Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween: The Final Stretch

NPR’s “Morning Report” has long been a reliable source for conventional wisdom, and not just thanks to the inimitable Cokie Roberts. Thus NPR’s ace political correspondents, Mara Liasson and Ken Rudin proclaimed this morning (October 29) that the horse race for the Democratic nomination is about to go into its final stretch. Translation: the October 30 “debate” in Philadelphia may be the last chance to stop the Clinton juggernaut – but only if Hillary makes a “gaffe” (which is unlikely) or if somebody else comes up with a show-stopping bon mot (as Ronald “the actor” Reagan was good at doing). This is indeed conventional wisdom, conveyed with the usual mindlessness of what passes for journalism today. But since what Liasson and Rudin and others like them say can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, it could be true: the race to the bottom in the Democratic Party may soon be over.

If it is, the corporate media – and NPR, being not much better -- are more than usually culpable. It is they who have turned this election, even more than its predecessors, into a “horse race” – reporting, first on the money (not where it comes from, but how much of it there is) and then on polling data that reports mainly on the effectiveness of their reporting. “Issues” are seldom discussed; power relations and their effects on the economic and cultural factors that shape agendas – determining what the “issues” are -- are not discussed at all. Thus, from early on, it was Clinton versus Obama. Over the summer, Obama seemed to tank – thanks partly to the desertion of African American “leaders.” [As was widely reported, some of them think that he isn’t “black enough.” But the deeper problem, not reported in the media, is that some of them all of the time (especially the stalwarts of the formerly progressive Black Caucus) and all of them some of the time have become bought and paid for assets of corporate power, and of various miscreant “lobbies, not least the Israel lobby. Thus these “leaders” are natural allies of the Clintons who, by the way, “feel the pain” of the other African Americans, the vast majority, who, along with most latinos and other “persons of color,”are of no interest to the corporations and lobbies. Small wonder, then, that so many pillars of the community, people like Ron Dellums and John Lewis, would endorse Hillary Clinton. Obama may be – and probably is – a Clintonite at heart. But if it’s a Clintonite you want, why not go for the genuine article!

It isn’t just the two candidates who actually have something important to say – Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel – who are read out of the story (when they aren’t turned into objects of derision.). It’s the more “electable” candidates too. The one most harmed by media neglect is the one who still has the best chance to pull off an upset, John Edwards. Arguably, on foreign policy – or at least on imperialism and war – his positions are more or less the same as Obama’s and even Clinton’s. He is clearly better on trade, however, and even more clearly on a host of domestic “issues.” So is Chris Dodd. On the Iraq War, if nothing else, Bill Richardson has the best position this side of Kucinich and Gravel. But none of this matters to the opinion makers. They’re too busy promoting Clinton’s inevitability, while keeping Obama in focus just enough to perk up interest so that their audience won’t fall asleep or go away.

Does it matter? Arguments can be made both ways. On the one hand, Clinton isn’t that much worse than the others (Kucinich and Gravel excepted) and, although much hated (for the wrong reasons) by “the vast right-wing conspiracy,” she, or any Democrat, is bound to be a winner against any of the pitiful candidates the Republicans might field. On the other hand, the Democrats in Congress have been so utterly disappointing (especially after being voted into office to end the Iraq War) and, more generally, so worthy of contempt that they just might lose. That’s an outcome too frightening to contemplate: imagine, say, Rudy Giuliani in the White House (advised by Norman Podhoretz) and Mike Huckabee, everybody’s choice for VP (according to the conventional wisdom) affably chiming in for creationism from his “bully pulpit.” It strains credulity to imagine that anything could be worse than the Cheney/Bush administration, but just watch any Republican debate! A Democratic defeat is unlikely even with Clinton leading the ticket. But it is not impossible.

Maybe I’m so worried because it will soon be Halloween, the season to be scared. After all, in the light of day, I realize that we do live in a country (and world) eager to see the backs of Cheney and Bush, that the Republicans have fielded the vilest collection of candidates ever to vie for national office, and that, in recent months, their useful idiots, the “values voters,” have all but given up. I know this because, in its October 28 edition, The New York Times, which is never wrong, said so twice – in a long article in the Sunday Magazine by David Kirkpatrick and in a column by Frank Rich. Of course, there are still a few hapless neo-cons, like Charles Krauthammer, who think the Republican candidates are just fine, and who keep repeating this nonsense in their syndicated Washington Post columns. But Krauthammer, like everyone close to the Vice President, has trouble with reality. Why then am I still worried? Could it be because I can’t help but remember what the Democrats are like -- not just the comparatively powerless ones who illustrate Robert Frost’s observation that a liberal is ‘someone who won’t take his own side in an argument,’ but also the Clintonized leadership, who want nothing more than to implement Cheney/Bush policies more competently and in a kinder, gentler way. Even with Hillary Clinton as the candidate, they’ll probably get their way (thanks to George Bush and notwithstanding the hordes of right-wing Hillary haters), and we’ll be better off than with the alternative. But win or lose, we’ll lose.

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