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Debate: Clinton vs. Obama

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Who is the better candidate, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

Background and context

The 2008 Democratic nomination has concluded with a one-on-one contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. With the election in a dead heat, and with the appearance that it will remain undecided into the Democratic convention in August, the respective cases for Hillary and Obama remain strongly debated.
What are these cases? Why is it that Democrats are so split in this debate?

This debate is oriented around a number of important questions. Which candidate has the most experience? Which one has more foreign policy experience? Is experience all that important? Is judgement more important than experience? Who has a better record of good judgement? Are Obama's inspirational message and abilities worth anything? Are they as important as experience? Which candidate is better for advancing the Democratic agenda? Does it matter how this agenda is advanced? Is Clinton's strict liberal agenda more true to the Democratic agenda than Obama's willingness to compromise on a bi-partisan basis? Which candidate is more likely to win in the general election? How do Clinton and Obama stack up against John McCain? Are the Clinton legacy and Bill Clinton an asset or a liability? Is it more important, at this stage in history, to elect the first female or the first black president? Is solving outstanding racial issues more important than solving outstanding gender issues? Are these fair questions? Does a female have certain virtues that should be brought to the oval office? Is one or the other candidate better suited to solve the world's problems? On the candidates few policy differences, who's policies are best?


Experience: Does Clinton have more experience than Obama for being president?

Obama is better

  • Obama has a strong record of legislative achievement Obama has a very strong legislative history as a US Senator. The Daily Kos lists 19 legislative successes for Obama during his Senate career while only 13 legislative successes for Clinton. It is argued that Obama's record of successes is, in large part, due to his ability to convince other Senators to support his legislation. Clinton, with a more divisive history, does not appear to have this same capacity.
  • Obama demonstrated more experienced judgement than Clinton in his Iraq vote. Obama's opposition to the Iraq War was prescient in the justifications he put forward. He clearly stated that the war had ill defined ends and was likely to lead into an indefinite occupation. That is what has happened. This demonstrates Obama's experience, particularly his experience in making reasoned, principled judgments. Obama has pointed out, by comparison, that Clinton did not actually read the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) before casting her vote that gave the Authorization to Use Military Force in 2003.
  • Experience means nothing if you are "wrong on day one". While Clinton is given much credit for her experience, she has been wrong on many occasions with her votes, in particular with her Iraq War vote. This has led Obama to say that she will, with her experience in voting incorrectly, be "wrong on day one".
  • Hillary Clinton does not exactly have White House "experience" Hillary Clinton's White House experience was as the First Lady. This does not exactly count as White House experience, as she was not an elected officeholder, nor was she allowed to sit-in on key national security briefings and meetings; she didn't have the security clearance. National security is the most important element of the commander-in-chief's experience. That Clinton's White House experience was largely detached from these affairs makes her commander-in-chief experience relatively small.
  • Obama would be a fresh, uncorrupted face in the White House While experience can be seen as a virtue, it can also be viewed as a liability, in the sense that experience within the Washington Beltway, which Clinton has, can have a corrupting influence. Obama, conversely, is a fresh face on the American political scene. As such he embodies the fundamental change that Washington, DC so desperately needs. He has not been stuck in the Washington, DC "beltway", which has kept him clear of much of the corruption and influence that can occur as a result of this.
  • Obama's diverse global background is valuable. Obama was born to a father of Kenyan descent, has a white mother, lived in Indonesia in his youth, and has traveled to Kenya to visit his grandmother. He certainly is a diverse person with a diverse background. This is valuable in many ways to how he thinks about the world. Generally, it is likely to give him a more holistic view of the world.
  • Obama's time spent abroad is valuable. Obama spent three years in Indonesia as a boy. He regularly cites this as having a formative effect on him, providing him with a powerful perspective on distant, different cultures. This is very valuable. Clinton never lived abroad for this length of time, and she lacks the perspective.
  • Hillary Clinton has merely ridden to power on the coattails of her husband. Hillary Clinton did not achieve her current political power on her own. She, rather, rode the coattails of her husband to power. This was not really based on her merits as a leader.

Inspiration: How do the candidates compare as far as their inspirational capacity?

Obama is Better

  • Obama inspires people to become better citizens. Obama's oratory abilities are very high. People often call him "poetic" in this way. This oratory ability has been a defining feature of the best presidents and leaders in American and world history. The reason is very straight forward; it causes people to have pride in their leaders, trust in the direction their leaders are taking the country, and hope in the future ahead. This often leads individuals to act more ethically, work harder, and generally hold themselves to a higher ethical standard. In short, inspiration matters, and the main vehicle for inspiration is inspirational oratory.
  • Obama can inspire people to follow him and take action. Obama is in a unique position to inspire and influence people to take action. Youth and potential activists listen intently to him, and would respond to requests he makes for citizens to take action. Obama could say, as John F. Kennedy first did, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for you country", and people would respond.
  • Obama is leading a movement for change, not just a campaign. Obama has stirred up so much energy and excitement among his followers that his campaign and its supporters have been described as a "movement". This "movement" can and should be harnessed for positive social change.
  • Obama is a natural leader and mobilizer. One of the most important qualities of a leader is the ability to bring people together to get things done. Obama has both a Senate legislative record of this, and an impressive campaign-mobilizing record.
  • Obama's ability to change attitudes is essential in bringing about change. Making bold changes in America requires first that people's attitudes be changed. Changing attitudes is not easy at all, and requires profound persuasion. Obama, more than Clinton, has the ability to persuade in this way.

Democratic agenda: Which candidate is best for the Democratic agenda?


  • Clinton's agenda is too liberal Hillary Clinton's agenda is quite liberal. She believes strongly in big governmental programs, including such things as universal health care. Her liberal agenda is not necessarily good for the success of the Democratic party, as it means that she will push these agendas through regardless of whether the majority of Republicans oppose it. This could create an antagonizing environment that causes a backlash against Democrats in the future.
  • Hillary Clinton is too hated and too polarizing. Many individuals in America strongly oppose, if not hate, Hillary Clinton. Whether or not they are justified in this anger toward Clinton is unimportant. The reality is that many people react strongly against her. If she is elected president, a substantial body of Republicans will go into overdrive against her. Many Republican members of Congress will effectively forswear cooperating with her in legislation, in part because being seen doing so would be political suicide for them in the face of their constituents.
  • Obama's willingness to "compromise" will help advance more of the Democratic agenda. Obama will be able to achieve more of the Democratic agenda as a progressive who seeks to work on a bi-partisan basis. Bi-partisan compromise does not mean compromising Democratic values. Rather, it means that he will be able to achieve more of the Democratic agenda by giving a little in return. By achieving more Democratic objectives, Obama will be truer to Democratic values than Clinton.
  • Obama inspires Democrats to pay attention and get involved. Inspiration causes young and old Democrats to pay closer attention to what the Democratic party is all about and to engage in what the party is doing. In other words Obama's inspirational message generates political capital for the Democratic party to tap into.
  • Obama's ability to change attitudes is essential in making Democratic changes. Making bold changes in America requires first that people's attitudes be changed. Changing attitudes is not easy at all, and requires profound persuasion. Obama, more than Clinton, has the ability to persuade in this way.

General election: Who has a better chance of winning in the general elections?


  • Obama can attract swing voters and win traditionally red states.
  • Obama's opposition to the Iraq War means he can more effectively argue to end the war. By opposing the Iraq War from the start, Obama will be able to argue more effectively against the war's continuation and thus for its closure. Clinton, if nominated, could easily be accused for now opposing the fulfillment of a mission that she herself helped initiate.
  • Obama's lead in delegates and popular vote favor him in general election. While Hillary Clinton made the claim that her victories in the bigger swing states favors her in the general election, the most obvious indicator is the fact that Obama leads in delegates and in the popular vote. These raw numbers are what will count in the general election.
  • Clinton would cause Republicans to turn out in the general election. The Democrats are favored in the 2008 presidential election largely due to the likelihood that many Republican voters will simply stay home on election day. Clinton may reverse this trend, simply because she is so hated by Republicans, which Republicans can easily use to galvanize their base.

Woman vs. black man: Is the first female president more important than a black president?


  • The first female president would be just as good as the first black president. There is no good reason why the first black president would be better than the first female president. There needs to be a first of both, so neither should be given preference over the other.


  • It is more historic to elect the first black candidate than the first female candidate. African Americans have been subject to greater injustices in American history than women. From slavery to current race inequality they have been a step behind women as far as leveling the playing field. This simply means that electing the first black president would be a bigger deal than electing the first female president.
  • It is more important to elect the first black candidate than the first female candidate. Racial tensions and problems abound in the United States, while gender issues are much less of a problem today. Obama is committed to helping solve these racial problems, as was displayed by his March 18, 2008 speech in Philadelphia. And, he is in a great position to do so, as the son of a mixed couple. His race, therefore, puts him in a better position to solve a much bigger outstanding social problem in America, as compared to Hilary helping solve any remaining gender issues).

Dynasty: Could electing Hillary avoid dynasty concerns?


  • If Clinton's election would be dynastic, what about Bush II? While there have been many dynasty fears and complaints regarding electing Hillary Clinton in 2008, the problem is that these same fears were not expressed when Bush ran for office in 2000. If these concerns are raised only with Hillary Clinton, it would seem that a double standard has been applied.


  • The election of Hilary Clinton would cause America to appear dynastic Family dynasties in the oval office should be feared. They concentrate power and undermine the image of the Democratic process in America. This is particularly true in the context that Hillary's election would mean that America has seen a Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Clinton in the oval office for the past two decades. This certainly gives the wrong impression about America's democratic nature.

Bill Clinton: Would Bill Clinton be an asset or liability in the Whitehouse?


  • Bill Clinton would be a major national asset as the first man. Bill Clinton is generally considered, at least among Democrats, to have been a great president. He continues to be a respective global leader and speaker. He would be an asset to the country as the First Man beside Hillary Clinton.


  • Bill Clinton would wrongly act as a co-president along side Hilary Clinton. As a former president, Bill Clinton would have a tendency to attempt to assert himself into the decision-making process if Hillary were elected. This could be disruptive to the chain of command if not simply inappropriate.
  • The Clinton family drama should not be in the oval office again. The Clinton family drama was traumatizing to the country during Bill Clinton's administration. It does not make sense to subject the country to this drama once again. It should a concerns that additional controversies will arise and little trust should be placed in the Clinton family, given their history, to avoid subjecting the country to another similar controversy.

In the world: Which candidate would be best for the world?


  • Obama's inexperience could lead to ill-advised global policies. Obama is sometimes compared to John F. Kennedy. But, it should be remembered that Kennedy's inexperience led, in party, to his decision to invade Cuba in the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Obama's inexperience may carry with it similar poor decision and associated costs to the world.
  • A female president would be appropriately empathetic in her foreign policy. A female president would be appropriately empathetic in her considerations of other countries interests. She would respect the interests of all parties on the world stage, helping resolve conflicts by bringing people together around areas of common interests.


  • Obama's African decent will win valuable points in the Muslim world. Obama's African decent may be a useful way to win the hearts and minds of individuals in the Middle East. This is highly important to the United States in its current struggles in the Middle East and in the War on Terror. That a man of Muslim-Kenyan origins is running for President makes a strong statement to the Middle East about a number of things. First, it viscerally demonstrates that the United States is not a "White Christian nation on a crusade against the Islamic world". Second, it demonstrates that, in America and a democracy, opportunity for any individual of any creed abounds.

Health care: Which candidate's health care plan is superior?


  • Clinton's health care plan is truly universal. Clinton's health care plan would cover all individuals. It would help cover all 30 million uninsured Americans currently, whereas Obama's plan would only cover 15 million. If universal health care is the objective, Hillary Clinton's plan succeeds while Obama's would fall short.
  • Democrats shouldn't compromise on universal health care. Universal health care is an important, principled cause. Democrats should stick to it without compromising their values simply as a means to appease Republicans and achieve a compromise deal.
See also Debate:Health care, universal


  • Obama's health care plan is more achievable compared to Hillary's plan. Achieving truly universal health care is not really possible in today's political environment. Republicans will certainly oppose Clinton's ambitious "socialized medicine" plan. Because Obama's plan is less dramatic and, therefore, less "socialist", it is more likely to win the support of swing-voting Republican members of Congress.
  • Hillary's universal health care plan is too expensive. Clinton's universal health care plan is, indeed, more comprehensive than Obama's. But, that's the problem. By covering 30 million uninsured instead of 15 million, Clinton's health care plan is set to be extremely expensive; roughly twice as expensive as Obama's plan. This is not possible with current US budgets and deficits.
  • Hillary's health care plan has unenforceable, unpolitical mandates. Hillary's health care plan mandates that all uninsured citizens buy health care. Many cannot afford to do so and so won't. The problem surrounds what you do at that stage. Do you then, as Obama critically asks, punish these individuals by, for instance, garnishing their wages? This would be highly contentious, as it is in Massachusetts, and unpolitical.
See also Debate:Health care, universal

Iraq war vote: Was Clinton wrong to vote for the Iraq war and Obama right?


  • Clinton's vote in the Iraq War was justifiable or at least excusable. There were many factors surrounding Clinton's vote in the Senate that gave the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. First, at the time, there were many intelligence reports indicating that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and was not Clinton's place to object to these reports. Second, the AUMF vote was not intended to be a direct authorization for war, but rather gave the president the flexibility merely to make that threat for, some felt, diplomatic ends. Third, the majority of Americans and the vast majority of Senators supported going to war. Clinton's vote was not detached from the conventional wisdom of the time. Finally, it is possible that the war could have been conducted successfully; Clinton should not be blamed for the post-invasion failures of the Bush administration.


  • Obama opposed the Iraq war form the start. Obama has opposed the Iraq War from the start. At the time, he was running to become an Illinois Senator. This means that his public opposition to the war had political implications. In fact, since the majority of the American public was in favor of the war at the time, his opposition was politically risky.

Pro/con resources



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