Clinton v. Obama Slugfest

By Kollengode S Venkataraman (Published in July 2008)

Barack Obama’s political instincts were right on target, even though the odds were heavily against him. Here was an inter-racial black candidate with strange first and last names, and a middle name rightwing commentators exploited to sow the seeds of suspicion.  Besides, he was a rookie in national politics as a first-term senator from Illinois. Yet, he had the gumption to seek the Democratic nomination for the presidency competing against veteran senators Chris Dodd, Joseph Biden, and ex V.P. candidate John Edwards, among others. And then there was ex-First Lady Senator Hillary Clinton, who, with the Clinton machine’s backing, was all set to stroll towards her coronation.

But Obama’s credentials were impeccable: Degrees from Columbia and Harvard, editor of Harvard Law Review, and good oratorical and political skills. With all others dropping out, it boiled down to a long slugfest between Hillary and Barack. 

While Barack stayed on his nebulous message on the need for change, hope, and optimism (Yes, We Can), Hillary resembled a Matryoshka nesting doll. Nested inside the outermost doll were other dolls—sometimes grotesque, sometimes fantastic, but always becoming smaller. She was the Experienced One ready to take charge on Day 1 with that emergency call at 3:00 am wearing her finest pearls shown in the TV ad. She was a Southern Belle in Texas before she re-discovered her roots in Pennsylvania. Then downing shots of whiskey, she was the champion of the working-class. A local labor leader in Indiana, introducing Hillary to his audience, admired her “testicular fortitude.”

She fudged facts on her landing in Bosnia in the midst of sniper fire. Employing coded words of racism, she and her husband Bill Clinton  talked on the support they have from “hard-working white Americans” and “whites who had not completed college.” It was a low-point in her campaign, given that Mr. Clinton, as president, had excellent rapport with blacks. But all is fair in war because only winning matters.  

And when all else failed, she tried victimhood. Blaming the media for its misogyny, she appealed to the anger of older, mostly white women. This was ironic since all of her gains in public life are on account of she being the acquiescing wife of an ambitious, successful, and philanderingpolitician – anathema to feminists.  She exploited her celebrity as the ex-First Lady to get elected to the US Senate from New York.

Meanwhile, Obama too had a few missteps. Though indecisive at first, he distanced himself and eventually divorced himself from the vitriolic Rev. Wright. Obama’s intellectual vigor was well evident in a brilliant speech in Philadelphia on race relations that will enter the annals of American social discourse.

Like the inner Matryoshka dolls becoming smaller inside, Hillary’s stature diminished as she changed tactics for getting the nomination at any cost. Finally, she was the fodder for late-night comedy shows.

Ultimately as the pundits predicted months ago, the delegates math favored Obama, and reluctantly Hillary Clinton conceded on June 6. 

The November election will be a good fight. The issues are stark, and McCain and Obama stand in sharp relief both physically, and also philosophically. Even with an unpopular GOP president, wars on two fronts with no end in sight, and an uncertain economy, the outcome of November election is unpredictable given the unknowables of the race factor in US presidential elections. We are on unchartered water here.

Still in the midst of all this, history is already made. From July 4, 1776 to the Democrats nominating Barak Obama in August 2008, it was a long, and sometimes painful, but in the end, always an exhilarating journey for the nation.  ––  (July 2008) END


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