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A Citizen Perspective On Obama & Clinton

By Susan Bernick


Updated February 13, 2008
This first-person report is from Washington State, which held its Democratic caucus on Saturday 9 February. Hillary Clinton held a rally in Seattle on Thursday and Barack Obama held one on Friday.

I attended both the Clinton rally on Thursday night at Pier 30 and the Obama rally on Friday at Key Arena.

Impressions: I was more favorably impressed by Clinton than I thought I was going to be. She was measured, and smart, seemed genuinely glad to be speaking to the crowd (machinists, teachers and AFSCME were the centerpieces of the audience). It was impossible to see as we were all standing on the floor at Pier 30, which is/was, so far as I could tell, an airplane hanger. There were 5000 people there, with many turned away and many who realized how far away they would have to park who never even tried to get in.

There were a few pointed barbs at Bush, but the majority of her speech was positive with a focus on how we need to retool the economy for a green technology revolution and how Washington was uniquely situated to lead. She had the names and details of a number of local companies that are doing new, cool, cutting edge things on a list she barely looked at. She was passionate when talking about health care; you can tell that health care and education are the two issues closest to her heart. She spoke of a return to federal funding of student loans (at reasonable interest rates) and public service as a way of discharging some or all of that debt.

She was entirely credible on national security and diplomacy, insisting that troop withdrawals would require at least 60 days to begin because "I don't trust the planning done by the Bush administration." One of the best moments was when she talked about veterans, and how much we owe the men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have "done everything that has been asked of them" with honor, and duty, and responsibility. "We owe that to the remaining veterans of the Greatest Generation, too, and we owe that maybe most of all to the veterans of my generation, because the Vietnam veterans came home to nothing at all."

I was inclined to find her scripted and a bit rigid and she was neither. There was a bit of an edge to her earnestness, and I think that's because she knows how much Washington matters and she knows she doesn't do well in caucus (as opposed to primary) states.

There were 19K+ folks at Key Arena Friday morning. 3000 turned away. It's a bit hard to make direct comparisons as the venues and size of the crowds were so different. With respect to bread-and-butter Democratic policies and positions, Obama and Clinton are indistinguishable. They both support and spoke about a fix for the health care system. Obama, "we need to focus on prevention; we need a health care system, not a disease care system." They both talked at some length about education, including scrapping No Child Left Behind. SEIU was the union in the house and they sat together filling up one of the twenty lower-deck sections of the arena.

He is easier on his feet and easier in front of a crowd. Easier in his body, too. I've been troubled by his insistence on unity and working together when the other side has repudiated international law abroad and flaunted the Constitution at home. I'm less worried about this now -- he's talking about people working together, not politicians working together and that difference matters. His Bush-barbs were more frequent and sharper than Clinton's. Surprisingly, only Obama mentioned queer folk as part of the American family. The inclusion got a roar of approval and he reacted with some surprise at the response. That's the difference between being forty-something and sixty.

Read the Conclusion On Page 2

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