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.

1 comment:

Tomas said...

I don't know whether Barack Obama is the Gary Hart of this election, but I do know that your "vacuity" inference is a cheap shot when it comes to Sen. Hart's 1984 campaign. For the benefit of your readers, I thought you might be interested in this recently published opinion:

Denver Post

Where's the beef?
By Dan Haley
Article Last Updated: 01/05/2008 07:18:54 PM MST

Shuffling through some old files in the office last week, I stumbled upon a yellowed clipping from The Futurist that someone from The Past had tucked away in a manila folder.
The piece was titled "The Future of the Democratic Party," and was dated December 1981. Democrats had just weathered the Reagan Revolution. Not only was a Republican elected president a year earlier, but Democrats lost their generation-long grip on the Senate.
They were searching for answers.
"Democrats need . . . to regain their own positive political vision," wrote then-Sen. Gary Hart, who was settling in to his second Senate term and scratching out the first of two presidential bids.
"Clearly, we can't do this by focusing first on the Republicans and then designing our own agenda in reaction to them. The party's future lies in the creation and articulation of a positive - not reactive - agenda."
Sounds like good advice for today's Democrats and Republicans.
The Hart piece was a fascinating read, given that we're now officially mired in high political season, where too often glitzy campaign ads, celebrity stumpers and soaring rhetoric substitute for substance and new ideas.
His piece was incredibly prescient, predicting exactly the issues we're faced with today.
The essay dropped, literally, onto my lap on the eve of the Iowa caucus. Ironic, since it was in Iowa 24 years ago that this unknown senator gained a national foothold by finishing a surprising second to front-runner Walter Mondale.
He did it by pitching new ideas that he thought would drive the country forward - an ingredient too often missing from today's Iowa debates.
With more than four days between Iowa and New Hampshire back then, Hart was able to use that momentum to upset the veep in N.H., shaking up the race for good. Mondale, though, somehow got away with criticizing Hart's ideas as empty, vague rhetoric. "Where's the beef?" Mondale deadpanned, proving, again, that easy slogans can win over substance.
The beef was there, had anyone looked. Hart outlined three issues in his essay that the United States would face in the 1980s: national defense, energy and economic revitalization.
While he whiffed on defense, considering how the Cold War would end - "We must never cease reminding Americans that an unrestrained nuclear arms race makes us weaker, not stronger" - his words on energy and the economy were striking.
He called energy independence a national security issue: "We cannot regain a clear vision of America's role in the world until we free ourselves from dependence on oil from the unstable Persian Gulf region," he wrote. "Until then, we risk being drawn into a vain, futile war for oil."
He backed an aggressive conservation program, and investment in renewable energy sources.
He also spotted the rapid growth of the country's high-tech sector: "We have concerned ourselves with shoring up aging industries . . . Our tax policy rewards investment in physical equipment, yet offers no similar incentive for investment in the human capital that drives our 'information economy.' "
Reading it begged the question: Is there a candidate out there today with such a clear vision of the future? And could he or she even articulate such a vision in our world of sound bites and slogans?
Hart couldn't do it 1984, but at least the more drawn-out process then allowed him to campaign all the way to the convention floor, where he would seal his front-runner status for a later bid.
Today's front-loaded caucus and primary system seems only to benefit the candidate with the money and organization, not the big ideas.
Where's the beef?
We may no longer have the time, or patience, to find out.
Editorial page editor Dan Haley can be reached at