Driving home from singing last night, I heard L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein and his mother on the public radio show 'On Point.' They were discussing Stein's recent column on 'Obamaphilia,' in which Stein writes about how, concerned that his enthusiasm for the junior senator from Illinois was turning him into some "dreamer hippie loser,' he called his mom for a dose of feet-on-the-ground common sense. Mr. Stein's mother, it should be noted, is an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton.
While Mom Stein (sorry, but I forgot her name and I can't find it anywhere) didn't dissuade her son -- or me, for that matter -- from supporting Barack Obama's candidacy, she did make the most cogent argument I've yet heard for why Sen. Clinton should get the Democratic nomination for the presidency this year. Her reasoning went something like this: Obama's smart, he's inspiring, he's got good ideas, but he's still largely an unknown quantity. The 2008 presidential election is the most important election of our time. Given how much hangs in the balance, voters should choose a candidate who is not only experienced and battle-tested, but who brings a degree of certainty and reliability to her bid for the Oval Office.
I have to admit, that argument gave me pause. I found it a lot more compelling than the 'experience vs. inexperience' line that has been failing to sway voters in the last eight or so primaries and caucuses. And it is infinitely more persuasive than the canard about Clinton offering substance in contrast to Obama's empty rhetoric. In fact, let's put that one to bed right now. Here are Sen. Clinton's stances on the issues. Here are Sen. Obama's stances on the issues. If you can find seams between them that are wide enough to slip more than a piece of paper through, let me know. Both candidates are thoughtful, substantive, detailed, and well-reasoned in their policy positions. The message that Obama is all hat and no cowboy is a talking point, nothing more; it is a fiction.
No, what brought me up short about Mom Stein's argument is that, well, there is an awful lot riding on this election. The economy is going down the tubes, we're fighting two wars, the rest of the world hates our guts, around 50 million of our fellow citizens lack health insurance, and lots of places around the globe are doing a spectacular job of blowing themselves up real good. The world is, in short, a mess, and we need to be sure that the next U.S. president will help to fix it, or at least not screw it up more than it already is. And let's face it, Hillary Clinton would probably do a pretty good job in that role. Love her or hate her, one must admit that we know where she's coming from, we know what she stands for, and we have a fair sense of the sort of job she does. Despite the baggage she carries, her credentials are solid and we know she's tough. Hey, if she's been able to live with Bill for the past however many decades, she clearly doesn't lack for strength.
I believe, in short, that Hillary Clinton would make a good president. There's no question that she would make a better president than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., although that's damning with faint praise. A lobotomized howler monkey would be a better president than George W. Bush, so I'm not sure that we want to set the bar that low. Still, a Clinton administration would be like a Caribbean vacation compared to the cruise on the 'Titanic' that we've been on for the past eight years. She would probably -- and don't get too upset by this -- do a better job than her husband did.
But here's where I part ways with Joel Stein's mom. Electing a President Obama would not be as safe a bet as electing a President Clinton, but the prospective rewards are much higher. In Barack Obama I see something that I simply do not see in Hillary Clinton: the potential for greatness. Clinton would probably be a good president, but Obama could be a great one. He could be the leader who repairs our frayed relationships with other countries and instills in Americans that sense of community, of unity in diversity, that our bruised nation has lacked for a long time now. He could restore America's moral authority and make us proud of our democracy again. I think most of us have the sense that Obama would, at the very least, make a fine president. But, I say again, he could be great. And he could make America great.
You don't win much if you don't risk much. It is precisely because so much is at stake in this election that I don't want us to settle for the safe bet, for the all-too-familiar choice. The proudest moments in U.S. history have come about when we took the big risks, when we broke with the old ways of thinking, when we pitted ourselves against the odds...and won big. We can do it again. We can be audacious again. We can once again defy fear, defy conventional wisdom, defy mediocrity. We can reach for greatness.
Yes, we can.