More on Upsetting the Applecart

March 22, 2008 9:52 p.m.

We’ve gotten a number of very interesting replies to the post below about Democratic primary campaign supporters who won’t vote in the general or will vote for McCain if their preferred candidate does not win the nomination. One of the dissonant aspects of reading the emails is hearing from each side’s supporters explain how the other candidate has demonstrably crossed the line into political perdition, etc. etc.

But one point has come up enough times that I think it’s worth clarifying. A number of people have read what I wrote as saying that because Clinton and Obama basically agree on policy issues, they’re interchangeable. So get over it.

But that’s not what I’m saying.

Presidential leadership is not simply about policy stands. Certainly that’s not the case in how elections actually work. Nor is it how things ought to be. There’s a lot about the presidency beyond policy positions. And character does count. The problem is just that in this country we routinely seem to confine it to matters of sexual ethics and whether you happen to say something that can be distorted beyond imagining by sundry right-wing agitprop freaks.

In any case, I’m not saying they’re interchangeable. Whichever you prefer, they’re actually very different candidates. What I am saying is that no one can run away from the choice every American with the franchise will face in November. The next president will either be John McCain or the Democratic nominee. That’s an immovable fact. Not voting or voting for some protest candidate doesn’t allow anyone to wash their hands of that choice.

Now one reader, TPM Reader KK, wrote in and said that he supports Obama, isn’t a Democrat, actually doesn’t agree with a number of Obama’s policy positions but believes he could change the tenor of politics in the country and through his election help shift the rest of the world’s view of the US. For KK, if Obama doesn’t win the nomination, I guess there really might not be any particular reason he’d vote for Clinton over McCain.

But I do not believe this is the case with the great, great majority of readers of TPM who are supporting either of these two candidates. I think most are Democrats or Democrat-leaning independents who ascribe to a series of policies now generally adhered to by members of the Democratic party. People for whom that applies have to decide whether the alleged transgressions of either candidate or their differences in tone, political style and so forth are so grave and substantial that they merit electing John McCain who stands on the other side of basically all of those issues.

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