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.

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