All hat, no cattle and little scrutiny

My part of the country — deep South Texas — doesn’t usually get as much political attention as it has gotten during the last two weeks. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama both addressed large crowds here, Ted Kennedy rallied Obama supporters on the campus of the college where I work, and Bill Clinton has been to town twice.

But the stakes down here are high; by the time you read this, the Texas Democratic Party primary (March 4) could be over, and so could Clinton’s campaign.

During the Democratic debate in Austin on Feb. 21, Clinton characterized Obama as strong on rhetoric and personality, but short on content, what some people down here call, “All hat, no cattle.” A few pundits have taken up this theme as well, suggesting that the cultish passion for Obama is based on his magnetic personality, rather than on his positions on the issues or his experience. This morning in my local paper a national columnist said that Obama’s agenda lacked “substance.” Other columnists have said that on day one in the White House he would have no idea what to do or how to do it.

(Where did we get the idea that the press is protecting Obama?)

I’m not taking a side in the contest between Clinton and Obama, but I’m puzzled by the charge that Obama’s platform lacks substance or that his positions on the issues are unknown; in fact, his Web site is replete with his stands on a variety of issues, from “Civil Rights” to “Veterans.” His position on each issue is summarized, and a link to a printable file provides a detailed discussion and clear expression of his intentions.

The Iraq War takes up seven pages, 21 pages are devoted to health care and he even has two pages on “Supporting the Rights and Traditions of Sportsmen.”

Clinton’s Web site is equally substantial on many of the same issues. Comparison is instructive.

In fact, in many cases their positions are surprisingly similar, and in some cases identical.

I chose, almost at random, energy and the environment.

Obama’s Web site devotes at least 21 pages to the subject, and Clinton’s has about the same. Both candidates want to push hard immediately for greenhouse-gas reductions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and both have a goal to reduce emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Both want to develop a cap-and-trade system that relies on the marketplace to reduce carbon emissions.

Both want 25 percent of our electricity to come from renewable resources by 2025. Both even want to phase out inefficient incandescent light bulbs, and they’ve established time lines for doing so.

These are ambitious goals. I’m not enough of a scientist to say if they’ll be sufficient, but no one can say they’re not “substantial.”

There’s a great deal more on energy and the environment on both candidates’ Web sites. Both appear to take these issues seriously, and the charge that Obama’s positions are any less substantial than Clinton’s is a hard one to support.

I’m not taking a position on the general election, either, but in the interest of evenhandedness, I took a look at Republican John McCain’s positions on energy and the environment, as expressed on his Web site. In a short video, McCain praises Ronald Reagan as a great environmentalist, and he says that climate change is “real” and “devastating,” and that greenhouse gases are contributing to global warming. He acknowledges an “obligation” to reduce carbon emissions.

But his plan for resolving these problems consists of five short paragraphs, with no numbers or details or specific goals. That’s all. On the other hand, he has 18 paragraphs on something called “Human Dignity.”

So, when it comes to Web sites, at least, McCain’s tells very little about his position on the environment and almost nothing about energy. Obama’s positions are at least as clear and detailed as Clinton’s. Now, whether he can convince voters that he has the experience, expertise and clout to accomplish his intentions is another matter.

But, then, that’s what the election is about.

(John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. E-mail him at jcrisp(at)