Super Tossup?

It seems like only yesterday that political pundits promised presidential candidates would be picked by primaries on Super Tuesday, if not before. Now that Super Tuesday, and a few more primaries, have come and gone, at least the Democratic race still lurches towards the convention. It appears that late-voting states, rather than being disenfranchised as predicted, may become the deciders. In the past, when close elections teetered on the whims of a slim margin of undecided voters in a few swing states, it bothered me that so much importance was given to those too clueless to have figured out who they wanted to vote for. Now it appears that Kentucky, with its May primary, may be one of those swing states. And with a choice of two uninspiring candidates, I may be one of those undecided voters.

The idea that the Democratic candidate could be chosen by voters like me is apparently as distasteful to our party chairman as it once was to me. Howard Dean thinks that a race which remains competitive until every voter has voted is not good. He says, “I think we will have a nominee sometime in the middle of March or April. But if we don’t, then we’re going to have to get the candidates together and make some kind of an arrangement.” So apparently a candidate chosen by a coin toss or rock-paper-scissors is preferable to letting the voters decide.

So why is it so tough to make a decision? Because we have a big pair of zeroes. I think the situation was summed up nicely in a conversation I had with my mother. One of her hot-button issues is US policy towards Cuba. After a visit there several years ago, she is upset about our efforts to starve a country just because some people don’t like Castro. She was bothered by Hillary Clinton’s attitude towards the embargo. I asked her if Obama’s position was any better, and she said she didn’t know, she hadn’t seen him take any position on it. I said that pretty well summed up the whole race. Hillary has positions that piss me off, and Obama has no position at all on any significant issue.

In a New Yorker column, which slants favorably towards Obama, Hendrik Hertzberg says “Hillary Clinton would make a competent, knowledgeable, and responsible President. Barack Obama just might make a transformative one.” I think that’s a reasonable statement, except that it should have placed very strong emphasis on MIGHT. In Obama’s short term in the Senate, his performance has been mediocre, at best. With his support of Republican atrocities such as the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, he has shown no signs of wanting to be transformative. Business as usual would be a more appropriate description.

But Obama’s appeal apparently doesn’t rely on performance. With a large portion of the American electorate, a nice smile is all it takes, and he has that. Bush got elected largely because people saw him as the kind of guy it would be fun to have a beer with, and the same mentality is carrying Obama a long way. Who cares what he thinks? That’s all boring stuff. We just wanna see him flash that smile, and then we can go back to the hunt for Britney’s beaver.

So, at this point, I’m leaning towards the idea that competent, knowledgeable, and responsible trumps charismatic, and empty with some vague message of “change” with no clue as to what we would change to. The Obama promise sounds a lot like the Bush promise of 2000.

But there are a couple of factors on Obama’s side of the scale. One is the Teddy Kennedy endorsement. I normally am not swayed by celebrity endorsements. I couldn’t care less who Oprah supports. But Teddy Kennedy is not some driveling talk-show host. He has a long history of fighting the good fight. He has served in the Senate with Clinton and Obama, and presumably has far more insight into their characters and opinions than I do. And his insight is filtered through his ideas of what is right, which are very similar to my own. His advice means a lot to me. I just hope his choice is based on sound evaluation, and not swayed by all the rot about Obama carrying on the Kennedy legacy.

Of course, Hillary is trying to counter that with her own collection of Kennedys: Bobby’s children. Sorry, Hill, but that just doesn’t carry much weight with me. In his tragically short career, Bobby showed the promise of being someone that I could have admired. But that doesn’t automatically mean his kids have a clue about anything. At this point, I can’t even remember their names, let alone name one thing that any of them has ever said or done that would make me listen to their political judgment. Uncle Teddy wins this one.

And then there’s the electability issue. With Straight Double Talk McCain likely to be the Republican nominee, promising to keep the country on the same disastrous path charted by GW Bush, it’s important for the Democrats to nominate a candidate that can win, even if (s)he isn’t perfect.

I don’t want to get into the white woman vs. black man question. I really hope that’s not an issue. I realize that there are bigoted voters to whom gender/race make a difference. I just hope there aren’t enough of them to make a difference, and I don’t want my decision to be based on their bigotry.

Leaving out race and gender issues, my gut feeling is that Obama has a better chance of beating McCain than Clinton. For some reason, the right wing nutbags have built up an incredible loathing towards Hillary, to the point where the very mention of her name makes them froth at the mouth. Her candidacy would definitely create a stronger negative backlash than Obama’s. And I think Obama would draw some people to vote for him that might sit out of a Clinton-McCain choice, if they can draw themselves away from the tabloids long enough.

On the other hand, the Clinton team can’t be totally written off. One thing that is certain is that, regardless of which candidates the Democrats choose, the Republicans will use every dirty trick they can think of. We’ve all seen what they’re capable of, “Swift Boat” campaigns where wounded war heroes are smeared as cowards by slimebags who wouldn’t recognize courage if it bit them. The Clintons have been through this, and know how to deal with it. (Unleash James Carville!). Obama practically has a meltdown when the Clintons tell the truth about him. I really don’t know if he could deal with the kinds of lies the Republicans would throw at him.

So, unless Howard Dean finds a way to make my primary vote superfluous, I might be one of those undecided voters flipping a coin in the voting booth on May 20.

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