Saturday, February 02, 2008

This Hispanic voter is not for Hillary

I'm disturbed by the assumption that Hillary Clinton has the Latino vote in her back pocket. I'm disturbed by the media assertion that there's tension between black and Latino voters. I'm disturbed by Sergio Bendixen's statement that "The Hispanic voter -- and I want to say this very carefully -- has not shown a lot of willingness to support black candidates." Who is the media talking about when it says that Hispanics support Hillary Clinton?

I spent part of my afternoon volunteering at the Chicago headquarters for Barack Obama's campaign. I am not a part of this monolithic block of Hispanic voters that is supporting Clinton. I don't believe there really is a monolithic block of Hispanic voters supporting Clinton.

I watched the debate on Thursday night and I saw that Clinton has all the details worked out and she does an excellent job of explaining her plans and displaying what a good president she would be. I've read the criticism that Obama doesn't answer policy questions with as many details as he should and sometimes it's hard to really know what he's going to do once he's in office. I've read the criticism that he's mostly good packaging with less substance than Clinton has. I can't deny that Clinton would be a great president with a lot of the answers and she deserves all the support she's getting.

In fact, as I listened to Obama and Clinton on Thursday night, I liked Hillary more and more. I realized that either one would make a great president and I totally understand why many Democrats are undecided. These two candidates don't differ a lot in their stands on the issues. They differ mainly in -- what shall I call it? This is how Caroline Kennedy put it in her op-ed piece, "A President Like My Father" :

Most of us would prefer to base our voting decision on policy differences. However, the candidates’ goals are similar. They have all laid out detailed plans on everything from strengthening our middle class to investing in early childhood education. So qualities of leadership, character and judgment play a larger role than usual.

Senator Obama has demonstrated these qualities throughout his more than two decades of public service, not just in the United States Senate but in Illinois, where he helped turn around struggling communities, taught constitutional law and was an elected state official for eight years. And Senator Obama is showing the same qualities today. He has built a movement that is changing the face of politics in this country, and he has demonstrated a special gift for inspiring young people — known for a willingness to volunteer, but an aversion to politics — to become engaged in the political process.

Obama and Clinton are both excellent candidates for president, but I don't think we can ignore the way Obama has mobilized the Democratic vote. He has people talking about politics who have never talked about politics before. He has inspired debate between neighbors, family members, roommates, couples, and so many others who had never felt the motivation to discuss their political beliefs. People are talking and all kinds of things are coming up, not the least of which is how much they believe that Barack Obama is the new blood that Washington needs and the person of true vision who will lead this country in a very different direction than it has gone in decades.

I greatly dislike hearing people say they're voting for Obama because how can they not support the first black man to really have a shot at the White House? I hate hearing people say they're voting for Clinton because it's time to let a woman be president. And I hate that these are often the same people who abhor racism and sexism, who condemn treating someone in a certain way just because of their race or their gender.

Obama is not his skin color and Clinton is not her double X chromosome. They are two outstanding candidates for president, either of which will lead us away from the tragedy that was the Bush presidency. But our country is desperately in need of healing the partisan divisions in which we've been increasingly mired ever since George W. didn't win the 2000 election. We need a leader who will not alienate an entire political party, who doesn't see the country in terms of red and blue, who has demonstrated the ability to work productively with Democrats and Republicans.

Barack Obama has a strong record of building bipartisan coalitions that are capable of moving forward an agenda. He makes friends with people determined to dislike him. He forges alliances so that when it's time to work together, people work together. This is one of his greatest strengths as a politician and it is exactly what this country needs after eight years of resentment and vilification, anger and loss of hope.

If Hillary Clinton achieves the Democratic nomination for president, I will certainly understand why. She's qualified and she deserves it. But what this country needs much more than a good president is one who will also help us heal as a people, allow us to hope again and re-imagine ourselves as the country we've been wanting to be. I just think Barack Obama is best one to do that.

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