An election about nothing?
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images One of the quirks of this year’s U.S. election cycle, at least among Democrats, is that it has been almost devoid of sharp ideological debates, even as the candidates have spent hours and hours hitting their talking points and explaining their plans to voters. The two major Democratic contenders have drawn their ...
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
One of the quirks of this year’s U.S. election cycle, at least among Democrats, is that it has been almost devoid of sharp ideological debates, even as the candidates have spent hours and hours hitting their talking points and explaining their plans to voters.
The two major Democratic contenders have drawn their clearest contrasts on their personalities and resumes—not the issues. Obama has tried to make the race about “the past versus the future,” while Clinton has hammered home the idea that she has “35 years of experience” and will be “ready on Day One.” And the voters get it. They understand that the race is a glorified personality contest:
On the Democratic side, “there is no correlation in the exit polls so far between the issues people think are important and the candidates they vote for,” says Andrew Kohut, who conducts polling for the Pew Research Center. “It’s about the qualities of the person.”
The truth is, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton agree far more than they disagree, even when it comes to foreign policy. Yes, Obama opposed the war in Iraq and Clinton voted to authorize it. But she’s moved in his direction, and now gets her biggest applause lines when she calls for bringing the troops home. Yes, Obama once said offhandedly that the United States ought to be “more evenhanded” in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute—a line that raises suspicions among hard-core supporters of Israel—whereas Clinton positioned herself to even President Bush’s right by saying that Israel should keep Jerusalem in any peace deal. But again, Obama’s moved in her direction and fought hard to quell doubts about him among Jewish voters. Clinton would ask Pervez Musharaf for permission to strike terrorist targets on Pakistani soil; Obama said he would be ready to act, if necessary, without Musharraf’s blessing. Obama would negotiate with Iran and Syria without preconditions, while Hillary would be more choosy about doing so.
These are all relatively minor, manufactured differences (though there is definitely some tension between the two campaigns’ foreign-policy advisors). In the general election, however, we are going to see a deep divide between the eventual Republican and the Democratic nominee on big issues—Iraq, terrorism, taxes, and healthcare, to name a few. So, I wouldn’t expect the race to be about nothing for long. If it’s issues you want, issues you’ll get.
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