Saturday, July 28, 2007

Impeachment Now!

You’d hardly know it from the NY Times et. al., but support for impeachment – of Cheney, first; then Bush – is on the rise. [For information, see and] The main obstacle in the way of initiating the process in Congress has been the Democratic Party leadership. For the most part, the buck has stopped at the desk of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She deserves all the opprobrium lavished upon her. Last week however, thanks to Cindy Sheehan (who will challenge Pelosi for reelection in California!) and other notables, attention was paid, finally, to John Conyers’ role too. There was even a sit-in at his office, leading to many arrests.

Conyers is a liberal or progressive icon, and he is revered by many African Americans. But that isn’t the only reason his Pelosiism rankles. Nowadays, no one expects much from a Democrat. The Democratic Party never fails to live up to what ought to be its true name, the Party of Pusillanimity (POP), just as the Progressive Caucus never fails to make a mockery of its own. By now too, it seems that a membership requirement for the Black Caucus is a promise to go along to get along. Conyers may be better than most but, in the end, he’s no exception to the rule. Recall that he led the charge for the not-yet-reborn Al Gore in 2000; turning against Ralph Nader, but also, more importantly, against Nader’s effort to break the disabling party duopoly under which the United States suffers grievously. Recall that despite holding what might be the most secure seat in Congress and despite having many Arab constituents, he has been as meek as any Clintonite in promoting a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Why his own constituents don’t occupy his office too is a question that should weigh on their minds. The Israel lobby brings down the wrath of Yahweh on anyone who strays from the Israeli government’s line; meanwhile Arab-Americans, lately the most racially profiled group in the Home of the Brave, seem to want nothing so much as inclusion in National Brotherhood Week.] Once the agenda is set, Conyers can be counted on to vote the right way. The same holds even for Pelosi, who voted against funding Bush’s occupation and war, even as she acquiesced to a vote that made funding inevitable. “Rock the boat, but not so much as to upset its course” might be her metaphorically challenged motto; “don’t go too far out on a limb” might be his. What especially rankles, then, is not just that Conyers is following Pelosi’s line – putting impeachment “off the table.” It’s that he was the one who led the call for impeachment back when the Republicans still controlled the Congress; in other words, when it really was off the table. Now that impeachment has become feasible, he has deserted the cause.

There has always been a tension between what Max Weber called “an ethic of responsibility” and “an ethic of ultimate ends”; in other words, between doing what is politically necessitated and doing what would be right in an ideal world. [Weber elaborated on these ethics, and on their relation to one another, in “Politics as a Vocation,” available in H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (eds.), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology.] The tension takes on a deep moral register when an ethic of responsibility is taken up for principled reasons, and when it also conflicts sharply with the requirements of an ethic of ultimate ends. This was the tragedy of the Communist movement. For Communists, the point was to advance History towards a realm of genuine Freedom by any means necessary. In retrospect, their dedication to an end became unhinged by their indifference to means; the consequences were devastating but also, undeniably, ennobling. [For a fuller analysis, see Steven Lukes, Marxism and Morality.] Movements animated by less worthy ends – by nationalistic aspirations, for example, or for reasons of “faith” --evidence similar tensions. One can only decry crimes committed for the sake of the Nation or by deluded agents of an omnipotent deity’s will. But there is still something ennobling in the way that even the most deluded suppress self-interest for a higher cause. In comparison, how debased are those who would allow another seventeen months of Cheney and Bush induced murder and mayhem for no reason other than to remain “players”! On “Democracy Now,” Cindy Sheehan said that Conyers had told her in a previous encounter that it was more important to elect a Democrat in 2008 than to stop the war. Leave aside the fact that his strategic judgment, the judgment of the Democratic Party leadership, is flawed; that in the present conjuncture at last, the Democrats have little to lose and much to gain by doing the right thing. The morally relevant fact is that acquiescence in the commission of historical crimes, not for some higher principle (defensible or not), but in order to win an election – most likely by electing a Clintonite (*), perhaps even a Clinton -- is debased. Nancy Pelosi is not the only one deserving opprobrium. All the Bush aiders and abettors in the Democratic Party do – all the more so those who, as chairmen of relevant committees, could do the most good.

* *

There are some now who argue that impeachment is, in effect, a constitutionally prescribed civics lesson. [See, for example, John Nichols, The Genius of Impeachment: the Founders’ Cure for Royalism (2006).] This is a silly position, partly because it reflects a way of thinking that, true to Protestant traditions, sees the Constitution as a great sacred text, a Bible (of governance), that, like the Bible of the godly, contains all the answers for those who have the wits to interpret it correctly. [I elaborate on the shortcomings of this conception, even in its sophisticated versions, in The American Ideology (2004), chapter 6.] In fact, impeachment is a clumsy way for a people to rid themselves of leaders when they – and lately the world – “can’t wait” for the next election. In parliamentary system without fixed electoral cycles, votes of “no confidence” do the job better. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s about how undemocratic our institutional arrangements are; and therefore about the shortcomings, not the ingeniousness or the prescience, of the Founding Fathers. [Sorry Nichols, but there wasn’t a woman among them; it is a good civics lesson too not to obscure that fact by calling them “Founders.”)

Impeachment is a flawed mechanism – in part because the only penalty it provides is removal from office. It is also flawed because, according to the usual understandings, the Constitutional grounds for it, “high crimes and misdemeanors,” designate only abuses of Constitutional powers and treason -- not war crimes, crimes against humanity or crimes against the peace. Richard Nixon was indicted only for his abuses of executive powers, though he was plainly indictable for far graver offenses as well. In a more just world, he would have been held accountable for both. In this respect, Cheney and Bush are like Nixon. To hold them accountable only for abuses of power is comparable to convicting Al Capone only for tax evasion; indeed, it’s even worse because Capone did actual prison time. Thus impeachment is hardly the uplifting civics lesson of Nichols’ imagination, and neither is it an ingenious contrivance of omniscient “founders.” Even so, Sheehan and the others who were arrested last week in Conyers’ office were right to do what they did. For all its flaws, impeachment is a way of rendering miscreants harmless.

Dan Gerstein, the Democratic “strategist” – and former aid to Joe Lieberman! -- who debated Sheehan on “Democracy Now” was prepared to concede, in good Pelosiite fashion, that Cheney and Bush very likely are historical criminals, but he claimed that they could never be found guilty of the requisite “high crimes and misdemeanors.” This is an odd view given how low the bar now is, after some very determined and not at all pusillanimous Republicans found Bill Clinton impeachable for lying about “having sex with that woman.” It is even odder for what it says about how Democratic strategists understand the system (unless, of course, like Bill Clinton, they just say what they think will work best). The committee Conyers chairs, the House Judiciary Committee, is the legally competent body to determine Cheney’s and Bush’s impeachability. Its official role is to investigate and, should the situation warrant it, to develop a case for impeachment. Its true role, in what is ultimately a flawed alternative to a no-confidence vote, is to make a strong enough case to move the process along to the next phase, a vote of the entire House. This would not be hard. It may be impossible to make a case for high crimes and misdemeanors out of thin air, though the Republicans came close in “the Lewinsky matter.” But Cheney and Bush have given the House Judiciary Committee more than enough to work with. But for one small and easily dispatched difference, their task is no harder than was the task of an earlier incarnation of the Judiciary Committee, when it drew up articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. The difference is that Dick Cheney seems to have learned from Watergate that, if a President (or Vice President) is determined to abuse his constitutional powers, he should first obtain legal opinions that say he’s acting properly, regardless of what any sane person would conclude. Cheney and Bush therefore have what Nixon did not – Federalist Society lawyers propounding bizarre theories of executive powers and prerogatives. Even allowing for the way these issues are argued, as questions of biblical – I mean Constitutional – interpretation, the case for a “unitary executive” is a non-starter. It is hard to imagine even Bush appointed judges concluding otherwise, though one should never underestimate their jurisprudential ignorance or their eagerness to please the Republican Right. Nixon abused his executive powers; so too have Cheney and Bush. Cheney’s and Bush’s violations may be even more egregious. The difference is only that Cheney bothered to get somebody to say the President -- and therefore Cheney, the acting President -- has the right. Surely, under Conyers’ leadership, the House Judiciary Committee can deal with that!

The Democratic strategist on “Democracy Now” also maintained that Cheney and Bush would never be convicted in the Senate because Republican Senators would stand behind them. It must be a great relief for the POP to have strategists who can foresee the future, though one must wonder, if they’re so smart, how come the GOP so often wins. What Gerstein’s remark really shows is that Democrats not only lack backbones; they also lack a sense of history. If they had one, they’d realize that there is a dynamic to the impeachment process; and they’d take to heart the fact that support for Nixon’s removal from office in the Senate grew as the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation unfolded. The more weakened Nixon became politically, the more the prospect for his conviction grew. [In the end of course, Nixon resigned before he could be convicted, and the Democratic leadership in Congress, maintaining that the case was moot, let the matter drop. Nichols criticizes them for that. He reasons that, in not following through to the end, they deprived the country of a curative and enlightening experience. What the Democratic leadership of those days actually did was to let a crook go free.] Their incompetence and intransigence, and Bush’s arrogant buffoonery, could and very likely will continue to diminish Cheney’s and Bush’s “political capital” in any case. But how much more effectively this would transpire with impeachment proceedings underway! Whether citizens would learn anything they don’t already know– anything uplifting and salutary, that is – the Democratic Party leadership surely would. They would learn how to put their power to good use.

Cheney and Bush are wounded tigers -- unfortunately not the paper kind. Though weakened, they still have the means to do harm. They could strike out – against Iran, most likely – at any time. It would be well therefore for Conyers and the others to recall the lesson of Richard III – that if you would strike a king, you must kill him. In this case, since the leaders of the POP are too cowardly to do more than poke, the king’s injuries are mainly self-inflicted; but his perception is the same as if the Democrats were doing their job, and he is therefore every bit as dangerous. It would also be well for them to recall Macbeth -- that “if it were done, then t’were well done quickly.” Thanks to our Constitution, Cheney and Bush cannot be quickly or summarily dispatched. But their days in office can be cut short. The world could pay dearly if the opportunity is missed. However, thanks to Pelosi and Conyers and the rest, time is not on the world’s side.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hillary the Progressive

During the July 23 CNN/You Tube “debate,” Hillary Clinton was asked if she is a “liberal.” She said she prefers the word “progressive.” These terms liberal and progressive have long and complicated histories and various meanings [See my Political Keywords (Blackwell’s, 2007)]. It would be impossible for anyone to say much that is helpful about all this in the minute or so she had to explain. Even so, Clinton’s account was, to put it mildly, unenlightening; and not just when she said that “progressive” is “more American.” But it was revealing.

Clinton said that, by “progressive,” she means “twenty-first century progressive,” a qualification she didn’t explain. But she did connect her progressivism with the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century. That doesn’t help. The Progressive movement had many strains and few common threads. On issues of war and peace, it was all over the map – from bellicose (Teddy Roosevelt) to almost pacifist (Robert LaFollette). Some Progressives were proponents of Empire, some not; some were more hostile to Big Business than others; some acceded to nativist prejudices while some welcomed immigration; some were more racist than others. If we want to know what Clinton had in mind, her historical allusion is of little use. But it is worth recalling more recent usages.

After the Second World War, the Right made a concerted effort to undo the legacy of FDR’s New Deal by dismantling the handful of welfare state institutions the New Deal established. For the most part, they were successful in blocking further progress, but they were not able to undo what had already been done. This was still the case, decades later, when Ronald Reagan was President. The Reaganites had what George Bush’s poppy called “the vision thing.” At that level, they labored tirelessly against the vestiges of New Deal liberalism. But, at an institutional level, they weren’t able to change very much. Neither was Poppy Bush. Thus it fell to Hillary’s husband to complete the so-called Reagan Revolution – a task he might have carried even further had not his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky distracted him. Clinton, as a Democrat, might have been able to privatize social security had he set his mind to it; something that George W. Bush could not do, even before he lost the “political capital,” as he called it, that he got from getting more votes than John Kerry in 2004. But thanks to “the Lewinsky matter,” it never happened. Thus the intern Monica had a more salutary effect on public policy than the wife Hillary, notwithstanding the experience in governance she claims to have acquired as First Lady.

In the early years, anti-Communism was the Right’s main weapon. They wielded it crudely. Still, McCarthyism flourished under both Truman and Eisenhower until, at long last, the Wisconsin Senator blatantly overreached – by going after the army. Meanwhile, Democrats had picked up the ball, transforming New Deal liberalism into the Cold War variety. They were so successful in shaping the political agenda that, over the next several decades, nearly everyone, including Republicans, declared themselves “liberals.” Back then, “progressive” meant not anti-Communist; in some circles it was even a euphemism for “Communist.” Thus it was not something that most people wanted to be. This all changed during the Vietnam War.

The Right supported that war, but it was concocted and, at its inception, led by liberals. Thus “liberal” became a dirty word for the anti-war Left. “Radical” was then the favored self-representation; but, with “liberal” out of the question, “progressive” caught on too – without its earlier connotation. [For most people involved in the struggles of the time, Communism had long ago become a non-issue.] This is why, when the Reaganites took power, they found few self-declared liberals remaining. In these circumstances, it was easy for them to make “liberal” a dirty word for almost everyone.

This was a linguistic development with significant consequences. The Reaganites used the term in the sense it came to have in the New Deal and its continuations, Harry Truman’s Fair Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. The programs associated with these names comprised the last great liberal policy configuration in American political history; there had been other configurations in earlier periods. Liberalism’s defining feature, as some influential political philosophers have made clear, is neutrality with respect to competing ideologies and rival conceptions of the good. New Deal (and Fair Deal and Great Society) liberalism’s way of implementing this principle was to use state power to ameliorate pressing social and political problems. For these liberals, the state’s role is not to promote a particular conception of the good society, but to remove unfair (unjust) obstacles that impede the free and equal expression of conceptions of the good in the political arena. To do this, it is necessary, of course, to eliminate legal and political impedances, but it is also necessary to act in more affirmative ways to empower the disempowered and, as it were, to level the playing field – so that justice can be served. [For elaboration, see the entry on “liberalism” in Political Keywords.] This was the liberalism the Reaganites attacked. The Right had always despised liberalism in this sense; by the late 1960s, the Left, having identified its seamy, imperialist side, opposed it too – at least in name. Under Reagan, the center moved far to the right. Therefore “liberalism” in name and in fact went into eclipse. This is how matters have stood for some time. It may not be how they now stand for John Edwards and perhaps even for Barack Obama; the jury is still out. But it is plainly how they stand for Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, “progressive” has followed it own curious trajectory. Having long ago lost its links to Communism and fellow traveling, the Left still uses the word to refer to itself and its objectives. But as the political center moved to the right, and as Clintonism came to supersede the New Deal- Fair Deal-Great Society liberalism Reagan sought to undo, another meaning took hold. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, in certain Democratic circles, “progressive,” came to mean “Clintonite.” This is the meaning it has, for example, in the name of the (Clintonized) Democrats’ “think tank,” the Progressive Policy Institute.

The old Cold War liberals, for all their faults, were still within the New Deal, affirmative state tradition. Clintonitism, being of a piece with Reaganism, does not. There are shades of difference, of course, but, in the end, the Democrats under (Bill) Clinton, as much as the Republican Party in its Reaganite and post-Reaganite phases, put themselves at the service of the globalizing corporations that have become the main centers of economic power in today’s world. They may “feel the pain” of those who call out for justice but, unless their demands are to their paymasters’ liking, they will not lift a finger to help.

Thus when Hillary Clinton eschews liberalism to don a “progressive” mantle, she is not identifying with the Left. Rather, through the obfuscation of vague and ambiguous political words, she is declaring what she is: a Clintonite – a kinder, gentler, more competent proponent of the post-Reaganite politics that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney also advance.

In recent months, with the Democratic electorate forcing political candidates to take more progressive positions – in that term’s non-Clintonite sense -- even Hillary Clinton has been obliged to follow suit. Unabashed Clintonism is not much of a vote-getter in today’s political climate. But that doesn’t mean that a Hillary Clinton victory will not betoken a Clintonite Restoration. Quite the contrary. Being nothing if not opportunists, Clintonites can change course on a dime. But they seldom change their nature. [Al Gore seems to have become an exception, but only after leaving electoral politics to become a “public citizen.”] Clinton ‘s “progressivism” is the progressivism of the Democratic Leadership Council. That is the progressivism she hopes to revive and continue. This is emphatically not the kind of progressivism we desperately need.

Note: There’s a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll (July 23). The results show, yet again, that you can fool ever larger numbers of people most of the time. Thus Hillary the “progressive” is holding her own against Obama – 39% versus 28%. On June 1, it was 35% versus 23%. John Edwards is still doing poorly – 9% on 7/21; 8% on 6/1; down from 14% on 4/15. Though he isn’t in the race, Edwards trails Al Gore who got 14%, down from 17% in both 6/1 and 4/15. Dennis Kucinich is still at 1% which is one percent higher than Mike Gravel.

65% of the electorate now disapproves of how George Bush is “handling his job” – 52% strongly disapprove. This is a new low for Bush; indeed, in the entire history of polling only Nixon got worse approval ratings – and that was just a few days before he resigned. [Oddly, only 59% disapprove of Cheney’s job performance.] 51% of the poll’s respondents disapprove of the Democrats in Congress. The Pelosiites can take heart: that’s a lead over the Republicans; 64% disapprove of them. As in 2006, the Democrats are in the lead thanks to the Republicans. If present trends hold, they’ll sweep into office in 2008. But then what??

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What's In a Word

Words can hurt; words can empower. The lesson has been learned a thousand times over. Still, the Forces of Niceness, the self-proclaimed heirs of a once vibrant political Left, keep repeating it – way past the point of silliness. [Lately, at the NAACP convention in Detroit, they even (symbolically) buried a certain word beginning with the letter “n.”] Thus the anti-political correctness crowd on the Right sometimes gains the high ground, to the dismay of the anti-anti-political correctness (and not always nice) remnant of the historical Left. It isn’t just the silliness that rankles opponents of goody-goodyism, nor is it the well-known fact, established long ago by Lenny Bruce, that a word’s power to offend varies inversely with the frequency of its use. A bigger problem is that a tried and proven way to diffuse tensions, not just within ethnic groups but also between them, has now gone missing. Since some time in the Carter administration, it has been out of bounds to tell ethnic jokes. This is a loss for Humor. I would venture that it is also one more cause of proletarian disunity. Given the larger tasks before us, rehabilitating ethnic humor is probably not a battle worth waging at this time. But, in listening to last night’s (July 24) “debate,” the first officially organized by the Democratic National Committee and the first with questions asked on You Tube, I could not help but think about how, in many of the issues You Tube users brought up, the emotive impact of words trumps clear thinking, to the detriment of our already degraded political culture. Here are a few examples:

1) Some of the candidates were asked about their views on same-sex marriage. Only one of the respondents, Dennis Kucinich, said he was for it; John Edwards conceded that, as a Southern Baptist, he was “struggling with the issue,” but noted that his better half has no problem with the idea. The others said they favored “civil unions.” This was John Kerry’s position in 2004. Back then, though the details were never spelled out, the understanding was that “civil union” means something less than full-fledged marriage; last night, the impression was that they are the same in all but name. Thus we have a still thriving, emotionally laden dispute over a distinction without a difference. This is a needless waste of emotion. But it does raise questions worth reflecting upon. One thing “marriage” denotes is a civil estate; one that conveys particular rights and responsibilities. By extending citizenship rights, the extent and importance of marriage rights would diminish; and the change would be all to the good. For example, family membership should not affect rights to health care; those rights should be distributed to everyone equally, regardless of marital status or parentage or any other irrelevant but currently pertinent factor. One would expect the Dennis Kuciniches of the world to draw attention to this point, not just to advertise their support for gay marriage. As it is, what they are doing, in supporting gay marriage, is proposing that same sex couples be included in the status quo. This is better than what is now the case, but it is hardly the same thing as changing the status quo by reconstituting the institution itself. To be sure, there are limits to imaginable institutional changes. So long as the family form of social organization exists – so long as children are reared in families and property passes within families from one generation to the next -- there is a point beyond which marriage rights cannot be devolved away. To the extent that the issue cannot be made to disappear, the state can and should assure that same sex and opposite sex couples are treated equally. Beyond that, it has no legitimate business. In other words, so far as political institutions go, there should be ONLY civil unions. Outside the state, marriage can and does have other functions. For the most part, these are religious in nature. But even for thoroughly secular people, marriage can have expressive meanings that transcend the rights and responsibilities that attach to the civil estate. Let that be as it may. Those who want to marry should be able to do as they please with whatever institutional support, ecclesiastical or otherwise, they desire. But keep the state out of it. It is remarkable that, in the United States, the state should be in the marriage business at all, given our longstanding constitutional insistence on the separation of church and state. Why doesn’t Kucinich and other advocates of gay marriage see this? Why don’t the rest of the candidates who get all bothered by the thought? Arguably, in 2004, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized same sex marriages, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s electoral campaign was undone, even though he disagreed with the decision; guilt by association did him in. Maybe’ maybe not. But such is the harm emotionally laden words can do. How much better it would be if the point were just conceded – if instead of state sanctioned gay marriages there were only civil unions for everybody. If any of the Democratic candidates have a reason to disagree, they kept it to themselves last night. This is another battle worth winning but, again, probably not engaging, at least not now.

2) Some of the candidates were asked about their position on “reparations” for slavery. Again, Edwards said No, dismissively this time, but then went on to talk about programs that would benefit African Americans. Characteristically, Obama did much the same, though with less specificity about programs. Kucinich was alone again in favoring reparations. Is this another distinction without a difference? It all depends on what reparations involve. If the idea is that there should be one time cash payments to descendants of slaves – like those made to Japanese-Americans who had been interred during World War II -- then there would be a difference between Kucinich’s, Edwards’ and Obama’s positions. But then again the ostensibly left-most position, Kucinich’s, would be a bad idea. Leave aside the fact that putting reparations for slavery on the agenda would exacerbate racial tensions because most white Americans think that African Americans get too much from the state already; and leave aside too the difficulty, a century and a half after slavery was abolished, of identifying who the recipients should be. The fact is that, were reparations paid, it would only signal to most people that the debt has been paid, that an historical wrong has been made right, and that this is now the end of it. That’s why programs like the ones Edwards talked about – affecting African-Americans, but not targeting them exclusively – would do more good than outright cash payments. Reviving the better part of the Great Society or, what comes to the same thing, restoring the New Deal but with African Americans included this time around should be the order of the day. That’s what Edwards claims he’d do; maybe it’s what Obama claims too. With the ludicrous, Bush appointed, Democrat enabled Roberts Court in control of racial politics, implementing programs of this kind has become especially urgent.

Meanwhile, there are many people to whom the United States plainly does owe reparations for harms done to them, not their ancestors. Those people live mostly in Asia. There are many more of them now than there were seven long years ago. If we must talk about reparations, that’s where the focus should be.

3) Mike Gravel got hell for saying that the soldiers who are killed and injured in Iraq, like the ones before them who died or were injured in Vietnam, died or were injured “in vain.” Well, of course, they were and are. They died and were injured in vain, not just because these wars were lost. Their deaths would have been in vain even if, especially if, the United States had won. These are not just wars, wars of resistance to aggression; they are imperialist wars, wars of aggression. Even Hillary Clinton, no foe of imperialist wars, has come around to the view that the Iraq War at least is not only a lost cause, but also a bad cause. Even she, then, should concede that those who die in these wars and those who are injured in them, and the friends and family of those who die and are injured, all suffer in vain. Yet, of all the candidates who addressed this issue, only Gravel had the courage to say so. Edwards and Obama brushed the point aside, though their positions on the war imply the conclusion as surely as night follows day. No doubt they, and the other candidates too, suppose that it is somehow insulting to the dead, that it demeans them, to say that they died in vain. But, of course, this too is a linguistic mistake, another emotionally laden one. The dead and maimed from America’s imperialist wars are victims, just as are those they killed and maimed – victims of a political class that put Americans and Vietnamese, Americans and Iraqis, in harm’s way for no defensible reason. They are victims too of an economic and political system that makes it necessary and possible for political leaders to do these things. To say that they died in vain is not to condemn the dead or the wounded; it is to condemn the living who let it happen – in this most immediate and tragic case, the Cheney/Bush White House, the intelligence agencies and the military and, we must not forget, the Republicans and Democrats in Congress who enabled them.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Taking Stock

s there a principled or at least a defensible way to choose among lesser evils? With the Democratic nomination likely to be settled by early next year, many of us will soon have to make a momentous lesser evil choice. Inasmuch as the Republican field of candidates is pathetic, and inasmuch as the Bush administration’s incompetence has all but undermined the party’s chances in any case, barring unforeseeable circumstances, we will in effect be choosing the next President -- almost a year in advance of the next election. The obviously defective “anything but Bush” principle that gave us John Kerry in 2004 is now moot. According to all the pundits, the field of potential candidates is strong. On what basis then should we decide? Even in these dog days of summer, it is a timely question. Now (July 23), the eve of the CNN/You Tube “debate,” is therefore a good time to reflect on criteria, take stock of the candidates, and draw (tentative) conclusions.

Does gender matter? Not nearly as much as policies affecting the condition of women but Yes it surely matters – at least symbolically. Women have governed in more patriarchal societies than ours – in south Asia, for example, and in Latin America. This has not done much to diminish patriarchy. Neither have the results been especially impressive. Indeed, in “developed” countries, women leaders have shown themselves to be at least as villainous as men – think Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir. For that matter, think Condoleezza Rice [With Colin Powell gone, she’s also the Cheney/Bush government’s token black and token non-maniac] or Nancy (“impeachment is off the table”) Pelosi. Women may not be better rulers than men; they may not even be less bellicose or more caring. But there is doubtless some good that comes when they occupy high offices. On the whole, unless they are significantly worse at a policy level than their male rivals, the mere fact of gender does therefore matter – somewhat. In the coming electoral contest, this is a mark in favor of Hillary Clinton. But it is hardly a decisive mark.

Does race – specifically, African ancestry -- matter? Yes, even more so, given our history; and, again, notwithstanding the dismal record of African and Afro-Caribbean leaders. An Obama victory would be unprecedented – even at a world level. No other country, certainly no developed country, has ever been led by a member of a racial minority that has suffered oppression to the degree African Americans have. No other country comes close. In this context, race is therefore a weighty factor. But, again, it should not be decisive for at least two reasons:

-first, because what matters most, even in this case, are policies, not symbols. Obama’s reluctance to discuss policies is not necessarily a mark against him. In comparison to John Edwards, and even to Hillary Clinton, he’s playing the game Gary Hart did in the eighties – declaring himself in favor of “new ideas” without giving many hints of what those ideas might be. He has little incentive to do so; after all, his popularity depends on not alienating any of his potential constituencies. It is therefore judicious to be vague. But, in the end, it is the same as with gender: the mere fact of African ancestry is not enough; what matters are policies. This is why voters, all of us but especially African-American voters, should demand clear answers about what Obama wants to do before jumping on his bandwagon.

-second, although no member of an oppressed minority has ever ruled a great power at a national level, we, in the United States, have ample experience of Black Power at the municipal level – and the evidence is not encouraging. African Americans have assumed a place in “the power structures” of many major cities – a place subordinate to elite economic interests – and very little has changed for the better for the vast majority of African Americans. To be sure, Obama is cut from a different cloth than most black mayors. But he’s already falling into the familiar pattern. Even more than Clinton, he’s become the darling of the financial industry [See “Following the Money,” July 19]. More alarmingly, in his rapid transformation from a community organizer fresh out of Law School to a politician of national stature, he has quickly abandoned potentially troublesome progressive convictions. In One Country [Metropolitan Books, 2006, pp. 43-4], Ali Abunimah recounts how Obama abruptly dropped his former advocacy of an evenhanded approach in Israeli-Palestinian relations after his nationally televised speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Obama is not the most servile ally of the Israel lobby among today’s candidates; that title must go to Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton close behind. But he’s not ahead of the pack either. This does not bode well.

Similar considerations apply mutatis mutandis to Bill Richardson, a Mexican-American. But Richardson has little chance of becoming the candidate. Indeed, he seems to be running more for the vice-presidential nomination. In any case, at a policy level, he would appear to be the worst of the Democratic contenders. Membership in an oppressed national minority is a mark in his favor; but a weak one indeed.

Policies matter most, but there is very little prospect of getting reliable information about what candidates would actually do once in office – not just because the future is unpredictable, but because all candidates, not just Obama, have few incentives to make their present thinking clear enough for voters to make informed judgments. This is why the best evidence we have to go on is a candidate’s general political orientation. Here too, though, there are limitations – not just because of what we don’t know, but also because of what we do.

What we know is that our leaders operate under severe constraints. The candidate with the best politics in the 2000 election was Ralph Nader – by far. The Democratic candidate with the best politics now and in 2004 is Dennis Kucinich; Mike Gravel is next in line. None of these candidates had or have a serious chance to win – not with our electoral laws, our media and our party system. But even if, by a miracle, one of them did win, he would not be able to implement his better ideas, except perhaps in trivial ways (say, by establishing a Department of Peace) or to govern in a way that is substantially different from the other contenders. The constraints are too powerful. That’s why, for those of us interested in real social change, elections are not where the action is. For a profound change of course to occur, the constraints have to change. That requires a level of political activity and engagement that has very little to do with electoral contests, and that we in the United States have seldom even glimpsed. In genuinely transformative moments, elections only ratify victories that have already been won outside the electoral arena.

This is why, though, it plainly does matter what candidates think, it matters less than one might expect. This is also why the candidate with the best politics is not necessarily the candidate who, in power, would do the most good.

I would add, at this point, that I remain unapologetic about supporting Ralph Nader in 2000. But in voting for him and giving money to his campaign, I emphatically was not, as Nader put it, voting “with my heart.” Nader’s politics were better by far than Al Gore’s or any other Democrat’s. But they weren’t exactly my politics. I voted for Nader mainly because I saw his candidacy as a way to build the Green Party and, in so doing, to break the debilitating party duopoly that afflicts our political culture. That seemed like a good idea at the time, and it still does (although the Green Party seems, by now, to have missed its chance and therefore to have outlived its usefulness). The superiority of Nader’s politics was therefore not the deciding issue for me, except to the extent that the Green Party represented a better, more progressive alternative to the duopoly; that it was not, like Ross Perot’s Reform Party or whatever Michael Bloomberg might concoct, something no better or even worse. Similarly, the superiority of Kucinich’s or Gravel’s ideas matters little – less even than Obama’s race or Clinton’s gender. The problem, again, is not that they can’t win and therefore that a vote for them is a lost vote (as in “a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush”). It’s that even if they did win, everything else being the same, it wouldn’t much matter.

On the other hand, Kucinich and Gravel have an invaluable role to play in the coming electoral contest. They will help to expand and deepen the political “debate.” Unfortunately, they won’t help much; our debased political culture will not allow it. But they will help some. Thus it is of the utmost importance that Kucinich and Gravel compete for the nomination. Paradoxically, though, it hardly matters at all that they will lose.

Great changes are not in the offing just now, but what is feasible, thanks more to George W. Bush than to the Lesser Evil Party, is a break with the neo-liberal line Bill Clinton and the current administration share, and with the concomitant “bipartisan” inclination to wage “demonstration” wars, diminish civil liberties, and exacerbate social inequalities. The neo-conservatism of the Cheney/Bush government represents a caricature of Clintonite politics, not a different political course. Its caricatural aspect is accentuated by the manifest incompetence of the administration that let the neocons have their way. Cheney and Bush are bad (out of control and inept) Clintonites, but Clintonites nonetheless. Any of the Democratic candidates would be an improvement. But are any of them, other than Kucinich and Gravel, more than just better Clintonites?

Hillary Clinton isn’t. In her case, there’s no political space between her and her husband. The Big Question is: is Obama a Clintonite too. If it comes to look increasingly like the answer is Yes, then I, for one, would be inclined to think that this consideration swamps other reasons to vote for him, at least so long as there’s a feasible, non-Clintonite alternative. It’s not yet clear that there is. But John Edwards does seem to fit the description. In other words, he may just be the best we can do under the conditions that pertain. It remains to be seen, of course; the next five or six months will provide more information. But believing, as I do, that it now is feasible to end Clintonism altogether, and knowing what I know now, if I had to vote for a candidate today, even allowing that Kucinich’s views are closer to mine than Edwards’ are, I would probably vote for John Edwards. I would do so because, in this summer of 2007, it seems that there’s no better way to achieve the break with Clintonism that has become achievable. If, next year, we must settle for a better, kinder, more competent Clintonism, with or without a Clinton at the helm, then, in the spirit of the lesser evilism that is now our lot, so be it. But if there is the least chance to do better, we should seize the opportunity – and, if need be, deal with the disappointment later.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Following the Money

John Edwards gets flack for his $400 haircut and his expensive house. The $122,650 he raised in the second quarter of 2007 from employees of Fortress Investments, the New York hedge fund where he used to work as a consultant, is more worrisome. So too is the $53000 and change he got from employees of Lerach Coughlin and the $48,400 he received from the Watts Law Firm. But this is small potatoes next to Barack Obama.

Like Edwards, Obama raised a lot of money from grassroots supporters; his campaign makes sure everyone knows about it too. But, as a Financial Times analysis of the second quarter financial reports makes clear, the “finance sector” is heavily invested in the Obama campaign. Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase are among his biggest sources of support. In addition, the multi-billionaire founder and chief executive of Chicago-based Citadel Investment Group, Ken Griffin, gave Obama the maximum $4600 permitted under the election laws, while Citadel employees contributed another $147,550.

It should be noted, in fairness, that, despite the support he is getting from hedge fund managers and private equity executives, Obama announced that he would co-sponsor legislation to close a loophole that allows them to avoid paying corporate income taxes. John Edwards was the first major Democratic contender to come out in favor of this proposal, and even Hillary Clinton has followed suit.

One might have thought that the emperors of high finance would be more loyal to the Clinton family, after all Bill Clinton did for them. Instead, it seems they’re betting on Obama, while hedging their bets. Clinton’s top contributor was the DLA Piper law firm; they gave her $190,170. Next in line were Kirkland and Ellis at $104,300 and Cablevision at $93,675. On the Republican side, the finance sector’s favorite, according to The Financial Times, is Mitt Romney. However he only got a mere $62,000 from Merrill Lynch, his top contributor. [He also received $1.4 million in the second quarter from persons living in the state of Utah, an unprecedented amount. Evidently Mormon interests are mobilizing behind his godly candidacy.]

But the money boys are betting on the Democrats, big time, and on Obama in particular. This should be of concern for those who look to Obama to carry forward the anti-Clintonite banner (see “Combat Clintonism!” April 27) or who see benefits for “the wretched of the earth” in the mere fact of his candidacy. [See “What a Little Kindness Can Do,” July 18].

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What a Little Kindness Can Do

Being of the generation that came of age around the time that Black Power did, I confess to a lingering conviction that white leftists should leave African Americans alone to comment on and to criticize themselves. To be sure, commendable non-interference, based on humility and acceptance of black leadership, can turn into “benign neglect,” based on indifference. To be sure, there is no defensible reason, forty years after its inception, for only black voices to participate in the on-going reassessment of “black power” – especially now that it is clear, from the experience of many American cities, not just Newark and Detroit, that claims for the advantages of African-American mayors, police chiefs and city councilmen are, to say the least, overblown. But I will still leave it for others to engage in the debate on whether Barack Obama is black enough. Whether he is or not, he is certainly is “a person of color” who can pass for black if he tries. As such, there is every reason to expect African Americans to support him unless he gives them good reason not to. It could hardly be otherwise in a world that is anything but colorblind, where the legacy of slavery still reverberates, and where no person of color, certainly no African American, has ever been a serious contender for the Presidency. [Jesse Jackson was a constructive presence in the 1984 and 1998 primary campaigns, but it was clear, even at the time, that he never had a chance of winning the Democratic nomination, much less the general election.] At a policy level, Obama, at this point, fares poorly next to Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards. Unlike them, he has not made poverty, let alone black poverty, an issue. His strategy seems to be – start out being popular with everybody and then do nothing to jeopardize that popularity. This is cause for concern. But it is not – yet – a reason to oppose his candidacy.

In a similar vein, Hillary Clinton’s gender is a reason to support her candidacy; and it is understandable that feminist women and men would find this reason weighty. In her case, though, the countervailing considerations are far stronger than in Obama’s.

Given these countervailing considerations [discussed in countless earlier postings], it is remarkable that, according to all the polling data, Obama is in a dead heat with Hillary Clinton among African American voters. This can’t just be a consequence of Hillary’s personality or record. It must be that African Americans have an abiding affection for her husband and therefore support her candidacy out of loyalty to him. Unlike Obama’s blackness (or lack of it), I feel no inhibitions about commenting on this strange phenomenon. Moreover, I can do so without violating any norms about who has a right to say what, because African American support for Hillary is of a piece with a similar sensibility that pervaded and continues to flourish in the “identity group” to which I am assigned. What I have in mind, of course, is the unstinting fondness we Chosen folk have for FDR.

Needless to say, Bill Clinton is no FDR, just as Hillary is no Eleanor, even if she did once try to channel her (as urban legend has it). FDR’s legacy is complicated. On the one hand, he saved capitalism. He also put Harry Truman in office and therefore, indirectly, laid the groundwork for the Cold War and the national security state. [On recent efforts by leading Democrats associated with the Clinton administration to channel the spirit of Truman and the institutions his administration began, see “Fortress America,” June 24]. On the other hand, the New Deal helped many people – not many people “of color,” however – and there were elements of it that arguably were “counter-systemic” and that therefore looked beyond the horizons of capitalist society. On the other hand, Bill Clinton’s legacy is comparatively uncomplicated. He completed “the Reagan Revolution,” laying the groundwork for Cheney and Bush, while presiding over an economic bubble that kept enough people happy to enable him to muddle through without doing much of anything constructive. Nevertheless these two Democratic Presidents do have something in common: they each won the hearts and minds of people belonging to groups they greatly harmed.

FDR did grave harm to the Jewish people by leaving European Jews to their fate under the Nazis when he could have done otherwise. He could have bombed the extermination camps, but didn’t; he could have let Jews into the United States in the years preceding the outbreak of war, but didn’t. That he didn’t was arguably good for Zionism, but it was certainly bad for Jews – a fact that fifty years of Zionist propaganda cannot obscure. The obvious parallel is with Bill Clinton’s failures to help Africans. But Clinton harmed African-Americans more directly, especially those who are working class or poor. He harmed them by pursuing neo-liberal economic programs that encouraged the deindustrialization of the cities where many African Americans live; he harmed them by weakening the labor unions that were their best hope for social and economic advancement. At the same time, he largely completed the dismantlement of our never more than feeble welfare state institutions. Thus he exacerbated poverty at the same time that he helped to undo available means for alleviating it.

[Clinton harmed the labor movement as much or more than he harmed the African American community. To the everlasting shame of many union leaders, he did so with unstinting labor support. The difference is that the labor rank-and-file never had any particular affection for Bill Clinton, even if many of them voted for him. Thus the two phenomena, though superficially similar and interrelated, are not quite the same. This is a story for another time.]

But just as FDR brought Jews into his government, took counsel from Jewish advisors, and evinced no overt signs of the anti-Semitism that was rampant in the social circles from which he came, Bill Clinton, a son of the South, was comfortable around black people and even became friends with a few. Roosevelt’s detractors claimed FDR secretly was a Jew – Rosenfeld. It’s doubtful that anyone took this seriously, but everyone understood why the charge (in those days, it was a charge) fit. It’s less clear what could have possessed Toni Morrison to claim, as she did in 1998 in The New Yorker, that Bill Clinton was our “first black President.” It’s a welcome sign of the times that, coming from her at least, this was taken as praise. In the 1930s, no Jew would have dared say anything like this about FDR. But, at some level, a few might have harbored the thought. Both Roosevelt and Clinton were charmers; they had the gift for establishing a rapport. Evidently, among people who have been down for so long, a little rapport can work wonders. It can even make victims love their executioners.

Still, Hillary Clinton’s support among African Americans is remarkable. No matter how unblack Obama is, Hillary is less. No matter how vague and unformed his policy statements are – not just compared to what they could be, but compared to Kucinich’s and Edwards’ -- Hillary’s are worse. Still, she vies with him for African-American voters. One can only marvel at what a little kindness can do, and also worry about how gullible and easily taken in people are. We have been told countless times since the sixties that the experience of oppression is a source of insight. No doubt, it is. But this is a glaring exception.

Harry's All Nighter

As of this moment, Harry Reid’s all-night-and-into-the-morning Senate debate on the Levin amendment, calling for troop withdrawals to begin in 120 days, is still going on. The indications are that a determined Republican minority will block the amendment’s passage. However, the morning newspapers and NPR are ecstatic: the “fighting Dems” are back.

Leave aside whether what the Democratic leadership wants is more to embarrass Republicans than to change the course of Bush’s War. No doubt, they want both. The important question, largely ignored by the punditocracy, is just what this “historic” debate is about? The short answer is: not much.

The Democratic side wants four more months of murder and mayhem followed by slow but enforced “Vietnamization,” the Nixon-Kissinger strategy for “ending” the Vietnam War by replacing American troops with local surrogates. They also want “redeployment” of American troops to comparatively safe areas in Iraq or nearby. In other words, their objective is to maintain the occupation by doing what their former taskmaster, the now comatose Ariel Sharon, did to Gaza, when it became clear to him that the costs of a direct occupation were too high. What a model to follow!

The Republicans, on the other hand, want to delay a decision on essentially the same plan for two more months, while they figure out how they can start the process of Vietnamization without losing too much face. [For them, it’s a question of party loyalty; in other words, of their own electoral prospects. Never mind that Bush and Cheney will lose face no matter what; they no longer have any face to lose.] Be sure that, once they figure out what to do next, the hapless General Petraeus will play a role in the Republicans’ plans – as a fall guy, as an excuse for extending the killing even longer, or both. Conceding that the party duopoly under which we suffer is not about to change soon, these are not insignificant differences. The world would be a better place were the Republicans to be handed a sound defeat. But the “fighting Dems” are way, way short of the mark.

Harry, Nancy – who do you think you’re fooling? If you really want to end the war, end it now in the only way you can – defund it. If you really want to “support the troops,” support them now in the only way you can – bring them home; all of them. It’s not that complicated -- unless, of course, your real objective is, like Cheney’s and Bush’s and their neo-con advisors’, to maintain American dominance of the Middle East and, not incidentally, to assure that Big Oil and Israel have their way. Maybe you can’t break with that dream without jeopardizing your relations with your paymasters. But you can at least correct Bush’s tactical mistakes in implementing it. In so doing, you will earn the title of “lesser evil,” not just get it by default. Everyone knows that, like most Democrats, you suffer from a handicap – you were born without backbones. But Harry, Nancy -- you don’t need backbones for this; you have political cover. The Cheney/Bush administration is toast; their war is lost. The vast majority of Americans understand this. The “liberal” media may like their “fighting Dems,” but everyone with a shred of sense wants you to stop posturing, get some sleep, come back refreshed – and do the right thing. Stop the war NOW; bring ALL the troops home!

UPDATE: As predicted, the Levin amendment failed. With 70% or more of the electorate behind them, and with both the House and Senate in their control, the Democrats cannot stop Bush! Would even an outright dictator be able to wage war under such conditions? Or is this the prerogative only of "democratic" leaders -- like Tony ("Glad to See the Back of Him") Blair and George W. Bush? What an argument for "democracy" and "the American way"!

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Populism" versus Clintonism

Increasingly, “populism” is coming to mean anti-Clintonism. [On “clintonism,” see “Combat Clintonism!” April 27.] Populists oppose “free trade” agreements that harm workers, tax policies that benefit the rich at everyone else’s expense, and other government policies that benefit big corporations and agribusinesses at the expense of organized labor, small businesses, and family farmers. It is much less clear what populists are for.

This is one reason why the term is unfortunate. A more important reason is that it conflates ways of opposing Clintonism that are not of a piece. “Populism” groups together left wing advocates of alternatives to capitalism and advocates of left alternatives within capitalism. As the neo-liberal consensus of the past two and a half decades becomes unhinged, this is potentially a source of confusion inasmuch as anti-corporate and anti-capitalist positions can diverge considerably, and there are many varieties of each. A potentially graver problem is the fact that there are right-wing political orientations with as much right to the name as the left wing positions that the term is now used to designate; for instance, nativist opposition to immigration could be called “populist,” as could other expressions of racism. There is therefore a risk of tarnishing the Left with the sins of the Right. In short, the current usage is analytically unsound and ahistorical. [For elaboration of the concept of “populism,” and also of “capitalism” and “left/right/and center” see the entries in my Political Keywords (Blackwell’s, 2007).] When influential progressives like Jim Hightower and Ralph Nader use the term to identify their own views, it only adds to the confusion.

Nevertheless, it is all to the good that “populism” (anti-Clintonism) is on the rise. According to an article by Robin Toner in this morning’s (July 16) New York Times, Democrats are finally responding to the “populism” of their base. Toner writes that Congressional Democrats and Democratic candidates for President are “increasingly moving toward a full-throated populist critique of the current economy.” They “are talking more about the anemic growth in American wages and the negative effects of trade and a globalized economy on American jobs and communities”; they are also talking more about growing inequalities and about the difficulties newly redundant workers confront. Among the main contenders for the Democratic nomination, John Edwards led the way. But now, according to Toner, they’re all doing it – even Hillary Clinton. She, of course, has a delicate task: simultaneously upholding Clintonism and its opposite. Fortunately for her, “populism” is a vague enough term that she might be able to pull it off.

Here is another case where the leaders cannot help but follow the base. It happened with the Iraq war; now it is happening with neo-liberal economic policies. This is all to the good. But there are two important caveats to bear in mind:

-first, the base is responding to the obvious – that Bush’s war of choice in Iraq is an abject failure, that the economic policies in place do more harm than good, except for the very rich (who keep getting richer). For many reasons – among them the fact that ours is essentially a one-party system with two competing wings, the fact that our media works to reinforce the economic and political power structure, the fact that so many “intellectuals” are servile to those elites – an alternative consciousness, one that would put the basic contours of foreign and domestic policy in question, is still mostly lacking. Therefore the danger of being taken in again by Pelosiites is great. [On the concept of “pelosiism,” see “Pelosiism: the Highest Stage of Clintonism, May 28.]

-second, Toner’s expression “full-throated…critique” is (perhaps inadvertently) on point. Whenever Democrats appeal to their base, their rhetoric takes a “populist” turn. This is not a new phenomenon. Recall the verbal populism of the not yet reborn Al Gore in 2000 when his handlers decided that he had to crush Ralph Nader’s electoral support. This year, thanks to the manifest failure of the Bush government, “populist” talk may resonate not just with the Democratic base but also with “independent” voters and even with disillusioned Republicans. We should therefore expect to hear more of it in the coming months. Should the Republicans nominate any of their now most likely candidates, the Democrats will have little reason to change the tone. What a field of losers the Democrats will have to run against – a failed mayor with fascisant inclinations and a record of incompetence, racism and sleaze [see Kevin Baker’s “A Fate Worse than Bush: Rudolph Giuliani and the Politics of Personality,” Harpers, Aug. 2007], a god-fearing family, family, family plutocrat whose religion many godly Republicans cannot abide [see “Snake Oil: Old and New,” June 3], an unrepentant war criminal turned war monger whose relatively decent stand on immigration has left his campaign impoverished; and a lazy, TV district attorney who, though reactionary and ill-informed as Reagan at his best, is uglier and a worse actor. Against competition like this, the lesser evil party’s candidate may well feel safe talking the talk long past the time (when the nomination becomes secure) that one would expect her or him to stop. But this is not to say that Clintonism is about to expire. Perhaps Al Gore was “born again” as a public citizen, but he’s the exception: Clintonites, especially if they are Clintons, are nothing if not slick opportunists. Once the mini “insurgency” welling up around them subsides, as it likely will after a Democrat is installed in the White House, there will no longer be any percentage in striking populist poses; they will govern again as Clintonites. This is why we must be especially vigilant in the coming primary season. It is likely to become more, not less, difficult to tell the candidates apart from what they say. With the exception of Dennis Kucinich and perhaps Mike Gravel, neither of whom has a chance to win, there may be very little space between them in fact; not because they really are “populists,” but because they are all Clintonites under the skin. It is possible, though, that Obama or, more likely, Edwards really does have a “populist” core. In any case, we will have to work hard to get the best we can out of the available field, and then to keep him (it won’t be her) on a “populist” track as best we can. This will not be easy; it may not even be possible. But the alternative – a more competently administered, “kinder, gentler” continuation of the present course – is a fate neither the country nor the world can abide.

NOTE: There are now fourteen co-sponsors of the Cheney impeachment resolution, H. Res. 333, introduced by Dennis Kucinich. Here is the honor-role (in alphabetical order): Yvette Clarke (New York/11), William Lacy Clay, Jr. (Missouri), Keith Ellison (Minnesota/5), Sam Farr (California/17), Bob Filner (California/51), Hank Johnson (Georgia.4), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio/10), Barbara Lee (California/9), Jim McDermott (Washington/7), James Moran (Virginia/8), Jan Schakowsky (Illinois/9), Maxine Waters (California/35), Lynn Woolsey (California/6), Albert Wynn (Maryland/4). Ellison, Johnson and Waters are members of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Chairman of that committee, John Conyers, has yet to act. Neither have the overwhelming majority of the members of the so-called Progressive Caucus. Shame on them all!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bush Was Right

A broken clock is right twice a day. George Bush got something right too in his July 12 news conference. He said that Congress has the right to fund wars (he forgot to add that they also have a right not to fund them) but that Congress has no business trying to manage wars. Lets not quibble over whether requiring troop withdrawals to begin within 120 days counts as managing or defunding or managing by threatening to defund eventually. The relevant point is that if most Democrats and increasingly many Republicans really want to end the war – or, what is not necessarily the same thing, if they truly want to represent their constituents’ desires to end the war (and, in so doing, not just to end the murder and mayhem but also to shut down what has turned into an incubator for future generations of “terrorists”) -- Congress should take the obvious, the honest, the constitutionally mandated step of defunding the war immediately if not sooner. Otherwise, as the Decider pointed out, they’re only playing “political games.”

Were Bush cleverer, he might have added that the prevaricators in Congress, and especially the Democratic leadership, play political games poorly. Recent polls indicate that they’re not positioning themselves well for the coming electoral cycle. What they’re doing instead is bringing contempt upon Congress – not in the technical sense so much recently in the news -- but in a more literal and disabling way [see “Contests in Cowardice,” July 9].

Every move the Democratic leadership makes is a misstep, not just morally, but in the crass strategic terms that motivate Pelosiites [see “Pelosiism: the Highest Stage of Clintonism,” May 28.]. The Pelosiites are against the war, but they won’t end it, not really; and neither will they impeach the perpetrators – that’s still “off the table.” Then what use are they! In the 2000 election, a Clintonized party [on the concept of “clintonism,” see “Combat Clintonism!” April 27] strained the lesser evilism on which Democrats depend for votes. Back then, it was reasonable for those of us who believe in the “like father, like son” principle to wonder which one of Gush v. Bore really was the lesser evil; not out of any fondness for Papa Doc Bush, but because the Clinton administration was so god awful (and because Al Gore hadn’t yet been “reborn,” as Ralph Nader put it on Democracy Now, as a “public citizen”). Most people sided with the Democrats even so, even in Florida. Bush became President anyway. We must not let today’s Democrats make us susceptible again to a similar fate! Yes, it’s fine that they investigate. After six years of George Bush, there is more investigating for them to do than there is time to do it. It is indispensable work. Still, to paraphrase the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, the point, in the end, is not to investigate this lawless, clueless and contemptible administration, but to change it.

Note: John Edwards’ positions on some domestic issues have been pretty good [see “After the Poverty of Clintonism,” July 10; “Edwards’ Challenge,” May 22; and “Bravo for Edwards (Sort of),” May 3]; better than Hillary Clinton’s certainly, and Barack Obama’s too. But only Dennis Kucinich has, so far, boldly and unequivocally broken away from the Clintonite fold. He has come out for single-payer national health insurance, for defunding the war now, for renegotiating NAFTA and other harmful “free trade” agreements, and for a host of other domestic and foreign policy positions that the country urgently needs, that the Democratic “base” wants, and that the mainstream Democratic Party stands against. Mike Gravel has taken good positions too especially on the Iraq War and other foreign policy issues. Even if they’re sure losers in a political culture where money matters [see “Money Matters,” July 2], these two candidates, along with Chris Dodd, have added a great deal to the otherwise dismal political “conversation” of our time. Kucinich’s positions alone are worth more than those of all the other candidates put together. That’s why it is distressing that at the most recent joint appearance (I hesitate to call it a “debate”) of the Democratic candidates, at the NAACP convention in Detroit, Edwards and Clinton were heard discussing ways to restrict future debates to “serious” candidates only. We must not let this happen! Without Kucinich and Gravel, Edwards and perhaps Obama too are more likely than they are with them around to drift back into comfortable Clintonite positions. That may be inevitable in any case, especially after it becomes clear who the Democratic candidate will be, but Democratic voters should do everything they can to delay and then impede this process. For now, that means keeping Kucinich and Gravel and the others in, not kicking them out. Shame on Edwards for even contemplating otherwise! Clinton, of course, has no shame, so it would be a futile exercise to try to shame her.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

After the Poverty of Clintonism

From the time LBJ’s “War on Poverty” fizzled out soon after it began, thanks largely to his war in Vietnam, eradicating poverty has been off the political agenda. In this urgent matter, as in so many others, Democrats have been only slightly less evil than Republicans. Republican malign neglect peaked during the Reagan administration and has remained more or less constant ever since. If “compassionate conservatism” was ever more than a campaign slogan for George W. Bush, it too long ago fizzled out, also thanks to a fateful war; one the compassionate conservative himself started four years ago for no defensible reason, and is still unwilling to end. The Democrats continued Reagan’s de facto war on the poor during the Clinton administration, fulfilling the Gipper’s dream of “ending welfare as we know it.” The difference is that Bill Clinton “felt the pain” of his victims, while Ronald Reagan was oblivious to everything. From as early as the Clinton administration’s Golden Age – the period between his election in November 1992 and his inauguration in January 1993, when Clinton dedicated himself to “putting people first” – the Clintons effectively melded the poor -- the idea, not the reality – into “the great forgotten middle class.” Thus, even before they completed “the Reagan revolution,” they hammered another nail into the coffin of the War on Poverty – by helping to make the poor invisible again.

It is because Clinton was so successful in obscuring the reality of “the other America” that John Edwards’ “two Americas” rhetoric is important. It raises the prospect that the pendulum will swing back. Of course, it could just be talk. So far, Edwards has not had much to say about programs directed specifically at lifting the poor out of poverty, though his (far too timid) health care plan would help. But he has broached the problem from the other side: proposing fiscal policies conducive to more just, or at least less inegalitarian, development strategies. This too is something Democrats have shied away from, especially since the Clintonites took over the party. Eager not to appear to want to “tax, tax, spend, spend,” they effectively ceded their taxing and spending policies to the Reaganites. The result is that the tax system under which we live exacerbates inequality to a degree that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. It is therefore to his credit that Edwards was out front among leading Democrats in proposing that most of the latest round of tax breaks for the very rich -- the ones George Bush installed, with substantial Democratic assistance, in his first summer in office -- be rescinded. Other leading Democrats have followed suit. But proposing a return to the status quo ante in these matters is a relatively safe position to take inasmuch as it is hard to give a populist tinge to lowering tax rates for the very rich. That’s just what Republican ideologues and publicists did in rounding up opposition to inheritance (“death”) taxes that only affect the very rich. But that was then. With the Bush presidency tanking in every respect, poor and middle class people just aren’t that gullible anymore, and neither are Cheney’s and Bush’s operatives that clever.

The harder issue is to move against the reckless malefactors of high finance who, in addition to exacerbating inequality to the detriment of the poor and for the benefit of the rich, also control electoral outcomes thanks to our very undemocratic system of campaign finance. [See “Money Matters,” July 2]. Needless to say, Edwards feeds at that trough too. Nevertheless, he seems on the verge of taking on the captains of high finance, Bush’s but also Clintonism’s “base.” Campaigning in New Hampshire, he took a timid first step. He proposed increasing taxes on private equity and hedge-fund managers by supporting the so-called Blackstone bill that would levy corporate taxes on publicly traded private-equity partnerships. He said he would also tax hedge-fund managers’ “carried interest” as ordinary income rather than at lower capita-gains rates. And he endorsed measures to end the ability of those managers to defer taxation by shifting their money to offshore entities. These are not major structural reforms; only simple applications of elementary and uncontroversial notions of justice. But they do threaten the interests of the Democratic Party’s paymasters. Should Edwards emerge as a serious threat to a Clintonite Restoration, or should Barack Obama follow his lead, one can therefore expect that sparks will fly. It has been many years, after all, since any major player from within the depths of the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, has even contemplated doing anything to keep the rich from getting richer at everyone else’s expense. Can Edwards’ not so bold but nevertheless significant departure from the norm lead the party down the road to more serious reform? The short answer is Yes: but only if the electorate forces him to stay on track and only if the need to defeat Clintonism is kept steadfastly in mind. [See “Combat Clintonism!” April 27.] Otherwise, we’ll just end up with a Democratic candidate – and President, most likely – who will continue putting people first – the kind, that is, who go into private equity partnerships, invest in financial derivatives, and, deliberately or not, insure that “the poor will always be with us.”

Monday, July 9, 2007

Contests in Cowardice

Finally, now that even some influential Republican Senators up for reelection are beginning to defect from the War Party, The New York Times (July 8) published a full page editorial that began with the words: “it is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit.”

Note, though, because this is likely to become a major fault line in the months ahead: what the Times proposes is not exactly a withdrawal but a redeployment to secure bases outside areas of major turbulence. This is what Hillary Clinton wants too, and she’s not the only Democratic candidate to hold this view. In other words, there is a consensus emerging among former Bush aiders and abettors that the best and perhaps the only way to secure strategic control of Middle Eastern oil and to promote the image of overwhelming American military power is to follow the example of Ariel Sharon and his successor, Ehud Olmert, in Gaza when it became clear to them that an overt occupation couldn’t be indefinitely sustained. To maintain Gaza as an outdoor prison for Palestinians, they decided to change tactics by continuing the occupation in less incendiary ways -- retaining control from outside the territory itself. Needless to say, the result has been catastrophic. Would it be better in Iraq? It isn’t likely. There, the only way out, for both Iraquis and Americans, is for the U.S. military to leave outright. But that doesn’t stop the Clintonites [on the concept of clintonism, see “Combat Clintonism!” April 27] or their co-thinkers at The New York Times. It is as if it is not enough just to do the bidding of the Israeli government; the down (but not out) War Party wants to follow their debased moral and intellectual example as well.
Still, it is a hopeful sign that the Times and the War Democrats have gone as far as they have. It is hopeful too that on NPR’s “Morning Report” (July 9), the doyenne of conventional wisdom, Cokie Roberts, saw fit to emphasize how the Democratic Congress now has an approval rating of 23% -- lower even than Cheney and Bush. Congressional Republicans are liked even less, so arguably the Democrats have nothing to fear on this count – yet. But they certainly have ample political cover for inching closer to positions – on the war and on a host of domestic policies, including health care – that the vast majority of Americans plainly want.

Also in the July 8 Times, Frank Rich wrote a wonderful column (“A Profile in Cowardice”) the gist of which is that George Bush’s presidency – and life – are defined not just by rank incompetence, as nearly everyone nowadays understands, but also by a profoundly inerrant cowardice. It is a point that those who dwell only on his government’s incompetence should take to heart. But they should realize too that no one in the GOP, not even Bush, holds a candle to the leadership of the Party of Pusillanimity, the POP – refusing, even now with the whole world behind them, to put Constitutional processes in motion for removing Cheney and Bush from office before their scheduled departure eighteen long months from now.

Note: On Monday, July 23, Cindy Sheehan, evidently back from the “retirement” that she announced on Memorial Day, will lead a march from the Arlington National Cemetery to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers’ office on Capitol Hill to try to pressure him, finally, to move forward with impeachment hearings. She also plans to announce that, unless Nancy Pelosi changes her mind on the impeachment question by then, unless she agrees that it is no longer “off the table,” that she will run against her in the 8th Congressional district of California. These are efforts worthy of wholehearted support. So too are all attempts by genuine war opponents to unseat the current crop of Pelosiites [on pelosiism, see “Pelosiism: the Highest Stage of Clintonism,” May 28] who profess to side with their constituents while doing exactly the opposite.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Backing Out or Backing In?

George Bush’s commutation of Louie “the Scooter” Libby’s perjury conviction is sufficiently egregious that the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings about it next week. Whether it was Bush himself or his evil demon Cheney who is to blame, the move epitomizes the administration’s style of governance. It is brazen and arrogant and, in spirit, if not in a strictly technical sense, lawless. It is also incompetent. First, commuting Libby’s sentence on the grounds that forcing him to serve time in prison would be “excessive” punishment -- given the nature of his crime, his career in “government service,” and the effects on the well-being of his family -- is in plain contradiction with the policy of the Bush-Gonzales Justice Department to insist on mandatory sentencing, regardless of mitigating, or allegedly mitigating, circumstances. Second, it is a transparently bogus effort on Bush’s part to insist that someone whom he concedes did wrong will be punished. Bush claimed that Libby would be punished enough by paying a $250,000 fine and by spending two years on probation. The fine is already paid; at this point, it is unclear where the money came from. Either it came from his wealthy right-wing supporters or, if he paid it himself, given how easily and swiftly he produced the check, the fine was only a slap on the wrist. Worse still for Bush, it seems that it is legally impossible to be on probation without having served prison time. Had the Scooter gone to jail for even a day, Bush could have kept him on probation without any problem. Then perhaps he could have still made a case that a fair punishment was meted out, though only the willingly gullible would have believed it. Now, for the Scooter to go on probation, the only hope Bush has is to get his lawyers to convince the judge, Reggie Walton, that probation is indeed possible. It’s unlikely he will succeed; though a Reagan appointee, Walton does seem be a person of integrity who respects the law. Should it become clear to everyone that Libby is not being punished, then his supporters, like Fred Thompon, will have a point: why keep the taint of a conviction hanging over him? Why not just pardon him outright? Of course, that will mean that, should Democrats in Congress have the will, the Scooter could be subpoened and compelled to testify (inasmuch as he could no longer incriminate himself and therefore no longer take the Fifth). Since there is good reason to think that he can incriminate Cheney and Bush, there is every reason to conjecture that this is just what Cheney and Bush hoped to avoid.

Thus there is much the Judiciary Committee can probe, and it is almost inconceivable, should they do their work, that they will not effectively document impeachable offenses. As we know too well, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that impeachment is “off the table,” and the pelosiites in her party have so far backed her up. [On the concept of pelosiism, see “Pelosiism: the Highest Stage of Clintonism,” May 28.] However, so far, three Judiciary Committee members – Waters, Ellison and Johnson – have refused to go along; they’ve agreed to co-sponsor House Resolution 333, calling for the impeachment [first] of Dick Cheney. [See “Cheney to the Rescue?” July 1.] So far, Committee chairman John Conyers and the rest of the Democrats on the Committee, some of whom claim to be “progressives,” have stayed within the Pelosian fold. Will they be able to remain there as their committee, a legally competent body, develops overwhelming evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors”? Thanks to Cheney and Bush, there is a glimmer of hope now that they will not. However much they may want to back out of their Constitutional duties, maybe, just maybe, they’ll find themselves unable not to back in.

One thing at least is clear. Should the Democrats find it within themselves to do the right thing despite themselves, they will have more than ample political cover. It has gotten to the point that Keith Olbermann can call for Bush’s and Cheney’s resignation on his July 3 MSNBC “Countdown” program; that Hedrick Herzberg can castigate Cheney and Bush in the July 9 New Yorker in terms that, even months ago, no left-wing critic would have dared; and that Comedy Central on the Fourth of July could play three consecutive episodes of “L’il Bush.” Come on Nancy! This isn’t like hinting, even obliquely, that maybe the U.S. shouldn’t hand the Israeli government a blank check and shouldn’t place itself at its service. This is no “profile in courage.” The vast majority of Americans would be behind you if you were to allow impeachment back on the table. Remember too: it’s not a moot issue. The inauguration is still a year and a half away. Cheney and Bush have made themselves toast, morally and politically, but think what harm those dreadful wounded miscreants can still do!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Obstructing Justice: Decider Style

You have to admire The Decider. He’s brazen. Nixon would never have dared commute the sentence of any of his mafiosi the way the Decider did for Cheney’s capo, Louie “the Scooter” Libby. With approval ratings at Watergate levels, he didn’t hesitate for a minute. Still in Kennebunkport, it was his first order of business after making nice to his estranged pal Vladimir under Poppy’s watchful eye.

Americans are inundated with self-congratulatory civics lessons about how in the Home of the Brave we live under the rule of law, not of men (sic). But the fact is that our Constitution places Presidents largely above the law. Therefore what Bush did was strictly legal. But it is absolutely plain that it is also obstruction of justice, just as Joseph Wilson said upon hearing the news. [Libby was to go to prison soon for having lied about his role in exposing CIA agent Valerie Plame in 2003. Wilson, Plame’s husband, was the real target of Cheney and Bush and Karl Rove; it was to punish him that they “outed” his wife.]

Why did Bush do it? Perhaps brazenness is the whole explanation. But maybe he and Cheney were also afraid that the Scooter’s loyalty would disappear during thirty months of incarceration. Libby has much to tell about what Cheney and Bush knew – and did -- and when they knew and did it. It may be significant that, by having his sentence commuted, he can still plead the Fifth, should Democrats find enough courage to call hearings. If he had been outright pardoned, he could no longer incriminate himself and therefore no longer refuse to testify on those grounds.

Nixon did nothing comparably brazen during the Watergate period because he knew that doing so would make his impeachment even more likely. There was an opposition party then. For his Iran-Contra crimes, Ronald Reagan could have been charged with far graver offenses. But, being more popular at his nadir than Nixon or Bush at theirs, and facing a Democratic Party that was already somewhat Clintonized (on Clintonism, see “Combat Clintonism!”, April 27) he rode out the storm. However even the Gipper would never have dared do anything quite so brazen as Bush just did. Instead, he followed Nixon’s lead, leaving the pardoning and commuting to his successors.

[Ford took care of Nixon and Papa Doc Bush took care of the felonious Reaganites, some of whom – Elliott Abrams most conspicuously – afflict us to this day. One could say that W is just following a family tradition. After all, his father did some mighty swift pardoning -- most notably of Casper “Cap” Weinberger -- just as Bush’s own role in Iran-Contra was coming into view. It should be noted, though, that Iran-Contra wasn’t finally put to rest until Bill Clinton quashed the last investigation. Remarkably, the Clintons, like many other Democrats, are de facto Reagan boosters. But for Bill, one could still fly to Washington’s National, not Reagan National, airport. And who can forget the nauseating funeral oration he delivered when the Gipper’s body finally caught up with his mind.]

To be sure, the Scooter was about to be sent up for a crime that pales in comparison to his real crimes and those of his boss and his boss’s nominal boss. This has been the American way ever since the feds got Al Capone for taxes. But even a Reaganite judge agreed that what Libby did warranted 30 months in prison. Whatever his other reasons may be, by commuting Libby’s sentence, Bush is saying to the world and to the courts and especially to the Democrats what he said to the Iraqi people after it became clear that “the mission” wasn’t exactly “accomplished” – “bring it on.” Hundreds, of thousands of people have died or suffered grievously for the bravado those words denote. But with Democrats in charge of Congress, he may get away with it this time. The one thing Karl Rove and the rest of Bush’s handlers understand is the mettle and timbre of the lesser evil party. They know that they’re only up against pusillanimous Pelosiites. [On “pelosiism,” see “Pelosiism: the Highest Stage of Clintonism,” May 28.]

Thanks to the Decider’s in your face antics, Democrats who are too cowardly to use the word “impeachment” (until, say, 90% of the public calls out for it!) can now at least broach the topic (even with only the support of a substantial majority of Americans) by investigating Bush – and Cheney, who must be impeached first -- for obstruction of justice. Will they do it? They will if we make them -- and Bush, like Cheney, makes our work easier with almost every egregious thing they do. But Democrats are not easily moved. Remember, so far only ten of them have agreed to co-sponsor Dennis Kucinich’s House Resolution 333, calling for the impeachment of Dick Cheney. [See “Cheney to the Rescue?” July 1.] Three of the good guys – Maxine Waters, Keith Ellison and Hank Johnson – are on the House Judiciary Committee. Were the committee’s chairman, John Conyers, to follow his heart, not Nancy Pelosi’s, he could initiate an investigation right away. Now is therefore the time to apply maximum pressure. Now too is the time to give the other members of the so-called Progressive Caucus who also sit on the Judiciary Committee – Mel Watt, Sheila Jackson Lee, Jerrold Nadler, Danny Davis and Tammy Baldwin – no peace until they do the right thing. They have more than enough political cover. They don’t need to be brazen as a Bush boy. They don’t even need a backbone. Simple common decency should suffice.

The “outraged” arch-Clintonite Joe Biden issued a call this morning to flood the White House switchboard voicing opposition to Bush’s brazenness. Far better to follow the advice of the improbably named This is one of the groups in the forefront of the impeachment struggle. Here is a portion of an email they sent out this morning:

-There's only one reason why Bush kept Libby out of jail: to keep him from ratting on Cheney and Bush about their direct involvement in the felonious outing of Valerie Plame.
-In mob circles, it's called silencing a witness. In a courthouse, it's called obstruction of justice. And in Congress, it's called grounds for impeachment. Just ask Richard Nixon.
-On TV, the Busheviks are telling even more lies to drown out talk of impeachment. Via email, Democratic "leaders" are feigning outrage to avoid calling for impeachment.
-That means it's time for us to demand impeachment. Let's make this "Impeachment Summer!"
-Don't waste your time calling the White House (the switchboard is closed anyway). Call your Representative to impeach Cheney and Bush:
1 (800) 828 - 0498
1 (800) 459 - 1887
1 (800) 614 - 2803
1 (866) 340 - 9281
1 (866) 338 - 1015
1 (877) 851 – 6437
Email your Representatives to Impeach Cheney:
Email your Representatives to Impeach Bush:
Email theHouse Judiciary Committee to Start Hearings on H.Res. 333, Articles of Impeachment for Vice President Cheney

Monday, July 2, 2007

Money Matters

The second quarter reports are now mostly in: Barack Obama raised about $32.5 million between April and June, and has gotten contributions from more than 250,000 contributors since entering the race. He added more than 154,000 donors between April and June alone! Hillary Clinton didn’t even come close: she raised just $21 million for the primaries and about $27 million overall. This is the second quarter in which Obama bested Clinton, and his lead is growing. Meanwhile, poor John Edwards reached his goal of $9 million from some 100,000 contributors. This sum, which would have seemed astronomical eight years ago, especially so early in the electoral cycle, has caused media pundits to wonder now if Edwards should any longer be considered in the “top tier.” After all, he did not do that much better than Bill Richardson, who raised $7 million. Christopher Dodd raised $3.25 million. The others, including Dennis Kucinich, did worse; in some cases, much worse.

For the pundits, the contest now is essentially about money. They are probably right, though it isn’t entirely clear why. One would think that the kind of indirect vote buying our most undemocratic system encourages is bound to encounter diminishing marginal returns beyond a certain point, and that Edwards and probably Richardson and even Dodd have exceeded that point. After all, there are only so many ways to spend campaign money constructively. But this remains to be seen. In any case, there plainly is more than a grain of truth in the conventional wisdom: because the more money, the more ads and, other things equal, the more ads, the more votes. This speaks volumes about our political culture. What is even more troubling is the self-fulfilling prophecy aspect of the conventional view. In our “democracy,” corporate media play a major role in delineating the political landscape – legitimating some candidates and positions, marginalizing others. If they say money talks, then it does – whether or not it would without their saying it.

As we enter the summer duldrums, it’s likely that the situation – with Clinton still the “front runner” (not in money, but in likely voters) and with Obama rapidly closing in -- will remain fixed for a while. Of course, developments within the campaigns or events outside their control could still change the situation. But, for those who follow the money, the situation seems more like a two-way race than it formerly did. For reasons explained in almost every preceding posting, Hillary Clinton is bad news. It would therefore be all to the good if Obama blew her out of the water. But how much better is he? It’s hard to say. So far, he has played the coming election like Gary Hart in 1984 (and, until he undid himself with some “Monkey Business,” in 1988) -- all talk and no program. He’s not a Clinton, but, like almost all Democrats, he could nevertheless be a Clintonite. [On the concept of “Clintonism,” see “Combat Clintonism!” April 27.] In that department, both Edwards and Dodd seem better; Kucinich and Gravel seem much better. The corporate media treat the latter two as comic relief. That’s why, sad to say, they are non-starters; so too probably is Dodd. Edwards may still have a chance; let’s hope so. Lets hope too that the other candidates, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson – Clintonites to the core, and right-wing ones at that -- remain where they now are; i.e. nowhere.

Media pundits could actually do some good if, instead of obsessing about the money race, they’d at least discuss measures that would make money less important, and ideas and policies more important. The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans have always been eager to sell themselves to at least some extent. But campaign reform is not impossible even so. It has become more difficult, however, thanks to our vaunted judiciary. At least since Buckley v.Valeo in 1976, a philosophically confused and increasingly ideologically driven Supreme Court has been an obstacle in the way of democratic reform, applying a warped conception of free speech, according to which buying “access” to politicians is a form of free expression, to impede public deliberation and to enhance the power of economic elites. As recent rulings about the feckless McCain-Feingold electoral finance reforms make clear, the problem is now worse than ever with Bush appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court. But there is still much that could be done – for example, Congress could require that publicly licensed media outlets give ample free time to all significant candidates; it could raise the amount of money available through public financing; and it could require embarrassing disclosure statements and the like for candidates who opt out of public financing. The Pelosiites are clearly not up to the task. [On the concept of pelosiism, see “Pelosiism: the Highest Stage of Clintonism,” May 28.] As with so much else, the initiative will have to come from “below,” from us.

For now, though, with state primaries bunched together just after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, and with so many anti-Bush voters still, as in 2004, strategizing like pundit wannabes -- all the while taking cues from the corporate media’s framing of the contest -- exposure and therefore money just might be decisive. It is becoming clear that “debates” that are anything but debates will not clear the air; certainly none of the three already held have come close. In the last one, the June 28 “forum” at Howard University, it was all but impossible to discern an iota of difference, at the level of policies and programs, between most of the candidates. Were it not for Kucinich and Gravel, there’d not even be much point in watching – except in the hope that someone named Hillary would make a gaffe. Too bad she is so clever. If the decisive issue ultimately is money -- as it need not be, should not be, but could well be -- it may also be too bad that Obama is so clever too.