It's kind of funny to think that back in October, I was prepared to caucus for Hillary Clinton. I thought that Barack Obama was perfectly acceptable as a candidate, though I was concerned that he seemed so overwhelmingly popular among university professors -- hardly a representative subset of the general voting population. I was also a bit disappointed at his performance in the YouTube debate, although that was primarily a function of inflated expectations, I think. In any event, the point is that I did not suffer from any instinctive, visceral "anyone but Hillary" pathology. I saw her (and still do) as very smart and competent, ruthlessly so.
But by the time the Iowa caucuses rolled around, my support had shifted to Obama. The big reason was that Clinton really courted former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, naming him co-chair of her national campaign and promising to pay off his nearly half a million campaign debt. More ominously, in the days leading up to the caucuses, a colleague of mine heard from a top local Democrat that Vilsack was the leading candidate to be named Secretary of Education in a Hillary Clinton Administration.
The fact that Hillary Clinton would seriously judge Vilsack to be an asset to her campaign raised grave doubts in my mind about her judgment of people. I've come to the view that the policy issues that a candidate favors matter less than the candidate's judgment about people -- who does the candidate listen to, who would the candidate appoint to cabinet positions and judgeships, and so on. On that score, Vilsack is just terrible.
Let's review briefly the disaster that was the first round of the University of Iowa search to replace David Skorton, who was driven off by the Board of Regents. The Regents were led by Michael Gartner, a Vilsack appointee. Unlike past presidential searches, in which the Regents had no involvement until a slate of four (or so) finalists were presented to them, this time, the Gartner-led Regents inserted themselves into the search process itself, with Gartner and three other Vilsack-appointees on the search committee itself. That search concluded with four finalists, all of whom were rejected by the full Regents. Why? Supposedly, none of the finalists had any experience in health sciences management -- a necessary requirement, according to the Regents, given the immense presence of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
Of course, one would think that this absence of relevant experience would reflect a failure on the part of the search committee to have included that requirement in its job description -- and hence, the four Regents on the search committee themselves were responsible for wasting the entire process. Not surprisingly, the Faculty Senate issued a vote of no confidence in the Regents.
What was Governor Vilsack's response during this fiasco? He merely asked the Regents to see if they could work something out with the faculty. Hardly decisive leadership, particularly when the Regents decided only to offer the presidency to one of the four -- no doubt someone who had already decided that he/she would never work for this Board of Regents, and not surprisingly turned down the offer.
Back to square one. Minus more than $100,000 in expenses incurred by the search firm retained to help in the process. Minus a good deal of reputation. Minus a year of effort by various faculty, staff, and students. (For more detail about this, you have to go to my colleague Nick Johnson's blog and search for the voluminous blog posts he had on the presidential search.)
Anyway, judgment about people matters, and Vilsack demonstrated extremely poor judgment with his Regents nominees, and Hillary Clinton demonstrated poor judgment by chasing Vilsack's endorsement. (Of course, all in my humble opinion.)
So that's why I decided to support Obama instead of Clinton. But what if Hillary Clinton were to get the Democratic nomination?
I might have been willing to hold my nose and vote for her, as I did in 2004 for John Kerry. But after the disgusting and dishonest attacks that the Clinton war machine -- particularly, those by former President Bill Clinton -- I just can't stomach the thought of rewarding this sort of reprehensible behavior. There's something somewhat George W. Bush-esque about the Clintons, in that their personal power is more important than principles, their political party, or even the nation. Just as Bush has (as far as I can tell) left the Republican Party in disarray, the Clintons' attacks on Obama threaten to rend the Democratic Party.
If the election were tomorrow, and Obama were the Democratic nominee, he would get my vote. If Obama were not the Democratic nominee, but John McCain were the Republican nominee, he would get my vote. If neither Obama nor McCain were nominees, then I'd probably just write in Michael Bloomberg. What is clear is that Hillary Clinton is not getting my vote, not after this last week.
UPDATE: Wow, I forgot to mention this:
Sen. Hillary Clinton, in an about-face, said on Friday she wants the Democratic Party delegates in two states that were barred by the national party to be reinstated and counted in the race to determine the party's U.S. presidential nominee.
Hmm, could it be that, unlike Obama and John Edwards, Clinton kept her name on the Michigan ballot and hence "won" that state's primary?
This is so transparently ridiculous -- since neither Edwards nor Obama contested the state, in what way could it be said that the delegates there represent any sort of preference for Clinton over the other two? Yet, Clinton is able to argue with a straight face that she is entitled to have those delegates counted.