When people ask me why I support Obama, I mention his character, message, and ability to excite a diverse group of people. I might also talk about his willingness to embrace new methods of campaigning and politics. But there’s also another reason – one that I probably share with many of my fellow Obama supporters – that I wouldn’t cite right away: I want to support someone who could win, and I don’t like Hillary.
There’s a certain unsaid taboo against talking in strategic terms about the candidate one supports. Liking someone because they have a good chance of winning is seen as a cheaper type of support than embracing a person’s ideology, vision, and methods. And there is good reason for this: if we picked candidates based solely on their viability, politics would be nothing more than a horse race, and we like to at least pretend this is not entirely true.
But I think it’s important for people to be honest about their rationale, and when the stakes for getting a Democrat into the White House are so high, we shouldn’t ignore the strategic angle. So here’s the deal: conventional wisdom says Clinton and Obama have the best chances to win the nomination, and the idea of Clinton in the general election makes me cringe.
I respect and admire her as a person, but I disagree with many of Clinton’s policy positions and political strategies. She represents an outmoded method of politics, and evokes ire from Republicans and Democrats alike. In a much-cited Harris poll, 50% of respondents said they would not vote for Clinton in the general election, including 21% of Democrats polled. In an election where Democrats enjoy a significant generic edge, we can’t afford to run such a divisive candidate. Another factor that leaves a bad taste in my mouth is that if Clinton were to win, two families will have had control of the White House for six terms, or 24 years. We need a new direction. Obama is tapping into this need and uniting Democrats around the message that we can do things differently.
This early in the game, there is certainly enough time for another candidate to come up from behind to capture hearts and win the nomination. I admire Bill Richardson, and would love to see someone from the southwest – my region – in the White House. But honestly, I don’t see that happening. Democrats know the stakes of 2008, and whether they admit it or not, they have a keen eye on electability. I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more people gravitated toward the big-name candidates early on and stick to their guns throughout the primaries.
In the past few elections, progressives have faced the unappealing choice of voting for either a person who could win but doesn’t represent their values, or someone who gets the policy right but doesn’t have a chance. As Toby at Draft Obama mentions, Obama has become, for many people, the best of both worlds – electable and attractive. So maybe we really do have a new kind of politics – one in which we can vote our conscience. For once, maybe we’re seeing the alternative go mainstream and be in it for the long haul. I hope so.