I had three conversations about Clinton and Obama yesterday morning, as I was laboring on my elliptical walker at the gym. The conversations were with three democratic voters, each with a different take on the California debate and democratic prospects for the election.
My first conversation was with my friend J--- (no real names here, to protect privacy,) who was laboring alongside me to my left. J--- is… well, I’ll call him a free-thinking entrepreneur, an innovator, an inventor, passionate about the potential of the human brain and how to develop its powers. He has business patrons and partners, he told me, with whom he dare not discuss politics for fear of alienating them and losing their financial support for his projects. (Funny, I wonder if a Republican would fear this kind of retaliation for his beliefs from Democratic partners?) J--- believed that Hillary would be a disastrous choice because she would never get elected; there’s simply too much Hillary hatred out there.
(Coincidentally, while waiting for a haircut later in the morning, I happened to pick up a copy of the January 2008 GQ magazine, with an article by Jason Horowitz called “The Hillary Haters”—an alarming, if sadly unsurprising look into this seething, vitriolic little world that thrives on the web and elsewhere. Hillary haters, writes Horowitz, “say she is an extremist left-wing flower child masquerading as a moderate, or a warmongering hawk disguised as a liberal. She’s a liar and a lesbian (short hair! pantsuits!), a cold fish and an adultress. She has no maternal instincts and is hobbled by a debilitating case of insecurity, for which she compensates by acting like a thug… She has no God, or her devoutness is frighteningly fundamentalist. She’s a condescending elitist who sees people—even her friends—as steps on a stairway to the presidency. She is a partisan, a panderer, the personification of everything that is wrong with America.”
If I include this quote, it’s not to further the agenda of these haters, but simply to show what my friend thinks she’s up against. And Hillary, in my view, has work to do to avoid playing into the hands of these people. Between them, the Clintons managed to put their worst foot forward for a couple of weeks recently…)
Then M--- joined in, to my right. M--- is—dare I say it!—an old-time Democrat, a political worker, dedicated to the ever-fresh causes of social justice, civil rights and all the freedoms that go along with it. She recently came back from a week of work in Arizona for John Edwards and, like me, voted early by mail, before Edwards withdrew. My kind of Democrat. She had not seen the debate, and is still smarting, I believe, from the absence of an out-and-out progressive among the candidates.
I was surprised, though, by M---‘s reaction when I told her about the half-humorous question that drew the most enthusiastic audience response: whether the two remaining candidates would go for a Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton “dream ticket”? (Both fudged, with good humor.) Mary thought it not a dream but, she said forcefully, “a nightmare.” Both of these two, in her view, have perhaps insurmountable hurdles: sexism and racism are still such powerful forces in this country that the electorate would reject either or both of them in favor of a Republican “white guy.”
We were joined in our conversation by my friend R---, a gay man who recently sold his own small entrepreneurial business and with whom I regularly enjoy talking politics at the gym. R--- confessed, after watching the debate, to a switch of loyalties from Obama to Clinton. He found her performance more “complete” (his word), more knowledgeable, more authoritative.
I, too, was impressed by her performance—which compensated for some of the nastiness of a couple of weeks ago. This was the other Hillary—charming, attractive, extraordinarily well-informed, strong and capable. In charge. R--- saw her as an agent of change, but one who had more proven capacity to make it happen. My argument with him was this: on the surface of things, both Clinton and Obama stand for very much the same kinds of change; the differences are few. I, though, see a more fundamental difference between them—a difference that I have tried to write about before, but for which I found a formulation that was at once clearer and more elegant. Here it is:
Hillary Clinton seeks power for its exercise, by her, in order to bring about the changes that most of us Democrats agree on; Obama, in the other hand, seeks to empower others. She “knows what’s best,” and can “fix the problems of this country.” He doesn’t have all the answers, but know that they’re out there, waiting to be found. She controls, he listens. Ironically, like Bill, she’s more the “republican” in the equation; Obama, as I see it, more the “democrat.”