Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Again, the forces of order – CNN this time – wouldn’t let Dennis Kucinich into their debate last night (Jan. 21) in South Carolina. Therefore policy disagreements were, to put it mildly, slight. Even so, the first half of the debate featured a salutary bloodletting (Clinton v. Obama). During the second half, with the three electables perched on what appeared to be Eero Saarinen tulip chairs, the love fest resumed, at least superficially. [Evidently, tasteful, intelligent design – Saarinen’s, not the (alleged) divinity’s -- is conducive to tranquility, though not, it seems, to what is most needed now: that Clinton and Obama tear each other apart.]

The “quality” press and NPR reported that John Edwards had trouble getting words in edgewise. Not exactly; though that is a fair description of their coverage of his campaign. Edwards made several indisputable points: 1) that he’d fight for the poor and “the middle class” more “aggressively” than the others; 2) that he’s more electable than the others (especially against John McCain); and 3) that his policy proposals are clearer and more detailed than those of his rivals. He also established that on health care, the issue most discussed last night, his proposals are better – marginally in comparison with Clinton’s, seriously in comparison with Obama. [With insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry ready to pounce, none of the three dare defend the position that is obviously best – not for profit, single-payer insurance. With Kucinich excluded, that option was off last night’s agenda. But at least Clinton and Edwards call for universal coverage; Obama doesn’t even do that.]

More important than what was debated was what was not mentioned -- because neither Obama nor Edwards dare broach a serious assessment of the Clinton years (the sanctions, the bombings, the illegal wars, the war ON the poor, the economic policies that made the rich much richer). Vying to represent a party that won’t even launch impeachment proceedings against Dick Cheney and George Bush, let alone bring them to justice, it is no surprise that they’re willing, even eager, to let the Clinton years pass without any truth or reconciliation. But there is still a difference between the candidates, and it is an important one. Who wins the nomination, and the Presidency, affects how many arch Clintonites like Richard Holbrooke and Madeleine Albright will be restored to power. With Hillary Clinton, expect a full-scale Restoration. With Obama, it may be a little better --though, because he is so resolutely middle-of-the-road and so rarely unequivocal, it’s hard to be sure what he’ll do. With Edwards the prospects are better still. This is a far stronger reason to favor him over Obama and, of course, over Clinton than the expectation that he’ll fight corporate malefactors more aggressively or implement (marginally) better policies.

There was much that was unmentioned on the electability question too. Edwards did suggest that Hillary would have problems running against any Republican, but especially against McCain who is the least risible, though hardly the least contemptible, of the lot. But he didn’t exactly defend his contention. The problem is not mainly that she’s a northerner (Edwards’ implication) and a woman (as her feminist boosters keep saying), but that she is a lightening rod for “the great right wing conspiracy.” Since, as a Clintonite, she’s more on the side of the conspirators than not, it’s a “narcissism of small differences” thing. But it’s a genuine problem. There are lots of people who will be voting in November who hate Hillary – for the wrong reasons. They may even hate her enough to elect a “maverick” war monger (and unrepentant warrior). If anybody could galvanize a Republican Party wrecked by Bush’s fumbling incompetence and criminality, it’s Hillary Clinton.

Obama has a problem too, one that neither he nor the other candidates will mention: it’s called racism. Last night, the electables went out of their way to sweep the problem under the rug, but it’s real and it won’t go away by ignoring it. More than any other factor, racism explains why the polls were so wrong in New Hampshire; evidently, at the last minute, after the pollsters had asked their questions, some potential Obama voters couldn’t quite bring themselves to vote for a black candidate. It is becoming increasingly clear too that it isn’t just white people who have a problem voting for an African-American. Anti-black racism is why, despite the support the (mainly Latino) Culinary Workers union gave Obama, Latinos in Nevada voted two to one for Hillary. In the debate, it was something of a joke that Edwards’ prospects in South Carolina and elsewhere suffer because he’s a white male. But the fact remains that this “son of the South,” as the others called him (not to pin a racist label on him, but so that he too could have a subaltern “identity”), is immune from both Hillary’s and Obama’s problems.

Democratic voters, who made electability issue Number One in 2004, now seem oblivious. Perhaps that’s a good thing; one shouldn’t give in to racism. Neither should one put much confidence in Democratic voters’ perceptions of electability; that’s how the party got stuck with John Kerry. Perhaps it won’t matter this time around since the Bush presidency has been such a disaster that, Hillary hating and anti-black racism notwithstanding, the Democrats will have a hard time losing. But serious lesser evilists can’t be too cautious, especially when the greater evil is John McCain or worse (Preacher Huckabee, for example, or Mitt Romney or, worst of all, Rudy G). Thus it bears repeating: on African American, Latino, and women’s issues, and on much else too, Edwards is better than Clinton or Obama. With the corporate and corporate friendly media framing the way most voters will perceive their choices in the coming primary elections, don’t count on this fact to dawn on very many Democrats or to affect how they vote. It’s a sure thing that many of them will realize it eventually but, in all likelihood, not enough of them will come to their senses while there’s still (barely) time.

No comments: