Issue Report: Clinton vs. Obama

Who is the better candidate, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

The 2008 Democratic nomination has concluded with a one-on-one contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. With the election in a dead heat, and with the appearance that it will remain undecided into the Democratic convention in August, the respective cases for Hillary and Obama remain strongly debated. What are these cases? Why is it that Democrats are so split in this debate?
This debate is oriented around a number of important questions. Which candidate has the most experience? Which one has more foreign policy experience? Is experience all that important? Is judgement more important than experience? Who has a better record of good judgement? Are Obama’s inspirational message and abilities worth anything? Are they as important as experience? Which candidate is better for advancing the Democratic agenda? Does it matter how this agenda is advanced? Is Clinton’s strict liberal agenda more true to the Democratic agenda than Obama’s willingness to compromise on a bi-partisan basis? Which candidate is more likely to win in the general election? How do Clinton and Obama stack up against John McCain? Are the Clinton legacy and Bill Clinton an asset or a liability? Is it more important, at this stage in history, to elect the first female or the first black president? Is solving outstanding racial issues more important than solving outstanding gender issues? Are these fair questions? Does a female have certain virtues that should be brought to the oval office? Is one or the other candidate better suited to solve the world’s problems? On the candidates few policy differences, who’s policies are best?

Experience: Does Clinton have more experience than Obama for being president?

Clinton has substantial White House experience

Hillary Clinton’s role in the White House was little different than that of other White House advisers. Hillary Clinton was appointed as the Head Chairwoman of the Task Force on National Health Reform, hoping to replicate the success she had in leading the effort for Arkansas education reform. Along with Senator Tedd Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, she was a force behind the passage of the Children Health Program.

Obama lacks the experience necessary to be an effective president

Clinton has traveled internationally more than Obama.

Clinton traveled to 79 countries during White House years, breaking the mark for most traveled First Lady. She has certainly traveled to more countries than Barack Obama.

Clinton has more general policy knowledge than Obama.

Clinton has been around politics for much longer than Obama. It is presumable that this has given her a generally superior knowledge to that of Obama in the way of politics and policy.

Clinton will be ready to lead in the White House on day one.

Clinton’s White House experience, as the First Lady, is particularly instructive in empowering her to quickly construct her administration when she enters office, and to establish the necessary procedures for decision-making. As some commentators have put it, she knows how to pull the levers of power. Obama certainly does not know the levers of white house power as well as Clinton, and so it would presumably take him longer to figure out how to construct his administration and get adjusted to running it.

Clinton has the experience of being a women.

There are many characteristics of being a woman that offer Hillary Clinton a particular advantage over Barack Obama. Women show a special ability for empathy that men do not typically have. This allows them to put themselves in the shoes of their enemies or opponents and to consider their perspective. This is important in the way of both understanding one’s enemies and in the way of being able to seize opportunities for compromise.

Hillary Clinton is ideally disciplined and focused to be president

Her experience is largely expressed in how organized, disciplined, focused, and hard-working she is. This comes from an innate passion and talent, but also from years of experience and battle-testing.

Obama has a strong record of legislative achievement

Obama has a very strong legislative history as a US Senator. The Daily Kos lists 19 legislative successes for Obama during his Senate career while only 13 legislative successes for Clinton. It is argued that Obama’s record of successes is, in large part, due to his ability to convince other Senators to support his legislation. Clinton, with a more divisive history, does not appear to have this same capacity.

Obama demonstrated more experienced judgement than Clinton in his Iraq vote.

Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War was prescient in the justifications he put forward. He clearly stated that the war had ill defined ends and was likely to lead into an indefinite occupation. That is what has happened. This demonstrates Obama’s experience, particularly his experience in making reasoned, principled judgments. Obama has pointed out, by comparison, that Clinton did not actually read the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) before casting her vote that gave the Authorization to Use Military Force in 2003.

Experience means nothing if you are "wrong on day one".

While Clinton is given much credit for her experience, she has been wrong on many occasions with her votes, in particular with her Iraq War vote. This has led Obama to say that she will, with her experience in voting incorrectly, be “wrong on day one”.

Hillary Clinton does not exactly have White House "experience"

Hillary Clinton’s White House experience was as the First Lady. This does not exactly count as White House experience, as she was not an elected officeholder, nor was she allowed to sit-in on key national security briefings and meetings; she didn’t have the security clearance. National security is the most important element of the commander-in-chief’s experience. That Clinton’s White House experience was largely detached from these affairs makes her commander-in-chief experience relatively small.

Clinton's foreign policy experience is limited

Obama would be a fresh, uncorrupted face in the White House

While experience can be seen as a virtue, it can also be viewed as a liability, in the sense that experience within the Washington Beltway, which Clinton has, can have a corrupting influence. Obama, conversely, is a fresh face on the American political scene. As such he embodies the fundamental change that Washington, DC so desperately needs. He has not been stuck in the Washington, DC “beltway”, which has kept him clear of much of the corruption and influence that can occur as a result of this.

Obama's diverse global background is valuable.

Obama was born to a father of Kenyan descent, has a white mother, lived in Indonesia in his youth, and has traveled to Kenya to visit his grandmother. He certainly is a diverse person with a diverse background. This is valuable in many ways to how he thinks about the world. Generally, it is likely to give him a more holistic view of the world.

Obama's time spent abroad is valuable.

Obama spent three years in Indonesia as a boy. He regularly cites this as having a formative effect on him, providing him with a powerful perspective on distant, different cultures. This is very valuable. Clinton never lived abroad for this length of time, and she lacks the perspective.

Hillary Clinton has merely ridden to power on the coattails of her husband.

Hillary Clinton did not achieve her current political power on her own. She, rather, rode the coattails of her husband to power. This was not really based on her merits as a leader.

Inspiration: How do the candidates compare as far as their inspirational capacity?

Obama's message of hope is just hype.

The problem with Obama’s message of hope and inspiration is that it is likely to disappoint. Policies are much more important to the public interest than hope and inspiration. So, even if Obama is a more inspiring candidate, this is less important than the fact that Clinton is more experienced in policy matters.

Clinton offers solutions and action not just ideas and speeches

While Obama makes speeches and “inspires” people, the true substance of leadership is about taking action. Clinton is more about taking action and making things happen than getting people’s hopes up.

Obama inspires people to become better citizens.

. Obama’s oratory abilities are very high. People often call him “poetic” in this way. This oratory ability has been a defining feature of the best presidents and leaders in American and world history. The reason is very straight forward; it causes people to have pride in their leaders, trust in the direction their leaders are taking the country, and hope in the future ahead. This often leads individuals to act more ethically, work harder, and generally hold themselves to a higher ethical standard. In short, inspiration matters, and the main vehicle for inspiration is inspirational oratory.

Obama can inspire people to follow him and take action.

Obama is in a unique position to inspire and influence people to take action. Youth and potential activists listen intently to him, and would respond to requests he makes for citizens to take action. Obama could say, as John F. Kennedy first did, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for you country”, and people would respond.

Obama is leading a movement for change, not just a campaign.

Obama has stirred up so much energy and excitement among his followers that his campaign and its supporters have been described as a “movement”. This “movement” can and should be harnessed for positive social change.

Obama is a natural leader and mobilizer.

One of the most important qualities of a leader is the ability to bring people together to get things done. Obama has both a Senate legislative record of this, and an impressive campaign-mobilizing record.

Obama's ability to change attitudes is essential in bringing about change.

Making bold changes in America requires first that people’s attitudes be changed. Changing attitudes is not easy at all, and requires profound persuasion. Obama, more than Clinton, has the ability to persuade in this way.

Democratic agenda: Which candidate is best for the Democratic agenda?

Obama's message of "compromise" compromises Democratic principles

Obama’s practicality and desire to bring Democrats and Republicans together to achieve bi-partisan goals sounds great in many ways, but it means sacrificing many core Democratic values. Compromising on universal health care, as he does for instance, means compromising on core Democratic objectives.

Clinton will uphold and fight for Democratic principles

Clinton is clear in her willingness to fight Republicans for the Democratic principles she believes in. For Democrats that hold these principles, this is very important, and should not be scorned.

Clinton is hated by Republicans because she fights for Democratic principles.

Clinton has a liberal record. She is upfront about this, and seeks to implement such an agenda as President. Because of her strong liberal record, many Republicans hate her. She is uncompromising on Liberal principles. For liberal principles, this is to be admired, not scorned. She will fight hard against Republicans to uphold these principles, and this should be rejoiced not condemned.

Clinton's agenda is too liberal.

Hillary Clinton’s agenda is quite liberal. She believes strongly in big governmental programs, including such things as universal health care. Her liberal agenda is not necessarily good for the success of the Democratic party, as it means that she will push these agendas through regardless of whether the majority of Republicans oppose it. This could create an antagonizing environment that causes a backlash against Democrats in the future.

Hillary Clinton is too hated and too polarizing.

Many individuals in America strongly oppose, if not hate, Hillary Clinton. Whether or not they are justified in this anger toward Clinton is unimportant. The reality is that many people react strongly against her. If she is elected president, a substantial body of Republicans will go into overdrive against her. Many Republican members of Congress will effectively forswear cooperating with her in legislation, in part because being seen doing so would be political suicide for them in the face of their constituents.

Obama's willingness to "compromise" will help advance more of the Democratic agenda.

Obama will be able to achieve more of the Democratic agenda as a progressive who seeks to work on a bi-partisan basis. Bi-partisan compromise does not mean compromising Democratic values. Rather, it means that he will be able to achieve more of the Democratic agenda by giving a little in return. By achieving more Democratic objectives, Obama will be truer to Democratic values than Clinton.

Obama inspires Democrats to pay attention and get involved.

Inspiration causes young and old Democrats to pay closer attention to what the Democratic party is all about and to engage in what the party is doing. In other words Obama’s inspirational message generates political capital for the Democratic party to tap into.

Obama's ability to change attitudes is essential in making Democratic changes.

Making bold changes in America requires first that people’s attitudes be changed. Changing attitudes is not easy at all, and requires profound persuasion. Obama, more than Clinton, has the ability to persuade in this way.

General election: Who has a better chance of winning in the general elections?

Even if Obama has a better chance, Clinton is still likely to win in the general election.

While it is true that many polls show Obama doing better against McCain in the general election, it is likely that Clinton would, nevertheless, win against John McCain. The Democratic excitement around the 2008 elections make this particularly probable.

Clinton has the grit necessary to compete in the general election.

In the general election, Republicans are going to put serious pressure on the Democratic nominee. Clinton has demonstrated that she has the grit necessary to withstand these attacks. Part of this has to do with her long history in politics, and her demonstrated ability to fight through vicious attacks against her. Obama has not been tested in the same way, and it is not clear that he is as capable of withstanding these attacks.

Clinton's experience is necessary against the experience of McCain.

Obama’s youth and inexperience would pale in comparison to the experience of John McCain. This is a major liability. Clinton’s experience and credentials in the White House, in particular, and her work as a two-term senator is necessary to combat the experience-card of John McCain.

Clinton's victories in big swing states favors her in the general election.

Obama's chances are better in a general election against McCain

Polls have shown that Obama, in a head-to-head contest against McCain in the general election, would perform better than Clinton. One of the more prominent of them is the following Time magazine poll (“TIME Poll: Clinton More Beatable than Obama”. Time. February 7th, 2008). The general logic here is that Obama has greater appeal to Independent voters as well as to swing Republican voters. Obama is more attractive to middle of the road citizens, while Clinton is much more divisive, typically attracting die-hard Democrats and repelling Republicans and many independents.

Obama can attract swing voters and win traditionally red states.

Obama's opposition to the Iraq War means he can more effectively argue to end the war.

By opposing the Iraq War from the start, Obama will be able to argue more effectively against the war’s continuation and thus for its closure. Clinton, if nominated, could easily be accused for now opposing the fulfillment of a mission that she herself helped initiate.

Obama's lead in delegates and popular vote favor him in general election.

While Hillary Clinton made the claim that her victories in the bigger swing states favors her in the general election, the most obvious indicator is the fact that Obama leads in delegates and in the popular vote. These raw numbers are what will count in the general election.

Clinton's "big state" primary wins are unimportant in the general election

Argument: Obama can win the "big" states in the general election

The Clinton campaign argues that the Barack Obama can’t win the big states. This doesn’t seem to make much sense.

Clinton would cause independents to vote Republican in general election

While many believe that Democrats are generally favored in this election cycle due to the likelihood that independents will vote Democratic, Hillary’s candidacy could actually reverse these trends in the general election, simply because she is hated by so many independents.

Clinton would cause Republicans to turn out in the general election

The Democrats are favored in the 2008 presidential election largely due to the likelihood that many Republican voters will simply stay home on election day. Clinton may reverse this trend, simply because she is so hated by Republicans, which Republicans can easily use to galvanize their base.

Woman vs. black man: Is the first female president more important than a black president?

The first female president would be just as good as the first black president.

There is no good reason why the first black president would be better than the first female president. There needs to be a first of both, so neither should be given preference over the other.

It is more historic to elect the first black candidate than the first female candidate.

African Americans have been subject to greater injustices in American history than women. From slavery to current race inequality they have been a step behind women as far as leveling the playing field. This simply means that electing the first black president would be a bigger deal than electing the first female president.

It is more important to elect the first black candidate than the first female candidate.

Racial tensions and problems abound in the United States, while gender issues are much less of a problem today. Obama is committed to helping solve these racial problems, as was displayed by his March 18, 2008 speech in Philadelphia. And, he is in a great position to do so, as the son of a mixed couple. His race, therefore, puts him in a better position to solve a much bigger outstanding social problem in America, as compared to Hilary helping solve any remaining gender issues).

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