Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Obama and reflections on the primary and the future

Obama has, according to the AP, officially clinched the nomination today.

Whether or not Hillary officially concedes tonight it is apparent that her campaign is winding down and she will recognize Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee.

It's been, as they say, a long and winding road these last 6 months. I personally supported John Edwards and had no real strong preference between Hillary or Obama. To me they were both moderate Democrats with near identical policy positions. When Edwards dropped out in late January I actually skipped the caucus, I was demoralized and not ready to fall in behind Senator Obama or Senator Clinton. At that point, if pushed, I leaned slightly Hillary - I liked her toughness, I liked that she had been battled tested against the right-wing and the national press and I liked her health care plan a bit more. I was never one that had an Iraq war vote litmus test. The argument that Obama was right on the war when he was still just a state Senator and not actually casting a vote was wholly unpersuasive to me.

Clinton began her Michigan/Florida gambit on January 25th and I was outraged by what I saw as a flagrant attempt to change the rules of the election and, essentially, steal the nomination. Reflecting back I don't know that I ever looked at her the same way after late January. I wasn't yet ready to embrace Obama but I now had been given a reason not to support Hillary Clinton.

Then it became increasingly clear as the primaries moved on that the Clinton campaign was operating without any sort of post-Super-Tuesday flight plan. Obama began reeling off victories in caucus states and racking up delegates. The Clinton's tactics began to become more desperate and odious. I condemned Obama for his "Harry and Louise" mailer but Obama never sat down and sucked up to Richard Mellon-Scaife.

As the Clinton's began to unravel their supporters took a harder and harder line and consequently pushed many who had remained silent to finally begin to push back. As Atrios has noted, it's bizarre as many of us came into politics defending the Clinton's from vicious right-wing smears and now here we were on the opposite side of both Scaife and the Clinton's. It's been a surreal experience at times.

Ultimately though Obama has won me over. While I liked Hillary's experience fighting the right-wing I have come away more impressed with how Barack Obama has been able to out-manuever, out-strategize and out-flank the greatest Democratic political machine in 40+ years.

It's been an arduous journey but one that I think may actually leave the Democratic Party stronger. We have had meaningful elections in every state, we have registered millions of new voters and established grassroots organizations in new counties. By nominating Barack Obama we are breaking free of not only the Clinton legacy and the tired battles of the Vietnam generation but we are also forging a new map for Democratic electoral success. There will be new blue states in 2008, states that reflect the changing demographics, economy and concerns of the country in the early 21st century. Obama represents an opportunity to change the political map at a time when we are seeing marked shifts in party identification among new voters who have come of age during the second Bush administration. He represents an opportunity to sieze on that momentum and seize on this unique moment and wrench the country back from it's three decade long rightward tilt.

I still believe that one must be cautious to not get caught up on individual candidates and should instead focus on policies and movements. The latter last, the former can flame out in the blink of an eye. When we are on the precipice of great change it is imperative to strike. Obama allows us to at least attempt to maximize our gains - Clinton would require us to hold on to thepast. .

Our opponent, despite months of no meaningful opposition, has found a popularity ceiling well under 50% nationally. McCain offers little more than a 3rd term for the policies of a failed and miserably unpopular President. The country is deeply concerned about the economy and the war in Iraq. Wrong track numbers are over 80%. The fundamentals are all in alignment for a Democratic victory.

McCain presents unique challenges because he is viewed by so many as a "different" Republican. If any other Republican had captured the nomination the Democrats would capture the White House in an historical blowout. This battle will be much tougher and will be tinged with veiled and not-so veiled attempts at racist pandering. I am an optimist. I see this election as an opportunity to finally bury, once and for all, the divisions of the Vietnam era that have so obsessed our body politic for the last 40 years. Voters are being given a clear choice - they can turn the page on the divisiveness and move the country in a new direction or they can once again embrace the politics of Nixon, Attwater, Bush and Rove.

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