Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cable TV and the Campaigns

I have cable television now, with a DVR. It's nice. I have some high-definition channels, too. This week both Lost and Friday Night Lights disappointed me in astonishing clarity. On the other hand, I've liked watching Charlie Rose and The Daily Show regularly. PBS and Jon Stewart might be the only civilized news outlets on cable. What I've learned from seeing the 24-hour news channels is that cable is an utter waste of time and money. The internet does shallow and insulting just as well, but without the extra cost and volume.

Cable has been good, though, for being able to see the presidential candidates debate. I know they've been debating for almost a year now, but once the primaries got close the debates started to seem important.

Here are my endorsements:

  • The democrats should nominate Hillary Clinton
  • The republicans should nominate John McCain.

I disagree with some fundamental tenets of the Republican Party, and so am almost always going to vote for the democrat, but I think a McCain-Clinton race offers a can't-lose scenario for the country.

Both of these candidates have incurred the anger of the more dogmatic parts of their parties for their cross-party alliances and positions. I like this because I don't want another you're-with-us-or-against-us president. Clinton the senator is more accomplished and strategic about working Washington than she was as first lady (a fact she does not shy away from, though no candidate is going to be so candid as to admit they are much better at this than they once were). McCain would bring a moral and ethical authority to the executive branch we haven't had in a while; he's not going to parse a distinction between torture and enhanced interrogation.

Both are also good at being professional senators. Admitting, or being, that is anathema for presidential candidates, but I think it's a good thing. I like Barack Obama, too, but I'm wary of his amorphous rhetoric of change. Like Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, he's running as an outsider. The message being that only someone not inculcated by Washington can be an effective president, or that not being a Washington insider gives you an uncorrupted moral clarity.

This is a presidential campaign cliché. It was the theme of Jimmy Carter's campaign, and Ronald Reagan's, and Bill Clinton's, and George W. Bush's. After the last eight years of dishonesty and/or disaster, what's wrong with wanting the next president to know what they're doing?


Bucky said...

Don't mean to pick on you, but the latest polling data backs up exactly what Kurt and I were saying. Obama beats McCain. McCain beats Hillary. I for one, am in favor of actual winning versus almost winning.

bryan h. said...

I'm sure such polls exist, and if the election were being held this week that would be compelling. The election is 9 months away, though, and no pollster will claim their poll is predictive. There were also polls taken in 22 states just two nights ago (each probably with a much larger sample) and according to those the Democratic candidates are ranked pretty close. There's absolutely no way at this point to predict the outcome of the election, nor to quantify the more "electible" candidate.

What we can predict is that the next president is going to inherit two nation building projects (each with a war component), a huge budget deficit and (probably) a recessing economy. And as Senator Obama himself said yesterday, whichever candidate runs against the republican can expect to be thoroughly assaulted. I still prefer the candidate with more substantial experience (which is not to say I don't think she'd be a better Senate Majority Leader) and (per the primary exit polls) with an older, more reliable, voting bloc to the first term senator the National Journal ranked as the most liberal member, and whose base of support tends to flakier when it comes to turning out to vote.

But, like I said over and over, I don't think there's a bad candidate in the bunch.

By the way, I've spent plenty of hours in plenty of elections volunteering for Democratic (and Green) campaigns. Since, of the two of us, I'm the one who's going to actually vote Democrat regardless of whether my first pick is at the top of the ticket I'll thank you for being more considerate than to disparage my commitment to seeing Democrats win.

Bucky said...

I don't mean to question your commitment, but your judgment still seems very flawed. Yes anything can between now and election day. I could be abducted by space aliens tomorrow. But this is not one poll. Its every poll. Clinton has a cap on her national support. That cap hasn't moved. There is no reason to think it will. Yes anything can happen. But as things stand right now, Clinton must hope for something unexpectedly good to happen to win, where as Obama will win as things stand unless something unexpectedly bad happens.

So my question to you is, if the candidates are roughly equal in you r mind, why pick the uphill battle? Why pick the candidate who you are stuck hoping for some unforeseen and inexplicable event will lead to victory, rather than the candidate where America seems to be screaming "Please for the love God will you just let us vote for the guy?

I just don't get it. It drives me bonkers, sometime causing me to antagonize friends with a commitment to progressive causes I know is deep and sincere.

bryan h. said...

I appreciate that you did not mean anything personal, but look at this sentence:

I for one, am in favor of actual winning versus almost winning.

You are contrasting yourself with someone whose commitment is to losing or, at least, something less than winning (there should also either be a comma after I, or none after one). It reads as if you are saying that no one who disagrees with you can possibly want the same thing you do; that people are either with you or against you. Since you are commenting on my blog you’re ostensibly talking to me.

The election season is early. A huge number of people are just now starting to care and even more have not even begun. You talk about these polls as if they will be true in 9 months unless something happens. The next 9 months will not be static; something, many somethings, are going to happen. In addition, the republicans are going to turn their sites on the democrats. In 3 months, those poll numbers will be ancient history.

As for the poll numbers themselves: they hardly constitute a decisive, collective scream from American voters. A margin of 2% separate Obama and McCain and there is 4% separating McCain and Clinton. Even a 2% margin of error changes both outcomes. Again, you can extrapolate nothing useful from this. (As a rule, I am wary of extrapolating much from the writings of newspaper columnists.)

I did not think, in 2000, that a second-term governor from a state with some of the weakest executive powers in the nation was a particularly good choice to take over the most power executive branch office in the world. In 2008, I feel the same way about a first-term senator. I think Hillary Clinton would bring to the White House experience in developing and moving legislation. I think her experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee (among others) will be an asset, particularly since military concerns are going to take up a lot of the next president’s time. Moreover, I think she will benefit from a positive, pre-existing relationship with members of congress of both parties.

Again, I will be fine with an Obama nomination; I will vote just as enthusiastically and be just as happy for a win. There are many things about the guy that I like. I am not moved, though (and you said the other night that it is important to be moved, and not vote according to formula), by amorphous, feel-good rhetoric of changing Washington. Notice how none of the other candidates who have run on these notions have actually executed them; the presidency is a huge institution, bigger than any individual seeking it. That is how it should be. Someone who can not only identify problems but also authoritatively give me practical solutions moves me. (I pick my doctors the same way, by their qualifications and achievements rather than their vague assurances that they will be a better doctor than anyone else will.)

I am not picking the uphill battle; I am picking the candidate I think is best qualified for the job. That is the primary system. Democrats, joined in some states by Independents, collectively vet the candidates for any number of qualities. If, after this process, my preferred candidate is not chosen I am going to vote for the party’s nominee (just as the presidency is bigger than the individual candidates, the nomination process is bigger than an individual’s preferences). If you really want to see the Democratic Party in power, you might consider doing the same.