One difference between Obama and Clinton does not seem to me to have been stressed enough. They are of different Democratic generations. Clinton is from the traumatized generation; Obama isn't.Realizing that I am from Clinton's generation, and Sullivan is from Obama's, I am instantly skeptical. Traumatized? He sees the older "generation" as suffering from a mental disorder?
I put "generation" in quotes because I think a 20-year span is needed for a generation. Calling a 10-year span a "generation" exaggerates for dramatic effect, but it does express something of the emotional distance felt (or sought). I've always felt distant from the era inhabited by my sister, who, like Hillary, is four years older than I am. Why not call that a "generation"? Then I could extricate myself from that post-traumatic stress disorder that plagues Clinton.
Back to Sullivan:
Clinton has internalized to her bones the 1990s sense that conservatism is ascendant, that what she really believes is unpopular, that the Republicans have structural, latent power of having a majority of Americans on their side. Hence the fact that she reeks of fear, of calculation, of focus groups, of triangulation.Do we know what she "really believes"? And does she really believe something? Even if we assume she has liberal instincts, why can't she also believe that it is good to work through a process of accommodating those first thoughts to the world she encounters? I give a politician credit for pragmatism -- when it is done well. Why is "belief" so wonderful? Ideologues make terrible mistakes. Sullivan doesn't appreciate George Bush's commitment to his beliefs, so why is ideological purity suddenly so valuable?
She might once have had ideals keenly felt; she might once have actually relished fighting for them and arguing in thier [sic] defense. But she has not been like that for a very long time. She has political post-traumatic stress disorder.Ah! The diagnosis. I feel averse to her, so I detect illness in her.
Obama is different. He wasn't mugged by the 1980s and 1990s as Clinton was.Obama was 17 in 1980. Nothing has a greater impact on you than the way things are when you are 17. (I was 17 in 1968.) You could say that Vietnam and Nixon didn't affect him, but he was a young man in the 1980s and 1990s. That era must have affected him deeply. Did it not affect his age-mate Sullivan?
[Obama] doesn't carry within him the liberal self-hatred and self-doubt that Clinton does. The traumatized Democrats fear the majority of Americans are bigoted, know-nothing, racist rubes from whom they need to conceal their true feelings and views. The non-traumatized Democrats are able to say what they think, make their case to potential supporters and act, well, like Republicans acted in the 1980s and 1990s.There may well be those two types of Democrats, but you haven't convinced me that they slot into two generations or that one type is healthy and the other diseased -- a theory that deserves to be called ageist. Nor am I convinced that it is unrealistic fear that motivates some liberals politicians to tone down their views in order to make themselves more appealing to voters.
By the same token, I don't believe that Obama's positions are pure expressions of true belief. He has to have thought through how to make himself appealing to voters. If he seems to be more idealistic, it may be that he's figured out that this stance works for him. Obviously, it does.
Since it's a good, pragmatic choice, there's no way to conclude he seems idealistic and proud of his liberalism because he's unafraid and untainted by the diseased thoughts of those a few years older than he is. How do you know he's not fearful of seeming less purely optimistic? One could just as well say that he's learned his lessons from the 80s and 90s. Reagan taught him the great value of getting people to think that you embody optimism. Maybe he avoids seeming to calculate and triangulate in order to distance himself from Bill Clinton (and Hillary).
The choice between Clinton and Obama is the choice between a defensive crouch and a confident engagement. It is the choice between someone who lost their beliefs in a welter of fear; and someone who has faith that his worldview can persuade a majority.Sullivan effuses. He loves Obama and feels aversion to Clinton. So do many others. This isn't an argument that Obama would make a better President than Clinton, but it's not a mere outburst of emotion either. He's saying that Obama will make a better candidate than Clinton, because he will -- by his faith -- inspire belief. That sounds rather dangerous, evocative of the worst things that can happen in politics. We need analysis and reason too, and I think Obama can only go so far exciting people with "the audacity of hope." The debate the other night showed how he can fall short, going for the hopeful, inspiring idea when Clinton comes forward with the more seasoned, mature, realistic analysis.
In my view, the call is not a close one.
And which approach, in fact, betrays more fear that Americans are "know-nothing" "rubes"? I think the simplistic talk of hope, playing on the emotions of the listener, shows less respect for the intelligence and sophistication of the voters than a more complex, realistic presentation of the issues.
But in 2004, the Democrats lost with their dull, nuanced character, and the Republicans won with simplistic, emotional hope. Sullivan ought to consider whether -- if Hillary was "mugged by the 1980s and 1990s," Obama was mugged by the 00s.