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.

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