has less experience and presumably fewer connections, and fewer people he owes. He is inspirational, but you also need administrative mechanics to make things happen. His campaign shows that he is able to attract competent people to help. Obama is able to articulate people's hopes for a better way. That can be powerful for a while, but then some tangible things need to be achieved.

Either of the two will have to attract competent teams to develop good policies and to get them passed by Congress. It seems to me that Clinton’s strength and weakness here are her connections to the existing power structure. Obama’s strength and weakness are that he has fewer of the ties and can take us in a new direction.

May the best...candidate... win.


  1. Thanks Ropi, I added the missing decimal point. You knew that was the problem I'm sure.

  2. We were ready for a female president when Geraldine Ferraro ran-- but she was so freaking obnoxious that no one could really stand her. Hilary isn't very good-- her comment the other day about garnishing people's wages if they can't afford her health care plan is scary. One of my die-hard Democrat friends said, "it is like she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and decided to shove it up people's--" you get the idea. I love Obama but Teddy K supporting him scares me.


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