Obama or Clinton?

By: Sandford BorinsThe American primaries have clearly captured the attention of Canadians, so I'll weigh in with my views, recognizing that U.S. law doesn't even permit me to donate.Like most Canadians, I support the Democrats, and don't want to see four more years of conservative Republican rule. So my choice is between Obama and Clinton.Richard Neustadt, the great scholar of the American presidency, in his classic book Presidential Power argued forcefully that the power of the president is the power to persuade.What he meant is that, with the diffusion of power carefully constructed by the constitution, a president can only be successful if he/she can mobilize broad support. This differs markedly from a parliamentary system, where a prime minister with a majority government is almost an elected dictator.Watching Obama and Clinton, it's obvious to me that Obama is a much more effective communicator and ultimately a much more effective persuader, and that is the first and foremost requirement of a successful presidency.Clinton's argument that her experience would make her ready to act on day one is based on a picture she paints of the president as decider. The problem with that picture is that what a president can do by executive order is limited, and real change requires legislation and hence congressional support.The rules of the Senate require 60 of 100 seats to terminate filibusters and it is most unlikely that the Democrats will win the 60 seats necessary to control the Senate. Therefore a Democratic president will have to persuade some Republicans senators to get on board.Here again, Obama, given his experience as conciliator and his powers of communication, will be more effective than Clinton.I once had the opportunity to co-author a book, Political Management in Canada, with former Saskatchewan Premier Allan Blakeney. Blakeney made the point that a successful cabinet government requires a high-profile communicator and a high-profile bean counter.While you would think the premier (or prime minister at the national level) would usually be the mouthpiece and the finance minister the bean counter, the flexibility of parliamentary government enables the system to work well with relatively non-charismatic premiers or prime ministers, of which there have been many.Not so the presidency. That position's mix of enormously high profile but relatively constrained power puts the onus on communications and persuasion.Finally, I must say that I notice a troubling double standard in the Clinton campaign. Hillary counts as her governmental experience her years as first lady in Arkansas and in the White House. She says she's the candidate, not Bill.But Bill's deep involvement in the campaign, however, shows that they still come as a package. My sense is that many Americans are uncomfortable about a return to the endless soap opera of a Clinton presidency and want to move on.I recognize the argument that the downside to a superb communicator/persuader may be that he attempts to be everything to everyone, but I am more willing to accept the risks of an Obama candidacy (and I hope presidency) than those of a Clinton candidacy.

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