Wednesday, February 27, 2008
The Twentieth (and Final) Debate?
Those expecting a knockout punch from either candidate last night were sorely disappointed. Though there were a few contentious moments, particularly at the outset, Obama declined the opportunity to attack her head-on or launch direct attacks to her sometimes caustic rebuttals. A wise strategy, to be sure, but a disappointing one for those of us who crave confrontation and negative attacks.
The impact was that of a released pressure valve for what had increasingly grown bitter and mean-spirited between both campaigns. Obama played the high ground again, a tactic that has served him well during the course of the campaign and continues to be his best defense against an increasingly emboldened offensive from Team Clinton and Team McCain. At the outset, I thought this was a strategy doomed to fail, because it does not cater to that side of human nature which relishes throw-downs, gotchas, and blood lust. However, it is proving to be a more civilized approach which renders his campaign increasingly better and better able to deflect attacks and seem above the fray.
The theme of Obama's delivery might well of been that of desiring to seem Presidential. If that was the intent, he succeeded. Let us not be distracted from the key issue. The key issue now is who can defeat John McCain and the GOP in November. They key is who can unify rather than polarize. The key is who can pull together the largest coalition while not isolating and emboldening the other side.
Hillary Clinton's final pleas were a transparent play to shore up her last remaining base of support, white women. She said that electing the first woman president would be a sea change in policy. As I have mentioned before on this site, the implication of such a statement is that somehow women could do it better. I disagree with that strongly because if we are truly set on thinking in those terms, and true gender equality is what we favor, then we ought concede that women are equally as capable of making mistakes and the same ones that men have made. A cursory glance across the pond at our friend and neighbor the U.K. proves that ten years of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister did not prevent her from being less likely to be just as fallible as any male from serious mistakes, lapses of judgment, and popular opinion. Though she was a popular figure in the Conservative party, she was utterly reviled by the left and by Labour. By the end, she was driven out of power not by her opposition, but by massive popular backlash and a coup from within her own party who both were desperate to end her extensive tenure in office.
Perhaps this is the fairer comparison. Women might be inclined to rule differently while in power, but it would certainly be a fairy tale and belief in celestial choirs to think they have some sort of purity of infallibility. This is a holdover from the Victorian ideal, a long antiquated concept that somehow women had a superior edge on men from the standpoint of moral decency, a nuturing demeanor, should remain the keeper of home and hearth, and were thus unfit to toil in the brutality of a man's world. But as Senator Obama pointed out, regarding her claims to include eight years of First Lady as part of her oft-quoted thirty five years of experience, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot take credit for the ways in which your gender supposedly has an advantage, and then also disregard the reality that a woman in power would quickly prove herself to be quite human indeed if she held the highest office in the land.