Comment: Is Clinton really any different to Obama?

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Ann Turner tosses up whether either one of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton is worthy of her vote in the Democratic primary. Or, if it really matters which one she picks as they both seem so similar.

As I stood in line to cast my ballot in the Washington state Democratic caucuses last month, the choice of who to support for the presidential nominee still loomed large in my mind.

Unlike some voters who honestly seem to like both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and have chosen based on who they believe will be a better president, I faced a different problem. To me, there is so little difference between the two that making a choice seems almost pointless.

My partner has chosen to support Hillary Clinton for a variety of intelligent reasons, including the belief that having former President Bill Clinton attached to the White House once again would be a positive, rather than a negative. On that, I agree, not being a person who cared all that much about his extramarital activities or myriad financial scandals. Regardless of his personal (and political) pitfalls, I still continue to see Bill Clinton as a president who presided over a balanced and thriving economy, managed a generally positive view of the U.S. on the world stage and believed at heart in the importance of basic human rights for all people.

Certainly I am sure any number of highly-educated political pundits would love to rip apart my positive opinion of the former president into tiny little pieces. However, if you simply take a moment to compare Clinton’s time in office with either Bush presidency, I think the scales tip quite heavily one way. Yes, there was “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”-which has proven to a disaster, but at the time there was little more that could be done to give gays lesbians any protection in the military. That any legislation at all was passed to try to help with the issue was impressive and we certainly cannot legitimately say life in the military for a gay person was any better before DADT.

However, as much as I don’t hate Bill Clinton the way most of my friends (and a great deal of the media) say I should, my feelings do not extend to his wife and former First Lady Hillary Clinton. Then again, my opinion of her Democratic rival, Barack Obama, is no more positive.

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I cannot claim to be a Harvard-educated politically analyst or a studied Huffington Post pundit. All I can lay claim to is being an average American citizen who has read, watched and tried to understand as much as possible about our current choices for president in the November election. As complicated as the histories and platforms of those candidates are, I frankly don’t know if anyone qualifies to consider themselves expert enough to declare who is the better candidate. Barring that ability, personally all I can do is attempt to determine who is the worse one.

Admittedly, as a hardcore anti-Republican, I honestly cannot give an unbiased opinion on the presumptive nominee of that party. If it is Republican, I cringe-which I feel largely has to do with the trauma caused by living through the reigns of two members of the Bush family. Book-ended by pointless wars, Bush Jr. and Bush Sr. have created such a hatred within me of all things Republican that I could not even give John McCain a fair shake if I wanted to. Add in McCain’s public support of the continued war in Iraq and his unshakeable belief that gays lesbians deserve the same equality as a well-trodden doormat and there is no way in hell I could vote Republican.

As for going Independent or third-party, I would dearly love some day to be able to do so. I even toyed with the idea in previous presidential elections of a Ralph Nader or Ross Perot vote. However, even though some will say if you never vote third-party, the two-party system will never fall-right now, I cannot justify voting for a candidate who cannot possibly win and jeopardize the possibility of booting the Republicans out of office.

So that left me with just two choices as I stood in line to cast my ballot last month-Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. And after spending months researching both candidates and reviewing the past year of articles, books, news broadcasts and blogs stored in my head about both, I still could not make a decision. Even their chances against the Republican nominee in November, in my opinion, are relatively equal as long as the Democratic voters are wise enough to pull together in the end.

Going over the public platforms and campaign promises of both (and I say public because who knows what they think in private), I found little enough distinction between Obama and Clinton to sway my vote. Both mostly support equal rights for GLBT citizens, both stop short of supporting full equal rights at the federal level. Both have plans for overhauling our decrepit health care system-Obama’s plan seems perhaps more plausible and economical, while Clinton’s plan seems more comprehensive and accessible. Both believe the war in Iraq needs to end, Obama says he never thought it should have happened, Clinton is caught up in voted for/voted against rhetoric. Neither candidate has presented any good, viable plan about actually accomplishing the goal of making Iraq a strong, independent nation without draining our coffers and our military even further past the breaking point.

On the surface, Clinton and Obama share a great deal in common on human rights, the war, the economy, healthcare, world politics and the environment. In fact, their differences seem largely a matter of semantics when it comes right down to the nitty gritty. Those semantics may actually come to mean a great deal when it comes down to dealing with passing legislation through Congress, but at this point in the process, I can’t define enough of a difference to support one over the other.

Nor am I swayed by Obama’s perceived eloquence and the comparison of his speeches to the likes of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. I have listened to the great speeches of both of those luminaries and frankly I find the comparisons weak at best-especially since both of them had a lifetime of verifiable action behind their words when they made them, which Obama cannot yet claim. Then again, I am equally unaffected by Clinton’s continued emphasis on her past experience in politics or her passionately expressed belief in her ability lead on the world stage. As for her history, most of it feels like just one gambit after another on her road to become the first female president with very little impressive action to back up her dream of getting there.

I am far more concerned about whether my mother will be able to pay her mortgage next month or whether I will be able to find adequate medical treatment if I fall ill than the nebulous idea of that 3 a.m. phone call both candidates have battled over in the press. The idea of another 9/11 certainly terrifies me, but I’d hope any reasonably competent person in the oval office can respond to such an emergency with the massive support system the president has behind them. It’s the day to day, complicated, convoluted running of a country without running it into the ground that is my primary worry.

Since I could find no positive ground to work from in their political platforms and campaign rhetoric, I looked for answers in their careers up to the point they decided to run for president.

First, let’s consider Obama. Frankly, I knew nothing at all about the Illinois Senator before he decided to run for the White House. Perhaps that is a lack on my part, but there are plenty of outstanding senators over the years who have never run for president that I am very well aware of. Primarily because they have been instrumental in the passage of legislation I supported, or they had spoken out publicly on controversial issues that I believed in. Obama sparks no memory of any action that put him in the public eye that I have cared about. Then again, he has only been a U.S. Senator since 2004, after failing to win a post in the House of Representatives in 2000.

Little in Obama’s history as a politician before entering the U.S. Congress inspires much of a strong reaction either way. He signed on to some generally Democratic-supported and socially acceptable legislation in the Illinois Senate. He made a few nice speeches, including a rather overly sentimental keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

The only thing that really sticks out is his repeated decision to vote “present” on legislation he didn’t quite feel was right or were “unconstitutional” as drafted. Not “no”, mind you, but “present”. In my opinion, not even choosing a side to vote on is not exactly earning your salary as an elected official. If you feel the legislation is not acceptable in the form it is presented or for God’s sake, “unconstitutional,” vote it down. Failing to be able to make a firm decision either way does not inspire confidence in your leadership abilities, regardless of the lengthy explanations given for why it happened.

Once elected to the U.S. congress, Obama’s political career seems to have followed much along the same generally acceptable lines. He certainly signed on to and supported legislation I agree with (such as limiting lobbyist gifts), but also signed on to some I totally disagree with (such as the Secure Fence Act to build a fence along the Mexico border).

On the Clinton side, honestly there is very little in her history as a politician (or politician’s wife) that stands out strongly in her favor either. As First Lady, she served in the role competently, especially in championing healthcare reform, and managed to avoid embarrassing herself too much in the midst of Bill’s indiscretions.

As a Senator, Clinton made mistakes (in my opinion) by supporting various misguided views of the Bush administration in the beginning, including voting for the Iraq War Resolution. However, she has since rescinded her support and has openly opposed the administration over healthcare, the economy, gay rights, education and the environment. Her voting record in general has been supportive of the overall Democratic platform, as has Obama’s, and her vote against the Federal Marriage Amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage was a warm moment. Again, however, there is nothing outstanding in her history that appears to give her a leg up over her Democratic rival Obama.

During Obama and Clinton’s shared time in Congress, their voting records have been generally similar, giving neither the real advantage over the other. Obama voted against an off-shore drilling expansion, Clinton voted for it. (Point to Obama.) Obama voted to allow Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to continue to hold down a second job while serving in Congress, Clinton voted against, saying Senators should not have a second source of income. (Point to Clinton.) Both voted against confirming Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. (Point for both.)

Back and forth, point here, point there. Obama missed 39% of his votes in the 110 Congress and Clinton missed 28% of her votes. (Point against both-that’s my tax money wasted on your salaries and fabulous health care packages.) Obama likes to slam Clinton over that vote for the Iraq War Resolution, but he wasn’t even in Congress at the time to have to make that decision based on the information available. As far as direct political action goes, it’s six of one, half dozen of the other.

Obama even said much the same himself in an interview with New Yorker Magazine, saying, “it’s not clear to me what differences we’ve had since I’ve been in the Senate.”

With their current political platforms and past political actions eerily similar, the only way I could possibly make a choice was to decide who lesser of two, well, career politicians. Sadly, since no discernable choice seems clear from their history actually working in government, the only route left is to consider both of them on that nebulous thing known as “character.”

Obama is still facing the fallout from his questionable real estate ties with Tony Rezko and has been less than forthcoming about the details of his dealings with him. Clinton, on the other hand, is a graduate of more financial scandals than you can shake a stick at and still has failed to release her tax returns from the past 8 years for public review with little good explanation.

Though only the barest of information about the inflammatory statements of Obama’s “former” pastor and family friend Rev. Jeremiah Wright were beginning to circulate before the Washington caucuses, it wasn’t hard to tell what kind of firestorm that issue was going to provoke. Yet, Clinton has been linked to her own set of religious zealots arguably as bad, if not worse, than Obama’s “former” pastor.

Both Obama and Clinton, personally and through supporters, have attacked each other vehemently and both of their campaigns have been scrutinized for questionable practices in the press and at the polls. Going through a list of nasty campaign tactics from both sides would take decades, but suffice to say that neither candidate has kept their nose clean in the battle for the White House.

When it came down to the final choice, with the voting register in hand at my caucus location in Seattle, I still had no clear decision about which candidate to choose. I thought, briefly, of simply declaring myself “undecided,” since that was in essence the truth. But before I put pen to paper, I decided to take one more walk around the polling station and just take a few moments to observe. Perhaps, if I could not make a choice based on the candidates themselves, I could find a reason to pick one based on their supporters.

What I saw was dejected, depressed and disorganized Clinton supporters wandering aimlessly and being eaten alive by Obama supporters. In Washington state, it was virtually a forgone conclusion that Obama would win in the caucuses, but the reality of what that meant was nearly shocking. Obama people were blockading the doors with bodies, shoving Obama sign-up sheets at every person who walked in-without explaining what the sheets were. Many people signed them thinking they were the voting registers and then ended up confused and bewildered when they found out they had not signed in properly.

The Clinton “helpers” numbered maybe 1 in 20 against Obama “helpers” and mostly were trying to help run the caucus in a non-biased way, directing people quietly to where they were supposed to sign up and keeping their posters and stickers away from the official registration areas. The Obama supporters ruthlessly took advantage of the lack of aggression from the Clinton supporters. Obama supporters stood behind the actual official registration desks and sign-up sheets with huge Obama signs plastered on the walls behind them, buttons and stickers spread out next to the sheets.

Clinton supporters, seeing all this propaganda, were even more confused because they thought the real sign-up sheets were just for Obama people. Later, after the caucuses began, some Clinton supporters found that they had never actually signed up on the correct, official voting registration sheets at all-largely due to the seemingly coordinated misdirecting tactics of the Obama supporters.

Watching the chaos flying all around, and seeing the pushiness and overwhelmingly rabid nature of the Obama supporters in action, I finally had a reason to make a choice. In the end, it all came down to a simple gut reaction. I did not want to be one of them-those wild-eyed, fast-talking, honestly scary Obama supporters stomping over everything in their path. I had at times been put off by the cult-like devotion of Obama supporters online and at rallies already, but to see it full-force at the polls actually frightened me. They say you can judge a man by his friends. In the case of a political candidate, perhaps you can judge them by their supporters. In that moment, right or wrong, that’s exactly what I did. I cast my vote for Clinton, not that it made any difference in the outcome.

As I sat in the caucus, waiting through the endless rounds of “Obama’s inspiration of millions” and “Clinton’s lifetime of experience,” I still did not know if I made the right choice. Actually, I still believe that perhaps there is no right choice between the two Democratic candidates. Cut from nearly the same mold, both on a historical path to the presidency, the real truth may simply be that there is no stellar reason to vote for either.

So in the end, maybe it honestly doesn’t matter which one I ended up voted for in the first round-as long as I do my part and vote for whoever ends up as the Democratic candidate on the national ballot in November.

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