For Democrats in this country, the choice has been difficult. Now, it is almost excruciating. The freshness and vitality of Barack Obama versus the experience and doggedness of Hillary Clinton. In the wake of the endless nightmare of the Bush years, Democrats seem to want someone truly exceptional. They seem to want a candidate who will actually have a chance at cleaning up some of the mind-blowing mess that George Bush has created in eight years. Unlike the Republicans, who elected Bush twice and who organized a recall of California Governor Gray Davis and replaced him with body-builder/action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who went on to lead California into an even bigger fiscal mess than the Davis years saw, Democrats want substance as much as electability. Gore seemed a likely choice, but Gore would have none of it.
Edwards was right on many important issues, but seemed green in the post-9/11 world. He isn't, actually, but appearances trumped his ideas and rhetoric. Now we have two people remaining on the eve of Super Tuesday and the most significant question is "Which one can beat McCain?" Hillary Clinton has done everything right. She stood by her husband and endured the ridicule of Republican bullies like Newt Gingrich during what must have been the worst time of her life. She rewrote her own epitaph by crawling out from under the rubble of her marital troubles and became a Senator in a state where the egos in the political arena are as oversized as New York's skyline. She studied hard, as she always has, and she won. Twice. She became a role model for all other women in politics. She is smart. She is tough. And most people agree that she will probably run a better White House than any other candidate that has taken the field.
But Hillary Clinton is wrong on the war in Iraq and that should matter a lot in this race. Critics of Hillary Clinton who are leaders in the Democratic Party that I have spoken to privately believe that she is too much like McCain to offer voters a meaningful choice. "Voters will choose a real Republican over a fake Republican every time," one politico said to me, slashing at Clinton for her tilt toward the right on the war.
"The Clintons don't know when to get off the stage," another offered, suggesting that eight years of Bush and the war on terror seem to have pushed the Bill Clinton years, where Hillary will remain inexorably framed in the minds of many, into a bygone political era.
Barack Obama represents hope to many and some in Clinton's camp have underestimated how much Americans are hungering for that hope in 2008. Obama is clearly not McCain. He is young. He is against the war and he is inexperienced. Republicans, to their shame, will trumpet McCain's experience over Obama's, running as fast as they can from the fact that Gore was the smarter, tougher and more experienced candidate in 2000. Republicans don't care about anything but winning. That's why they put forth candidates like Reagan, Arnold and Bush. By the time they reach the end of their first term, it's assumed they have all the experience they need. Like their nephew at the bank.
Which candidate will have the best chance against McCain? The experienced one or the exciting one? The one who is smart and tough and whose stances on some issues are oh-so-similar to those of the presumed GOP opponent? Or the less experienced, less tested one who has many Americans believing that someone more like them may make a return to the White House? During the Democratic debates, I wanted someone to ask one question. "Do you believe that any of the people sitting in this audience have as much hope of becoming president as you do?" I think that should matter, because the presidency of this country has become the exclusive preserve of legal elites and political or corporate barons. And our country is suffering as the result of it.
Vote on Tuesday. And let's begin the job of defeating John McCain, and his continuation of the Bush nightmare, right now.