Monday, January 14, 2008

A point of conflict

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With Iowa and New Hampshire behind us, and with the primary season now revving up, and with the major players all over the talk-show circuit and the 24/7 news cycle, I seem to have reached a point of detachment and uncertainty. I supported Edwards, whom I have liked a great deal since the '04 primaries (though I was a Kerry supporter), then didn't, then did again. I came back to his side just recently, late last year, but without much enthusiasm. He was, it seemed to me, the best of the bunch, and hence the best option for Democrats, and, well, I wanted someone for whom to root.

Let me make one thing clear, again. I will support the Democratic nominee for president. And, generally, I have thought that the three leading candidates -- Clinton, Obama, and Edwards -- are all fine options. Each one could turn out to be a great president, and certainly each one would be better than any Republican alternative.

In this regard, my current detachment helps. No matter who it is, I haven't expended enough emotional energy to be too bothered by it. I was for Edwards in Iowa, I wanted Clinton to beat Obama in New Hamphshire, and now... well, I'm not so sure. It won't be Edwards, who is now languishing far back, but I can live with either Clinton or Obama. I think. Those two, and their camps and surrogates, are going after each other aggressively -- that was clear yesterday on Meet the Press and elsewhere -- as are their supporters, but I think it's important for Democrats, as it it for me personally, not to let the heat of the current race overcome the larger goal of eventually getting the winner elected. I understand that political contests like this one can turn not just passionate but vindictive, but, ultimately, a clearer perspective is in order. I'm still not sure whether I want Clinton or Obama to win. All I am sure about is that I want us to emerge from all this without lingering animosity. We need to be united once we move on to the general election campaign.

(For more on this, see my post-Iowa post on the state of the Democratic race.)

With Edwards out of the race, more or less, my support is now, I suppose, situational. I wanted Clinton to win New Hampshire largely because the Obama phenomenon annoys me -- or, rather, the over-hyping of that phenomenon by the media. And yet I can't help but feel -- my above argument notwithstanding -- somehow empty. I was an enthusiastic supporter of Gore in '00 and of Kerry in '04. I admired them, and I wanted them to win -- and it was exciting to be so passionate in my support. It's not that I didn't care for their opponents -- I would have supported Edwards or Gephardt or Dean in '04 -- it's just that in both cases there was a candidacy in which I became emotionally invested. It helped that they both won, of course, and that I could transfer my support over to the general election seamlessly.

But what now? It's not just detachment, I fear. I wouldn't go so far as to call it disillusionment, or distress. No, I think the best word for it is disappointment, and it was TalkLeft's Big Tent Democrat who yesterday used the word "disappointed" and, in a post worth reading in full, expressed what has been nagging at me for some time. Although I would still argue that all three of the main Democratic candidates have the potential for greatness, or at least to be solid liberal-progressive leaders, it seems to me that they are also all deeply flawed candidates. Gore and Kerry may have had their flaws, too, particularly the latter, but, in my view, they were also outstanding political figures who deserved the presidency. They may not have been the best campaigners, but they were exceptional leaders.

Perhaps my expectations were too high coming into this election cycle. Perhaps I expected more, and better, from the Democrats. Perhaps, with respect to Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, I am focusing too much on their weaknesses, too much on their flaws. There is much to recommend each one, after all, whatever my reservations, and not everyone can be Al Gore. And, yes, I mean that as the highest compliment. There is no one more qualified to be president, no one with the capacity for White House greatness, than Gore. Yes, perhaps my disappointment stems from the fact that Gore is not running. I wanted him to do so, and, with him in the race, there would have been no question as to my support.

Regardless, all this is late-night navel-gazing. We are where we are, the candidates are who they are, and that's just the way it is. And so I head into this week -- like many of you, no doubt -- unsure of my support but nonetheless eagerly anticipating all the votes to come. Whether it's Clinton or Obama, there is still much work to be done.

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