Should there be one lesson that the Bush Régime aptly illustrates it would be that the concepts of “hope” and “change” are not exclusively synonymous with so-called Washington-outsiders. The obsession that the American electorate (and the core of Mr. Obama’s support) has with so-called Washington outsiders ought to worry those who are attentive students of American history. Lest some in my generation forget (or be uninformed) that the current President’s – then Governor Bush – argument against Sen. John McCain in 2000 was centered on bringing a Washington outsider into the White House. Bush’s campaign – through the dexterity and tact of Karl Rove – won over hopeful, nostalgic Republicans (desiring a reform of Regan’s Conservative Revolution and building on the work of former Speaker Newt Gingrich) who sought after the “change” promised in the Bush campaign.
Unfortunately we have all witness first-hand – both Democrats and Republicans – the lack of wisdom present in trusting campaign promises of hope and change from Washington outsiders. It is not because these candidates are not genuine in their policies or that the hope that their campaign inspires in us is fanciful; rather it is because Washington has seen there kind before and has confirmed her prevailing ability to “institutionalize” these hopeful politicians into cogs in her clockwork of bureaucracy. When presidential candidates are unaware of the politics of Washington – the maintenance of the ship of liberty – and the candidate-elect takes the helm of leadership in the Oval Office to steer this democracy throughout the troubled ocean waters of governance and through the nautical storms of domestic and international policies their original navigational plan – an agenda built on change and hope – soon renders itself useless.
Republicans have realized (hopefully) the problem inherent with inexperienced politicians and fulfillment of their promises. In 2008 John McCain’s argument of experience over platitudes of change and shallow, emotionally appealing promises of hope has won over Huckabee’s campaign - a campaign that trumps the same general message of Mr. Obama: the triumph of Washington outsiders to change and the hope that they bring. Republicans have learned where they erred with Bush; it wasn’t with policy but substance. While Bush had the networking skills, political capitol of a united Republican Party, and conservative (albeit fudged) credentials to be the Republican choice for President, he did not have the substance – the gravitas and political experience in Washington politics. Mr. Obama may have the gravitas when giving speeches, but does he have the experience? His lack of innovative legislation and impact on the Senate would seem to indicate strongly that he may very well be the candidate-de-jour-of-change, but is severely lacking, as Bush before him, in experience.
Mr. Barack Obama would have his supporters hope that the policies that his campaign promises will be implemented, should he be the Democratic nominee and defeat Sen. McCain; though Barack has stumbled along his path to alleged victory over the Clinton campaign. Lest those Democrats and Independents yet-to-vote forget, Obama early in the Democratic debates had a less than substantive international policy. Sen. Joe Biden repeatedly addressed Obama’s inconsistent statements on Iran and policies regarding national security. Sen. Chris Dodd asked similar question of the Obama campaign to explain his policies on – what in this election ought to be a primary concern that Democrats cannot fail to address – national defense and the Republican-dubbed War on Terrorism.
Sen. Hillary Clinton early on (in this never-ending primary campaign) criticized Barack’s statements with regard to Iran and domestic issues with respect to nuclear power plants. In one debate Rep. Dennis Kucinich pushed Obama to realize and admit the inconsistency with his current statements (while running for the Democratic nomination) and past votes, legislative-support (or lack of), and speeches given about the disposal of nuclear waste in Illinois. More recently the Clinton campaign has pointed out the important distinctions between Obama’s healthcare policy statements and Hillary’s comprehensive healthcare plan for America (which could be one of the reasons why Hillary has received the endorsement of the National Nurses’ Association). These differences are not minor for Democrats to consider. Obama claims to offer substantive change, the change that only a Washington outsider can be so naïve to promote, yet he receives endorsements from the likes of Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry who are not what one would describe as your typical “Washington outsider” (remember that Massachusetts voted to support Hillary).
Another misconception with supporters of Obama is that his and only his campaign offers true change. Any Democrat offers change, not Obama. Change comes with the “D” on the ballot next to the candidate not in his or her name. Obama’s campaign offers the same ill-conceived argument that Washington outsiders have the ability to change Washington, if he is right, he will have been the first Washington outsider to have done so in the history of American politics. I’m far from convinced that the “audacity of hope” that the Obama campaign offers is not better described as the naïveté of inexperience.
This election is pivotal to the legitimacy of the Democratic Party. The country is yielding serious signs of economic peril, momentous problems with international politics, two wars that are not succeeding, a healthcare system broken, the diminishing presence of a strong working, middle class, widening of the gaps between the “haves and have-nots,” and, what is quite worrying, an identity problem. Democrats have historically proven themselves good at two things, inspiring people to action with ideas of innovation and change and also loosing elections that historians, political scientists, pollsters, and pundits all agreed they should have won with wide margins. Democrats are a close-nit family with much diversity, but we don’t take family feuds lightly and this struggle between the supporters of Obama who use hope as a rallying cry and the supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton who understand the importance of experience and respond, “hope we can believe in” is a telling difference in the dichotomy of the two political camps. Hope might very well have deafened the ears of a usually well-informed and astute Democratic electorate.
Democrats must understand what this election brings to the proverbial “table of politics.” For this year, the stakes are too high, the task too great, and the problem too real to be disillusioned with the promises of change and the allure of hope the Obama campaign would have Democrats perilously believe. Mr. Barack Obama offers much promise and potential, but only with experience can his promises become reality. Sen. McCain wins the experience argument against Obama. Sen. McCain draws support from the same independents that support Obama and from “conservative Democrats.” The Zel Millers and Joe Libermans would support a vote for McCain over Obama and there are many Democrats who would follow.
Sen. Hillary Clinton provides substantive policy differences with Sen. McCain; she has 35 years of experience in public service, 35 years of fighting for the American people (Democrats cannot forget the fact that the issues of healthcare would not be such a central theme of the Democratic Party were it not for Hillary’s work), she brings years of political networking behind her campaign, the success of eight years of her husband’s administration, likeability among all Democrats (conservatives, Hispanics, Asians, elderly women, Party officials), and has survived the “swiftboating” of the Republican attack machine for years. Clinton’s campaign provides tangible hope built on years of experience and not campaign platitudes, that is what a Democrat needs to win the White House and to maintain control in the House and Senate.
I hope that my fellow Democrats are not blinded by the seeming light of hope and change that comes from the campaign of Obama only to discover that should he take office, he is unable to deliver the substance because of the lack of experience and tested ability. One thing is certain; Republicans have learned one lesson from the Bush Régime. Two questions loom on the horizon. Will Democrats learn from these lessons or loose yet another election to Republicans? And, should Obama be the Democratic nominee, will the American people be blinded by the alluring light of hope or guided to support Mccain by the sobering perspective given by the sunglasses of an experience-based campaign?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/349