Thursday, January 31, 2008

Adieu Edwards

With Dennis Kucinich not included (and now out of the race) and with Mike Gravel also excluded and hanging on just to be ornery, the Democratic candidates didn’t have much to debate in recent debates. But until yesterday (Jan. 30), there was still a slim chance that primary voters would select – and then that, in November, the people would elect – someone who might unleash a dynamic that would move the country in a genuinely progressive direction. For a while, it looked like John Edwards might do just that. But now, having been aggressively marginalized by the corporate and corporate friendly media, he has taken himself out of the race. There is therefore no one left to vote for – though empty talk (that’s all it is!) of “change”(for what?) and “hope” (in what?) and “unity” (with whom?) may still “inspire” apolitical and clueless voters like Caroline Kennedy.

As per usual, there is still plenty to vote against – the prospect of an unalloyed Clinton Restoration, under a Hillary Clinton presidency, above all. Then in November, voters living in “battleground” states, can vote against whichever dismal Republican gets the GOP nomination. That will probably be John McCain, incarnation of the imperialist dream, though it could still be the Family Values guy, Mitt Romney. Those two draw on different constituencies and differ on a number of issues, but they certainly have one thing in common: they both make George Bush look good – well, almost. One would think that, after Bush, a Democrat, any Democrat, could hardly lose. But never underestimate the fear and loathing Hillary Clinton engenders – for the wrong reasons. And never underestimate the racism of the American electorate. It’s not just white voters who might bolt. No one dares talk about it, but all the indications are that many Latinos don’t exactly take to African American candidates either. It’s likely, even so, that either Clinton or Obama will be the next President; for that we must thank George W. Bush. But there’s still a chance that, come November, Democrats will rue the day they forced Edwards out of the race. If not then, then surely in the years that follow – as the perils of inchoate and unprincipled centrism become increasingly obvious.

Before the primaries got underway, I proposed a ranking of the Democratic candidates. Hillary Clinton was, of course, at the bottom of the list – not for the reasons most anti-Hillary voters put her there, but because there’s no political space between her and her husband. Her husband’s administration completed what Ronald Reagan started and prepared the way handily for what George W. Bush subsequently did. In doing so, it helped generate a lot of inequality at home and killed many people abroad – in Iraq (through sanctions), and in Yugoslavia and elsewhere (through bombs). In a slightly more just world, Bill Clinton would long ago have been brought to justice. In our actual world, the Democrats won’t even try to impeach the far more virulent criminals Clinton made way for – Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and a host of others including, of course, the hapless Bush boy himself. It is a sure thing that they’ll never be brought to justice. It is even surer that the Clintonites won’t. Needless to say, the reasons to vote against Hillary now are mainly prospective – we mustn’t let that sorry crew back into power. But there’s also a bit of retrospective justice that can come from denying the Clinton family the office they think is rightfully theirs. That’s probably as much justice as the Clintons will see in their lifetimes. In some remote future, though, when today’s political concerns no longer resonate, be sure that historians will have their way with them.

The second worst of the bunch was Joe Biden, a Clintonite in words and deed. Then came Barack Obama. He was followed, in ascending order, by Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson, though, the choice between them was very close. Edwards stood at the top of the list, towering over the others. [Kucinich and Gravel, already plainly “unelectable,” were off the charts. Of all the candidates, Kucinich was far and away the best on “the issues.” But I like Gravel better, and will probably vote for him when I finally get a chance to vote, if only because he’s old enough and crusty enough to point out, more civilly than I would, that the others, Hillary Clinton especially, are full of shit.] I suggested then that Biden and Clinton fall below the threshold that even ardent lesser evilists like myself can accept, but that Obama probably does make the cut. Nothing has happened in recent weeks to cause me to change my mind.

Why did Edwards fail? According to the media yesterday and today, it is because poverty never caught on as an “issue.” There’s some truth to this. Unlike in 1968, when Bobby Kennedy ran a similar campaign, today’s poor -- black, white and brown -- are quiescent. Unlike in 1965, when LBJ launched “the war on poverty,” the idea that the state can be used to solve social problems has all but disappeared from our political culture. It would have taken both – insurgent social movements and a political culture disposed to be helpful – to have made poverty an “issue.” No candidate could do that on his own.

In a larger sense, though, it is a mistake to think of poverty as an “issue” at all. It is a by-product of the economic system no Democrat even thinks to question. In principle, wealthy capitalist societies can eliminate poverty -- northern European social democracy very nearly did. But the conditions must be right: there must be a stable (and fairly homogenous) population, a strong labor movement, political parties that are comparatively free to operate independently of business interests, and so on. All these conditions are lacking here. Indeed, after decades of deregulation – the work of Clintonites as much as of Reagan or the Bush family – we have, in place, conditions ripe for the intensification of poverty, not its diminution or elimination. Would an Edwards presidency have been able to reverse the process? Perhaps it might have begun to do so. My expectation was that it would indirectly encourage the development of social movements beyond its control that would propel the struggle forward. We’ll never know. Supposedly, both Clinton and Obama promised Edwards that they’d not turn away from the poor. Could he be so na├»ve as to believe them?

Did Edwards really get out of the race for the reason his spokesmen claim: because he didn’t want to play the role of “spoiler” or “king maker”? That seems unlikely. Isn’t “spoiling” and “king making” what politics is about? Wouldn’t spoiling the prospects for a Clinton Restoration be an eminently worthwhile accomplishment in its own right? Why he got out at this point -- before Super Tuesday, even before tonight’s debate -- is, in a word, unclear. Perhaps he just ran out of money. Time will tell.

Poverty might have been doomed as an “issue,” but that is not why the Edwards campaign failed to gain traction. For that, the corporate and corporate friendly media are largely to blame. It is not just that Clinton v Obama makes for good drama. Edwards was ignored because his “message,” like Kucinich’s and Gravel’s, was anti-corporate. That’s something the corporate and corporate-friendly media cannot abide.

Juan Williams’ commentary this morning on NPR illustrates the problem perspicaciously, while purporting to account for it. Most NPR commentators are banal and uninformative. Williams is all that and more; his sensibilities veer plainly towards the right and his analyses veer even more plainly towards the inane. Such was the case this morning. He repeated the line the corporate media deploy when they talk about Edwards (which they do as little as possible). According to Williams, Edwards’ campaign was “strident” and “shrill” and, of course, Edwards is a phony (what with his haircut, his hedge funds, and his oversized house). Also, there are those votes of his in the Senate that purportedly make a mockery of his current positions. Edwards can say a million times that those votes were wrong, something Hillary Clinton won’t say about her even worse record, but that’s not good enough for NPR. In reality, of course, it’s the Juan Williamses of the world that derailed America’s best chance in generations to take a progressive turn. What chutzpah!

What we’re left with now is vacuous talk of “change” coming from a living Rorschach test in whom benighted Democrats see what they want. But if voting for Obama is what it takes to send the Clintons packing, then so be it. From the safety of a “safe” state, I can aver that I will not vote for any Clinton ever again. [I was talked into it in 1992, and I’ve regretted it ever since.] I’m beginning to think similarly about Obama. As he runs even more towards the right with Edwards and Kucinich and the others gone, I expect this thought will soon become irresistible. If only to send a “message,” it’s looking more and more like it’s Third Party time again. It’s certainly time NOW to begin to mobilize for the situation we will confront next year and beyond – even if the least bad, and only remotely acceptable, candidate wins.

Note: the news this morning is that Ralph Nader has launched an exploratory committee to run for President again, probably as a Green. That should get the Pelosiites' goat! The Greens have other able candidates as well. Far more than any worthless pledge from Clinton or Obama, this may be the silver lining in yesterday’s sad news.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Sunshine Primary

Outstanding news: Rudy G is out! His campaign strategy was as dumb as most of what he does, and now he’s paying the price. That’s not all: Mitt the Family (Values) Guy lost, not just delegates but also his own money, which he spent in vain. Couldn’t have happened to a bigger phony! He lost by only some 5% of the vote, but Florida is a winner take all state, so he got absolutely zilch for all he spent. The bad news is that somebody had to win. It was John McCain, of course -- the most vicious of the “security” hawks (after Rudy G) and the living embodiment of the imperialist dream. The geezers and gusanos came through for him; they beat back the Christian and quasi-Christian Taliban. It’s a close call which is worse. But there’s a silver lining in McCain’s new “front runner” status. Because he’s the least risible and most reliable of the pathetic crew running for the Republican nomination, it makes it less likely that the plutocrats, who’ve all but turned their favorite party over to their useful idiots, will decide that there is no need for Michael Bloomberg or anyone else to carry their banner forward as an “independent.” It seems that Bloomberg has all but decided that as well, and that’s probably good news for the Democrats. Minds could still change after Super Tuesday, but they probably won’t.

McCain is the most formidable opponent the Republicans can muster against Hillary Clinton, who could well be made to seem a war monger too, albeit a more timid and less consistent one. The Christian Taliban and other “conservatives” will have a harder time getting behind McCain than, say, Romney and that could save the day. Still, should McCain become the inevitable Republican choice, as could happen next week, it might just move a few benighted Democrats to rethink their position on a Clinton Restoration. Needless to say, that would be good news as well.

On the Democratic side, Clinton won in Florida, but it was only a straw pole. Evidently, geezers and gusanos like her better than Obama (or the marginalized, but still fighting and still significant John Edwards). Clinton’s victory probably won’t block Obama’s “momentum” – especially now that his campaign can play the Kennedy card. Obama has become a Rorschach test; voters see what they want in him. It only shows how utterly apolitical most voters are: “change” (for what?), “unity” (with whom?). Still, the Devil we don’t know is better than the one we do. But it’s looking more and more like even if Obama finally does defeat the Clintons, that it will once again be time to think about “third” (actually second) party alternatives. Plutocrats may no longer see a need to breach the duopoly that serves them so well but, if only to enlighten the clueless, “progressive” activists should think seriously about again taking the burden on.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Kennedys Contra Clintons

Later today (Jan. 28) at American University, where JFK launched the Peace Corps (as in “ask not what your country can do for you…”), Ted Kennedy will endorse Barack Obama. According to press reports, he was at first going to be neutral. Then, last week, Bill Clinton’s over the top campaigning for Hillary crossed a line, forcing him off the fence. One would think that Clinton’s role in killing more people through sanctions than have died (so far) from WMDs (including the atomic bombs dropped by that other Democratic icon, Harry Truman) would be reason enough to oppose a Clinton Restoration, but apparently it took Clinton’s “fairy tale” remark to bring Kennedy on board for Obama. The conventional wisdom conveyed this morning on NPR -- the authoritative source of conventional wisdom, especially on Monday mornings, when Cokie Roberts presents her views – is that Kennedy’s endorsement will hurt Hillary. If so, his sense of proportion notwithstanding, more power to Ted.

Today’s speech will follow by a day Caroline Kennedy’s op ed endorsement of Obama in The New York Times. Obama, she wrote, “will inspire a new generation of Americans,” like her father did. It’s true; JFK did “inspire” many young people to focus on public affairs – even to the point of contributing, inadvertently, to the rise of the New Left. This is one of the ironies of history, inasmuch as JFK was anything but a man of the Left. He presided over countless imperialist adventures (including the Bay of Pigs and the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem) and brought the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe (during the Cuban missile crisis). He also launched the Vietnam War. Though he is remembered as a brave warrior for civil rights, in reality he only went along with the civil rights movement when and insofar as he could not do otherwise. His other domestic policy achievements were nil. Like Ronald Reagan two decades later, he did “stimulate” the economy by cutting taxes for the rich. But he left few other enduring legacies. In short, had he not been assassinated, neither his looks nor his wit would have saved his reputation. Another President like Caroline’s father is the last thing we need (except perhaps another President like Chelsea’s father or, worse still, like Jenna and Barb’s). In fairness to Caroline, though, she did not identify Obama’s politics with her father’s. She only claimed that Obama was inspiring like her father was.

Politically, Bobby Kennedy was even worse than his brother until the months before his assassination when he transformed himself into a genuine progressive. The contemporary aspirant to the Democratic nomination who most resembles him in this respect is not Obama; it is John Edwards. This is a model worth endorsing, though it’s unlikely any of Bobby’s children will make the case. To the best of my knowledge, none of them are Edwards supporters. And, of course, they don’t have access to the media like Caroline does. Still, it is worth noting that, like RFK’s, Edwards’ politics evolved leftward rather abruptly. When the “liberal media” isn’t ignoring the Edwards campaign, they trot out pundits to note his transformation and conclude, on this basis, that he must be a phony. A Kennedy in the 1960s was not so easily ignored. But RFK was largely spared sneering comments about his genuiness because, like his brother, he died too soon, becoming a martyr of whom the corporate and corporate friendly media dare not speak ill. However if, as Caroline Kennedy suggests, inspiration is all, then better to be inspired by someone more like her uncle than her father – better to support Edwards than Obama.

Leaving inspiration aside, it would even be better to support someone more like her other uncle – someone like, say, Chris Dodd, a good old-fashioned liberal. The most consistently liberal of the Kennedy brothers is and always has been Ted. Had he defeated Jimmy Carter in the contest for the 1980 Democratic nomination, who knows how much better off the world would now be. Not only would the US probably have been spared Ronald Reagan (and the Bush family), but the miserable trajectory of American liberalism since 1980 would have been quite different. The easily inspired clueless have it backwards: “all things considered,” Ted was (and still is) the best Kennedy brother and John the worst. [It’s hard to factor Bobby into the ranking since, for most of his life, he was as bad or badder than any of them, but then, briefly at the end, far better.] Since most of “the youth” Obama inspires have no notion of what any of the Kennedys were about, Caroline Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama, however poorly reasoned, may do some good, just as her uncle’s endorsement might – by making the prospect of an outright Clinton Restoration more remote.

There’s something else that bears mention that Caroline got wrong. She writes: “We need a change in the leadership of this country – just as we did in 1960.” We do indeed need a change in leadership, a much more profound change than Obama is likely to provide. But leaving that aside, the “change” we need is orders of magnitude different from what was needed in 1960. George W. Bush is the worst American President ever; at least if harm done is the standard. But Eisenhower was, if anything, the best (least bad) of the whole sorry lot since FDR. This is not the place to make the case for that proposition, so let me just assert that Ike bested JFK on all points except one -- “inspiration” – and that this hardly outweighs the rest. That Ike also bested Bill Clinton is clear as can be.

Finally, since Caroline Kennedy has injected her family into the primary contest, there is a comment I cannot forbear from making. JFK’s presidency, though “inspiring,” was very bad news. Her mother was another story. If only Caroline had used her access to the media to argue for “a First Lady like [her] mother” instead of “a President like [her] father,” she would have done much more good than she has by intervening into the Obama v. Clinton contest. Then she might have helped break the de facto embargo on news of Dennis Kucinich, whose views on all “the issues” are far superior to Obama’s and Clinton’s, and even Edwards’. Since Jackie, there has never been even a remote prospect of a First Lady anywhere near as hot as Elizabeth Kucinich. In a world where, as Caroline says, the (other) “candidates’ goals are similar,” that should count for something.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A "B+" for South Carolina

Had John Edwards won the South Carolina primary, as he did in 2004, Obama come in second and Clinton a miserable third, South Carolina’s Democrats would deserve an “A+” and the world would forever be indebted to them. Had Obama come in first, Edwards second, and Clinton third, that would be worth an “A” or “A-” (depending on how far behind Edwards Hillary was. If it was far enough to hurt her significantly on Super Tuesday, that would certainly merit a full-fledged “A”.) The actual outcome was, of course, Obama, Clinton, Edwards. That was more or less expected and would therefore be worth no more than a “B” (given pervasive grade inflation), but for the fact that Obama trounced Slick Willy’s wife and Edwards didn’t come in too far behind. That wasn’t great, but it was pretty good. Thank you South Carolina. You deserve the plus.

Obama is, again, downplaying the significance of race and the Clintons, lately, have gone along, nominally. But the fact is that Obama did so well because he got about 80% of the black vote. Contrary to what I suggested yesterday, not that many African Americans in South Carolina do need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. But Obama didn’t do all that well with white voters. It could be different outside the South. The jury is still out on whether race will do Obama in. But even if it doesn’t, the danger of a full-fledged, unalloyed Clinton Restoration is far from vanquished. In the 90s, Bill Clinton completed Reagan’s work and set Cheney’s and Bush’s in motion. Who knows what horrors the next installment might bring. Now is therefore the time for all good women and men who will be voting on Super Tuesday to come to their senses about the Clintons. Despite the vacuity of his talk of “change,” the devil we don’t know is better than the devil we do. He may govern much as the Clintons would, but at least he is unlikely to bring as many of the old Clinton hands back into power as Hillary would. In theory, Clinton and Obama could still fight each other to exhaustion, leaving the progressive candidate, John Edwards, to pick up the pieces (if he can somehow stay in contention). But, in practice, “Why not the best?” is almost certainly a lost cause. However, thanks to South Carolina’s Democrats, “Why not the least bad?” is more than ever on the agenda. For that small but not insignificant victory, thanks again South Carolinians.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

South Carolina

Our primary system makes inequality of political influence a cardinal principle of American “democracy” circa 2008. Some 150,000 caucus goers in Iowa made Barack Obama the “front runner” for a few days. They also raised the hope that the Clintons would soon no longer be important national political figures. The voters of New Hampshire dashed that hope. For those not willfully blind, they also showed that there are still white voters who, regardless of what they say to pollsters, just cannot bring themselves to vote for an African American. The Nevada caucuses raised similar questions about Latino voters and about the effectiveness of organized labor. They also gave the corporate and corporate friendly media a big victory. The media had been working overtime to marginalize John Edwards’ mildy anti-corporate campaign. Nevadans responded accordingly. Now it falls to South Carolinians to keep the Edwards campaign alive and maybe Obama’s as well. Obama is likely to do poorly in South Carolina among white voters. That’s not surprising. But he may also do less well than expected among African Americans. If he doesn’t win big this Saturday, it could spell his doom. African Americans comprise more than 50% of likely Democratic voters in South Carolina, and it seems that many of them think well of the Clintons. Like so many others, they evidently do need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

The (Bill) Clinton presidency will be remembered for two things: its foreign and military policies which prepared the way for the neo-conservative coup that, under Dick Cheney’s protection, won George W. Bush’s heart and “mind”; and for being more Reaganite than Reagan in its assault on New Deal and Great Society institutions. The first of these achievements has cost many South Carolinians, black and white, their lives, and injured many more, directly and indirectly. The second has been no less harmful. Ronald Reagan and, to a lesser extent, the first George Bush, were, to be sure, ardent proponents of the deregulation of everything. But it was Jimmy Carter who got the ball rolling and Bill Clinton who did more than any of the others to execute the project. Nowhere was this more true than in the financial sector. Perhaps the worst thing Clinton did, from today’s perspective, was to engineer the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which, since 1933, had kept commercial and investment banking separate. This was what made the depredations of Citi Group, Merrill Lynch and their ilk possible. It was, in turn, those blue chip pillars of capitalism that enabled predatory lending everywhere, not just in the sub-prime mortgage market. African Americans contemplating voting for Hillary Clinton should reflect on who is behind recent intensifications of their miseries. So should everyone else.

Last week, I discussed Barack Obama praise for Ronald Reagan’s political skills. Obama’s remarks suggested that the Gipper was an example to follow in promoting “change.” The Clintons made much of what Obama had said – most famously during the Myrtle Beach debate on MLK Day. Obama has since tried to “Clinton” his way out, parsing his words to show that what he “really meant” was that he admired how Reagan got his ideas into the mainstream, not the ideas themselves. Technically, he was correct, just as Bill Clinton often was. After all, in legalese, it does depends what “is” is. But just as Obama would never praise Hitler for his oratorical skills, neither should he or any other Democrat praise Ronald Reagan for anything. The Clintons were right to take him to task. They were also hypocritical – not just because Bill Clinton was, in his deeds, more Reaganite than Reagan himself, but because his good words for the Gipper -- and Hillary’s too --make Obama’s praise seem faint. A commentary by E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post on January 25 makes this eminently clear.

The same paper on the same day ran an attack on John Edwards by their house neo-con Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer’s “argument” hardly warrants comment; it is hysterical and incoherent, even by Krauthammer’s standards. But it is a hopeful sign that the forces of order now find it necessary to lash out against the most progressive of the remaining Democratic candidates (excluding Mike Gravel who has been utterly marginalized). Maybe Edwards isn’t quite finished yet. In our crazy system, that’s up to South Carolina’s Democratic voters to decide.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The New York Times Takes Sides (Again)

In the run up to the Iraq War, The New York Times, paragon of the “liberal” press, operated as an adjunct to the Bush/Cheney government’s propaganda machine – echoing its lies and, famously, through Judith Miller and others, helping to concoct them. This is what The Times has done since time immemorial. This is why The Times’ reputation for credibility, such as it is, rests mainly on a handful of exceptions. Those exceptions have occurred when divisions within ruling circles emerged. In such moments, what counts as “legitimate” discourse in our “democracy” can be less constricted than usual. With economic and ecological catastrophes on the horizon, one would think we would be in such a moment now; and, indeed, fissures in the homogeneity of ruling class thinking are developing. But The Times’ editors, if they are not oblivious, seem to have decided that the old, timeworn center can still hold. Thus, as per usual, they’re doing their bit for what they take to be a still solid regime. This morning’s evidence: their endorsement of Hillary Clinton. That The Times would favor a Clinton Restoration is not surprising. What is remarkable is how, in making a case for their position, they outdid themselves repeating every tidbit of conventional wisdom they could muster (“all the news [sic] that’s fit to print”). Read their editorial and marvel, but don’t be surprised. This is only the latest episode in a series extending back, it seems, into an infinitely remote past.

The Times also endorsed John McCain. There’s a lesson here too. As much as it could, given its niche in our political culture, the “anti-war” Times led the way beating the war drums in 2002 and 2003 and beyond, much like the “anti-war” Clintons did. In endorsing McCain, The Times picked the most bellicose (and unrepentant) Republican they could find, except maybe for Rudy G, with whom they have a long history of mutual contempt. Granted, The Times' editors had a miserable field from which to choose. But one would have thought that someone in power at the paper of record would have remembered from his or her college days that “none of the above” is often the right answer. Could anything be clearer in this case?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kucinich Out

The candidate who was best on the “issues” and, along with Mike Gravel, best on the Bush wars -- also the only candidate except Ron Paul in the Republican Party who would dare utter (mild) condemnations of (outrageous) Israeli violations of international morality and law – is about to bow out of the race for the Democratic nomination. It’s no wonder. The corporate and corporate friendly media did all they could to marginalize and/or ridicule his campaign, even to the point of excluding him, along with Gravel, from every “debate” they could. The bad guys won.

There’s still John Edwards, of course, though the media are working overtime to marginalize his campaign too. Kucinich was way to Edwards’ left, but Edwards is far enough off-center to cause the “liberal” media concern. Gravel causes them less worry because he has no campaign to speak of. But Gravel is the only candidate, Kucinich included, who, when given the chance, unabashedly speaks truth to power. The truth, in this case, is that the others are full of it, the Clintons especially. He couldn’t be more right. If by the week after Super Tuesday, when I get a chance to vote, there’s nothing left to decide, I will vote for Gravel, and I’ll feel good about it. Otherwise, for reasons I’ve explained in countless entries, I’ll vote as I must to do my small part to send the Clintons packing. I hope that doesn’t mean voting for Obama, again for reasons I’ve explained countless times. I’d much rather vote for John Edwards. I’d much rather he became the nominee. Failing that, I’d much rather vote for two of the other three dropouts, Bill Richardson or Chris Dodd. Of the original opponents to the Clinton juggernaut, only Joe Biden was worse (more Clintonite) than Obama. But lesser evilists gotta do what lesser evilists gotta do. As things now look, Obama is above the threshold – barely.

Double Standard? Better Ask Hillary (and Barack and John)

When Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, the Democratic candidates were all over it. Hillary all but declared Benazir her soul mate. I suppose that paragon of foreign policy “experience” knew how corrupt Benazir’s government had been, but no matter – the corporate and corporate friendly media (NPR) proclaimed her “pro-American,” and Hillary could count on nobody knowing anything more. John Edwards was on the phone to General Musharraf, telling him to hold elections as soon as he could. General Musharraf has fairly bad press these days in the Land of the Free, so it’s OK to lean on him. Obama, who had already said he would violate Pakistani sovereignty should it be necessary to fight “terror” had some unkind words for the General too. On the other hand, when Israel cut off nearly all power to the occupied Gaza Strip, the latest outrage in a cascade of violations of international morality and law, there was not a peep out of any of them. Israel had to back down slightly thanks to international pressure. But the pressure came from human rights organizations and the EU; not the U.S. government or its “opposition” party. Neither was there the slightest expression of joy or relief when resistance fighters in Gaza ripped a hole through the “security” wall Israel had constructed on Gaza’s Egyptian border, allowing besieged Gazans the chance to enter Egypt for necessary supplies. It’s not news but it bears repeating: on Israel/Palestine, the Democrats are about as bad as can be. This is one area where they’re not even a lesser evil. Christian Zionists may gravitate towards the party of Preacher Huckabee, but the Democratic candidates, the electable ones anyway, and the Democrats in Congress, like their Republican colleagues, are owned by the Israel lobby. Won’t somebody break through the media embargo by asking Hillary and the others about it!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Again, the forces of order – CNN this time – wouldn’t let Dennis Kucinich into their debate last night (Jan. 21) in South Carolina. Therefore policy disagreements were, to put it mildly, slight. Even so, the first half of the debate featured a salutary bloodletting (Clinton v. Obama). During the second half, with the three electables perched on what appeared to be Eero Saarinen tulip chairs, the love fest resumed, at least superficially. [Evidently, tasteful, intelligent design – Saarinen’s, not the (alleged) divinity’s -- is conducive to tranquility, though not, it seems, to what is most needed now: that Clinton and Obama tear each other apart.]

The “quality” press and NPR reported that John Edwards had trouble getting words in edgewise. Not exactly; though that is a fair description of their coverage of his campaign. Edwards made several indisputable points: 1) that he’d fight for the poor and “the middle class” more “aggressively” than the others; 2) that he’s more electable than the others (especially against John McCain); and 3) that his policy proposals are clearer and more detailed than those of his rivals. He also established that on health care, the issue most discussed last night, his proposals are better – marginally in comparison with Clinton’s, seriously in comparison with Obama. [With insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry ready to pounce, none of the three dare defend the position that is obviously best – not for profit, single-payer insurance. With Kucinich excluded, that option was off last night’s agenda. But at least Clinton and Edwards call for universal coverage; Obama doesn’t even do that.]

More important than what was debated was what was not mentioned -- because neither Obama nor Edwards dare broach a serious assessment of the Clinton years (the sanctions, the bombings, the illegal wars, the war ON the poor, the economic policies that made the rich much richer). Vying to represent a party that won’t even launch impeachment proceedings against Dick Cheney and George Bush, let alone bring them to justice, it is no surprise that they’re willing, even eager, to let the Clinton years pass without any truth or reconciliation. But there is still a difference between the candidates, and it is an important one. Who wins the nomination, and the Presidency, affects how many arch Clintonites like Richard Holbrooke and Madeleine Albright will be restored to power. With Hillary Clinton, expect a full-scale Restoration. With Obama, it may be a little better --though, because he is so resolutely middle-of-the-road and so rarely unequivocal, it’s hard to be sure what he’ll do. With Edwards the prospects are better still. This is a far stronger reason to favor him over Obama and, of course, over Clinton than the expectation that he’ll fight corporate malefactors more aggressively or implement (marginally) better policies.

There was much that was unmentioned on the electability question too. Edwards did suggest that Hillary would have problems running against any Republican, but especially against McCain who is the least risible, though hardly the least contemptible, of the lot. But he didn’t exactly defend his contention. The problem is not mainly that she’s a northerner (Edwards’ implication) and a woman (as her feminist boosters keep saying), but that she is a lightening rod for “the great right wing conspiracy.” Since, as a Clintonite, she’s more on the side of the conspirators than not, it’s a “narcissism of small differences” thing. But it’s a genuine problem. There are lots of people who will be voting in November who hate Hillary – for the wrong reasons. They may even hate her enough to elect a “maverick” war monger (and unrepentant warrior). If anybody could galvanize a Republican Party wrecked by Bush’s fumbling incompetence and criminality, it’s Hillary Clinton.

Obama has a problem too, one that neither he nor the other candidates will mention: it’s called racism. Last night, the electables went out of their way to sweep the problem under the rug, but it’s real and it won’t go away by ignoring it. More than any other factor, racism explains why the polls were so wrong in New Hampshire; evidently, at the last minute, after the pollsters had asked their questions, some potential Obama voters couldn’t quite bring themselves to vote for a black candidate. It is becoming increasingly clear too that it isn’t just white people who have a problem voting for an African-American. Anti-black racism is why, despite the support the (mainly Latino) Culinary Workers union gave Obama, Latinos in Nevada voted two to one for Hillary. In the debate, it was something of a joke that Edwards’ prospects in South Carolina and elsewhere suffer because he’s a white male. But the fact remains that this “son of the South,” as the others called him (not to pin a racist label on him, but so that he too could have a subaltern “identity”), is immune from both Hillary’s and Obama’s problems.

Democratic voters, who made electability issue Number One in 2004, now seem oblivious. Perhaps that’s a good thing; one shouldn’t give in to racism. Neither should one put much confidence in Democratic voters’ perceptions of electability; that’s how the party got stuck with John Kerry. Perhaps it won’t matter this time around since the Bush presidency has been such a disaster that, Hillary hating and anti-black racism notwithstanding, the Democrats will have a hard time losing. But serious lesser evilists can’t be too cautious, especially when the greater evil is John McCain or worse (Preacher Huckabee, for example, or Mitt Romney or, worst of all, Rudy G). Thus it bears repeating: on African American, Latino, and women’s issues, and on much else too, Edwards is better than Clinton or Obama. With the corporate and corporate friendly media framing the way most voters will perceive their choices in the coming primary elections, don’t count on this fact to dawn on very many Democrats or to affect how they vote. It’s a sure thing that many of them will realize it eventually but, in all likelihood, not enough of them will come to their senses while there’s still (barely) time.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Edwards' Last Chance/ Another Chance for the Congressional Black Caucus to Do What It Does Best (Worst)

Tonight’s (Jan. 21) debate in South Carolina may be John Edwards’ last chance to keep hope alive that a (somewhat) progressive Presidency will succeed twenty-eight years of Bush, Clinton, Bush and the mother [f…] of them all, Reagan – or, for that matter, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower (the best of the lot), Truman, and even FDR, once the New Deal stalled. The chances are infinitesimal; the corporate media, including the “quality” press and NPR, have done their jobs too well. Making lovey-dovey with Obama and Clinton, as Edwards did in last week’s Las Vegas debate, is not the way. As Hillary, the former Goldwater Girl, might once have said: “civility in the face of Clintonism is no virtue.” I confess I had a moment of doubt after the purported reaction to her tearing up before the New Hampshire primary, but I’m back on board: what this country needs are Monica Lewinsky Democratic Clubs in every city and town. [It was less clear the morning after than it now is that the reason the polls got New Hampshire so wrong had more to do with white racism – the so-called “Bradley effect” – than Hillary’s tears.]

But don’t hold your breath waiting for Edwards to score a Hail Mary. And since the “debate” is organized by the Congressional Black Caucus, Pelosiites avant la lettre, don’t expect any obvious and pertinent but embarrassing questions to come up either. Don’t expect Hillary Clinton to be forced to explain how being an official wife counts as setting a good example for young girls or fulfills the hopes of second wave feminists or why African Americans or Latinos should look kindly on her husband’s administration. [In Nevada, whether out of anti-black racism or because they’re deluded and ill-informed too, astonishingly many Latinos cast their caucus votes for Hillary – about twice as many as for Obama, despite the Culinary Workers union bosses’ opportunistic support for Obama (over John Edwards who had done yeoman service for them). The Congressional Black Caucus will be, if anything, even more mute on latino-black hostilities than Obama has been on the Bradley effect. In neither case, though, will the problem go away by wishing it so or by ignoring it.]

Don’t expect them either to ask Barack Obama how far he thinks he can get running on empty.

If it were up to me, I’d pose an even more unaskable, though obvious and pertinent, question to all three of the candidates. I’d put it like this: “Collective punishment is illegal under international law and it is a longstanding and well-established principle of international law that occupying powers must provide for the basic needs of subject populations. The government of Israel has flagrantly violated these standards of international law, and common sense morality, along with many others. Just today, it shut off power to most residents of the illegally occupied Gaza Strip, ostensibly for “security” reasons but actually, as the whole world knows (except for Americans whose media won’t report the obvious), to punish Gazans for voting for Hamas in free and fair elections. [What they actually did was vote against an increasingly corrupt and servile PLO that has all but made common cause with Israel and the United States.] Mssrs. Obama and Edwards and especially you, Ms. Clinton, since you purport to have “experience” in these matters, is there any atrocity that the Israeli government could commit (short of gas chambers or maybe even that!) before you’d utter even a mild and meaningless word of condemnation?”

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Nevadans, in their caucuses, went for Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney. The Romney victory is good news for Democrats; after all, the man is a first class jerk who would have a harder time hiding the fact than, say, John McCain or Rudy Giuliani. But the Clinton victory is bad news for the party, the country and the world. It brings the prospect of a Clintonite Restoration closer.

The Romney victory can be chalked up to a plurality, among Republican caucus goers, of rich Republicans like him and Mormons like him. But how could Hillary have won?

Part of the problem was that too many women think that Hillary, Slick Willy’s official wife, is a feminist hero. That’s almost as dumb as the idea that he was the first black President. Part of the problem, though, is Obama; playing the vacuous card, as he does, doesn’t work. Of course, one could also say, given John Edwards’ showing, that being somewhat more principled and a whole lot better and clearer on policy matters is a losing strategy too, especially with our media working overtime to make the world safe for their corporate masters. The bigger problem, though, is that it’s proving hard for an African-American, even an anodyne one, to break through the Great White Ceiling. It’s a sad fact, but there’s no denying it (even though Obama has been denying it assiduously). This was clearly what happened in New Hampshire, and it has now been demonstrated again – to Nevada’s shame. Had Democrats had their wits about them, they might have gotten behind John Edwards – not just because he’s white (that would be shameful too, though realistic), but because, at a policy level, he’s far better (for African-Americans, among others). By now, it’s probably too late. Obama is a dud, and Edwards can’t get traction. It’s looking more and more like the election will be between the Clintons and whichever cartoon character the Republicans ultimately select.

With “super-Tuesday” looming, we still have a few more weeks grace period, but we should start thinking NOW about the Greens or some other genuine alternative to the past eight dreadful years. For those of us who live in “safe” states, the choice is easy. Cynthia McKinney would make an excellent candidate. But, given how the Democrats have been and how they will likely be with the Clintons back in (full) control, I’m sorely tempted by the thought that, if only to piss them off, Ralph Nader should run again and that he should campaign relentlessly in Ohio and Florida and anywhere else that the Clintons could lose (even after the Bush boy and even running against one or another Republican clown).

Bet on Reagan

If the Colbert Report can be believed, there actually is something that’s illegal in Las Vegas: betting on Presidential elections. Too bad: a bookie could easily offer one hundred to one odds that Ronald Reagan will win the nomination of both parties.

If it were just the Republicans, the odds could be a million or ten million to one. It isn’t just that there’s an ignorant and lazy second-rate actor, Fred Thompson, running. All the candidates are carrying the flame – even the whacky libertarian Ron Paul. There are bets to be made on the Republicans: will Preacher Huckabee’s Christian Taliban break away from the neo-cons and tax cutters (who have as much chance of making it into Heaven as a camel does of walking through the eye of a needle)? Will Mitt the Family Guy’s Mormonism repel the morons? Will “maverick” war monger John McCain announce that the sanctimonious Senator from the Likud, Joe Lieberman, will be his VP (as he was Al Gore’s)? Will his comparative decency on immigration do him in? Will anybody be dumb enough to vote for Rudy G? There’s money to be won and lost betting on these and similar questions. But no one, in his right mind, would bet against a Reagan victory – not when there isn’t one candidate in that whole pitiful bunch who will dare hint that maybe the Gipper wasn’t God’s gift to Creation.

On this, you’d think the Democrats would shine as lesser evils; and perhaps they do. But deeds speak louder than words. Bill Clinton did more to dismantle what was left of New Deal and Great Society institutions than Reagan dreamed possible; he all but completed “the Reagan Revolution.” He might even have done what no Republican can – start to privatize and therefore undo Social Security – but for the interruptions caused by his dalliance with Monica. [As I’ve written before, making it with that zaftig lovely was his finest – and most humanly understandable – achievement in all the decades since he avoided the draft.] Reagan-friendly words were not altogether absent either in the days a Hillary victory would restore. Perhaps the low point came when President Bill presided over the renaming of National Airport – now known as Reagan Airport to all but the handful of us who still refuse to utter the name. [Travelers to the DC area now have to land at BWI (recently named for a good guy, Thurgood Marshall!) to avoid flying into an airport named for a sleaze ball (I’m not counting Lord Baltimore). Between John Foster Dulles and Ronald Reagan, it’s a close call. It could be worse, though: it might have been brother Allen. But fortunately (or not), he lived too long.]

What about Obama? Here’s what he told the editorial board of The Reno Gazette last week: “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like wth all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think … he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

John Edwards had an apt reply. He is quoted as saying that Reagan “…did extraordinary damage to the middle class and working people, created a tax structure that favored the very wealthiest Americans and caused the middle class and working people to struggle every single day…” He went on to promise that he would “never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change.” But, of course, Edwards’ campaign, not being one hundred percent on corporate America’s page, has been scandalously ignored by the corporate media and their allies at NPR. It has also been betrayed by opportunists in the Democratic Party and the labor movement. That’s why the chances Reagan will win in both parties are at least a hundred to one.

Note: for more on the past week’s events in the race for the Democratic nomination, this piece by Bill Fletcher is right on target.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Love Fest Over

Fortunately, the Clinton-Obama love fest, with John Edwards making it a threesome, ended just after it began. Now let Clinton and Obama go back to bloodying each other so that, in the end, the prize goes to John Edwards, the best of the “electable” candidates. Of course, this is a very remote possibility, especially with the corporate media, NPR in tow, still doing their level best to ignore his existence. What has a far better chance is that Obama will blow Clinton out of the water. That probably won’t happen on Saturday either, but what happens in Nevada could help.

That Obama will be the one to emerge from the fray is what the opportunistic leadership of the Culinary Workers union is betting on. For months, the Culinary Workers and their parent organization, Unite Here, were tight as could be with Edwards, and vice versa. But seeing that Obama’s prospects were better, the union bosses decided to bet on him. It’s a shrewd, though disloyal and unprincipled, move because it gives them a chance to seem like king makers – not that their membership has much to gain from such a gambit. It could have been worse, of course; especially after New Hampshire (when the Culinary union made its endorsement official). It’s a big boost for Obama because there are many tens of thousands of workers who can now be mobilized to work on his behalf. Meanwhile, the National Education Association, representing teachers, while not officially backing Clinton, are in her pocket, thanks to another opportunist, Debbie Cahill, the union’s deputy executive director. For Clinton’s sake, they’re behind a rather unseemly, and improbable, lawsuit.

The issue is “at large” caucuses in casinos on the Las Vegas strip. The idea, universally accepted until the Culinary union endorsed Obama, was that these caucuses would give shift workers, many of whom are Latino, a chance to participate in the “democratic” process. Suddenly, it dawned on some Clinton supporters – operating officially outside her campaign, to be sure – that caucuses these workers could attend, given their job schedules, are “unfair.” Thus they’ve gone to court to stop what they had previously supported, arguing that it creates a “special class” of voters. Hillary has affected a “don’t blame me, I’m not the one doing it” posture. But her better half, campaigning in California, has sided aggressively with the Teachers’ union. In Oakland, he even claimed to have found a principle, “one man (sic), one vote” that the at-large caucuses violates. Thus the Clintons are on the side of voter suppression! Hillary and her handlers will try to fudge the appearance, but the facts are what they are. It’s delicious. Obama, if you’re good for anything, make the most of it! You too, Edwards. If you want to be the one left standing, you’re going to have to fight the Clintons hard – now.

To find out more about this sorry episode, go to the transcript of the segment on the topic on “Democracy Now” (January 17). Be sure not to miss the second part of the discussion -- with Chris Kutalick of Labor Notes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Love and Loathing in Las Vegas

The corporate media won. Kucinich didn’t “debate” in Las Vegas. Therefore, single-payer not for profit health care wasn’t mentioned, along with real opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, impeachment and much else. Neither was a word said in criticism of the loathsome Pelosiism of Congressional Democrats. General Electric (NBC, MSNBC) continued the assault on democratic deliberation most recently perpetrated by the Disney Corporation (ABC) and before them by The Des Moines Register – helping to make the universe of (non-marginalized) political discourse safe for themselves and their allies in the class struggle. Corporate friendly NPR can rest easy. Meanwhile sign me up in contempt of the Reaganite judges on the Nevada Supreme Court.

The “debate” itself was a love-fest. How could it be otherwise with the candidates so close on the “issues”? Obama is worse on health care (slightly), Edwards is better on getting most troops out of Iraq (slightly). The big news is that Edwards is way better than the other two on nuclear power (he’s against it) and on new coal plants. That was about it.

The real issue – how much of a Clintonite Restoration we can look forward to – was never broached, largely because none of the “electable” candidates will dare say anything bad about the Clinton years. In a more just world, the perpetrators of the Iraq sanctions, the Yugoslav wars, the bombing escapades and much else would be on trial before a competent international tribunal. Instead, the most blood thirsty of them, people like Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke, are poised to return to power. [Needless to say, in that better possible world, the miscreants they paved the way for and then abetted would, by now, be on their second or third pair of orange jump suits in Guantanamo, where a special chamber of horrors would have been set aside for Dick Cheney.]

It was also a victory for “civility.” Instead of pulling a (much needed) rabbit out of his hat, or doing anything that might block the way forward for the Clinton juggernaut, Edwards made nice with Hillary. He also pulled his punches on Obama’s vacuity. It was a friendly little love fest, pleasant to behold. On reflection, though, the whole exercise merits contempt – like the Nevada “justices.” Civility, the liberal’s cardinal virtue, just might do our republic in.

Were a Martian to have arrived on earth in time to watch the Las Vegas events, he, she or it would come away with the impression that, apart from a few policy differences, too trivial to mention, the choice is between experience (Clinton), unity and hope (Obama), and a personal dedication to fighting corporate power (Edwards). As I’ve written many times before, the experience argument is a sham; by it’s logic, Mamie Eisenhower would have made a far better President than Slick Willy’s wife. But it might be a winner. Should the corporate malefactors feel genuinely threatened by John Edwards, count on them to go after him with all they’ve got. As we know, they control the media – and the courts – along with almost everything else. Edwards made a career as a trial lawyer, beating them off one at a time. But how would it go if they all gang up on him at once? Unlike their victims, they are class conscious enough to pull it off. Without militant social movements giving our rulers real cause for alarm, they’d concede nothing. Finally, Obama has always been a disappointment. He talks a mouthful about unity and hope, but there’s no there there. Obama is the Gary Hart of his generation – minus the flamboyant, and redeemingly entertaining, philandering. When it comes down to it, vacuity is not a recipe for success, especially in a political culture still afflicted with racist attitudes (whether or not the three “electables” choose to acknowledge it). It is also relevant that, whatever his talents as a motivational speaker, in more intimate “confrontations,” such as the Las Vegas “debate,” Obama is plainly the least impressive of the three. Edwards is very good on his feet, and Hillary has finally gotten her “competence” persona down pat. I still hope that, in the Nevada caucuses, Edwards comes out on top and Clinton at the bottom. But I’m not holding my breath.

* *

What’s looking more likely is a Clinton victory and therefore, come next year, a full-fledged Clintonite Restoration. Working for Cynthia McKinney – or Ralph Nader or whoever – is starting to look like it may become the only path a lesser evilest (with a sense of the limits of lesser evilism) can take.

“Liberal” Democrats will be up in arms if that happens, as they were in 2000. But who’s afraid of Gloria Steinem or Carl Pope! And who can worry, after the Cheney/Bush debacles, that a vote for Cynthia or Ralph or whoever is a vote for whichever cartoon character the Republicans nominate. The good news is that in the Michigan primary, the one most likely to win against any of the Democrats (if “security” becomes an issue), “straight-talking” warmonger John McCain, lost – to Mitt the Family Guy. One would not have thought it at first but that flip-flopping, godly clown is even more risible than Preacher Huckabee or Mayor Rudy. If even Hillary Clinton can’t lick him, then it’ll be time to pack it up, just as Gary Hart did when his Monkey Business got out of control.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Eat Your Heart Out NPR et. al.

General Electric (NBC, MSNBC) has vowed to fight on, but, as of now, Monday’s ruling by Clark County (Nevada) Senior District Court Judge Charles Thompson stands: MSNBC can’t “disinvite” Dennis Kucinich from tonight’s (Jan. 15) candidates’ debate in Las Vegas! It therefore looks like corporate America’s efforts to marginalize views that don’t suit its interests have suffered a set back. Kucinich will be there – unless GE’s lawyers somehow outlawyer his. [They have no case, but since when is that an obstacle!] If Kucinich survives GE’s challenge, then a bit of light about, among other things, impeachment, defunding the war, and getting parasitical for-profit insurance companies out of the health care business will shine through.

The corporate and corporate friendly (NPR) media must also feel at a loss as polls indicate a dead-heat in Nevada, not just between their golden boy and girl, Barack and Hillary, but also including the one progressive candidate (on domestic issues, at least), John Edwards. They could never quite marginalize him as effectively as they could Kucinich and my favorite “unelectable,” Mike Gravel. Now they’ll have to acknowledge that the two-candidate race they’ve promoted so assiduously, may not quite yet be a two-candidate race after all. Eat your heart out, NPR – and the rest of you.

It Takes a Pillage

The (not always reliable) polls are unclear as to how much of the African-American vote (more than 50% of the Democratic total), Barack Obama can expect in South Carolina. Estimates vary between most of it to barely more than a third. Much of it should be going to John Edwards, by far the most progressive of the “electable” candidates. But not in this possible world – not with a corporate and corporate-friendly media marginalizing his campaign, while promoting the “epic” struggle between Barack and Hillary. Even so, that Hillary Clinton should get any black votes, after her husband’s performance in office, is a mystery, that I addressed months ago. What I observed then is that, for excluded and subaltern groups, a little kindness goes a long way – even in the absence of real aid or benefit and even in the face of genuine harm. As I suggested, the support bordering on love that many American Jews several generations ago felt for FDR stems from a similar source. But this is at best a (partial) explanation; not a justification. Toni Morrison and the others who deemed Slick Willy “the first black President” should have their obtuse heads examined. Billionaire Obama basher and Hillary fan, Robert Johnson of Black Entertainment Television, who made zillions thanks to Clintonite (i.e. Reaganite) media deregulation, might deem it expedient to mutter such nonsense, and maybe even to believe it. But not somebody who can actually string a sentence together or harbor a thought that isn’t blatantly self-interested.

To the Clintons’ consternation, race has become an issue in South Carolina. How could it not be? This should be a cause for concern for Democrats who want to win in November, especially if part of the explanation for why the polls got New Hampshire so wrong is the so-called Bradley effect. But that’s not what’s behind the past week’s hissy fit. The problem there was that Hillary seemed to diss Martin Luther King, when she told Fox News that it took LBJ to get Civil Rights legislation (MLK’s “dream”) through Congress. Then, to make matters worse (for the hyper-sensitive), her better half seemed to diss Obama, the Great Black Hope, by saying that his anti-war record, since he’s been a Senator, has been a “fairy tale.” [To their credit, the Clintons’ gay supporters let that one pass.]

On the fairy tale issue, Clinton was right, of course. As I’ve pointed out countless times, notwithstanding Pelosiite obfuscations, to fund the war is to support the war. Obama, like Hillary Clinton, has voted consistently to fund the war. Obama, like Hillary Clinton, wants to bring “most” troops home “as soon as possible,” but he’d leave military bases in the region. Thus, like Hillary Clinton, he supports one of Cheney’s and Bush’s fundamental war aims. In short, there’s very little difference between the two of them. The more important point, though, left unstated by the Slickster, who is in no position to talk, is that with war opponents like that, the neo-cons have nothing to fear.

With Bill Richardson out of the race, and with Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel marginalized by the media and the Democrats’ Pelosiite leadership, there is no Democratic candidate whose war opposition is not a fairy tale. John Edwards, unlike Hillary, has apologized for voting to authorize the Bush boy’s war and he has been a little more adamant lately about bringing the troops home. But between his position and Obama’s and Clinton’s, there are only shades of difference. Being better, far better, on domestic policies doesn’t make a Democratic hopeful better on the Middle East.

What about MLK and LBJ? On the one hand, what Clinton said is obviously true and also, let it be noted, innocuous. LBJ (with the help of Republicans like Everett Dirksen) did get Civil Rights legislation through Congress – no mean feat in 1964. But he would never have succeeded – and probably never have tried – but for the Civil Rights movement of the late 50s and early 60s (and also, lets not forget, the changes in American public opinion following the Kennedy assassination). Nowadays, MLK has become a saint in the American civil religion – even his birthday is a national holiday. Only the most progressive and astute African American political thinkers question this at all. Quite the contrary, as this week’s South Carolina spat shows, most of them guard his memory as zealously as Zionists defend against accusations of Israeli Apartheid. Even on the left, MLK has come to be treated as a hero – mainly because, towards the end of his life, he took a stand against the Vietnam War and for the working poor (most famously, the garbage collectors in Memphis). But King was, by his own words, a figure of “the militant middle.” He would have been nothing without “extremists” to his left. Even during his lifetime, and especially in the decade that followed, it was the Malcolm Xs and the militants in SNCC and CORE, in conjunction with black urban masses in revolt, who brought King’s “dream” (of racial and economic equality) closer to realization. It was also the subsidence of black insurgencies, and the decline of the left, that has brought his dream farther from realization in recent decades – notwithstanding the financial successes of the Robert Johnsons of the world or the political prospects of safe, post-racial African-American candidates like Barack Obama.

So Hillary, yes, LBJ was important and, more in retrospect than in fact, MLK was a great hero too (as you’ve pointed out countless times these past few days in your efforts at damage control). But the moral of the story is not what you or your hapless fans like Toni Morrison or Robert Johnson think. It’s simple and clear – and, dare I say, obvious. As your publisher and/or ghostwriters might put it, if they had the courage and the wits, it takes a pillage.

Monday, January 14, 2008

It's the Politics, Stupid

I have a vivid childhood memory of a rally at a shopping center for JFK. Since he was (as usual) late, supporters and counter-demonstrators had a field day. Anticipating the First Lady question that has reemerged almost five decades later, the Kennedy supporters, echoing Kennedy’s own words, chanted – “we can’t stand pat.” Evidently, they didn’t realize what a fine President Mamie would make, based on the case for experience that Hillary Clinton’s supporters advance. But they were right about Tricky Dicky’s wife. Not to be outdone, the Nixon supporters’ retort was “you can’t lick our dick.” I think it made an impression because I didn’t realize, in those days of innocence, that such things could be said in public. But, for whatever reason, it’s worth recalling the moment. It shows how much political discourse, and the thinking behind it, has deteriorated since those halcyon days.

A case in point is an op ed in the January 13 New York Times by Lorrie Moore, a well published writer of stylish fluff. Moore does come out against Hillary Clinton and for Barack Obama, and she does chronicle how little Clinton accomplished as First Lady and how almost all of what she did do was, on balance, unpromising, to say the least. She also underscores how undistinguished Clinton’s Senatorial career has been and how, in that capacity too, unprincipled centrism generally led her astray. But her main argument is that women no longer need a “role model” like Hillary – not when they have, among much else, “a fierce 67-year-old babe as speaker of the House.” [On Pelosiism, see this.] But, because things are not going well for them, even in “progressive” Midwestern cities, “America’s lost boys” – African American boys, that would be – do need a role model bad. Ergo, Barack Obama should be the nominee.

As with many of the minor stupidities that afflict our political discourse, there is something to talk of role models. It can be a reason for affirmative action hiring in some professions. But for President? Yes, of course, Obama is better – less Clintonite – than Clinton. If it must be him or her, then let it be him. But that’s because his positions and policies, as best they can be ascertained through the miasma of “unity” and “hope” that his campaign has conjured up, are (at least slightly) better. However, if that’s the standard, so long as there’s still (barely) a three-way race for the nomination, then surely the candidate of choice should be none of the above – it should be John Edwards, who offers more than Obama does, at a policy level, for both young girls (of all “identities”) and African-American boys. True enough, he’s a white guy – but if we could at least rise to the level of the “we can’t stand pat” days, that wouldn’t be the deciding factor. As the country and world emerges from the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush Dark Ages, we can’t stand pat. But that’s just what Clinton and Obama too, wallowing in the corporate-friendly mushy middle, promise to do.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Kerry Endorses Obama

In 2004, I concluded reluctantly that the most effective way to vote against Bush was to vote for John Kerry. Not paying much attention to what Kerry said made abiding by that decision easier. After 2004, Kerry made a slight left turn; especially on the Iraq War. His transformation was far less dramatic than Al Gore’s, but it was still significant. That’s why it was distressing to see that he repudiated his 2004 running mate, John Edwards, in favor of Barack Obama, the candidate, along with Hillary, of the mushy middle. With Edwards, there was a chance to elect a genuinely progressive Democrat – for the first time in decades. That prospect appalls Clintonites. Kerry has always been a Clintonite. He still is, but at least he’s evolved into an anti-Clinton Clintonite. That’s probably what we’d get with Obama too. It’s better than the genuine article, but it remains to be seen by how much.

Is this another sign that Edwards is finished? Most likely. But there’s still one slender reed to grasp. Ironically, Clinton’s New Hampshire victory revealed its presence, though it’s unlikely that many Democratic voters will have the wits to realize it.

In 2004, people voted for Kerry to vote against Bush, but did anybody really like him? To be sure, in the primaries that year, the “left” opposition -- apart from the always marginalized Dennis Kucinich – was Howard Dean, a thoroughly transparent phony. But Kerry didn’t win because the opposition had even worse politics than he did, and he certainly didn’t win on charisma, the way Obama might. Democratic voters back then were not Kerry enthusiasts; they were pundit wannabes. They had the idea that Kerry had the best chance to win against Bush. Right or wrong, in those ABB (Anybody But Bush) days, that was all Kerry needed to win the nomination.

That was not exactly a laudable or salutary way of thinking. But neither is its opposite. Always in disequilibrium, indifference to punditry afflicts Democratic voters now. It’s too bad. You’d think that if voters aren’t moved by the plain fact that Edwards is the best of the ‘electable’ candidates, they’d find it relevant, as all the polling data indicates, that he’s the most electable.

In Hillary’s case, it’s obvious why. The Land of the Free is full of people who hate her guts – mostly for the wrong reasons. The best chance for any of those miserable Republican candidates to win after Bush is the virtual certainty that her presence on the ticket will galvanize the opposition. Obama isn’t hated the same way; he’s too “likeable.” But he’s also a problematic candidate, as the failure of the polls to predict the outcome in New Hampshire indicates.

Over the past few days, polling mavens have been all over radio and television and the print media, trying to explain how they got the outcome so wrong. Their explanations are fairly lame. What makes the most sense, though, are two hypotheses, both of which revolve around the idea that voters didn’t do what they told pollsters they would. Both hypotheses could be true.

What I suggested the morning after is that people felt sorry for Hillary, especially after she teared up. This is tantamount to saying that there are lots of stupid people out there. That might just be true. A variant on this explanation that gives voters a bit more credit is that people were reacting against the corporate and corporate friendly media (like NPR) by voting against Obama, their favorite candidate. That position was put forward in by Joe Conason, not the shrewdest of observers, but on this he may be right.

The more worrisome hypothesis is that the so-called Bradley effect is alive and well: in other words, that, when it comes time to pull the lever (or touch the voting screen), lots of white voters just can’t bring themselves to vote for an African-American, no matter what they told pollsters days or even minutes before. This is tantamount to saying that there are lots of racist voters out there. That might just be true as well.

Needless to say, the stupidity hypothesis and the racist hypothesis are not mutually exclusive. Some voters might be stupid, some might be racist, some might be both. Evidently, there was enough of that going around to confute all the polls.

Thus it may be that forty some years after the end of legal segregation, the country still isn’t ready for a black President. It’s not a pleasant thought. But it’s something Democratic voters might keep in mind. The problem, if it’s real, won’t disappear by ignoring it, or by willing it away.

This is not to say that the only reason Edwards is more electable than Obama is that he’s a white guy. It matters too that his politics is better – in ways that are better for African Americans along with most other likely Democratic voters. In a slightly better possible world, that would be more than enough to win the nomination. But in the actual world, better politics doesn’t cut it. One reason why is malign neglect. I’ve written many times before about how the corporate and corporate friendly media have done their best to ignore the Edwards campaign. That counts for something. But I think there’s another reason as well. Most Americans want peace, but there isn’t much of a peace movement. Yes, lots of people can be assembled in Washington or New York; lots of energy and resources can be expended. But nobody feels threatened by periodic parades; therefore no one in power has any need to accommodate to the demands put forward in them. That’s a major difference from the Vietnam period. Yes too, many Americans, especially working Americans, support Edwards’ domestic policies more than Obama’s (to the extent they think they know what his are) or Clinton’s. But there too, there are no social movements, threatening social stablility, spurring changes on. This too is a difference from the 1960s, when many American cities were in open insurrection and when liberation movements were on the point of turning into class-based movements for fundamental social and economic change. When it comes to genuine “change,” electoral politics is not and never has been where the action is. Edwards, unfortunately, found himself having to go against this stubborn fact; he found himself leading – not following the way, say, Bobby Kennedy did in his final days. This is laudable. But, with our media and with our electoral system, it isn’t a recipe for success.

Edwards, of course, is no radical; he’s more like what Paul Wellstone was – a member of the (largely imaginary) “democratic wing” of the Democratic Party. That isn’t nearly enough. But it’s a whole lot better than the alternative(s). The proof: that Edwards was far enough out ahead of the Clintonized Democratic party and the political culture it sustains for the media to be able to ignore him as thoroughly as they did.

As I said, all is not lost yet: there’s still a shred of hope. By next month, that will probably be gone. Then it will be time to start thinking seriously of supporting a “third” party candidate – not one led by a plutocrat like Michael Bloomberg, but by someone genuinely on the left. Of course, if the media could effectively marginalize John Edwards, how much more so someone more radical than he, running outside the ambit of the duopoly party system! Nevertheless, to raise just one possibility that has already been floated -- a Cynthia McKinney candidacy, on a Green Party ticket, would provide an opportunity to raise issues that lie beyond the ken of the best the Democratic Party can offer. To cite two obvious examples: the prospect of bringing the Cheney/Bush gang of criminals and their collaborators in both parties to justice could be put on the agenda, along with the prospect of treating Israel as a normal state, accountable to the same standards of international morality and law as any other. If any of that discussion can get past the media’s (internalized) censors, it would be all for the good. It’s not much of a silver lining. But it is something.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


On December 16, I proposed a ranking of the Democratic candidates. Excluding the corporate and corporate-friendly (NPR) media’s non-persons, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, I maintained that Bill Richardson was the second best of the lot (after John Edwards), if for no other reason that that he had the best position on getting out of Iraq. [I also wrote that Chris Dodd, now out of the race, was a close third.] Now it looks like Richardson will be dropping out too. It’s too bad. Will Edwards follow? After New Hampshire, the media are more busy than usual ignoring his campaign. That’s bound to dry up the money flow – the life’s blood of American “democracy.” Maybe he’ll keep going; maybe, as I suggested yesterday, he can be the last man standing. But it’s unlikely. In this primary season, as in a broth or stew, the scum rises to the top.

In the last New Hampshire debate, when it looked like Obama might blow Hillary out of the water, and when mindless talk of “change” was all the flutter, Richardson made a memorable comment. He said something like – talk of “change” is fine, but what happened to experience? “Is experience a leper”?, he asked. It’s a question worth pondering now that the Democratic contest seems to be morphing into a contest between experience (Clinton) and charisma (Obama).

Charisma without substance is blind and meaningless, but Hillary’s “experience” is a joke. She was Bill Clinton’s official wife. No doubt, she stuck her nose into places where she had no business – always on the wrong side, as for example, in arguing for leveling Belgrade. But, in the final analysis, she was a First Lady; nothing more. What kind of experience is that? First Lady Laura Bush is a far less unpleasant character than any of the Republican candidates, but does anybody think she should be President in virtue of her proximity to the Bush boy? Or Babs Bush, the Silver Fox? She was not only a First Lady but a First Mother too. For that matter, what about the Lady Gipper? Mysteriously, her husband is still first in the hearts of Republicans. The Clintons seem to like him too; they’ve certainly missed no opportunity to boost that sorry actor’s image. Why not nominate her? My point should be clear, but just in case it isn’t, lets go back to the Clintons’ formative years. The Eisenhower days seem to have had quite an impact on their politics, after all.

Actually, it’s unfair to liken Ike’s presidency to Clinton’s. Yes, Clinton was better on race, but he also came along forty years later -- after, not before, the civil rights movement. Even on that count, though, Ike did send troops to enforce school desegregation in Little Rock. Clinton never did anything so bold. But on everything but race, Ike bests Bill (and, if she want to take partial credit, Hillary) hands down. He maintained the New Deal; the Clintons did their best to tear it down. He built infrastructure (including the inter-state highway system) and funded education; the Clintons let it all languish. Ike presided over a far more egalitarian capitalism. He had a good sense of the limits of American power too. He was also the last American President not to be led around by the nose by the Israelis. Still, in its fiscal conservatism, its lack of fresh initiatives, its unresponsiveness to the problems of the poor, the Clinton Presidency was more like Ike’s than any other. So why, instead of Nixon, didn’t Mamie run for President? It couldn’t have turned out worse. Mamie was an old-fashioned woman, of course, but she was probably closer to Ike than Hillary is to Bill. [That may have had something to do with the fact that Ike was less of a philanderer.] By the logic that makes Hillary experienced, Mamie was experienced too. By that logic, she, unlike Hillary, would make an outstanding peace maker (Korea) and a preeminent wartime leader. Just compare what she must have picked up sleeping with the Supreme Commander of the European theater in World War II with what Hillary learned bedding down with somebody whose didn’t inhale while remaining “viable within the system.” Needless to say, this line of reasoning is ridiculous. But so is the case for “experience” that the Clinton campaign, and their media allies, have planted so firmly in the collective consciousness of Democratic voters.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Good for Nothing

The one thing Barack Obama looked good for was dispatching the Clintons. According to the polls and the pundits, he was about to do that in the New Hampshire primary. But the polls and pundits were wrong for a change; Obama turned out to be a dud. I was hoping for another third place finish for Hillary. Instead, she won on points. All in all, it was a good day for the Empire – with the most, war friendly, imperialist friendly candidates, Clinton and McCain, winning. Way to go New Hampshire!

How did it happen? Could Hillary really have bounced back because she teared up? Can we really never underestimate the stupidity of the American people (including the tiny fraction of them who vote in Democratic primaries in small states with inordinate political influence)? Perhaps some political scientist should propose an Iron Law of American Elections: boy crybabies (Ed Muskie, George Romney) who tear up are set back, while girl crybabies move forward. I’d like to know what the ladies libbers – Ellen Chessler and Ann Lewis are two prominent Clinton spokeswomen who come to mind – make of that. I’d also like to know why they think that sharing a bed with Bill constitutes foreign policy experience or, for that matter, just how it makes Hillary’s career a role model for young women. If that’s too hard for them, then let them explain away Hillary’s actual role in government in the 1990s: how she permanently marginalized the very idea of single-payer, not for profit, health insurance, or how, by pandering to drug and insurance companies, she set the cause of universal health care coverage back a generation. Or let them explain her role in arguing, along with her friend, the blood thirsty Mad Maddy Albright, for the bombing of Belgrade. For that matter, let them explain her shameful role as a Senator aiding and abetting Cheney and Bush. She may finally have turned against the Iraq War, but her collaboration with Cheney and Bush continues – in her votes to “support the troops” (i.e. fund the war) and to facilitate the next one, for example by supporting the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which deems parts of Iran’s military a “terrorist” organization. Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, the problem with Hillary is not that she is a soulless, sheet of ice. It’s her politics, stupid. Crying can’t change that. It can change (feeble) minds, but it can’t change the facts.

[In light of this turn of events, I suppose I must concede that my (unheeded) plan to launch Monica Lewinsky Democratic Clubs in every town and hamlet would have backfired. It would have been fun though, and educational.]

In any case, there is a silver lining in yesterday’s events; two of them, in fact. For one thing, maybe, for the next few days, we’ll hear less vacuous talk about “transcending” party alignments, and forging a post-Jane Fonda/John Wayne politics. What a load of crap that was. Between Iowa and New Hampshire, the pundits outdid themselves making a virtue of cluelessness. The affliction crosses generational lines, but it’s especially virulent among the young. With Obama coming in second, cluelessness won’t disappear, but maybe praise for it will.

More important, had the Obama steam roller rolled on, the way the pundits claimed it would, knocking Hillary out, the only hope for anything better than Obama’s indeterminate mushy middle politics, would be if he made some colossal gaffe, crying perhaps, while someone better – it would have to be John Edwards – was there to pick up the pieces. Only a gaffe would work. Reflection is useless and so are attempts at persuasion that rely on arguments. Arguments cannot move the kinds of people who voted for Hillary because they felt sorry for her, or because she let her “soul” show through. So let Obama and Clinton fight each other to exhaustion; let Hillary bleed more. Let her go down and take Obama with her! The Clintons and the entourage they would restore to power will never be brought to justice – although they are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people through sanctions and bombs. Hillary will never be held accountable for her role in aiding and abetting Cheney’s and Bush’s war crimes, crimes against the peace, and crimes against humanity. But if Hillary, with Bill in tow, can be denied the place she thinks is rightfully hers, if the Clintons and the Clintonites can be reduced to tears -- and not just crocodile tears either -- maybe then a little justice will be served.

Of course, justice is backwards looking; today’s voters look forward – to “change.” If that’s what they want, then they should be first in line for the coming Clinton-Obama slugfest. For if there’s to be any chance at all that, starting next year, the political system will come down even just a few compass points closer to a better direction, those two must annihilate each other leaving the prize to the last man standing -- John Edwards, the one electable candidate not 100% in corporate America’s pocket.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

New Hampshire

According to all reliable polls, yesterday was another good day for Barack Obama; he’s set to win big today. It’s even possible, though unlikely, that he’ll knock Hillary Clinton out of the running. Given his vacuity, and his evident determination to hold (Clinton style) to the mushy middle, Obama’s soaring popularity is hard to understand. I suppose political ignorance and naivete, especially rife among Obama’s youthful fans, is part of the story. But if he can be the instrument through which the Clintons, and their dreadful entourage, are sent packing, then more power to him. If John Edwards has enough money to stay in for the long haul, a more serious debate than we’ve had so far can then ensue. It’s a remote possibility but maybe, just maybe, it will dawn on enough Democrats in time that Edwards would be a far better candidate and President. Both goals would be facilitated enormously if, as in Iowa, Edwards would finish second today. It’s not likely, given this morning’s polls, but we can hope.

Monday, January 7, 2008

One Day to Go

With the New Hampshire primary one day off, NPR is still at it: it’s crack political team, including Don Gonyea, the reporter whose reporting, for years, consisted of repeating Bush press office statements, is still making it a Clinton v. Obama thing. But they and the rest of the corporate and corporate-friendly media may be too clever by half – for a change. Let Clinton and Obama tear each other down. Better yet, let Obama knock Clinton out of the water. That would be no mean achievement. This morning’s (January 7) polls suggest there’s a chance that will happen. But we mustn’t hope prematurely. Instead, lets do all we can to make the people of New Hampshire rise to their historic responsibility. [Needless to say, there’s no remotely plausible reason why this should be their responsibility; why out lunatic electoral system assigns inordinate political influence to them, as it did to the Democratic voters of Iowa. But these are the conditions that prevail.] With the prospect of a Clintonite (that is, a kinder, gentler and infinitely more competent Republican) Restoration quelled, then perhaps we can have a more serious political discussion – not about “populism” (Edwards) versus happiness and niceness (Obama), but about just where (not whether!) in the class struggle the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, can and will come down. We live in a world devastated by eight years of Cheney and Bush led, Democrat facilitated, murder and mayhem; we face the prospect of environmental disasters, economic decline, and other imaginable (and yet unimaginable) catastrophes. If there’s to be any chance of a soft landing, a radical change of course is necessary – NOW. As best one can tell at this point, an Edwards presidency will be more propitious for that end than an Obama presidency. Or, what comes to the same thing, it will be less Clintonite.

So let Edwards hang back for now (if he can’t yet surge ahead). Let him team up with Obama in New Hampshire against the Clintons. His war of attrition with Obama can intensify later, so long as the money – the lifeblood of American “democracy” – holds out. It’s a shrewd strategy. Lets hope it works. But, even if it doesn’t, it may help push Obama in the right (that is, the left) direction. Then the task will be to keep him there.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Another Democrat Dares Assert the Obvious

First, it was Jimmy Carter on Israel/Palestine: he dared say what everyone knows – that the occupation is an Apartheid regime. Then, before he was closed out of the debates, it was Mike Gravel. He put it more civilly than this, but his point was unmistakable: the Democrats generally and the Clintons especially are full of shit. Now, in defiance of the party’s Pelosiite leadership, George McGovern has come out for the impeachment of Cheney and Bush. Is there a pattern here? I think so. In a word, to be able to speak truths that are everywhere opposed, you have to be old. Not because age brings wisdom: there are lots of eleven year olds who understand Carter’s, Gravel’s and McGovern’s points, and lots of geezers who haven’t a clue. [Indeed, it’s those geezers who can’t write enough checks to Israel, the Clintons, and Pelosiite Democrats! Evidently, age can lower moral and intellectual levels too.] But, if you’re a Democrat, and if you are wise enough to know what’s what and courageous enough to say it, you have to be beyond caring about being a player; and beyond caring what the parameters of proper, mainstream opinion are. It isn’t necessary to be old for that, but it helps.

Saturday Night

Could anyone sit through two hours of the self-parodies the Republicans unleashed on viewers of ABC? I couldn’t. Too much vileness in too little space in too brief a time. But for the wacky libertarian, Ron Paul, even a few minutes was too much.

Then ABC (Disney Corp.) did its best to make sure that, after the two hours they devoted to that horror show, the Democratic debate, awash in sunlight by comparison, would take place within parameters the corporate world deems safe. Thus it denied viewers the chance to see and hear what genuine (small-d) democrats, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich had to say. Not surprisingly, ABC follows in the shameful line of other guardians of the status quo this primary season – most recently, the Des Moines Register.

Fortunately, they couldn’t treat John Edwards the same way. So a few whiffs of truth did filter through. Hillary Clinton, the consummate centrist, and the resolutely vacuous Barack Obama have been led left by Edwards’ campaign – and, of course, by the overwhelming sentiments of the constituencies they tap for votes. Thus on “the issues” there are only shades of difference between the debate participants. [If Kucinich had been allowed to participate, it would have been different. But the Mouse wouldn’t hear of it.] Yes, Clinton is (slightly) worse on all those issues – except health care where Obama is worse. But issues aren’t the issue. The reason to dispatch Hillary, utterly and completely, is the Clintonite entourage she brings with her, with their baggage in hand. These are the miscreants who completed “the Reagan revolution.” They’re the folks who decided, early on, not to pursue on-going investigations of Reagan’s (and Poppy Doc Bush’s) crimes against the peace and against the constitution, encouraging the deification of that dreadful, reactionary acting President. That exercise of Democratic pusillanimity resonates to this day in the campaigns of those awful Republican candidates, especially the most loathsome of all, Mitt Romney, the family guy, and the Rudy G, the dirty cop. How many times last night did those two utter the Gipper’s name! And, of course, it was Hillary’s band of Clintonites who, with their own illegal wars and murderous sanctions, prepared the way for Cheney and Bush. In comparison, Hillary’s actual aiding and abetting of Baby Doc’s far greater crimes, back in her War Democrat days, is “small potatoes.” Now the Albrights and Holbrookes and the rest are poised to come back. They could come back through the other two as well – but not in such numbers or to the same extent – though, in Obama’s case, the jury is out.

As for Obama, remember that Slick Willy was once the Man from Hope as well. He too promised to unify the country and to bring “change.” This electoral season, Preacher Huckabee is the new Man from Hope. Do we really need a third?

I’m more against the other two, Hillary especially, than for Edwards. But I do think there’s a chance that he means what he says about taking the fight against malefactors of great wealth personally. If that would happen, it could unleash a dynamic in American politics that, in current circumstances, has a good chance, of radically changing what is on the agenda – what “the issues” are – for the first time in decades. It’s a chance worth taking. But even if I’m just succumbing to wishful thinking, even if Edwards offers less than he promises -- consider the alternatives!

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Morning After

The good news, of course, is that Hillary came in third. Too bad it wasn’t a weaker third or, as I wrote two days ago, fourth or worse. However, the danger of a full-fledged Clintonite restoration remains. The field has narrowed too. I’ll miss Chris Dodd. Excluding the media’s non-persons, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, he was among the top two or three candidates. Joe Biden’s departure from the race is another story; he surely won’t be missed.

Sadly, John Edwards, in second place, lost his best chance to gain what Poppy Doc Bush used to call “the Big Mo.” He was seriously outspent in Iowa by both Obama and Clinton. Now he’ll have an even harder time raising the money that our “democracy” runs on. If only the outcomes for Edwards and Obama were reversed! Why didn’t it happen? Edwards was outspent, but he certainly spent enough; and he’s been working the state hard almost continuously since 2004. He had as good an organization in Iowa as Obama did. So most of the explanation must lie elsewhere. On this morning after, two thoughts come to mind.

The first is fairly obvious. Edwards was all but ignored by the corporate media and NPR. They obviously don’t take well to anti-corporate “messages.” On the other hand, the media couldn’t get enough of Edwards’ first-tier rivals. To be sure, on the “issues,” Edwards and Obama, and even Clinton, don’t disagree all that much; on foreign policy, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, they disagree even less. But their similarities mask important differences. Clinton, like her husband and his (now her) entourage, stand pretty much where liberal Republicans would, if there were any of them left. The difference is that liberal Republicans would be more principled. They would also be less accountable to the constituencies whose pain the Clintons “feel,” even as they add to it. That’s why Democrats like Hillary and Bill can’t quite win the hearts and minds of the plutocracy; it is their fate always to be wannabes. But that’s good enough for the shapers of opinion to deny them no opportunity to promote themselves. Much the same is true for Obama. It’s hard to say where he stands – on anything. His “message of change,” insofar as it has content, is perhaps not quite so corporate-friendly. But he has taken great pains not to turn the plutocracy against him. His shtick is that, though he’s not the traditional (white male) contender, he’s safe as can be. Obama is good at being safe. He’s so safe that he won big time in a state with a population less than 5% African-American. He’s so safe that the plutocracy, so far at least, is not standing in his way. More than his “celebrity” status, more than the inherent interest of his “epoch struggle” with Hillary, there’s his anodyne persona. Corporate America appreciates that; so does its media.

But the bigger factor revolves around the point, reported in all the polling, about the importance caucus goers in Iowa attached to “change.” Apparently, this is what brought nearly twice as many people to this year’s caucuses as to those of 2004. This is all to the good, I suppose; as is the fact that many of the new participants were people in the 18-25 age group demographic, and that many described themselves as “independents.” How much better would it have been though had these new participants come equipped with a political compass! Then they would realize that there’s change and – well, change. Edwards talked about setting in motion a dynamic that would empower working people and the poor, and that would take on the contemporary counterparts of Teddy Roosevelt’s “malefactors of great wealth.” That would spell genuine change. On the other hand, Obama’s “change” reduces to inspirational drivel. It sounds good. It was hard not to be moved by his victory speech. Obama entrances people across the political spectrum – even David Brooks, the New York Times’ (most) right-wing (and least brainy) columnist, who was impressed enough to declare Edwards’ “angry cries” against corporate greed “old fashioned” in comparison. The truth, though, is that not since Bobby Kennedy’s final days has there been the prospect of installing in the White House anyone nearly as progressive as John Edwards. Were he to win, real change would, at long last, be on the agenda. Now that cause has now been set back.

But it ain’t over till its over. As of now, it’s not looking good for Edwards; but it’s looking even worse for Hillary. If Obama is the price we must pay to rid ourselves of the Clintons, then so be it.

* *

The other good news is that Mitt Romney has been dealt a serious blow. Preacher Huckabee’s win, unlike Pat Robertson’s second place finish in 1988, is probably more than a flash in the pan. Despite what the punditocracy was claiming barely a month ago, our homegrown Christian Taliban are still very much at it. This might seem like a blessing for the Democrats, and indeed it would be if Huckabee were to get the nomination. The Democratic candidate would then be running against a character conjured up by the writers of the Andy Griffith Show. But the bad news is: Huckabee won’t be the nominee – not if the plutocrats who run the GOP have any say. John McCain, the least risible but most bellicose (or second most, after Rudy G) of the Republican candidates, is now more likely to move ahead, as the plutocracy throws its weight – and money – behind him. Or Huckabee’s win, if it holds up in the next few primaries, could encourage Michael Bloomberg, a plutocrat unencumbered by ties to the Republican Party’s useful idiots, to run on a third party line, introducing a wild card into the race. But it probably doesn’t matter who the Republicans nominate or who runs independently of them. After Bush, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, ought to be and probably is undefeatable; unless, of course, they defeat themselves by outdoing themselves in pusillanimity or in sheer vacuity.