The Differences Between Obama and Clinton

The conventional wisdom regarding the Democratic primary campaign is that there is very little difference between Obama and Clinton on the issues, and the differences come down to matters of style and feelings about change. As is so commonly the case, the conventional wisdom is totally wrong. There is a tremendous difference between the two, which explains why so many people say they will vote for Obama in November, but not Clinton.

Hillary Clinton is a self-described government junkie who sees more and bigger government programs as the solution for all problems. Barack Obama is a liberal and his goals overlap with Clinton’s on issues such as expanding health care. However when the specifics are reviewed, on issue after issue it is Obama who takes the side of freedom and justice while Clinton falls on the opposing side.

On foreign policy the most obvious difference is over Iraq. No matter how Clinton supporters try to distort the issue, the simple fact is that Obama opposed the war from the start and Clinton supported it. Clinton appears ready to make the same mistake on Iran with her vote for Kyl-Lieberman. Clinton frequently repeats the neocon line connecting the Iraq war with 9/11 and tries to use fear of terrorism to obtain votes.

There are differences in foreign policy in less high profile areas. David Rees compares the views of the two on cluster bombs in civilian areas:

Over 150 nations have signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. It pains me that our great nation has not. But in the autumn of 2006, there was a chance to take a step in the right direction: Senate Amendment No. 4882, an amendment to a Pentagon appropriations bill that would have banned the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas.

Senator Obama of Illinois voted IN FAVOR of the ban.

Senator Clinton of New York voted AGAINST the ban.

Once again, Barack Obama takes the side of justice, while Hillary Clinton takes the opposing side.

Besides the disastrous war in Iraq, we have a foolish war here at home as the war on drugs has been a terrible failure. While Obama has shown signs of willingness to change US policy, Hillary Clinton is as much a hawk on the war on drugs as she is on foreign policy. For example, Barack Obama has supported needle exchange programs while Hillary Clinton has been opposed.

Hillary Clinton has a well-deserved reputation for being a supporter of the nanny state. Hillary Clinton wants to use the power of government to protect us against all sorts of dangers. This includes the dangers from cartoon sex and video games. Hillary Clinton has even introduced legislation to ban flag burning.

After George Bush, it is important to have a president who will scale back the increases in presidential power. While Obama’s experience as a professor of Constitutional law will be valuable here, Clinton has been a backer of executive privilege. When the Boston Globe surveyed the candidates on their views of presidential power they found, “Clinton, a veteran of congressional investigations of her husband’s administration during the 1990’s, embraced a stronger view of a president’s power to use executive privilege to keep information secret from Congress than some rivals.” While Hillary Clinton cites her experience as First Lady as reason to vote for her, she is keeping the records of her activities as First Lady a secret until at least 2009.

The Washington Post compared the candidates on ethics reform, finding that, “On this issue, Obama leads the pack.” When Obama pushed ethics legislation, Clinton was opposed. Once again, Obama is on the side of justice as well as change, but Hillary Clinton is opposed.

Both Clinton and Obama have plans to make health care more affordable, but Clinton’s plan is centered around achieving universal coverage by forcing you to join her plan. Obama has taken on the challenge of developing a health care plan which most people will find of value, and if they don’t like it they don’t have to join. Here Obama shows both a respect for freedom and the courage of his convictions in needing to have a plan which people will voluntarily participate in. Plus Obama’s plan won’t have to waste money better spent for health care on new government bureaucracy to enforce Clinton’s mandates.

These differences on health care are just one example of their considerable differences on economic issues. The Guardian explained:

Obama’s preference for reducing healthcare costs while preserving the freedom to choose whether or not to participate in the healthcare system, as against Clinton’s (and Edwards’s) insistence on mandating participation, is not a one-off discrepancy without broader implications. Rather, Obama’s language of personal choice and incentive is a reflection of the ideas of his lead economic advisor, Austin Goolsbee, a behavioural economist at the University of Chicago, who agrees with the liberal consensus on the need to address concerns such as income inequality, disparate educational opportunities and, of course, disparate access to healthcare, but breaks sharply from liberal orthodoxy on both the causes of these social ills and the optimal strategy for ameliorating them…

Similarly, while Obama’s support of immigration and immigrants undoubtedly derives in part from straightforward internationalism and humanitarianism – Obama’s lead foreign policy advisor is Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell, under whose guidance Obama has directed far more attention to the Darfur genocide than any other candidate – it’s likely that part of Obama’s embrace of immigration stems from a Goolsbeean view of free movement of labour as inextricable from and essential to a free global market.

Perhaps it goes without saying that Obama’s belief in freedom in labour markets and freedom in capital markets, sets him apart from the Republican field as well as the Democrats. Under ordinary circumstances, one would expect Republicans at least to respect free trade, but alas, they are inconsistent at best. As for freedom in immigration, even in politically propitious times, the modern GOP makes tactical concessions toward its xenophobic wing; in this season of famine, the Republican candidates, even those who have supported immigration in the past, have set up their nominating contest as a race to see who can take the most thuggish and contemptuous possible attitude toward Mexicans (the euphemism for this posture is “out-Tancredo-ing Tancredo”)…

In other words and in short, Obama’s slogan, “stand for change”, is not a vacuous message of uplift, but a content-laden token of dissent from the old-style liberal orthodoxy on which Clinton and Edwards have been campaigning. At the same time, Obama is not offering a retread of (Bill) Clintonism, Liebermanism, triangulation, neoliberalism, the Third Way or whatever we might wish to call the business-friendly centrism of the 1990s. For all its lofty talk of new paradigms and boundary shifting, the Third Way in practice amounted to taking a little of column A, a little of column B, and marketing the result as something new and innovative. Obama and Goolsbee propose something entirely different – not a triangulation, but a basis for crafting public policy orthogonal to the traditional liberal-conservative axis.

If this approach needs a name, call it left-libertarianism. Advancements in behavioural economics, public and rational choice theory, and game theory provide us with an opportunity to attend to inequality without crippling the economy, enhancing the coercive power of the state, or infringing on personal liberty (at least not to any extent greater than the welfare state already does; and as much as my libertarian friends might wish otherwise, the welfare state isn’t going anywhere). The cost – higher marginal tax rates – is real, but eminently justified by the benefits.

This helps explain how Obama can appeal to liberals, independents, and even some conservatives and libertarians. Those who try to figure out whether Obama is more or less liberal than Hillary Clinton are missing the point. As the above selection explains, Obama’s views are something entirely different, orthogonal to the simplistic liberal-conservative linear spectrum. Andrew Sullivan has made similar observations about Obama:

He is not a traditional top-down big government liberal. He’s a pragmatist who believes in finding ways to empower people to run their own lives. No, he’s no libertarian. But his view of government’s role has absorbed some of the right-wing critiques of the 1970s and 1980s. Hence the lack of mandates in his healthcare proposal and his refusal to engage in racial victimology. This nuance is worth exploring. Unlike Hillary, he doesn’t believe he is going to save anyone. He thinks he has a chance to help some people save themselves.

It is understandable that many supporters of out-dated, big government, tax and spend liberalism who prefer Hillary Clinton do not understand or support Obama. Paul Krugman will continue to write his columns attacking Obama for using “conservative frames” and continue to totally misunderstand what Obama is all about. Those who accept his arguments fail to understand that freedom is not a conservative frame–it is a fundamental liberal value.

In contrast, those who wish to combine traditional liberal values of liberty and justice with progressive economic ideals find in Obama a candidate who can develop ways to achieve the goals of the left while respecting the legitimate objections of those on the right. This is the solution we need to beat the Republicans who have attempted to govern with 50% plus one as well as those Democrats who believe they can do the same by electing Clinton. Obama’s calls for change is not an empty slogan, but a path to move away from this type of hyper-partisanship and polarization. With Clinton we will continue to be divided by the red/blue state map. Even many Democrats who do not see a major difference between the candidates as I do are realizing that a candidate like Obama who can appeal to those beyond core Democrats can produce strong coattails in November and build a new Democratic majority that can accomplish change.

Polls Remain Close Prior To Super Tuesday But Obama Winning Kennedy Primary


Today’s Gallup Tracking Poll shows Clinton increasing to a four point lead from yesterday. The overall trend remains the same with Obama coming from far behind to being either tied or slightly behind. Other national polls show similar results. In addition to the other polls I’ve mentioned recently, a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll has Obama at 49% and Clinton at 46%, which is within the polls 4.5% margin of error. CNN combines all the polls to find:

The poll is consistent with other national surveys during the past few days. A CNN averaging of five national polls conducted in the last few days — a “poll of polls” — puts Clinton at 45 percent and Obama at 43 percent. Those five surveys were done by CNN/Opinion Research Corp., Gallup, Pew, ABC and CBS.

While close at present, Obama does have the momentum in his favor:

“Coming out of his overwhelming victory in South Carolina and followed quickly by his Kennedy family endorsements, Obama clearly has the momentum in this campaign,” said Bill Schneider, CNN’s senior political analyst.

Obama has won support from Sen. Edward Kennedy and his nieces Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and Maria Shriver, although Clinton has endorsements from former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the daughter of Robert Kennedy, and her brother Bobby Kennedy and sister Kerry.

One question remaining going into Super Tuesday is how representative this poll is of the states having primaries and of the people who will actually turn out to vote. Even if these national polls were also representative of tomorrow’s voters, the distribution of the vote would make quite a difference. Each will undoubtedly win in certain states. Even the geographic distribution of votes could make a significant difference in how the delegates are awarded. Marc Ambinder reviews some of the complexities leading to the awarding of delegates. So far Clinton “won” New Hampshire and Nevada, but Obama will probably wind up with more delegates. Similarly it is possible that the candidate who gets the most votes tomorrow might not be the one who receives the most delegates as it often comes down to winning the most Congressional districts.

What this all comes down to is that we have tons of polls but no good idea of what will really happen tomorrow. It appears unlikely that either candidate will really run away with a huge victory, but they could come out close or with either of the candidates receiving a possibly game changing advantage.

As noted above, Obama has taken the lead in the battle for the Kennedys, adding the endorsements of Ethel Kennedy as well as Maria Shriver:

Shriver told the crowded gym that she had not intended to be at the rally, and had come straight over after going horse riding with her daughter. She joked about her appearance — riding clothes, sans makeup and without having her hair done — as she added her pitch for Obama.

“If Barack Obama was a state he’d be California,” Shriver said, drawing roars from the crowd. “I mean think about it: diverse, open, smart, independent, oppose tradition, innovative, inspiring, dreamer, leader.”

And she touched on the themes of optimism and collective action that Obama has sought to build his campaign around.

“He’s not about himself. He’s about the power of us and what we can do if we come together,” Shriver said. “He is about empowering women, African Americans, Latinos, old people, young people. He’s about empowering all of us.”

Crying on Schedule?

Hillary Clinton has made crying the topic of the day once again. The Swamp reports:

Sen. Hillary Clinton teared up this morning at an event at the Yale Child Study Center, where she worked while in law school in the early 1970s.

Penn Rhodeen, who was introducing Clinton, began to choke up, leading Clinton’s eyes to fill with tears, which she wiped out of her left eye. At the time, Rhodeen was saying how proud he was that the sheepskin-coat, bell-bottom-wearing young woman he met in 1972 was now running for president.

“Well, I said I would not tear up; already we’re not exactly on the path,” Clinton said with emotion after the introduction.

Maybe it was a natural reaction to the person introducing her choking up. Maybe it is just part of the plan for today. I did feel sympathy for Clinton when the media made a big deal of her tearing up before the New Hampshire primary. Subsequently I found that the woman who asked the question which caused the tears was skeptical and voted for Obama. Clinton was trailing in the polls going into the New Hampshire primary and her crying might have caused her last minute surge. Today, the day before Super Tuesday, Clinton is once again running into trouble in the polls.

There will be plenty of speculation as to whether the tears are real or are a calculated move to try to improve her vote by using what worked once before. The latest polling results certainly could be enough to make her cry for real. Rather than worrying about whether we should vote for her or against her because either this shows she is human or because she is calculating I suggest we stick to the more important issues. There are plenty of reasons to vote against Clinton because of the poor judgment she has made in public life, from her support of the Iraq war to HillaryCare. There’s also good reason to vote against her because of the lack of integrity she has shown while campaigning. These are more important factors to base a vote on than her crying.

The crying wasn’t the only outburst from Clinton which might affect the vote. Clinton might have lost Massachusetts after this one:

Told that Mr. Obama was supporting the Patriots – the home team of his supporters Edward M. Kennedy, John Kerry, and Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Mrs. Clinton grinned and said, “Hm, I wonder why.”

And reminded that she had two campaign stops in Massachusetts on Monday, she joked: “They can redeem themselves on Tuesday – they can vote for a winner.”

Clinton, Obama, Krugman, and Free Choice

Paul Krugman continues his vendetta against Barack Obama’s health care plan due to its lack of mandates. The consequence of lacking mandates is unclear as nobody knows for sure how many people would still go without insurance if it was affordable but voluntary, and nobody really knows for sure how many people would remain uninsured despite mandates. It does seem reasonable to assume that achieving near one hundred percent compliance with a mandate would require yet another new bureaucracy and the expenditure of funds which might better be used for actual health care.

There are a variety of views as to whose plan would really insure more people. Robert Reich has argued that more people would wind up being covered under Obama’s plan than Clinton’s. Krugman searches for the analysis which best fits his preconceptions and has now found a study by health care economist Jonathan Gruber:

Mr. Gruber finds that a plan without mandates, broadly resembling the Obama plan, would cover 23 million of those currently uninsured, at a taxpayer cost of $102 billion per year. An otherwise identical plan with mandates would cover 45 million of the uninsured — essentially everyone — at a taxpayer cost of $124 billion. Over all, the Obama-type plan would cost $4,400 per newly insured person, the Clinton-type plan only $2,700.

Grubner might be right, but so might Reich. Personally I suspect the truth is somewhere in between. Other health care experts are also fed up with this bickering over mandates. Considering human nature I do find it hard to believe that a mandate will cover essentially everyone without significant additional expenditures for enforcement. The number left uninsured by Obama’s is also greatly exaggerated compared to what others such as Reich believe will be the case.

There’s also a problem with the manner in which Krugman plays with the numbers to come up with what on the surface looks like an impressive difference when comparing $4,400 versus $2,700, falsely giving the impression that Clinton’s plan is some sort of bargain. If you ignore his creativity in using math, the real numbers here are that Obama’s plan would offer health care to everyone who desires to participate at a savings of $22 billion compared to Clinton’s plan. Providing affordable health care to all those who desire it but are unable to obtain it should be the real goal.

Using mandates to achieve universal coverage seems like quite a cop out to me. Regardless of whether the plan is good or the plan stinks, universal coverage is achieved because the government forces you to join up. In contrast Obama takes on the challenge of offering a plan so good that virtually everyone will want to participate to receive health coverage. There is also a clear philosophical difference here in that Obama isn’t obsessed with having every single person sign up. In contrast, a self-proclaimed government junkie like Hillary Clinton just can not live with the fact that somewhere, someone decides they do not want her help. Clinton will help them whether they want her to or not.

I know Clinton supporters will scream that I’m using right wing frames here, but again I must point out that freedom and choice should be considered virtues, not right wing frames. Liberty is what liberalism is ultimately all about, which explains whey Clinton prefers to label herself a progressive and not a liberal.

Some on the far left claim that Democrats lose when these alleged right wing frames about freedom are employed. They got it all wrong. Democrats lose when they concede traditional liberal values such as liberty to the right. If an election is framed so that one side is allowed to be defined as the party of freedom, that party will win virtually every time. Democrats have lost so many elections not because of using right wing frames, but because of conceding values such as freedom to conservatives, even though conservatives talk about freedom without really supporting it.

Krugman falls into this trap when he concludes:

If you combine the economic analysis with these political realities, here’s what I think it says: If Mrs. Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, there is some chance — nobody knows how big — that we’ll get universal health care in the next administration. If Mr. Obama gets the nomination, it just won’t happen.

The real political reality is that if you define health care reform as an intrusive government program, Americans will not go for it. If you offer a voluntary program which Americans find beneficial, then health care reform has a chance.

Update: Mandates are once again an issue with blogs from left and right linking to this post in September 2009.