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The Honor Of Being Nominated

Many moons ago, I was a college student and heavily invested in campus politics. At one point, there was a campaign for student body president. There were two likely candidates, and I had to decide who I would advise and push for.

One of the guys was, to be blunt, a political animal. Let's call him "Edmund." He had his mind on the office as a stepping-stone towards his own future past college, and wanted the prestige the office offered on his resume'. He was also a master manipulator, and I found myself distrusting him.

The other guy -- let's call him "Barry" -- was more of an average Joe. He had a few ideas that he wanted to carry out, but his main appeal was his charisma and amiability. I'd known him a bit longer, and had helped lure him into getting into campus politics.

An acquaintance of mine (our friendship was fading fast) was also a political animal, but was more interested in observing and commenting than actually dabbling. He and I argued about which would be the better candidate.

I argued for Barry. I said I couldn't trust Edmund, that he was too interested in promoting himself and lacked idealism. he couldn't be trusted to put the common good ahead of his own self-interest.

My acquaintance --- "Will" -- said that based purely on what I said, he'd prefer Edmund. Edmund, he said, could be trusted -- to act in his own self-interest. it would be easier to engineer events to make Edmund's own self-interests correspond with the common good -- or, at least, persuade him that they did. Barry, though, would be more resolute. If he got it into his head to do something utterly wrong-headed, he would do it out of sheer principle and obstinacy.

A few years later, I started reading P. J. O'Rourke. In Parliament of Whores, he talked about why he tended to prefer Republicans to Democrats. (My copy is on loan right now, so I'm paraphrasing from memory. Oyster, can you correct me if I get it wrong? I know you recently got a copy and were reading it...)

P. J. said that he had faith that politicians from both parties will take from him. If he had his druthers, though, he'd rather be robbed by a Republican than a Democrat. If he's robbed by a Republican, at least someone will be getting richer. When you're robbed by a Democrat, it's usually done in the name of the "greater common good" and the robber tends to wrap their thievery in lofty ideals and moral principles.

Further, the Republican thief has a fairly simple, short plan: to get personally wealthy. The Democrat tends to think long-term, and plan out even more thefts and argue with you about how the stealing was actually an act of social justice and necessity and it's your duty to let yourself get robbed.

I was reminded of these two arguments as I looked at the last two Democratic presidential candidates standing. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tend to represent, roughly, these two schools of thought. Hillary is the pragmatist, the political animal, the Republican, while Obama is the idealist, the Democrat.

When I find myself weighing the merits (or, rather, the demerits) of the two, I have found myself siding with Obama. He comes across as more principled, more honest, and more idealistic than Clinton.

But as it becomes more and more apparent that one of these two will have a 50-50 chance of being our next president, I think about my long-ago discussions with Will, and P. J.'s observation, and wondering if I should bite back my disgust at Hillary Clinton and trust that she is the one more likely to be amenable to "doing business." If she is the one who would do less harm to the nation. Obama strikes me as more likely to lock on to bad ideas, and press on with them out of sheer principle.

I don't know where I'm coming down on this one. It's a tough call. I can argue both sides, and can't quite persuade myself to come down on one side or another.


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Comments (9)

"He comes across as more pr... (Below threshold)
retired military:

"He comes across as more principled, more honest, and more idealistic than Clinton.

So does Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Stalin, Ghenghis Khan, etc.

That isnt a very high standard that you set.

I saw Rick Santorum on a sh... (Below threshold)

I saw Rick Santorum on a show last night and he made about the same point. Conservatives don't trust McCain because he has very few core principles. He wavers. He is indecisive. In short, he is a law maker where compromise and debate is required. Executive branch needs decisive, belief base people. ww

I agree Jay, Hillary might ... (Below threshold)

I agree Jay, Hillary might be less likely to pursue policies anathema to conservatives, but given that she is such a nasty and manipulative person, shouldn't we be willing to take the hit of an Obama in order to show that there's a limit to how much someone like her can get away with?

Were she to lose, we might, just might, end up with nicer campaigns, with a bit less open hostility, and a bit less of the 'ends justify the means' campaigning and governing.... and with the added bonus of an end to the idea that the Clintons were all that special.

And given that the Democrats play that game better than the GOP, this could yield big benefits down the road.

I think it was Robert Heinl... (Below threshold)

I think it was Robert Heinlein who said "...you can't trust a Reform politician. They won't stay bought." That being said, I would prefer any Republican over any Democrat but Obama over Hillary. I have had enough of Clinton Style machinations to achieve and hold power.

I began reading O'Rourke's ... (Below threshold)

I began reading O'Rourke's book and was enjoying it immensely. Nearly every paragraph had me standing up saying, "Yes! Exactly!" but attention to family issues have forced me to put it down for the time being.

However, I'm of the mind that both are equally terrible choices, but for different reasons. They're both idealists though. And idealists scare me. Neither has a sense of the American spirit and talk incessantly of what America CAN be, not what she truly is. Not what made her great. And I don't believe either of them looks at the office as an opportunity to serve their country. For them, it's more like a pulpit.

I do believe Hillary, even for all her yammering against the war, would be better on defense, but terrible on the economy. Obama? Who knows? Nobody really knows what he thinks. Just that whatever he does, he'll be "nice" about it. He's going to have to surround himself with some pretty smart and powerful people to be effective at all, and being that he's so naive, I can't trust him to pick the right people. The media will have to spin like they've never spun before to keep him relevant.

And finally, nice of you to point to my blog, but I haven't updated in a long time.

Wow - I thought you were do... (Below threshold)

Wow - I thought you were doing Rommney[Barry]/McCain[Edmund] too (although calling McCain a political animal is a bit of a stretch when compared to Hillary).

Ironic. I see in Hillary t... (Below threshold)

Ironic. I see in Hillary the villains of Atlas Shrugged, selfish but claiming to be unselfish. I also see McCain in the same way.

I'm voting for Romney, because Huckabee can't win the primary. -sigh-

I don't know, Jay; I'm afra... (Below threshold)
Cousin Daveou:

I don't know, Jay; I'm afraid we may be confusing lack of ethics for pragmatism. A pragmatic person may pursue their self-interest with reservation, but if they fail to achieve what they want in any given situation, they will be pragmatic enough to say "oh well" and try something else. Hillary is not pragmatic; she goes into every confrontation believing that she holds all of the cards. Because of this, she lacks the ability to switch to plan B if plan A fails; instead she'll carry a grudge, and the grudge will cause her to continue to pursue plan A long past the point where it would have made any sense. Obama may or may not be any better in the ethics department, but he does strike me as the more pragmatic of the two, despite his idealistic rhetoric.

I think you've hit on the d... (Below threshold)

I think you've hit on the deal with Bush.

I don't remember how he campaigned. All I remember about that is that I didn't notice much about him at all... he was moderate, and boring. But as President he proved to be principled and steadfast and idealistic. And those things, yes, are what made him dangerous. He'd do what was right or necessary and do it without flinching and without needing approval.

So it's funny when his detractors insist on portraying him as having base motivations and lying and what all because those aren't his faults. His faults are virtue, not a lack of it. Too much loyalty to those who work for him rather than too little, for example.

I'm glad Bush was president the last 7 years, very glad, but that doesn't mean that I'm blind to the fact that he was dangerous.

I don't like Clinton but I do *trust* her to be herself and operate on self-interest. And she's not stupid and I think she does know how the world actually works. Obama? Not so much. I'd worry that he'd do something idealistic and disastrous.

I don't want to see Clinton elected, though.

Could we just vote for McCain and get it over with? We can probably trust him as much as we can trust Clinton, and he doesn't come with Bill.






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