It may not be big news that Hillary and Obama have dramatically different political styles, but given how close they are on substance, many still undecided voters—and superdelegates—may be looking for some indication of how those differences in style are likely to play out. I think last Thursday’s debate offered us a valuable glimpse. At worst, a President Obama might be accused of being more style than substance, but at best, he could be the inspiration around which centrists coalesce to make real progress on dozens of longstanding “stuck issues” in Washington. A President [Hillary] Clinton, on the other hand, will definitely make a lot of new policy, but she’s not likely to make a lot of new friends, and that suggests her great ideas might not go anywhere.
Lastly, let’s not be unfair to either of these candidates. Obama is a very competent policymaker, who knows the issues and offers intelligent opinions on all of them. He has put forward at least as many substantive proposals as his opponent, and has rightly earned both her respect, and that of the press and the pundits. For her part, Hillary Clinton knows Washington well enough to recognize that she’ll have to come to terms with at least a handful of centrist Democrats and Republicans to get anything done. She has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation in the past, and she would certainly be a credible partner on future cooperation across the aisle.
The real question—and the debate on which the Democratic contenders have staked their candidacies—is whether Americans are willing to commit to more cooperation, more dialogue, and more bipartisanship as objectively positive values for the long term, or whether we view these things as mere instruments for achieving short-term policy goals. As somebody who works for dialogue and cooperation across party lines every day, I can’t help but view the latter as both pessimistic and destructive.