Monday, February 04, 2008

Fisher endorses Clinton

Dear friends and family,

Please excuse the lengthy mass email, but I want to explain to you all why I've decided to vote for Hillary Clinton in next week's primary.  This hasn't been an easy choice for me, and I still feel some ambivalence about it, but I think she is the best person both to get the Democratic party back in the White House and—more importantly in my opinion—to lead the country after the election is finally over.


There have been a lot of comparisons made lately between Barack Obama and JFK—both of them have the power to move crowds and inspire.  But I was born too late to remember JFK personally.  The closest parallel that occurs to me, of a charismatic politician elected despite a relatively shallow political resume, with the rationale that he would hire good advisers and get the important tasks accomplished through the power of his attractive personality and will, was George W. Bush.  The Bush years have made me profoundly anxious about the idea of electing another president with this same profile.   I feel much more comfortable with Hillary Clinton, a politician whom I trust to go about things in a methodical, pragmatic, realistic way. 

One thing some people dislike about her is exactly this willingness to be pragmatic.  They say she is too calculating, and this supposedly indicates a lack of genuineness.  But I feel very strongly that this country does not need more leaders who, due to their "spiritual clarity", stick with their convictions come hell or high water, despite the shifting and indefinite nature of external reality.  We need politicians who can deal with that reality, who are capable of introspection and re-calculation when they see their strategies failing.  Hillary Clinton has demonstrated she has this capability.


I've heard some people arguing—and read quite frequently in the press—that Obama would have an advantage in a general election in terms of electability.  But poll numbers indicate otherwise.  At the site RealClearPolitics, which publishes aggregate results of multiple polls, in recent head-to-head matchups between Obama vs. McCain, and Clinton vs. McCain, Obama and Clinton come out with almost identical results (McCain beats Clinton by 1.8% and McCain beats Obama by 1.5%).  These numbers are available at:  

There is also the idea out there that people either love Hillary or hate her, and that therefore people who are not supporting her must hate her—they say "Hillary is nobody's second choice."  But CNN exit polls argue against Hillary being much more hated than Obama.  In Florida (which Hillary won), 80% of Democratic voters would be very satisfied or somewhat satisfied if Hillary got the nomination.  Only 70% of Democratic voters would be satisfied if Obama got it (  In South Carolina (the only election which Obama has won so far), 77% of Democratic voters would be satisfied with Hillary, and 83% would be satisfied with Obama (  Neither of these differences are large enough to justify a storyline of overwhelming hatred against Hillary. 

Healthcare Policy

I will mention one specific policy on which Clinton differs significantly from Barack Obama.  Both candidates support government programs to expand health coverage to more people.  But Obama's plan does not make coverage mandatory to all adults.  He says he wants to give people "choice", but that he believes that everyone, including healthy young adults, will want health coverage.  Clinton's plan, on the other hand, makes coverage mandatory for all.  This is an extremely important distinction. 

Insurance as an economic model only works and is profitable—or, in the case of non-profit insurance, does not lose money—because it can count on having some people, the healthy, pay more for the coverage than they receive in benefits, in addition to the sick people who receive more in benefits than they pay.  Nobody can accurately predict whether a given individual will get injured or sick.  Given the choice, many young and healthy people choose not to buy healthy insurance, effectively betting that they will remain healthy.  As people get older and/or sicker, their cost to health insurance increases, and they more often choose to buy the insurance.  But the health insurance industry depends on having enough healthy young adults in its population in order to pay for the coverage they have promised.  The smaller the percentage of healthy people, the more everybody else has to pay in premiums, and the less money there is available to provide care.

Obama wants to give adults "choice" whether or not to have health coverage.  And so some people—the youngest and healthiest—will choose not to have coverage.  This will weaken and undermine the entire system of coverage.  The more responsible system, and the one that guarantees the highest-quality care and the cheapest premiums for individuals, is the one which makes coverage mandatory.

Work to be Done

Towards the end of the Bill Clinton presidency, a politically radical professor of mine explained to me that she didn't vote because the contests were meaningless—that the positions of the Democrats and the Republicans were so close as to make distinctions between them meaningless, and that the only way to accomplish the necessary radical social changes was through working outside the political system.  My political sympathies were largely, and to an extent still are, in agreement with hers.  And this statement seemed reasonable to me at the time.  However, in the ensuing years I have come to believe that this professor's strategy of non-participation was dangerously complacent. 

I am very aware that under Bill Clinton the U.S. was not on a course which I was totally comfortable with.  Just to name two issues, it was under Bill Clinton that NAFTA was signed, legislation which had devastating effects on Mexican agriculture.  It was under Bill Clinton that welfare "reform" was instituted, seriously undermining the social safety net in this country and therefore driving down wages for the entire working class. 

However, the years of the Bush presidency have shown me that there are even larger issues at stake.  Again, just to list two, the irresponsible use of the U.S.'s frighteningly powerful military holds incredible danger for both the rest of the world and the U.S. itself.  Another danger we have seen under the Bush administration is the expansion of the sphere of executive power, throwing off the vital system of checks and balances which has the potential—if used—to prevent this powerful country from becoming an autocracy.

I'm not trying to argue that I think that under Obama these dangerous policies would be continued.  I'm just trying to argue that it makes a big difference who we choose.  And that I trust I know the types of policies Hillary would make, and the types of advisors she would appoint.  Whereas I don't trust that I entirely know these things about Obama.

With all this said, I will absolutely be behind Obama if he gets the Democratic nomination.  But on Tuesday I'm voting for Hillary.

Carolyn Fisher


Joe said...

First of all, is it good to be thinking so much about politics right now? I mean, it never feels good for me ... and I don't have anyone on the verge of bursting out of me!

Knowing you must obviously be okay talking politics, I want to say that you raise a good set of points , but that I have an irritating :-) question regarding one: why the quotes around "choice"? Is it not a choice (and not just as he would describe it)?

I raise this despite understanding that, within the realm of Democratic politics, this is a ridiculously small wedge issue -- where the systems proposed by both candidates are far more alike than not and aren't meaningfully countered at all by the entire Republican slate -- but unsurprisingly, as my libertarian bent is far from secret, it's the sort of distinction that makes all the difference to me.

I see little difference in having the "good cause" of supporting a solvent health care system or the "good cause" of supporting "faith-based initiatives" foisted on me. They are both a top-down imposition for someone else's master plan: whether to make the country safe for the religous right or to exercise the power of government to promote a vision of social justice. As a result, such an opt-out choice is of critical importance to me to the extent that I find it worrisome that it has become a mainstream debate as to whether I get to maintain my choice.

So, in short, you're very right about what we got last time such a thin resumé with professed good intentions won the White House, but I just can't hope for a nominee that will be more effective with policies that don't have my principles than one less effective with policies that do.

Burns Fisher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Burns Fisher said...

Well, I have a slightly different reason to think that the health care issue is not one that should separate Clinton from Obama, and that is that regardless of who becomes president, that person's plan *will not* become law. Congress will crank and grind and the result will be far different from what either one proposess.

I guess I also want to comment on libertarianism. It's nice to be able to choose what you think is best for you and your family. But the problem is that what is best for you or for me is not necessarily best for society. Should I be allowed to choose not to buy medical insurance when I am healthy? "It only hurts me if I'm wrong". But it doesn't as Carrie explained. It hurts everyone.

Joe said...

While I could, and did in an earlier draft :), go on ad nauseam on how I balance the importance of society with that of individuals to get to my personal libertarianism, I'd rather state my core reservation about this particular issue.

As someone that is not predisposed to the prevailing political mainstreams, I regard the "health care crisis" as requiring a solution that increases affordability to the middle class and increases accessibility to the poor for near or total universal coverage. To this goal I can imagine many proposed solutions. My favorite, and hardly considered, is drastic revision of existing regulation (either increasing or decreasing) to lower the _cost_ of health services significantly with the aim of reaching a level that would only require, presumably much more affordable, insurance for catastrophic accidents and prescription drugs. Other solutions are those bandied about by our Democratic co-front-runners as well as a single-payer system.

But, while I'm open to the idea that my current favorite proposal could be a complete disaster and am therefore entertaining whatever other proposals I hear, I have the distinct impression that the liberal mainstream considers a government-centric option the goal itself and not simply a method to reaching the one I stated earlier.

That makes me intensely uncomfortable. Not simply because I don't care for the outcome, but more because I am extremely suspicious of any effort to implement a specific system rather than resolve a particular problem with whatever may be best.

This presents itself to me in the Obama vs. Hillary debate, because I have the, admittedly vague, sense that the real issue being debated is this decision whether to implement a solution or a method -- and being on the outside, I'm going with whatever sounds like it leaves us with the most options for change later.