Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rankings

The news this morning (December 16) is that The Des Moines Register continues to act shamefully: for the Republican nomination, they endorsed John McCain, the warmonger, and (surprise! surprise!) Hillary Clinton for the Democrats. In time for the New Hampshire primary, the “liberal” Boston Globe, also endorsed McCain, but at least they had the decency to go for Barack Obama over Clinton.

Note: according to politico.com, the sanctimonious twit and unabashed Likudnik, Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, will join The Register and The Globe tomorrow by endorsing John McCain.

The Clinton endorsement -- and the Obama one too, though less egregiously -- is an endorsement of corporate “globalization” led by the United States and backed by military force. That’s what the Clinton administration was about; just as much as its successor. The difference is just that (Bill) Clinton did it better than Cheney or Bush. Therefore why The Globe or even The Register would bother to endorse a Republican is beyond me. Could they still think that their corporate bosses need the Republicans? Well, maybe, since the Democrats are accountable, barely, to constituencies with interests at odds with those of what The Register euphemistically calls “the business community.” But Republicans these days are inept, and their crop of candidates is pathetic. If they are good at anything, it’s in making Cheney and Bush look good by comparison. McCain may be the least risible among them. Perhaps that’s what the editors of The Register and The Globe saw in him. Then maybe it isn’t such a mystery that they’d endorse him. If they really want to be true to their mission, now is the time to come to the aid of the party duopoly system. That there be Republicans and Democrats and nothing else is crucial for the regime they labor tirelessly to reproduce. So they had to find some Republican they could endorse. Not being too much of a bad joke must therefore count for something, enough to override that pesky war criminal/war monger thing.

On the other hand, for those of us who don’t have quite the same stake in the duopoly, it’s plain that any Democrat would be better than any of the Republicans’ sorry crew. They’re horrendous in different ways, but not one stands out as better than the others – except maybe the libertarian Ron Paul. It wasn’t always so. I’m not just talking about before Ronald Reagan. In 1992, I let myself be talked into voting for Bill Clinton over the Bush boy’s Poppy, but I was never convinced he was the lesser evil. I’m still not. In 2000, it was far from obvious that the not yet transformed Al Gore would be all that much better than Poppy’s dimwitted little boy. That only became clear later. Today, however, there is no doubt about who the lesser evil is. Even the worst of the Democrats is better by far than anyone she or he will run against.

Ranking the Republicans is therefore easy: if minus numbers are unavailable, they all get zeros. Ranking the Democrats is more complicated. The problem is that there’s a qualitative difference among them that has to be taken into account. Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich can’t be factored in with the rest.

This is not just because they have no chance of winning. Going by the polls, neither do Richardson, Dodd or Biden. Neither is it just because they’ve been marginalized in the media – for example, by The Des Moines Register, which excluded them from their “debate.” It’s because they’re not really running for the office, though they probably think they are. Given that they cannot win -- and that if, by a miracle, one or the other somehow did win, they could not govern -- what they’re doing is more worthwhile than trying to become President.

Since I live in neither Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina, I, along with most other Americans, will probably have no influence at all over the choice of the Democratic nominee. Such is the “wisdom” of our electoral system. That’s why, if it’s clear who the nominee will be by the time I get to “vote,” I’ll probably vote for Mike Gravel. Along with Kucinich and (perhaps) Bill Richardson, he’s the only genuinely anti-war candidate. But that’s not the main reason I’ll vote for him. I like Mike because, being old enough to be free to speak the truth (like Jimmy Carter on Israel/Palestine), he says, every chance he gets that the other candidates, the Democratic Party, the electoral system, and the regime The Des Moines Register and Boston Globe defend are, to put it concisely, full of shit. If the Democrats nominate a Clintonite and especially if they nominate Hillary Clinton, that’s precisely the message I’ll want to convey through my vote.

Kucinich has a more serious campaign and more developed positions on a range of issues. On those issues, none of the other Democratic contenders come close. But, for reasons I’ve discussed several times, “issues” aren’t where the action is. The Clintonized Democratic Party and the Republicans of Cheney and Bush are, for the most part, peas in a pod; the main difference is that the one is fairly competent while the other does a “heck of a job.” To break out of that mold, what is needed are not better positions on given issues, but the introduction of a new dynamic that will change the agenda – and therefore the issues -- altogether. To that end, having better positions on given issues is important. It is wonderful when Kucinich gets a chance to present his views, and appalling when they are suppressed, as they just were in Des Moines, or marginalized. But getting the issues right isn’t tantamount to moving the agenda forward. This is a point that much of what passes for the left today seems to have forgotten. They, along with Kucinich, are like “utopian socialists,” though without any hint of socialism or any other saving grace. They think that having better positions is enough.

Which raises yet another complaint against the Kucinich campaign: if he’s going to propose better policies on the issues without much regard for the underlying conditions that generate the policies that must be changed and the constraints on changing them, why stop where he does? If we are to be utopian, why also be modest? It isn’t just the Bush family that’s deficient on “the vision thing.” A far, far better world is possible than the one Kucinich’s program envisions. Its broad contours have been well understood for at least the past two centuries. Why not spread that word?

There are, however, several points Kucinich makes that the “electable” candidates do not, that urgently need to be injected into the present campaign. I will cite just two of them, corresponding to what, as of now, seem to be the two main “issues” of the campaign:

a) on Iraq, Kucinich (and Gravel) not only want the war ended NOW; they want no residual U.S. presence in Iraq. [So too does Bill Richardson, though his “timetable” for getting out is longer than theirs.] In varying degrees, the other candidates – Hillary Clinton, most blatantly – want to leave large bases in Iraq, leaving the administration of law and order in the country itself to a comprador government. Kucinich’s is and theirs is not a genuine anti-war policy. Indeed, what the Democrats seem to want is what Cheney and Bush wanted all along. It is now beyond serious dispute that what the Iraq War was really about was controlling oil, the world economy’s most important strategic resource. All the rest was either a lie (as in “weapons of mass destruction” or “establishing democracy”) or icing on the cake (as in installing a government that would make nice with Israel – not just under the radar, but up front). Hillary Clinton still hasn’t admitted she was wrong when she voted to authorize Cheney and Bush to go to war. Maybe that’s because she’s still doing it. Maybe it’s because she believes in it – as much as a Clinton can believe in anything.

b) on health care, only Kucinich calls for ridding the system of private (for profit) insurance companies. This is clearly preferable to the mandate plus subsidies systems proposed by John Edwards and, lately, Hillary Clinton, or the even weaker plan proposed by Barack Obama. Proposing single-payer, not for profit health insurance goes up against the political power of the insurance companies. But it makes eminently good sense both economically and morally. It makes sense economically because it is inefficient to impose layers of bureaucracy on the health care system; it makes sense morally because it is indefensible for capitalist enterprises that contribute nothing to health care to profit off the illnesses of others. More tellingly, though, there is reason to think that, in practice, only a single-payer plan can achieve universal coverage. Kucinich understands this; if the others do, then they don’t really care about universal coverage. That is to be expected where “serious” players, unlike Gravel and Kucinich, are involved. When it comes down to a choice between serving the people and serving the paymasters, the paymasters win every time.

* *

Then who should we be rooting for in the early primaries? Excluding all the Republicans and, for very different reasons, Kucinich and Gravel, how should the other candidates be ranked?

I think the top choice is easy – it’s John Edwards, for reasons I’ve amply explained in past entries. I must say, though, that I’m not hopeful. The corporate media, including NPR, have been doing their best to ignore him. Such is to be expected when the message of the campaign is anti-corporate. We’ll know soon enough how effective they have been. Perhaps Iowans will pleasantly surprise the world.

The bottom choice is easy too – as I’ve argued ad nauseum, it’s Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden is not much better. He’s a Clintonite – through and through. He’s also hilariously mindless, not just when he mouths off but also when he advances his more thought-out ideas (like dismembering Iraq). Biden is as much or more in AIPAC’s pocket as any of the other candidates, Hillary included. And he’s arrogant to a degree that is politically disabling. No one could possibly be as smart about foreign policy as he thinks he is, and no one could be as stupid as he seems to be. Well, maybe Condoleezza could, but she’s not running.

I’d rank Bill Richardson second, and Chris Dodd third – both way behind Edwards. Between those two, it’s a close call. Richardson is better on the war – he says he will bring all the troops home in a year. Dodd is better on the environment – he wants to tax corporate polluters directly. I hold it against Richardson that he was such an integral part of the (Bill) Clinton administration. But I think it counts for something that he is an Hispanic. [I don’t pretend to be so far beyond liberal goody-goodyism that this doesn’t count; especially after rejecting the woman and the African American.] And I hold Dodd’s repeated calls for “civility” against him. As Barry the G might have said, civility in defense of Clintonism is no virtue. Every time Dodd tries to make peace between Hillary and her competitors, I wish that Mike Gravel was there to let some light shine through.

I could live with Obama, if that’s what it takes to keep Hillary out, but I’d rank him below Richardson and Dodd. As a guilty white liberal, I’d like to be able to be more enthusiastic; I really would. I also don’t see his purported lack of “experience” as a problem, the way The Des Moines Register editors do. In fact, I’m puzzled that they, or anyone else, think that Hillary’s position, whatever it might have been, in Bill’s bedroom counts as “experience” (of the relevant kind). No, the problem with Obama is that, whenever a little substance shows through his feel good talk about unity, it looks disturbingly Clintonite. Obama’s appeal to the corporate media is that he’s safe. If a new, more progressive dynamic is to be unleashed, safety is not anything to prize. Also, as The Des Moines Register editors noted, he’s relying substantially on (Bill) Clinton advisors, especially on foreign policy. Not restoring them is as important as not restoring the Clintons themselves. Remember the murderous Iraq sanctions, the bombing campaigns, the illegal demonstration wars (Kosovo, especially), and the “humanitarian interventions.”

But, Obama will do. Clinton is another story. There are limits to lesser evilism, after all. If the Democratic caucus goers and voters in the favored states don’t rise to their responsibilities, it may be time yet again to try to buck the duopoly system. Yes, I would vote for Hillary over a Huckabee/Petraeus ticket, or whatever the Republicans come up with. But only if I lived in a state where the tally is likely to be close. Fortunately, I don’t. So if a third party option is unavailable, then, as in many elections past, I’ll find myself having to make a difficult choice. I’ll have to decide which of my dogs’ or friends’ names to write in.

1 comment:

Ron said...

Obama win the nomination over Hillary Clinton but the real candidate to watch is Ron Paul on the GOP side. He could win the GOP nomination.

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