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.


Dave Lucas said...

I think Oprah- oops- Obama can’t go the distance. For one thing, there’s the Kerry endorsement (who in their right mind would want Kerry’s endorsement?) And then there is the REAL Obama Girl!!!

dl004d said...

And now to talk about bringing change to Washington... John Kerry!