Monday, January 21, 2008

Senator Clinton and "People Like Us"

In a recent conversation with my friends of generally liberal politics, who tend to support Barack Obama for president, I once again heard a phrase invoked to explain why Hillary Clinton is allegedly unelectable in the fall: "And if people like us don't vote for her...."

But all of this depends on who "people life us are." In my limited experience, people who say this to me are economically secure Democrats who would typically vote for liberal Democrats in the primaries. But what if Senator Clinton is really a moderate who appeals to more numerous Democratic centrists, including union members and party stalwarts?

In that case, the discomfort of liberal Democrats with the Clinton candidacy may not be a measurement of her unelectability. Instead, it is the discomfort of liberals in a party with a lot of centrists.

In truth, I think the domestic policy differences of Obama and Clinton are modest (although I'm convinced by Paul Krugman that her health plan is better.) Internationally, he would present a fresh face to the world and has a better record on Iraq and Iran.

So far, the primaries have revealed both Democratic front runners to be strong candidates. That's good for the Democrats, who in any case need a "big tent" strategy to win in November.

But as I've said before, it is best for citizens, candidates and reporters to concentrate their questions on how the candidates would govern--not their supposed electability.

At best, discussions of electability are a fuzzy distraction from examining what candidates really plan to do. At worst, they just lift criticisms from the Republican playbook.

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