Unity for Sure, but Let's Talk Issues


As the Observer went to press, approximately 15,000 energized Democrats had gathered in Austin for their state convention, more than doubling the number at the Fort Worth convention two years ago. Most delegates had never participated before. We spoke to longtime voters at the convention who never even knew that Texas had a caucus system until this year.

The watchword for the event was “unity.” Democrats desperately need to heal the divisions between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. To this end, nearly every speaker at the convention, from Dallas state Sen. Royce West to Chelsea Clinton, urged the crowd to put their differences aside and direct their passion toward winning in November. West, in a we-are-the-world moment, even had Clinton and Obama supporters join hands as he shouted “Yes we can” in Spanish.

Elected officials who spoke usually made the point that Bush has left the country in such a mess that we cannot afford our disagreements. These officials understand the impact of public policy and the importance of this election as well as anyone. Nonetheless, ill will clearly lingered. To their credit, Clinton supporters seem to be blaming the media more than Obama for a skewed treatment of their candidate. They shouldn’t be surprised. Too much of the primary coverage dealt with symbols and personality rather than substance.

From a policy standpoint, the two candidates were nearly identical. Their most significant policy disagreement centered on who was most committed to universal health care-a rather absurd point of dispute to those of us living in Texas, where one in four people is uninsured and our state officials do little about it.

Reporters covering the primary campaign were mostly freed from the trifling details of policy and could instead toy with the campaign catnip: the candidates’ strategy, rhetoric, style, personality and-most fun of all-gaffes. As Elizabeth Edwards asked in a recent New York Times op-ed, how many of you knew anything about Joe Biden’s health care plan? But you probably know Obama’s bowling score.

The primary fight often felt like a battle not between two campaigns, but two cults of personality.

In the general election, we must all struggle to prevent the mainstream media from driving the narrative. If they do, McCain will be presented as a maverick independent, and Obama as an elitist with an angry pastor. Neither image is true, but both are easy to spin.

As our dear, departed Molly Ivins used to say, to know what a candidate will do in office, simply look at the record.

So we did: Obama has endorsed universal health care; McCain supports a version of the president’s plan for health savings accounts. Obama wants tighter regulation of Wall Street firms; McCain has called for more market-based approaches. Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq during his first 18 months in office; McCain favors leaving forces in Iraq until “victory,” whatever that is, is achieved. And Obama has a long pro-choice voting record. He worked to defeat the South Dakota abortion ban in 2006 and has been endorsed by NARAL-Pro Choice America. McCain has called for the repeal of Roe v. Wade, has voted against family planning funds, and has told leaders of the religious right that he will appoint justices to the Supreme Court in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia.

There are many more differences: the war on terror, torture, wiretaps, global warming. When people vote based on personality, we can just as easily get George W. Bush as John F. Kennedy. All we can really know is the record. Let’s demand that the media stick to that in the fall.