Bring On the Hair Splitting

The Washington Post has an article noting that in the last Congress, Obama and Clinton voted together 90% of the time. So, naturally, one should assume that being a bastion of objectivity and rationality, the paper would write about the two Senators’ political similarities, right?

Wrong. The headline is, “Clinton-Obama Differences Clear in Senate Votes.” Shailagh Murray even kindly supplies each candidate the material to base the attack ads on.

The two front-runners for the 2008 Democratic nomination are newcomers to the chamber. But in the two years that Clinton and Obama have overlapped, they have taken opposite sides at least 40 times. That’s a lot of material to mine, and even misrepresent.


In corn-growing Iowa, the first stop in the presidential nominating process, Clinton will have to explain the ethanol vote she cast on June 15, 2005. The senator recently softened her stance, but she is on record opposing a large federal boost for the grain-based fuel.

And Obama voted to increase taxes when he opposed a package of business breaks that included the extension of middle-class provisions. Clinton voted for the tax bill — before she voted against it, as did Obama, in the legislation’s final form.

Of course, reading between the lines reveals the exact conclusion the article should have led with in the first place: Clinton and Obama are basically the same middling candidate, but one has charisma while the other has money (unfortunately for Obama, Edwards has even more charisma and the ability to pretend to be experienced).

The one thing I’ve learned from this is that Clinton voted against an agricultural subsidy. The bad thing is that she started softening her position not just because of the Iowa caucuses a year from now, but also because New York State’s first ethanol plant opened earlier this year. It’s nice she won’t spend New York City’s money to subsidize an inefficient fuel in Iowa, but when she will spend its money to subsidize the same fuel in Buffalo, it’s worrying. It indicates she has a very narrow sense of her constituents’ wishes, as well as that she’s running for Senate reelection in a navy blue state.

According to the article, the key issues the candidates differ on are,

– Ethanol subsidies (sort of)
– Expanding oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico
– Pork belly funding for a Pentagon travel system and a railway line along the Gulf Coast
– Funding for propaganda broadcasting aimed at Cuba, which the Cuban government blocks
– The legality of confiscating legally held guns during national emergencies
– Permitting Senators to practice medicine on a non-profit basis
– Restructuring FEMA
– Tightening lobbyist rules

The last two some voters might actually care about, so of course Murray burys them right at the end of the article. Readers can get to them only after wading through issues that not even the We’ll Make the Trains Run on Time people give a damn about.

The race would’ve been a lot more fun with Feingold in it. Then it could be about boring issues like civil liberties and how to provide universal health care. Even Warner, who actually is a competent technocrat rather than just someone who plays one on TV, spiced up the race. For one, he helped keep Clinton out, which is always good.


One Response to Bring On the Hair Splitting

  1. SLC says:

    Actually, the lesson to be learned from this article is the reason why Governors make better presidential candidates then senators. Its because they don’t have voting records to defend and thus present fewer targets for attack ads. In particular, consider the issue of ethanol. This is, of course, supported by senators and representatives from states like Iowa because it is a growing industry there. As was pointed out, when it suddenly became a growing industry in New York State, Hilary altered her previous negative position on the issue. Whats’ going on here is very simple. Senators and representatives are elected to support the interests of their states and districts. That’s how they get reelected. Does anyone seriously think that a representative or senator from Iowa could get reelected if he/she opposed ethanlo subsides?

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