Columns » John Brummett

Obama-Clinton: One man’s analysis

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The stirring contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has gripped the nation, split Democrats and pitted family members against family members and friends against friends.

It cries out for considered analysis. Here is one man's attempt on four key points — electability, experience, policy and personal attributes.

Electability: Hillary says it's with her because Republicans have smeared her all they can smear her and we can be assured she'll fight fire with fire in the fall. She says Obama offers a blank slate and that Republican attacks could and probably will define him unfavorably and erode his temporary and superficial wave of popularity.

Obama wonders why Democrats would choose to enter the general election with practically half the country firmly against them. He says he brings new voters and appeals to independents. He says Democrats always lose under the equation to which Hillary refers and that it's time to change that equation.

This is a hard call, but anyone who has lived through the collapses of Michael Dukakis and John Kerry must lean to Hillary's view. She's the devil we know. She's inoculated and tough. We can't know what perils await Obama or how he might handle them.

Experience: This one is overrated. Some of our finest presidents lacked deep conventional experience. There can be a lot of applicable experience, but it can be bad or failed.

That's the case with Hillary. She's experienced in health care, yes. But she misplayed the issue, clinging to secrecy and displaying arrogance as she presumed to remake a seventh of the American economy.

She made Whitewater worse by refusing to invite the investigation that was inevitable. Some of the disastrous personnel selections in the Clinton White House were hers.

Anyway, much of the government experience she cites is borrowed. She has asserted 35 years of it. There's no basis for that. For most of that time she was a corporate lawyer, a Wal-Mart board member and the spouse of a political veteran.

Obama must have applicable experience, because something in his history has enabled him to run a brilliant campaign. He's not the one experienced in blowing a big lead in polls. He's not the one experienced in campaign personnel shake-ups. He's the one with more money. He's the one with better grassroots organization.

The relevant experience can be the most recent experience. I reject the conventional definition, and, on that basis, go with him.

Policy: Some high-minded people complain that the media obsess on the contest and not the substantive issues. Oh, pooh. There are no compelling differences on issues between these two.

Both candidates would get us out of Iraq, aim for universal health insurance, seek to restore international diplomacy and endeavor to better regulate business, trade, product safety and high finance.

Their marginal arguments — whether to mandate health coverage, for example — would get worked out the legislative process. The success of any or all of it depends not on subtle differences now, but on how many Democrats get elected to Congress in November.

Personal: If our score so far is one for her, one for him and one rained out, then it comes down to this one. Which of these candidates do you most like? And that's what makes the race so bitter. In the end, it's necessarily and purely personal.

I find him more thoughtful and appealing and warm. I think nothing reveals her so clearly as her wanting now to count the votes from states breaking party rules, and which she won perhaps only because Obama, abiding by those party rules, didn't campaign.

So this one scorecard has it 2-1-1 for him.

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