If I were voting in California
In my kind of journalism, I don't think I have any business "endorsing" candidates. I have strong and unconcealed views about certain issues -- that it was a gigantic and foreseeable mistake to have invaded Iraq (let alone to have done it so badly), that it would be just about as wrong to attack Iran, that we need to be more rather than less open to immigrant talent, that the economic growth of the last decade has been dangerously and shamelessly unbalanced, that we don't need to be terrified of China but that we have to take it seriously, etc.
While certain preferences for parties and candidates naturally flow from those views, actual "endorsement" is for organizations or public figures who feel their backing might sway others. Here instead is an account of what I would be thinking if I were voting in the Democratic primary in my original home state of California tomorrow:
- On domestic and economic and environmental policy, it’s a wash. The Clinton and Obama positions are similar to each other and different from any Republican's. Some people think there is a huge difference in their health-care proposals. Having seen administrations come and go, I am absolutely certain that the difference between Clinton's and Obama's stated objectives in 2008 matters much, much less than what either of them will be able to get through the Congress in 2009 and afterward. Thus: an important distinction in domestic policy is which candidate will bring in a larger bloc in Congress to work with.
- On foreign policy, Clinton and Obama actually do differ, and I agree with him more than with her. He (like Al Gore) was against invading Iraq before it happened; she was for it. He (like Jim Webb) opposed the infamous Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which at the time was undeniably an attempt to legitimize military action against Iran; she voted for it. (Obama, to his discredit, failed to show up to cast his No vote, but his position was not in doubt.) He has criticized the current flat-earth idiotic US policy toward Cuba; she has defended it (as Fareed Zakaria has pointed out in a strong recent essay). I understand the argument that Sen. Clinton has to take these positions to maintain her "credibility" and appearance of strength. To me that matters less than that she keeps voting in what I consider the wrong way. Thus: the positions and “mindsets” differ, and and I like his better.
- On style and governing philosophy, she is for incremental policies and incremental politics -- "experience" and "competence" – based on the underlying belief that Republican obstructionism makes nothing else possible. Not even for a dreamer like Obama. He obviously is trying for something more -- as Bill Clinton was in 1992, when I preferred him to an incomparably more experienced and time-tested President.
- On straight electability, just unknowable. Given that everyone in the country already knows her and a large minority say they don't like her, a narrow victory seems the most that is within Hillary Clinton's grasp. People can argue that Obama would be capable of much more -- or, on the contrary, even less, and that not even a narrow win would be possible once the smear machine got through with him. There is simply no way to be sure now, when it's time to vote. Thus: also a wash.
- On diversity and opportunity, a breakthrough either way. But on a deeper level of “diversity,” we have the prospect of returning a husband-and-wife team – Bill Clinton’s emergence has made this unignorable -- already in the White House for eight years, versus fresh blood.
Any vote for anybody is a gamble. Who imagined that the George Bush of 2000, with his “compassionate conservatism” and critiques of “nation building,” would become the man we’ve known in office? We have no idea what surprises will confront a President Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or Romney, or McCain, or how they might respond. We have to place bets -- roll the dice, if you will -- based on what we do know, which for me is the elements above.