July 18, 2007

presidential calculuses

So Andrew asked why I'm supporting John Edwards, and brought up some things he's been wrestling with: electability, leadership, and policy positions. All of those things are shorthand for 15 million other things, but here's my best shot at explaining why I'm supporting Edwards. For the people who always read the last page first: it's about policy.

But first, let's talk about something else: experience. Hillary Clinton is the only Democratic front-runner with really serious Washington and policy experience, and even she has very little electoral experience - she's just an insanely savvy person who spent 8 years hearing very directly about the Washington experience of another insanely savvy person. Neither Edwards or Obama has any real experience making day to day government decisions as an executive, or moving bills through Congress in the way a president has to do to be effective. I'm concerned about that, but I'm unwilling to vote for Clinton over it. If Bill Richardson's campaign gets any momentum, I might be interested, but let's put that aside for now.

On to electability. I don't really trust myself to predict who's electable in a general election, and I think that efforts to predict electability have screwed the Democrats six ways from Sunday. Kerry? Gore? Not the world's most electable people (in that Kerry wasn't elected) - yet they were chosen specifically for their electability. So I'm not really playing with that right now. I think Clinton has the most serious electability problem of the three major candidates: the American public is pretty damn sexist, plus she's a very polarizing figure, plus she's kind of varnished, which hasn't been going over well lately. On the other hand, have I mentioned how savvy she and her husband are? Obama's race will likely play against him, but I don't feel completely certain of it. Edwards is doing the worst in the head-to-head general election polls (though Dems reliably beat Reps), but I have some questions about whether the sexism/racism cards would affect Obama and Clinton differently in a polling booth rather than a phone call. I got kind of sick of spinning around in circles about this, so I decided to give up. Also, I think focusing on electability encourages a kind of content-free, passion-free politics that is one of the major problems of the Democratic party.

Leadership: I'm going to talk about race and gender here, since I already talked about my concerns about experience. I feel like I should be supporting Obama or Clinton specifically because I am a feminist and anti-racist. Obama is also super-inspiring for many people, which I think would be great in a president (and speaks some to electability). But ultimately,

It's all about policy. Specifically health, environmental, and economic policies, and specifically because there's pretty good evidence that presidential candidates do what they say they're going to do a lot of the time. Edwards's health care policy is really smart, and I think it could get passed and would work. Universal health care is one of those things that's becoming a middle-class issue in a way that means it'll probably get addressed within the next 5 years or so, and I think it matters a lot who the president is then. Clinton won't put her plan out there, and Obama's is pretty complicated, and I think would have a lot fewer cost-saving effects than the Edwards plan because it doesn't expand the pool of insured people as much, thus keeping risk and premiums higher than they ought to be. Obama's policies over-all are fairly piece-meal: his energy policy is like that as well.

Finally, Edwards has put economic inequality on the table in a way that I think is really, really important.

I would say more but I'm incredibly hungry and I'm leaving town on Sunday. More comparative policy analysis coming in two weeks or so.

(Julie and Andrew: big fat congratulations!)

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