Tuesday, January 15, 2008

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.

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