I'm pretty well-sick of the primary campaign at this point, having gone through about the nine millionth iteration of "Obama's shallow" versus "HRC's unprincipled" this morning. That said, one reason the campaign often feels so tedious is that both campaigns keep talking about the same very narrow set of things over and over again. But they really are a narrow set of things. It's as if the Western Front featured this brutal trench warfare just because nobody noticed some giant open plain right next to the battlefield. There are a whole bunch of critical substantive issues about which I think it's genuinely unclear where both major contenders stand. These are points where a person who's strongly committed to Candidate A could make a strong argument to me that Candidate A secretly agrees with my views on Issue X, but that's not what I'm interested in. I'm interested in getting serious, public expressions.
I'm gonna do it list-style:
- Budget deficits: Are Clinton or Obama committed to reducing them, or are they open to expanding them in order to establish new programs that they think are especially important? And what programs might qualify?
- Federal Reserve: Are Clinton or Obama happy with the past 25 or so years of conservative Republican leadership at the Fed or would they like to take things in a new direction?
- Judiciary: Assuming a Democratic Senate allows for relatively easy confirmations, do Clinton or Obama intend to continue appointing 1990s-style moderates, or would we see a return to the liberal jurisprudence of a Thurgood Marshall?
- Unilateral preventive war as a non-proliferation policy: Should we disavow this aspect of the Bush National Security Strategy or are we going to stick with it and hope that more conciliatory rhetoric can make it work?
- Israel: Any number of things come to mind, but in the most general sense do Clinton or Obama see this as an important issue it's worth focusing on in 2009, or is it a headache the intend to ignore until a crisis breaks out or they're lame ducks?
- Root causes: Does reducing the appeal of al-Qaeda really require the transformation of the Muslim world into a series of democracies, or are there aspects of US foreign policy that drive radicalism?
- War on terror: If, as both candidates affirm, we're in a "war on terror" when might that war end? What, if any, special war powers do Clinton and Obama think the state of war justifies? Or is this a pure metaphor that, like the "war on poverty," is simply supposed to signify a high level of commitment?
That's all for now, I guess. I've said before that I'm an Obama guy, but I think a lot of the criticism of him out there have at least some merit. In principle, I'd be perfectly open to revising my prospective vote (I think it would be overly grandiose to call it an "endorsement") if Hillary Clinton staked out clearly better stances on some of these things (and for the record, I don't take the left-most side on all of these questions) before Tuesday's Potomac Primary.