This is now essentially a two-person race for the Democratic nomination, and no matter how it comes down, it's a historic moment: neither of the front-runners for the White House (and by any standard, the Democratic nominee starts off as the front-runner) is a white man. And frankly, the nation could do a lot worse than either President Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama.
But on the issues, and because he's a force for a new generation of political activism, our choice is Obama.
Obama's life story is inspirational, and his speeches are the stuff of political legend. He can rouse a crowd and generate excitement like no presidential candidate has in many, many years. He has, almost single-handedly, caused thousands of young people to get involved for the first time in a major political campaign.
The cost of his soaring rhetoric is a disappointing lack of specific plans. It can be hard at times to tell exactly what Obama stands for, exactly how he plans to carry out his ambitious goals. His stump speeches are riddled with words like change and exhortations to a new approach to politics, but he doesn't talk much, for example, about how to address the gap between the rich and the poor, or how to tackle urban crime and poverty, or whether Israel should stop building settlements in the occupied territories.
In fact, our biggest problem with Obama is that he talks as if all the nation needs to do is come together in some sort of grand coalition of Democrats and Republicans, of "blue states and red states." But some of us have no interest in making common cause with the religious right or Dick Cheney or Halliburton or Don Fisher. There are forces and interests in the United States that need to be opposed, defeated, consigned to the dustbin of history, and for all of Obama's talk of unity, we worry that he lacks the interest in or ability to take on a tough, bloody fight against an entrenched political foe.
Still, when you look at his positions, he's on the right track. He wants to raise the cap on earnings subject to Social Security payments (right now high earners don't pay Social Security taxes on income over $97,000 a year). He wants to cut taxes for working-class families and pay for it by letting the George W. Bush tax cuts on the rich expire (that's not enough, but it's a start). He wants to double fuel-economy standards. His health care plan isn't perfect, but it's about the same as all the Democrats offer.
And he's always been against the war.
It's hard to overstate the importance of that. Obama spoke out against the invasion when even most Democrats were afraid to, so he has some credibility when he says he's going to withdraw all troops within 16 months and establish no permanent US bases in Iraq.
Hillary Clinton has far more extensive experience than Obama (and people who say her years in the White House don't count have no concept of the role she played in Bill Clinton's administration). We are convinced that deep down she has liberal instincts. But that's what's so infuriating: since the day she won election to the US Senate, Clinton has been trianguutf8g, shaping her positions, especially on foreign policy, in an effort to put her close to the political center. At a time when she could have shown real courage during the early votes on funding and authorizing the invasion of Iraq she took the easy way out, siding with President Bush and refusing to be counted with the antiwar movement. She has refused to distance herself from such terrible Bill Clintonera policies as welfare reform, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and don't ask, don't tell. We just can't see her as the progressive choice.
We like John Edwards.