3/05/2007

Hillary vs. Obama: A Different Diversity

Right now, the Democratic nomination fight is primarily between Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama with John Edwards on the outside looking in and all the other candidates in the boonies. The media just can't get enough of this story because of all the juicy subplots involved: What about Bill? Who is receiving the most Black support? Is Obama Black enough? Will Hillary ever make a mistake? Is Obama the Black JFK? Does Hillary have any defectors to Obama? How will Hillary avoid letting her husband upstage her?

One other obvious storyline has to do with the fact that Obama is potentially "the first Black president." Minorities and diversity advocates everywhere are likely thrilled by this prospect. His candidacy has attracting worldwide attention. I currently live in Japan (and will for another three weeks) and I can tell you that this little statistic has not gone unnoticed here. Obamamania is everywhere.

Yes, Obama's candidacy reflects the ethnic diversity within the Democratic Party and the diversity that makes America America. However, Obama's candidacy also could potentially give rise to a different type of diversity: the diversity of the actual Democratic presidential field. Let me explain.

Recent polling shows that Obama is gaining on Hillary. Hillary is the establishment candidate. She has the name recognition, the fundraising network, and the raw political know-how necessary to snare the nomination. She knows that she can't win over too many new voters because she's been on the scene for so long and almost everyone has a set-in-stone opinion of her, be it positive or negative. So her goal essentially is to prevent too many of her supporters from defecting to other candidates because she knows she has the unique problem of bleeding supporters faster than she can attract them. Yes, she has the money, she has the name recognition, and she has the support. Thus, the aura of inevitability is her greatest weapon.

But what happens when this aura is somehow threatened, questioned, or undermined? To illustrate, Hillary was cleaning up regarding the Black vote, largely because of the allegiance Blacks have for her husband, famously dubbed the "first Black president." However, Obama has begun to make inroads and has seen his support among Black voters increase at Hillary's expense. Even though Hillary still leads in the polls overall, her margin has been whittled away. She even tried to sandbag Obama with the David Geffen/Maureen Dowd flap, but Obama survived and may have actually come out even stronger. Simply put, this has Hillary in a panic.

Because the media love a good story and a horserace, they are going to pick up on this reduced support for Hillary and highlight the newfound competitiveness of the Democratic race. There may also be a slew of "what's wrong with Hillary's poll numbers?" and "why is Hillary losing support?" stories in newspapers and on local broadcasts around the country. Image counts for an awful lot in politics, and nobody wants to associated with a perceived weak candidate, a sinking ship, or an outright loser. Thus, this negative inertia could potentially dethrone Hillary's status as the Democratic frontrunner.

But what will happen if Hillary loses her frontrunner status? The consequences could be amazing. If inevitability is Hillary's greatest weapon and this weapon is neutralized by playing second fiddle to Obama (an upstart first term senator), she may very well have no choice but to exit the race and her legacy will go down in flames. She will then become a female John Kerry who will have no other option but to establish a long career in the Senate.

Hillary's departure from the presidential sweepstakes would be enormous. For starters, it would finally give John Edwards some oxygen. However, Obama and Edwards have a bit of overlap in their positioning regarding their "optimism" and "inspiration." However, my sense is that Obama is viewed as a far more credible messenger in this regard than Edwards. This is likely because Edwards has developed a negative caricature as a smooth-talking slick lawyer who lives in a 28,000-square foot estate. His political resume is just as thin as Obama's, so he runs the risk of being viewed as a lightweight. But at least Obama's ability to galvanize crowds and bring new voters into the process can help him offset his image as a greenhorn. For Edwards, this could be his death knell.

The biggest benefactors from a Hillary demise would be the second tier candidacies of Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd. The absence of Hillary would mean there is no frontrunner with a deep resume. Richardson obviously has the most impressive resume of the three candidates I just mentioned, but I think Dodd's fundraising ability may make him a player. Biden's foreign policy knowledge and solutions to the Iraq War (partitioning the country into three semi-autonomous areas) also lend his candidacy credence.

Conventional wisdom says the Democractic nomination will come down to Hillary and the ABH (Anybody But Hillary) candidate. However, I think it will really come down to the Messenger vs. the Veteran. I just have a hard time wrapping my brain around the notion that after the George W. Bush presidency, Democratic voters would be so naive to all but ignore the candidates who have the foreign policy, executive, and legislative chops necessary to restore competency to the White House.

People talk about Hillary and Obama in diversity terms as being "the first" regarding females and Blacks. However, I believe they bring a different type of diversity to the race. These two titans can't keep going at each other forever. When one of them falls, the true diversity of the Democratic field will be showcased for all: the diversity of all the candidates' IDEAS: the ideas of the candidate with an abundance of experience serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the ideas of a former United Nations ambassador and Secretary of Energy, the ideas of a Senate Banking Committee chairman, and the ideas of a candidate who wants to establish a Department of Peace. Now THAT is diversity.

0 comment(s):