Friday, February 29, 2008

An Unfortunate Tactical Error

In an electoral system that makes it all but impossible for independent or third party candidates to win anything, it might not seem to matter much if the already tiny constituency of progressive voters is split. One could even argue that it is a good thing because it means that there will be more progressive voices for voters to hear. But anyone who would use elections to be heard has got to try to win as many votes as possible. Otherwise, why would anyone pay attention? This is especially true in the United States, where progressive voices have a terrible time being heard at all. This consideration speaks compellingly against willfully multiplying campaigns beyond necessity.

Thus I regret Ralph Nader’s decision to run as an independent, not a Green. Not only will this decision not help the Green Party to grow; it will diminish the educational efficacy of both Nader’s campaign and the Green’s. This would be warranted, of course, if there were genuine political differences underlying the parting of ways. But there are not. I don’t know why Nader chose as he did, but I do know that his decision, like the similar one he made in 2004, was unwise.

His mistake is especially to be regretted since, as another Illinois politician, Abe Lincoln, might have noticed, Barack Obama is fooling quite a few people all of the time. To gauge to what extent, consider this analysis by Nader’s running mate, Matt Gonzalez.

The Democrats' Vietnam Syndrome

If we are lucky, by this time next week the Clintons will have departed the national political scene, never to return. The Republican slime machine is already gearing up to attack Barack Obama. Lucky for him that his middle name is only Hussain. How much uglier the next several months would be if it were, say, Yasser.

If only out of self-interest, one might think that the Democrats would respond with equal or greater vehemence -- attacking John McCain for his “service” in Vietnam. That would not be sleazy at all; it would be principled. But it would conflict with the narrative they have collaborated in concocting almost from the moment that Nixon began to “Vietnamize” the war. Since then, with few exceptions, Democrats have told the same story as McCain: that the war’s aims were fine, that it was fought honorably (for the most part), and that “we” lost because the civilian leadership, intimidated by dissenters, was overly timid. National Security Democrats promote this view. These quasi-neo-cons may be less quick than real deal neo-cons to pick fights. But once they’re in, they’re in. Hillary Clinton was their candidate. Now it looks like Obama will put the kybosh on that. But he won’t challenge their underlying narrative. Thus, instead of castigating McCain as a Vietnam warrior, he praises him. McCain, Obama tells us, may be wrong on Iraq and almost everything else, but he is a war hero, and heroes are owed their due.

Liberals were less obtuse when Ronald Reagan honored fallen German soldiers, including members of the Waffen SS, at a Nazi cemetery in Bitburg in 1985. The soldiers buried at Bitburg were heroes too -- in the way McCain is. But no American liberal, and no sane German, would doubt for a moment that, because they were on the wrong (not just the losing) side, their war service was a disqualification for high political office. That’s because Germany came to terms with its Nazi past to a degree that the United States has never come to terms with Kennedy’s, Johnson’s and Nixon’s war. That McCain might be President is, to use the Biblical idiom evangelical Republicans understand, an abomination. But don’t wait for a Democrat, least of all Obama, to point this out.

The Vietnam War was a crime, not a mistake. Not to acknowledge this is to be susceptible to crimes of a similar kind. This is why, if Obama does what he now says he will, we will have a President who will bring (most) combat troops home, but who will leave trainers, guards and “anti-terror” strike forces, along with background support troops and private contractors (mercenaries) in Iraq for an indefinite future, continuing the occupation. This why Obama will boost the Pentagon budget, boost the size of the armed forces, and intensify Bush’s other war in Afghanistan. Yes, what Obama proposes is better than John McCain’s suggestion that it might be necessary to keep troops in Iraq for a hundred years. But it’s not a change of course; only a smarter implementation of the old course. A lesser evil certainly, but an evil nevertheless.

* *
Meanwhile, Ralph Nader has announced that he’ll run an independent campaign and not seek the Green Party nomination. This removes party building as a reason to support him. The best that could come of his running now is that his campaign might help keep progressive ideas in circulation, and pull Obama to the left. These are eminently worthwhile goals. But with the media ignoring (and occasionally deriding) him, with liberal Democrats fuming at him, with our very undemocratic electoral institutions impeding his or any other candidacy outside the Republicrat fold, and with clueless Obamamaniacs enthusing over the candidate he wants to affect, one can only wonder how much good another Nader campaign can do.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I wrote yesterday that I’d probably vote for Ralph Nader in November, despite misgivings, and that it is even more likely that I’d contribute to his campaign. It was far from my mind yesterday, but I’m going to make a contribution today. For that, the “Nader team,” which can be reached at, can thank last night’s Obama-Clinton debate in Cleveland. To be sure, nothing became apparent that hasn’t been obvious for months. But it is one thing to know what Obama and Clinton are about, and something else to see it displayed. To see them flat on a screen is distressing.

First, there’s the fact that Clinton’s and Obama’s policy proposals are practically identical. According to both candidates, health care is an exception. Obama would require individuals to buy health insurance for their children, but not themselves; Clinton would require adults to buy health insurace for themselves as well. On the face of it, the Clinton plan, because it mandates universal coverage, is better. But it isn’t that simple because it isn’t clear which plan would better lower costs or cover more people. The answer depends, in part, on what else is done to lower costs and on how the mandates are enforced. Last night, both candidates appealed to (unnamed) experts to bolster their respective positions. The truth is that no one really knows. So, in addition to conflicting assertions unsupported by arguments, the “debate” on health care devolved into recriminations about “campaign styles” – about who was distorting whose position more. After the past few days of the campaign, Clinton had to walk a fine line between her hissy fit persona and her above the fray persona. According to the pundits last night and this morning, she did it satisfactorily but without panache. Obama, on the other hand, deflected her provocations with ease. But what has this to do with anything except how skillfully they present themselves?

What everyone should know – and what more people would know had Dennis Kucinich not been marginalized and then cut out of the debates – is that, by far, the best way to achieve universal coverage is to implement Canadian style single-payer, not for profit, health insurance. But that is out of the question; Hillary Clinton saw to that in 1993, when she contrived a plan for universal coverage that cut the insurance companies in. Seeing an opening, they went for total victory. The result was predictable: not only was the cause of universal coverage set back for more than fifteen years, but the very idea of single-payer insurance was permanently marginalized. However Hillary Clinton cannot change the fact that the single-payer model provides, by far, the best way to assure universal coverage and also to cut costs. That fact didn’t register last night or any other night. The “debate,” such as it is, is between two flawed plans.

[For his trouble in pointing this out and for staking out progressive positions on a host of other issues, including impeachment, the corporate sleaze (aka “the business community”) of Cleveland are running a candidate against Kucinich in the March 4 primary. To help him out, go to].

To the best of my knowledge, this was the first debate in which questions about Israel/Palestine arose. It’s no surprise that both candidates pandered shamelessly to the Israel lobby. But how the pandering was framed is distressing. Tim Russert raised the question by asking Obama if he rejects Louis Farrakhan’s support. Farrahkan is no particular friend of the Palestinians, but he did once say that Judaism is a “gutter religion.” That was back in the days when Jews were still running most of the businesses in black ghettoes, and Farrahkahn was promoting black capitalism. Today, Jews are mostly out of the ghettoes, and black-Jewish tensions have largely given way to black-Asian, black-Hispanic, and African American-Afro-Caribbean tensions. Also, thanks to affirmative action and black entrepreneurship, African-Americans are now economic powerhouses in neighborhoods where Farrakhan’s less fortunate African-American supporters live. Thus inter-racial and inter-ethnic tensions have partly given way to straightforward class conflicts, and so-called black anti-Semitism (so called because it never really was of a piece with the lethal European variety) has faded into the past. Farrahkan’s remark comes from -- and was made in -- another age.

Neverthless, Obama had to “reject” (Clinton’s word) and “denounce” (Obama’s) Farrakhan, which he did. Had he said that Judaism is no worse than Islam or Christianity or, better still, that all religions are gutter religions, I’d contribute to his campaign, not Nader’s. Instead he turned Russert’s question into an occasion to voice support, yet again, for Israel. Thus he reinforced two obviously false but deeply entrenched tenets of our political culture: that anti-anti-Semitism implies support for Israel, and that opposition to anything Israel does is tantamount to anti-Semitism. No matter that these claims are preposterous on their face and also “bad for the Jews.” [They are bad because they legitimate real anti-Semitism by identifying it with a defensible, indeed obvious, political position.] But what Obama said, with Clinton cheering on, is what the Israel lobby wants to hear. As I wrote yesterday, Obama may have a problem down the road because he was not always so servile, and because some of his advisors understand American national interests in ways that don’t automatically coincide with Israel’s. If Obama’s aim is to preempt trouble by seeming servile, then his pandering, though unseemly, is not especially noxious. But that’s wishful thinking. The fact of the matter is that the more flagrantly and abjectly he panders, the harder it becomes to expect that, in office, he’ll be any different.

This is an example of the most distressing thing about Obama: how he buys into the liberal Democratic narrative about world affairs and about the Clinton era. According to that story, the Clinton days were a Golden Age. Yes, NAFTA and other trade agreements have not worked out well. Even Hillary has flip flopped on that. And yes, some Democrats, Hillary included, were too quick to accept Bush’s assurances on weapons of mass destruction. But, on the whole, the Clinton years were good. May they come again – but this time with more “unity” and “inspiration.”

This is very wrong. Not only did Bill Clinton continue Ronald Reagan’s anti-New Deal and anti-Great Society agenda, implementing more of it even than Reagan himself; he also did just what Cheney and Bush did in Iraq, though without incurring nearly as much dissent. [The Clintons have always been adept at coopting potential critics to their left. I suppose, since they’re also lightening rods for “the great right-wing conspiracy,” that it all evens out in the end.] The Clinton administration paved the way for Cheney’s and Bush’s wars. Clinton’s (officially NATO’s) bombing campaigns against Bosnia and then Kosovo are perspicuous examples. These were imperialist ventures in the guise of “humanitarian interventions.” They established the routine: demonize the enemy (in near or total disregard of evidence), fabricate threats of looming disasters, and then respond militarily – if need be without UN authorization and therefore illegally, according to international law. [For more on the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the shameful role of liberals and parts of the left in the process, see Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “The Dismantling of Yugoslavia: A Study in Inhumanitarian Intervention – and a Western Liberal-Left Intellectual and Moral Collapse,” Monthly Review (vol. 59, no. 5, October 2007).]

The fact that the United States never really came to terms with the Vietnam War is what makes a John McCain candidacy – and Presidency -- possible. Because the Democratic Party has never come to terms with the Clinton years – because, with Obama in tow, it glorifies those days -- it offers a prospect of more of the same. If that’s how it is to be, I propose that Obama change his slogan. Instead of prattling on about “change,” he should lay the facts on the line. His slogan should be “Better than Bush” or, to make it more timely and also more laudatory (since anybody would be better than Bush) -- “Better than McCain.” That would be the only non-delusional reason to vote for him in November.

Enter Nader, stage left. For him to run against Obamamania may be a fool’s errand, even if the point is only to pull the “center” towards the left. But this morning, it looks even more worth trying than it did yesterday afternoon. We lesserevilists have our thresholds, after all, and if Obama only wants to be a more Kennedyesque Clintonite, then he fails to meet the standard.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Nader for President?

I applaud Ralph Nader’s entry into the 2008 presidential race -- not just because he has every “right” to run, but because Obama (or, God forbid, Clinton) will run to the right once they have the nomination in hand – unless there is a powerful pole of attraction to their left that threatens to draw voters away. John Edwards’campaign pulled Obama and even Clinton out of the mushy middle – ever so slightly. That’s gone now. When the primary season is over, there will be no need for the Nominee Apparent to play to the Democratic base either. If nothing happens to derail an otherwise inevitable trajectory, even vacuous talk of “change” will look good.

However, I have three concerns about the wisdom of another Nader campaign. Two of them are broadly strategic, the other has more to do with long-range political objectives. None of them, singly or together, are decisive. Because I live in a safe “blue” state [I still can’t get over how they got “red”], I’ll probably vote for Nader, as I did in 1996 and again in 2000. It’s even more likely that I will contribute to his campaign. I can imagine circumstances where I might do even more. But I am ambivalent about the prospect.

1) The time to reject the “liberal” Democratic narrative according to which Nader was a “spoiler” in 2000 was from the moment it surfaced. The case against that self-serving story is well told here. But it is very likely true that had Nader not run, Gore would have won despite himself and despite the ineptitude of his campaign. In retrospect, therefore, it would have been better had Nader not run – because it would have been better had Gore not lost. That was not how it seemed prospectively. In 2000, the country was at peace (more or less) and the economy was (apparently) booming. Gore’s opponent was a bumbling fool. [That perception, at least, was sound!] Therefore Gore ought easily to have won by a landslide even if Nader had garnered 5% of the vote, which was all that anybody hoped he would. [5% was the magic number that would assure public funding for the Green Party in ensuing years.] The fact that it didn’t work out that way is not Nader’s fault. It was Gore’s election to lose and, with more than a little help from his liberal Democratic friends, he was up to the task.

In 2004, I voted for John Kerry because he seemed to have a better chance of losing to George Bush than Gore had four years earlier, and because it seemed the best way to “express” opposition to the Bush government and its wars. However, in 2008, a Democratic victory again seems assured, though for very different reasons than eight years ago. Belatedly, but unmistakably, a large majority of Americans have become fed up with Cheney and Bush, fed up with their wars, and fed up with their not so compassionate conservatism. Everyone knows that the Democrats, especially the ones in the House and Senate leadership, are a feckless lot – and that they’ve done more to aid and abet Cheney and Bush than to impede their criminal enterprises. But at least they compete with Bush’s party electorally. That was enough to sweep the Democrats to victory in 2006. It should be more than enough in 2008.

BUT it might not work out that way. Even Hillary Clinton, running ineptly, should be able to trounce any of the Republicans who sought the nomination except John McCain – the only one who isn’t easily depicted as a bad joke. McCain’s adventures with lobbyists could yet be his undoing. So could his rifts with anti-immigrant nativist racists, tax cutting free market theologians, and theocrats in his own party. But it isn’t likely. That’s why it is fair to say that there is reason to fear that, were she to run against McCain, Clinton could lose. Why go for a national security, neo-liberal Democrat, a McCain Lite, when the real article is available? Obama is less vulnerable on this account because he is not perceived as a pale approximation of an unrepentant Vietnam warrior and Iraq warmonger. However he has other, potentially graver liabilities.

There is first of all the persistence of racist attitudes, and the possibility that the electorate as a whole will be less likely to vote for an African-American than the subset of Americans who vote in Democratic primaries and caucuses. Then there is the fact that before his national political ambitions crystallized, Obama was, if not pro-Palestinian at least not shamelessly anti-Palestinian. In a saner country than ours, that would be a mark in his favor. But in the real world of American politics, it is a liability. In recent years, Obama has pandered to the Israel lobby with due diligence. Still, we can count on McCain to make an issue of his erstwhile good moral and political sense. Already right wing Zionists are complaining that Obama’s foreign policy advisors are insufficiently sensitive to the interests of the tribal state. Would that it were so; the ones they single out – Zbigniew Brzezinski, for example, and Semantha Power – hardly fit that description. No matter; for the Zionist right, only the truly servile will do. Obama has more of a credibility problem in that regard than Clinton does; she’s been pandering longer and more sincerely and her husband’s legacy counts in her favor. But she’ll soon be out of the picture – one hopes. That’s why the Zionist right could be a problem. I wonder how much of a problem, though, because saner heads within the Zionist movement will probably prevail, and they’ll not want to get on Obama’s bad side. In any case, Obama’s ancient virtues will not cost him many votes, though they could cost the Democrats some money. The larger problem is that Obama’s ostensible unreliability on Israel/Palestine, will feed into a perception that he, with his Muslim relatives and extended Kenyan family, is somehow unfit to lead the Home of the Brave. The Clintons have already laid the groundwork: implying that the Obama campaign has taken on a cult-like aspect. All the Republicans need to do is amplify the imputed perception that there is something off. With a last name that sounds like Osama, and with Hussein for a middle name, the heirs of Karl Rove should not have too hard a time of it.

These are reasons not to do anything that might even remotely jeopardize Obama’s chances for winning in November. It’s not splitting hairs to say that voting strategically with this thought in mind is different from faulting Nader as a “spoiler.” With Nader and Obama (or Clinton) in the race, Obama (or Clinton) is likely to take more votes away from Nader than vice versa. If anybody is a spoiler, it would therefore be Obama, not Nader. But “spoiler” talk is silly. Strategic voting is not. We are in uncharted territory with an Obama candidacy. In the circumstances, exercising extreme caution may be the wisest course. This is not a decisive reason to keep Nadar at bay, but it is a consideration.

2) Nader was a far more charismatic candidate than Al Gore; his supporters were far more enthusiastic – even if many of them were ultimately scared away by “liberal” Democrats. For a Nader campaign to be worth the effort, he will need enthusiastic supporters again. As in 2000, the corporate and corporate friendly (NPR) media will ignore a Nader campaign as much as they can; they will deride it to the extent they cannot. Look at what they did to John Edwards! Expect worse, much worse, as they deal with someone who has the temerity to challenge the party duopoly that serves their interests so well. To fight back, the Green Party will need people, lots of them, to force attention on the campaign. It will need to appeal to youth. That happened to a considerable degree in 2000. But how likely is to happen again in this Age of Obamamania? If the enthusiasts, the young ones especially, are elsewhere, a Nader campaign would be futile. The need for it would be as great as ever, but the people who can carry it forward would be missing. In these circumstances, it might make more sense to push a progressive agenda without running any candidate at all. I emphasize the word “might.” This is not a decisive consideration either, but it is a powerful one.

3) Arguably, the prospects for party-building, for moving the Green Party closer to the point where it can seriously challenge the Republicrat duopoly, trump these considerations. This was the main reason why I supported Nader in 2000. But Nader has never been much of a party builder. In 2000, he ran as the Green candidate, but never joined the party. In 2004, he ran an independent campaign; the Greens ran somebody else. Now it seems that he will run for the Green nomination again, but only because it will facilitate the daunting task of gaining ballot access. I’ve come around to the view that he may have a point. The Green Party has been around for some time. It has gone precisely nowhere. Of course, an energized Nader campaign could jump start it. But that seems unlikely – given Nader’s lack of enthusiasm for the Greens, and the enthusiasm many potential Green voters have for Barack Obama.

Of course, there is still an “educational” reason to run. Elections focus attention. To the extent it is not ignored, a Nader campaign would force attention on issues Obama is sure to ignore. [Were anyone else, including Cynthia McKinney, the Green candidate, the campaign would be even more thoroughly ignored.] The issues Nader would emphasize would be roughly the ones Dennis Kucinich did: single-payer, not for profit health insurance; defunding the Bush wars, impeachment; pro-labor legislation and the like. A Green campaign would also be able to raise questions about America’s policies in Israel/Palestine. Kucinich was good on these issues too; he wanted the U.S. to join forces with the Israeli left. Nader is better; he wants the U.S. to treat Israel the way it would any other state. But even if Nader gets some attention -- because the media, ever focused on the “horse race” aspect of the campaign will obsess again on the “spoiler” theme -- don’t count on these or other “issues” to expand political consciousness. To the degree they are not ignored, they’ll be used to disparage the Nader campaign. Especially if the atmosphere is already poisoned because Obama once showed good sense, look forward to charges of anti-Semitism and even more ludicrous castigations of “self-hating” Jews.

However even if sanity prevails, a Nader campaign would just be a Kucinich campaign – with a more charismatic candidate and with a take on the issues less constrained by the exigencies of running within the framework of the Democratic Party. This raises an important question – for those of us who are more red (in the old-fashioned sense of the term) than green. Given the prevailing distribution of economic and political power, the Kucinich-Nader program probably exceeds the horizons of the politically possible. It is therefore, in one sense of the term, utopian. That’s not a bad thing. As Nader has repeatedly explained, it is eminently worthwhile to put “impossible” ideas out for consideration, to expand the range of discourse. But if that’s the point, why stop where Nader does?

One reason might be that this is where Nader thinks it is best to stop. Nader does not, and never has, challenged underlying economic or political structures. That’s why in the good old days, leftists sometimes faulted his “reformism.” He is not for left alternatives to capitalism, but for left alternatives within capitalism; he sees corporate power, not capitalism itself, as the root of the evils that afflict us. He also has no notion of transforming the political regime; only of making it truer to its “promise.” This is not the place to engage these questions, but it is appropriate to raise them and to say that I think he is wrong – that Nader’s (and Kucinich’s) utopianism is not radical enough.

Those of us who would challenge the underlying structures that govern our economic and political life therefore have reason to cavil; to question why, once worries about feasibility are cast aside in favor of political education, we should “teach” Nader’s (or Kucinich’s) lessons rather than our own. This is why I am hesitant to identify unequivocally with Nader’s anti-corporate but not anti-capitalist, politics -- despite the plain fact that, for anyone who thinks as I do, the world Nader (and Kucinich) envision would be vastly preferable to the best we have any chance of getting under an Obama presidency.

So it is with genuinely mixed feelings that I welcome Nader’s candidacy. On balance, I think it is probably a good thing, but I say this without great confidence. Perhaps in time, the problems I’ve sketched will sort themselves out. I certainly hope so. For now they leave me conflicted.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Austin Debate Limits

The February 21 debate in Austin will probably be remembered for the love fest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama with which it ended -- to a standing ovation. But has no one noticed that Clinton’s closing words – to the effect that, after it’s all over, “we” (she and Obama) will be fine, but will the country be fine? -- were taken (plagiarized?) almost verbatim from John Edwards? This after she continued – sort of, because she used plausibly deniable weasel words -- to accuse Obama of plagiarism for taking some lines from Deval Patrick, one of his national campaign coordinators!

Clinton’s charge was an act of desperation. So too is her “populism” which emerged in the days before the Wisconsin primary. Evidently, she has taken a page, indeed an entire chapter, from John Edwards’ play book. So too, of course, has Obama. The difference is that he’s able to do it more credibly.

Needless to say, Edwards would be more credible still. But that hopeful prospect is no longer in the cards. I used to hope that Clinton and Obama would fight each other to exhaustion, and that the party would then turn to Edwards for the sake of unity. Thus the Democrats would take a (slightly) progressive turn despite themselves. But that isn’t going to happen. Obamamaniacs will settle for nothing less than their JFK reincarnation. Even if Obama doesn’t have enough delegates to win after Pennsylvania, and even if Clinton stays in the race to the end, so long as Obama has the lead, there will be no candidate of “party unity” – not Edwards, not Al Gore, not anybody. Obama will be the nominee.

The real news from last night’s debate is old news: the candidates agree about almost everything. Just as a John McCain candidacy can happen in a country that never really came to terms with Vietnam -- the way that, for example, Germany and Japan did with World War II -- Obama’s and (Hillary) Clinton’s policies are what happens when the Democratic Party refuses to come to terms with the rampant Reaganism and proto-neo-conservatism of the (Bill) Clinton era. One place to have started, given the news of the day, was the Clinton government’s role in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. Instead, the corporate media – last night it was CNN and Univision – preferred to examine the candidates’ positions on Cuba after the resignation of Fidel Castro. As everyone already knew, Obama said that he would be willing to meet with Fidel’s successors; Clinton is less willing unless Cuba meets her conditions. But they both subscribed to the vilification narrative that has deformed American politics for almost fifty years. Nietzsche wrote that the earth should “shake with convulsions” when “a saint mates with a goose.” So too when a Hillary or Bill Clinton deride a world historical figure compared to whom they stand revealed as the second-rate neo-liberal imperialists they are.

It takes intestinal fortitude to watch Democrats “debate” for very long. [In this respect as in so many others, the Democrats are the lesser evil. Republicans debates are powerful emetics.] However, Obama, like JFK and RFK and hardly anyone else since -- is an exception. He is watchable because he exudes likeability – as a good motivational speaker must. But even he loses it on the rare occasions that he doesn’t speak vacuously. Then, as has been happening more and more lately, it’s back to the same old same old. There was some of that last night in Austin.

The topic was: should health care coverage be “mandated.” Hillary says Yes; Obama says No (except for children). On the face of it, this is a mark in Hillary’s favor. But it all depends. Among other things, it depends on what the government does to make health insurance affordable. Edwards’ plan, which Clinton’s emulates in many respects, did a great deal. It’s not clear that hers does anything comparable. As Obama claimed, her plan could well leave some uninsured people worse off than they now are – having to pay fines for not buying insurance they cannot afford.

Needless to say, there should be universal coverage; health care should be a civil right. But that implies that it be provided publicly, not that individuals should be coerced into providing it for themselves. This is yet one more reason why state supported, not-for-profit, universal health insurance is overwhelmingly the best solution to the glaring problems of the American health care system. But since criticism of the (Bill) Clinton administration is out of bounds, Hillary Clinton -- who more than any other living human being permanently marginalized the very idea back in 1993 – is able to present herself as a seasoned warrior for universal coverage. In fact, she helped set the cause of universal coverage back a generation. But don’t expect Obama to point this out. For lack of a better alternative, he is the one I hope Texans, Ohioans, Vermonters and Rhode Islanders vote for on March 4. He will be the one to send the Clintons packing. But he is no foe of Clintonism. That struggle will go on.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Alamo Days

Unless Barack Obama is somehow derailed, the Clintons may be history in less than two weeks time! That’s not to say that humiliating defeats in Texas and Ohio will necessarily force Hillary out of the race. Don’t expect her to go gracefully. But if her losing streak doesn’t end with this week’s Wisconsin primary and Hawaii caucuses, the House of Clinton will suffer a blow that not even Clintonian guile and willfulness, backed by all the campaign contributions they can muster, will be able to repair, even if the delegate count remains close.

How ironic that Texas and Ohio or, failing that, Pennsylvania will deliver the fatal blow! After Super Tuesday, the conventional wisdom was that “traditional Democrats” (i.e. white working class men), along with Latinos and women of a certain age would be Clinton’s salvation. Now white men and Latinos seem to have fallen under Obama’s spell. That means trouble for Clinton in Texas, with all its Latino voters, and in the rustbelt areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania. These defections make sense. The folks bailing out are, along with African Americans, the people most harmed by Bill Clinton’s “free” trade policies and by his Reaganite assault on what remains of our feeble regulatory and welfare state institutions. Not long ago, African Americans were supposed to be in the Clinton camp as well. That danger ended with the South Carolina primary. If the trend that started in Maryland, DC and Virginia and that continued through Wisconsin and Hawaii holds up, and if women of all ages, not just young ones, come on board the Obama juggernaut, the Clinton “demographic” will be shot and, along with it, the threat of a full-fledged Clinton Restoration! It’s not over ‘till it’s over, of course; but now is a time for (moderately) incautious optimism.

The Clintons know this: that’s why they’re running scared, pulling out all the stops, even to the point of concocting plagiarism charges against Obama and mimicking John McCain’s proclamations about how Obama is just about “words.” [True enough, but it’s still a low blow when you consider what the Clintons are about.] The Clinton façade, with its erstwhile reputation for invulnerability, is crumbling. This is not the time to feel sorry for them, however. Let them act out their fate in Texas, like the proto-neo-cons who met their end defending the Alamo did. Would that someone more progressive than Obama would play the Santa Anna role but, by marginalizing everyone slightly left of center, the corporate media have seen to it that that cannot be. If Obama must be the one to block the Second Coming of Richard Holbrooke and Madelyn Albright and Robert Rubin and others like them, so be it. We can deal with him later.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Their Latest Narrative

The “liberal media” – in other words, the corporate and corporate-friendly media, minus Fox News and (most) talk radio – has had considerable success shaping the “narrative” surrounding the Democratic primaries: after turning Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, the two candidates with the most to say, into objects of ridicule and then into non-beings excluded even from candidates’ debates, they succeeded in marginalizing John Edwards’ campaign and along with it the best chance the United States has had for generations to put a progressive in the White House. Now, on the eve of the Wisconsin and Hawaii primaries -- with primaries in Ohio and Texas and, later, Pennsylvania coming soon -- they’re concocting the narrative the “super delegates” will intervene into if, when the voting is over, they must finally decide the contest.

The chances are better than ever that Obama will knock the Clintons out of the water before that can happen. Even if he can’t get sufficient numbers of “pledged” delegates, it is likely that Obama will end up with more than Clinton will. Then, if they have any sense, the super-delegates will realize the folly of going against the majority. But the Clintons are nothing if not determined when their personal ambitions are at stake, and they are resourceful. Thus it could come down to the super delegates exercising their own judgments after all. How these delegates conceive the framework into which they will intervene affects what they will ultimately decide. That’s one reason – not the only one -- why the narrative the media concoct matters.

According to that narrative, it all comes down to Clinton’s “experience” versus Obama’s charisma and promise of “change.” This was the message, for example, of the Sunday (Feb. 17) New York Times’ lead article, written by Adam Nagourney and Farhanna Hossain. A more “learned” analysis, quoting pop historians and pop sociologists, led off “The Week in Review.” To be sure, all it demonstrated is that Kate Zernike, the author, is more clueless about political philosophy and social theory than the average undergraduate. [This should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed her work over the years. For a starter, she should get someone at The Times to explain to her what a “personality cult” is – that is, if anybody over there knows.] But such are the mechanisms through which conventional wisdom comes to be. The general tenor of recent nonsense was encapsulated in the concluding paragraphs of the Nagourney/Hossain piece, where they quote Christine Pelosi, a super delegate from California, “expressing satisfaction with both candidates.” Did she come to this opinion as a chip off the old block? For that matter, how did Nancy Pelosi’s daughter become a super delegate in the first place? In any case, like her mother and the hordes of Democrats who think like her, she’s dead wrong. There’s no reason to be satisfied with either candidate.

What, after all, does Hillary’s experience consist in? She has been a Bush aider and abettor in the Senate since 2000. Thus, like Christine’s mother and nearly every other Democrat in Congress, she is experienced at talking one way and voting another whenever Cheney and Bush succeed, as they invariably do, in framing issues of war and peace in terms of “security” and “supporting the troops.” Before carpet bagging into New York state, Clinton had only one quasi-official mission – to work on health care reform. She got it thanks to her husband’s patronage. Her work on that project permanently marginalized the very idea of single-payer, not for profit health insurance; it also set back the cause of universal health insurance coverage for a generation. Beyond that, she stuck her nose into what was not her business more than, say, Mamie Eisenhower or Pat Nixon did. But her “job” was First Lady; in other words, she was an official wife. In that capacity, she has probably met more “world leaders” than Obama has. But the main thing is that, having lived there for eight years, she knows the nooks and crannies of the White House better than he does. No doubt, Michelle Obama will be able to figure it all out within a week or two; Barack will too, if he can find the time. That’s the only sense in which Clinton is better equipped than Obama to know what to do “from day one.” I defy any super delegate or any Democratic voter to prove me wrong; to tell me, in other words, what relevant experience lying in bed (maybe) next to Bill Clinton provides?

Clinton does have four more years of Senate experience than Obama; that should count for something. But she’s also more likely than he is to oversee a full-fledged Clinton Restoration; and that counts for a great deal. Pelosiite Democrats won’t even impeach Cheney and Bush, let alone bring them to justice. How then can we expect them then to come to terms with the Clinton administration? Bill Clinton and his sorry crew of not-quite-neo-cons are implicated in the deaths of perhaps as many as a million people in Iraq through sanctions, and they undertook military adventures in Yugoslavia and elsewhere every bit as illegal and politically immoral as Cheney’s and Bush’s escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan. [One would think that today of all days, with Kosovo declaring its independence from Serbia, that this would be an issue. But Obama is as mum about it as they both are about Israel’s latest outrages in Gaza and in building yet more settlements in East Jerusalem. With Obama in office, as much as with Hillary, Bill Clinton can be sure that he will be able to continue to enrich himself through speaking fees and similar means, secure in the thought that he has escaped justice!]

The Clinton administration did essentially what the Cheney/Bush administration has done. The difference is that they did it more competently, and that they coopted many of their potential critics – the ones with delicate sensibilities and high minded, liberal thoughts. They did all this while furthering and largely completing longstanding Republican objectives associated nowadays with the administration of the actor (and acting) President Ronald Reagan. Bill Clinton did more than any President before George W. Bush to dismantle New Deal and Great Society institutions. He did even more than the Bush boy’s poppy to prepare the way for the criminal enterprises Cheney and Bush and their neo-con advisors would undertake. That’s what Nancy Pelosi’s family and friends and all their prominent liberal co-thinkers would be “satisfied” to restore!

Admittedly, it’s far from clear how much better Obama would be. He could hardly be worse, though, even if the mainstream party has become so thoroughly Clintonized that he’d have to bring back some of the same people Hillary would. Oh, and I almost forgot, Obama is “inspiring” – Kennedyesque. Yippee!

The media’s latest narrative promotes the myth of two “terrific” candidates, differing only on experience and charisma. But it can’t entirely obfuscate the fact that Obama is, in all likelihood, the lesser evil. Because Obama has been turned into a Rorschach Man, in whom people see what they want, there’s no certainty that he actually is the lesser evil. But it’s an excellent bet. In any case, better the devil we don’t know than the devil we do.

* *
If we had a media dedicated to informed and critical thinking rather than to restricting the range of (non-marginalized) political discourse and dumbing down the electorate, it would not be promoting this asinine experience v. charisma narrative. It would be talking about not for profit, single-payer, health insurance; cutting the Pentagon budget; taxing Wall Street speculators; supporting renewable energy programs; reversing U.S. policies in the Middle East; impeaching Cheney and Bush; adopting a carbon tax; cracking down on corporate crime and corporate welfare, achieving genuine labor law reform by repealing the longstanding, anti-union Taft-Hartley law; and about expanding, not narrowing, political discourse (for example, by opening up the Presidential debates). This is hardly an exhaustive list. But it is a noteworthy list because I have taken it, almost verbatim, from a mailing sent out this morning by “the Nader Team,” the group set up to explore the possibility of Ralph Nader running for President again. This would be worth considering if only to piss off the liberals, the ones who are “satisfied” with Clinton and Obama. They certainly deserve it – especially if they make Hillary Clinton their nominee. But a powerful presence to Obama’s left is looking increasingly like a worthwhile endeavor too. However, as I’ve warned, Obama’s charisma may make running a progressive campaign more than usually difficult if he is the nominee. That’s why the latest liberal media concoction is not only shallow and dumb; it’s also pernicious. Ironically, however, it may be helpful too – not for moving the country forward but, by blocking another Clinton presidency, for impeding a total squandering of the historical possibility Cheney’s and Bush’s incompetence has bequeathed to progressives. The Clintons have enormous reserves of clout. To stop them, it is not enough to be better (or less bad) on every conceivable dimension. It takes a little “magic” too. That Obama has it is, in large part, a media concoction; it is the liberal media that have turned the Rorschach Man into the reincarnation of JFK. But however he became charismatic, lets hope he takes full advantage of his powers – in Wisconsin and Hawaii and later in Ohio and Texas, and then in Pennsylvania. If Obama is good for anything, it is for dispatching Clintons. It’s getting close to the Democrats’ Judgment Day. Now is the time for him to show what he’s got!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Consequences of Obamamania

Barack Obama’s winning streak is likely to continue next week in the Wisconsin and Hawaii primaries, but don’t count the Clintons out yet. They’re still close in delegates and who knows what chits they will call in should the nomination come to depend on the choices of the POP’s (Party of Pusillanimity’s) “super delegates.” But, for now, Obama clearly has the Big Mo, as George H.W. Bush would say. His victory is not assured, but those of us who dread the prospect of a Clinton Restoration can be cautiously optimistic.

However, the race between Clinton and Obama is not just about delegates; it has another dimension altogether. Clinton has supporters, lots of them. But few, if any, of her supporters are enthusiasts. Except for those of us in the faute de mieux camp – who prefer Obama to Clinton on the grounds that it would be even worse were she to win than he – Obama’s supporters are all enthusiasts. [For reasons not to be enthusiastic see Bruce Dixon’s informative recent piece in Black Agenda Report.]

Because of this difference, if Clinton loses, few potential Democratic voters will stay home in November. Some of her current supporters may even be relieved. As matters stand, they feel that, for feminist reasons or because they owe the Clintons something, they have to be on Hillary’s side. But they’d really prefer to support Obama and will therefore be grateful for not having a choice. On the other hand, if Obama loses, and especially if it is the Party’s leaders who do him in, expect them to rebel by supporting a genuinely progressive candidate, if one is available (of which more below) or in the tried and true American way – by staying home on election day. Because the Democrats will ultimately be running against Dick Cheney and George Bush, and because the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, is so problematic, the Democrats will have a hard time losing the election even if they do lose many potential voters. But it is not impossible. If there are mass defections from the Democratic “base,” at the same time and for the same reason that “the great right wing conspiracy,” mobilized by Clinton-phobia, shifts into high gear, McCain just might pull it off.

As I’ve explained in countless entries, Clinton’s and Obama’s political differences are minor; the contest between them is not about politics. It’s about charisma. If Obama gets the nomination, as he probably will, it will be because he is more charismatic than Hillary Clinton. But the outcome of the primary contest is not the only thing Obama’s charisma affects. It may not even be the most important.

Charisma is in the mind of the beholder, but its growth and sustenance have more to do with mass than individual psychology. Obama, along with most of the other candidates, was more “likeable” than Clinton from the start, but he has only recently become significantly more charismatic. It’s not hard to see why. He is a fine orator, even though he utters platitudes (as the utterly uncharismatic John McCain aptly put it in his victory speech in Alexandria, after he too swept the Potomac primaries). He is witty and attractive. Caroline was not wrong; he is Kennedyesque. But Kennedy himself only became Kennedyesque by dying from an assassin’s bullet (or bullets, it’s still not clear!) It would not be far-fetched to say that the same bullet (or bullets) made Obama charismatic too – by making wit and style, not substance, magical.

JFK, as President, did more harm than good. To cite two egregious examples: he helped bring the world to the brink of destruction during the Cuban missile crisis and, more than LBJ or anyone else, he helped start the Vietnam War. Ironically, however, he also “inspired” the emergence of a serious left in the United States, a New Left comprised of young men and women intent on “asking not what their country could do for them…” Obama has been remarkably reticent about what his presidency would be like, and the few indications he has provided give little cause to enthuse. But to the degree we can make ourselves believe that, following the Kennedy model, he just might unintentionally unleash progressive forces, the inveterate optimists among us have some reason not to despair.

* *

Like Clinton, though not for the same reasons, Obama may have trouble getting elected too. So far, he has only run in Democratic primaries and caucuses. Victory in a general election may be harder to pull off. This is why, for him more than any other candidate, enthusiastic supporters are indispensable. It’s why his charisma is his only chance.

It seemed, up to the time of the South Carolina primary, that Obama might even have trouble getting most of the African American votes. That danger has passed, but it is worth recalling why there was concern. One reason was that many black voters like the Clintons. Their affection is not easily explained. But it was real: real enough for Toni Morrison to opine, idiotically, that Bill Clinton was the first black President. Another reason is that Obama was and still is all but silent on institutional racism – on poverty (black and otherwise), incarceration rates, schooling and the like. Even Clinton was better; John Edwards was better by far. Optimist may think that Obama’s silence is tactical, and that once in office, he’ll do better. I’m inclined to think that what we now see and hear is what we’re going to get. But, in this case too, hope springs eternal.

Persistent institutional racism notwithstanding, racist attitudes have certainly faded -- how else explain Obama’s appeal to white voters? But racist attitudes may not yet have declined enough. After the New Hampshire primary, there was much talk about the so-called Bradley effect – where white (and Latino!) voters, regardless of what they say (or what they believe about themselves or what they tell pollsters), just cannot, in the end, bring themselves to vote for an African American. We’ve not heard much about this in the past several weeks, as Obama has sailed along from victory to victory, garnering substantial support from white voters. But the phenomenon could come redounding back. The general public may not yet be quite as evolved as voters in Democratic primaries.

Then there is the “third rail” of American and especially Democratic Party politics: Israel/Palestine. From the time that Obama’s national political aspirations became clear, he has pandered to the Israel lobby with exceptional zeal. The most egregious recent example was his letter to Zalmay Khalizad, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. At a time when the Israeli occupation of Gaza was (and still is) eliciting worldwide outrage thanks to Israel’s flagrant violations of any number of longstanding tenets of international law and morality, Obama wrote that “the Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks against Israel, and should make clear that Israel has a right to defend itself against such actions.” Otherwise, Obama continued, the Security Council should say nothing at all. Such a letter could warm even Joe Lieberman’s heart. But not too many years earlier, before Obama’s national political ambitions crystallized, he was more “fair and balanced.” His past could come back to haunt him. Watch for John McCain and/or Lieberman, McCain’s soul-mate (and possible running mate), to fan the flames.

It’s not clear how much damage that would do, just as it isn’t clear how disabling racist attitudes still are. And, in this instance too, there is some (but not much!) reason to think that Obama’s positions are more tactical than heartfelt. Unless he has forgotten a lot very quickly, he should still know better than to whore for AIPAC, the way that Hillary Clinton and nearly all Congressional Democrats do. That is my hope. But it is also the fear of some influential members of my tribe, many of whom are major financial supporters of the Democratic Party. So far, they’ve muted their distrust; after all, Obama has given them no cause (of late), and it would be unseemly (and probably also counterproductive) to go after the black guy. But where “support for Israel” is the issue, they’re much less inclined than even right wing Israelis to take chances. Hence, the danger is there.

Needless to say, the Israel lobby is not a Jewish lobby – both because it has a large Christian Zionist component and because most American Jews simply do not care all that much about Israel. However most do care a little. [I should add too that many of Zionism’s most ardent and principled critics in the United States are American Jews; it is an honor to count myself among them.] Inasmuch as the lobby’s publicists are skilled at stirring up fears of past and future holocausts and at identifying any and all opposition to anything Israel does with anti-Semitism, that small but still benign level of concern that predominates in the American Jewish community could grow into a malign political fact – causing the Democrats to lose votes and, more importantly, money. This is yet another reason why Obamamania is necessary for Obama’s prospects. It will be indispensable for countering whatever low blows come his way.

Despite lingering racism and the harms the Israel lobby can (but probably won’t) do, I still think that, on balance, Obama is more electable than Clinton. John Edwards would have been not only a more progressive candidate, but also a more electable one. But, after his withdrawal from the race, and with Obamamania in full gear, that’s plainly a lost cause. I used to think that maybe, just maybe, if Clinton and Obama would fight each other to exhaustion, as is likely to happen in the race for delegates, the Party would turn to Edwards in the end. But that best of all still possible outcomes is only infinitesimally likely – first because (the reformed) Al Gore is a more likely candidate of “party unity” but also because of the enthusiasm Obama’s candidacy generates. Even if the two fight each other to exhaustion in the race for delegates, Obama’s supporters will not be exhausted. Obamamania will persist and perhaps even grow between now and the Denver convention this summer, and perhaps through the general election in November as well. Enthusiasm is not easily denied. Obama’s supporters are as unlikely to be content with Gore or Edwards as with Clinton; they want Obama -- no substitutes accepted.

* *
Obamamania could have another, more deleterious consequence: it could make (progressive) third party organizing (party-building) and educational campaigns more difficult. It may even make them futile.

On the one hand, the situation in 2008 is relevantly like the situation in 2000. Once again, the election is the Democrats’ to lose. [In 2000, Al Gore was up to the task, but Obama and even Clinton will have a harder time of it after eight years of Cheney and Bush.] Again, the Democratic standard bearer, whether it is Clinton or Obama, will be a centrist, who will run to the right (corporate media pundits will call it “the center”), in order to draw in “independents.” These are ideal conditions for a challenge from the left. The Nader campaign in 2000 calculated similarly. It was not mistaken. Nader’s project ended badly because the Democrats ran a poor campaign, and then because they let James Baker frame the challenge in Florida in a way that permitted Tony “Two Vote” Scalia and four other Reaganite Supreme Court justices to pick the winner. It ended poorly too because many “liberal” Democrats, including leaders of mainstream environmental and women’s organizations, thought it more important to attack Nader than Bush. Still, running against Gore was a good idea at the time. Even up to the bitter end, it was reasonable to expect that Gore would become President and that the Green Party would get at least 5% of the vote, becoming eligible for federal matching funds and otherwise breaking out of the marginality into which Republicans and Democrats, especially Democrats, have cast it. It didn’t work out that way, but it would have but for the Democrats’ many mistakes. Let them blame Nader all they want; the fault was theirs.

Similarly favorable conditions pertain now – even more so. Gore had to run on Bill Clinton’s record; Obama or Hillary Clinton can run against Cheney’s and Bush’s. Also the country is more receptive to new, progressive ideas than it was in 2000, again thanks to Cheney and Bush. The prospect of breaking free from the party duopoly that has done so much harm to our political culture is therefore better than it was eight years ago. BUT there is a crucial difference:

Gore was a bore. Like Hillary Clinton today, many people were willing to vote for him but few, if any, of them were enthusiasts. With Nader, it was different. In the end, most of his supporters were scared away, but it was he who had the most charisma eight years ago. At the level of ideas, policies, visions, and everything else that ought to matter, the Green Party candidate this year, whether it is Nader or Cynthia McKinney or someone else, will be better than Obama in every way. If Nader is the candidate, the Green standard bearer will also have charismatic appeal, despite eight years of Democratic vilification. But in that department, Obama is far ahead. In these clueless times, integrity and wisdom are no match for Kennedyesque style.

In short, if Obama is the Democratic candidate, it will be difficult to run a campaign to his left – not because there is no space or no need, quite the contrary, but because the minions of enthusiasts, young people mainly, that the campaign will require in order not to degenerate into irrelevance will be somewhere else.

It is premature to draw conclusions, but it is looking like Obamamania will indeed make “change” possible, but only in the sense that the next administration will be much less bad than the present one. This will be welcome, of course. But this step forward will be accompanied by a missed historical opportunity. We are now at a point where it is possible to transform political life to an extent that has been unimaginable for decades. Edwards might have seized the opportunity from within the stultifying confines of the Democratic Party; energized third party activity can advance real change’s prospects in a different and ultimately deeper way. But Obamamania disabled Edwards’ chances and, between now and November, it will likely impede the Green Party’s as well. However, conditions change, and it is far too soon to conjecture what the prospects for real change will be under an Obama administration.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

For the Umpteenth Time

Although she was in the DC area (and therefore couldn’t use distant campaign obligations as an excuse), Hillary Clinton once again revealed her nature by not voting --and therefore not voting against -- the majority (of 49 Republicans, 17 shamefaced Democrats and Likudnik Joe Lieberman) who today gave telecom companies that have been collaborating with the Bush administration’s war on civil liberties retroactive immunity from law suits. Twenty-eight Democrats, including Barack Obama, plus Independent Bernie Sanders voted correctly. This is one more reason to hope for a string of Clinton humiliations tonight as the votes from the “Potomac primary” come in.

Paul Krugman may find such “hateful” sentiments Nixonian. But that’s because, having done a tour of duty as a Bush critic in the darkest, “mission accomplished” days, he’s rapidly reverting back to the Clintonite apologist he was in the (Bill) Clinton era. Without putting too fine a point on it, the Clintons themselves are not what inspire what Krugman calls “Clinton rules.” For “the great right wing conspiracy,” it’s the narcissism of small differences." For those of us able to look beyond the horizons of a Clintonized Democratic Party, “it’s the politics, stupid.”

Monday, February 11, 2008

War Democrats

The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Did the oxymoronically named Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) endorse Barack Obama to show that they were cut from the same cloth? If so, they still have a ways to go. Their endorsement does establish that they are neither progressive nor (small-d) democratic. However, they are most assuredly Democrats and “of America.” They are not democratic because their “membership,” the people whose preferences they sought in mid-December through an email mailing that even I received, were not consulted. The membership voted overwhelmingly for Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards. Yet, within hours of Edwards’ withdrawal from the race, PDA endorsed Obama. Surely, there was time for another “consultation.” No doubt, with Hillary Clinton for an alternative, PDA members would have voted overwhelmingly for Obama had they been asked. But an endorsement? There should have been a way not only to make the decision (small-d) democratically, but also to structure the question properly. Does no one at PDA remember “critical support”? Even those of us who find Obama’s “inspirational” oratory vacuous and who believe that his proposals for change are of the plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose [the more things change, the more they stay the same] variety, even we could get behind that. But progressive (small-d) democrats have no business endorsing Barack Obama.

In an email to rank and file “members” sent out this morning (Feb. 11), Tom Hayden, a PDA National Board member who was presumably involved in the endorsement decision, inadvertently explained why. His express purpose was to encourage PDA members to pressure Obama, along with Clinton, to improve their positions on the Iraq War. It’s not clear how this is supposed to happen with Obama already “endorsed,” but leave that aside. In defense of his contention that “it is clear that …Obama’s position …is better than Clinton’s,” Hayden effectively demonstrated not only how close Obama and Clinton are on the war, but also how unworthy of support both candidates’ positions are. Intentionally or not, he showed Obama to be just as much (or nearly as much) a War Democrat as Clinton still is.

Here’s is what distinguishes the one from the other in Hayden’s view:

1) Obama wants combat troops withdrawn in 16-18 months; Clinton wants no timetable, but she will have “her” Joint Chiefs draft a plan for “beginning” troop withdrawals;

2) Obama favors “carrots-and-sticks diplomacy” with Iran that include “assurances” that the U.S. won’t seek regime change. In the Senate, he opposed Bush’s proposal to identify the Revolutionary Guard as a “terrorist organization.” Clinton did not. [For some reason, Hayden does not expressly refer to the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment that Clinton, unlike Obama voted for. Cheney and Bush could construe that shameful piece of legislation as Congressional authorization for military action against Iran.]

3) Obama opposed the Iraq War in a 2002 speech (when he was still a state Senator in Illinois) while, around the same time, Clinton, already in the U.S. Senate, voted to authorize Bush to go to war in Iraq (though she claims that wasn’t her intent). Moreover, she has never admitted her vote was wrong. However, upon becoming a U.S. Senator, Obama has voted to fund the war just as Clinton has. According to Hayden, she is “inaccurate” when she “describes her position since that time as the same as Obama’s.” He does not explain why. What needs no explanation is the truism that “to fund the war is to support it.” No amount of blather about “supporting the troops” can hide this plain and simple fact. This is why it is fair to say that, from the time Obama entered the Senate (and could put the peoples’ money where his mouth is), his position on the Iraq War has been the same as Clinton’s – they both “oppose” it while funding (and therefore supporting) it.

Beyond that, even Hayden concedes that there are no differences. He notes that neither Obama nor Clinton have ruled out a US-Baghdad military pact, though they have both demanded that Bush submit plans for any pact he decides to enter into to the Senate for approval. He observes that “both candidates …propose leaving thousands of American troops behind for purposes of training, advising, counter-terrorism, embassy protection” and so on; and that neither has clarified how large a residual force that should be. According to Hayden, “a residual force of even 15,000 Americans would require force protection… in the range of 45,000 more.” Then, without quite explaining where his numbers come from, he goes on to suggest that, in conjunction with mercenary forces (he mentions only Blackwater, but of course there are other “private contractors”), the US could end up with a counter-insurgency force in Iraq numbering 100,000 – after the “withdrawals” envisioned by Obama and Clinton.

In other words, apart from his advocacy and her rejection of a toothless timetable for withdrawal, some meaningless posturing on Iran that makes Clinton look more bellicose than Obama, and what the two of them did six years ago, there is no difference. More important, not only is there a disconnect between what both Obama and Clinton say about the war and what they have done about it – a disconnect afflicting nearly all Congressional Democrats as well – but even between what they say about the war and what they say they will do about it once in office. The positions of both of them are, to put it mildly, comforting for proponents of perpetual war.

Thus we are in the midst of a contest between two War Democrats, one of whom (Obama) is preferable to the other (Clinton) – but not for his position on the Iraq War or, indeed, any other “issue.” Obama is preferable because he is less likely than Clinton to reempower as many old Clinton hands – the folks who made the Iraq War possible by weakening the “enemy” (killing as many as a million Iraqis and degrading Iraq’s infrastructure through sanctions) and testing the waters (in Yugoslavia and elsewhere) for wars of choice. But Obama is certainly no “progressive,” and certainly not anyone progressives should officially (and therefore uncritically) endorse.

That’s why tomorrow when, because I live in Maryland I finally get a chance to vote, I’m going to vote for Mike Gravel, not Barack Obama. If I were convinced that Obama needed every vote he could get in order to diminish the likelihood of a full-fledged Clinton Restoration, I’d throw integrity to the wind and vote for him. After all, the first order of business is to send the Clintons packing. But Obama has the Big Mo now (“as Maine goes, so goes the nation”), and he’s all but certain to lick Hillary again tomorrow. So why not “send a message?” Admittedly, the media will ignore it and the Party’s Wise Men (and Women) will not heed it. Admittedly, not to vote for Obama when there is still a possibility, albeit a slim one, that Clinton will win in Maryland is self-indulgent. Better that, though, than adding yet another voice in legitimation of yet another War Democrat.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Mitt Romney is out of the race and out some $35 million of his own money! It’s enough to make a believer of me, but I’ll get over it. Not since Rudy Giuliani’s humiliating exit, has the back of anyone been such a welcome sight! [According to The New York Times, America’s mayor spent $48 million (of other peoples’ money, of course), for which he got zero delegates!] Romney quit, he claimed, for the sake of Republican Party unity. Needless to say, his quitting may cause some anti-McCain Republicans to endorse their bugaboo, but it won’t begin to address the Republicans’ unity problem. The Reagan coalition is splitting apart because benighted and (sexually) repressed “values” voters just can’t get behind that “maverick” hawk. For the neo-cons, McCain is a dream come true: he’s not one of them, but he’s every bit the imperialist they are and, if anything, even more disposed to use military force. For the anti-immigrant nativists in the party, however, he’s anathema; and the free marketeers and tax cutters don’t care much for him either. Now the theocrats’ only alternative is the affable “populist” Mike Huckabee, leader of the Christian Taliban and the Democrats’ dream opponent. Huckabee, however, is anathema to the tax cutters because he raised a few taxes in Arkansas, and he hasn’t a chance of getting the support of the party’s elite. It’s enough to drive a Rush Limbaugh into a drug induced stupor and back into rehab. Unity? Forget about it!

If Rush still had the brains he was born with, he’d tell his audience that since they can’t beat ‘em, they might as well join ‘em – by accepting the Democratic view of where candidates come from. He’d be leading a campaign to nominate Laura Bush or, if she isn’t bellicose or weighty enough for the driveling dirigible, Lynn Cheney. Lynn has had as much “experience” as Hillary lying in bed next to power and she was Reagan’s and Poppy Doc Bush’s culture commissar, but Laura is more likeable, which seems to be Huckabee’s claim to the nomination too. Like Hillary, Laura or Lynn would do well among women “of a certain age.” The godly Preacher wouldn’t stand a chance. Neither of them, though, would have much likelihood of stopping McCain this late in the game. Still, it would be something new for Rush to rant about. That would have to be good for his ratings.

Since that won’t happen, the Republicans are, in the words of one of their greatest thinkers, in “deep do do.” Let them wallow there.

The Democrats are a different story. Since the corporate media left the Democrats with just two corporate-friendly candidates, and since Super Tuesday left those two with similar numbers of delegates and with little prospect that this will change significantly in the primaries and caucuses to come, they too face a unity problem. Obama v. Clinton is splitting families down the middle, and not just the Kennedys or the (Jesse) Jacksons either! The Democrats’ fatuous party chairman, Howard Dean, has even declared that if this division isn’t resolved in the next month or so (by the voters), he’ll put an end to it himself. Of course, it isn’t clear how. What can he do? Shriek? What is clear is that he, along with he rest of the party’s Wise Men (and women), are working themselves into a hissy fit over the unity question. But unlike the Republican disunity that Mitt Romney’s departure won’t begin to address, the Democrats’ division is based on -- well, nothing.

Republicans and Democrats differ in ways that can be of enormous consequence, but the general thrust of their politics is similar. This is why third-party “centrist” wannabes from Ross Perot to (maybe) Michael Bloomberg have a hard time finding a place for themselves in between the two parties. But their problem is nothing compared to finding space between Clinton and Obama. Yes, Clinton may be slightly better on health care because her plan mandates universal coverage while Obama’s does not; yes, Obama has been slightly better on the Iraq War, because, although they’re both against it now, he opposed it when it started. But neither she nor he dares broach single-payer, not for profit health care; and neither he nor she would risk not “supporting the troops” by not funding the war – even though it is a truism that to fund the war is to support it. Obama has some questionable views about nuclear power and about expanding the Pentagon budget; Clinton has questionable views about almost everything. On balance, Obama’s positions are probably better than Clinton’s, though only slightly. No matter, though: their differences are minor and few and far between.

What then is the party divided about? Certainly not “the issues.” There is an undeniable “identity” component in the elections so far. This was inevitable with a white woman running against an African-American man. But “unity” in that department can be bought on the cheap, since both candidates are committed to smoothing over the differences they cannot evade.

The fact is that what is dividing Democrats nowadays has almost nothing to do with politics. It has to do with mass delusions. On the one hand, there is the candidate of “change”; on the other, of “experience.” What nonsense!

Change? Obama is a Rorschach test. According to the pundits (and the polls), even conservatives like him at the same time that “liberals” believe him to be their savior. Experience? Hillary was a wife to a philandering husband who stuck her nose into places where she had no business. Where she did have business -- on her husband’s orders, not because anybody voted for her -- she was a disaster, setting back the cause of health care reform for a generation. Then as a Senator she’s had experience, along with most other Congressional Democrats, as a Bush aider and abettor. Obama has that experience too. Her Senate gig might give her a leg up over Laura Bush, but just how is it supposed to work against Obama?

The Democrats are divided in the way that voters in reality TV programs are. With the (mildly) progressive alternatives out of the picture, the Democratic primaries have devolved into popularity contests based on the smoke and mirrors offered up by the candidates’ handlers and propagandists. These illusionists have conjured up the divisions Howard Dean is worried about in order to sell their respective brands; they can just as easily conjure them away when the time comes -- because, in the end, there really are no divisions to overcome or even to paper over. If the Democrats want unity, all they need do is take it.

The reason to prefer Obama over Clinton is that the (Bill) Clinton administration continued (and almost completed) the “Reagan Revolution,” while preparing the way for Cheney and Bush. Since there’s no political space at all between Hillary and her husband, her election would lead, disastrously, to an unalloyed Clinton Restoration. Obama’s election probably won’t result in a significantly different outcome; but, again, small differences can have major consequences. This is what voters should focus on: not vacuous promises of change or overblown and largely irrelevant claims of experience.

Of, course, no leading Democrat, certainly not Obama, will dare say a bad word about the Clinton presidency or its legacy. That wouldn’t go over well with the party’s corporate paymasters. So the reality show goes on. If anything can keep the Republican Party together through November, it will be Hillary Clinton. But even that probably won’t work; divisions within the GOP are too great. If anything can keep the Democrats divided beyond next month, it will be the skill of the illusionists who are working so hard to put one or the other of Clinton or Obama in charge of the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity. But their capacity to divide Obama’s fans from Clinton’s is limited too – not just because the purported differences they’ve concocted fly in the face of an undeniable sameness, but because the Cheney/Bush administration has been and continues to be so awful.

That fact will produce the unity Howard Dean longs for. There’s no need for him to shriek again or for the Party Elders to fret. It’s “we, the people” who should fret. By squandering a rare opportunity genuinely to change course, the Democrats have seen to it that their party will remain safe for those who pay its bills. Even so, there’s still a little in the past two weeks’ unfortunate turn of events for the rest of us: we can still look forward to the return of the lesser evil. All Dean & Co. need do to leave us with that small but not insignificant benefit is continue to let George Bush do their work for them.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Thank God for Proportional Representation

The Democrats are second to none in blocking ballot access for independent and third party candidates, for marginalizing dissident voices within their own ranks, and for defending our ridiculously undemocratic winner-take-all electoral system. Yet in their own presidential primaries this year, they select delegates, most of them anyway, on a proportional representation basis. Thank the (alleged) divinity for that! Otherwise, this morning, Hillary Clinton, having “won” California, New York and New Jersey plus a few smaller states, would have the nomination nearly in her grasp – making the prospect of a full-fledged Clinton Restoration even greater than it now is. Thanks to proportional representation, Bararck Obama is very close to Clinton in delegates. After next week’s primaries, he may even pull ahead. The conventional wisdom now has it that neither he nor Clinton will have a lock on the nomination by the time the primary season has run its course.

If it turns out that way, it would be up to the hordes of “super delegates” to decide whom the nominee will be. Were they moderately progressive and clear sighted about how to improve their chances to win in November, then my wishful fantasy, where the Party Elders ask John Edwards to come back to lead the ticket, would be slightly less fanciful than it now is. Only slightly less because the party’s corporate paymasters and their media flunkies would, to put it mildly, disapprove. But, alas, the super-delegates, elected officials and the like, are, for the most part, Pelosiites – who talk left when it suits their purposes or salves their consciences, but act right, like the neo-liberal imperialist politicians (the Clintonites) they are. If Obama succeeds in eliminating all perceptible differences between himself and Hillary Clinton – except, of course, his empty promises of “change” – they could choose him, if he seems more electable (as he probably will). But their hearts belong to Hillary and Bill, so the (barely) lesser evil might not make it after all.

I’ve maintained throughout these entries that if Obama is good for anything, it’s for knocking the Clintons out of the water. So far, he hasn’t been quite up to the task. He could therefore be good for nothing – except “inspiring” live Kennedys, daytime TV stars, and clueless twenty-somethings.

On the Republican side, where most primaries are run on a winner-take-all basis, the good news is that the most dangerous of the contenders, John McCain hasn’t quite won yet. The bad news is that he’s virtually certain to win soon. There was other good news too: Mitt Romney was humiliated by both McCain and Preacher Huckabee. He spent a lot of his own money and got very little in return.

It’s good for the Democrats that Huckabee did so well. It shows that the Republican “coalition” is falling apart. It’s not just that the war mongers and security freaks are increasingly dissociated from the “values” (i.e. sexual repression) voters. There’s a veritable religious war in the making with theocrats (the Christian Taliban who favor Huckabee) splitting away from more heretical (Mormon tolerant) “social conservatives.” Since the Christian Taliban are mostly rural and/or working class, they are less obtuse than traditional Republicans and therefore better able to see what a phony opportunist Romney is. They also see him as a plutocrat – in a year when they’re not quite as eager as in 2004 to feed the mouths that bite them, at least not so long as there’s a “populist” alternative whose “values” are even more to their liking. No doubt, the obtuse -- with Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham leading the way -- will ultimately do the Preacher in. But then they’re at war too – to some extent – with the free market theologians, championed by Ron Paul (ironically, the one genuinely anti-war candidate left in either party). The plutocrats for whom the Republican Party exists have long had a culture war going with their useful idiots. Until this point, ruling class greed was enough to smooth over the differences. But as the useful idiots turn on one another, it’s unclear how much longer that modus vivendi will hold.

Let the Republicans tear themselves apart and sputter off into insignificance! Then maybe “liberal” Democrats will be less disposed to expend their energies fighting the Left, as they did in 2000. If so, perhaps we can come out of the November election with the least bad of the still feasible outcomes: a Democrat in the White House, a more evolved electorate (thanks to a serious challenge to Democratic rule from the left), and a third (or second!) party in formation -- capable, starting at the local level, of taking the duopoly on and, in so doing, moving our debilitating political culture forward.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Who's Afraid of John McCain?

A country that never quite came to terms with Vietnam -- to the degree that, for example, Germany came to terms with Nazism – can expect politicians like John McCain to surface from time to time. The actual John McCain is flawed in more ways than Mike Huckabee can shake a stick at, and his war mongering on Iraq is unlikely to do him much good in November. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried. It seems unlikely now that any Democrat could lose the coming election. But for that we have George Bush and Dick Cheney, not Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama to thank. With our corporate and corporate-friendly media deciding what news is fit to print (and broadcast), the Bush crime family could be far from voters’ minds come November -- no matter how much harm it still is doing. For that we have Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats to thank, not Cheney or Bush. The Pelosiites took impeachment “off the table” – insuring that the country will never come to terms with Iraq or Bush’s other wars (including the so-called War on Terror) either. That’s why, should it come down to McCain (not Bush) versus Clinton or Obama there is indeed much to fear.

With Clinton, the problem is obvious: she’s McCain Lite. Like her husband, she’s in line with the neo-cons when it comes to projecting military might to keep the empire together. Bill Clinton did it more competently than Cheney and Bush and so probably would John McCain. He’d be a more successful Commander-in-Chief. But he’d exercise no greater political morality, and no sounder strategic judgment. In short, he’d be like Bill Clinton was and like Hillary Clinton wants to be – only more so. Voters, enough of them anyway, might figure that if we’re going to go down that path, we might as well go all the way. Needless to say, that would just about assure a painfully hard landing as the empire declines and falls. But will an electorate dumbed down by the likes of The New York Times, CNN and NPR, not to mention Fox News, realize this in time? And will it worry that, along the way, we’d have even worse domestic policies than we would under a Democrat; or that, as McCain reminded voters this weekend at every opportunity, we’d have a President intent on ending abortion once and for all?

The Clintons succeeded in getting Bill Richardson to back Hillary. Who knows what they offered him! Even so, and despite Obama’s troubles with Latinos – or, rather, their troubles with an African American candidate – I’d bet that Obama will do better tomorrow, on Super Tuesday, than the Clintons will. All those live Kennedys – now even including Maria Shriver, wife of Republican action figure Schwarzenegger -- plus Oprah can hardly fail. Obama, rhetorically at least and by virtue of his (briefer) “record,” is less vulnerable than Hillary Clinton to being cast as McCain Lite. But he is vulnerable in another way.

Since he became a national figure, Obama has pandered to the Israel lobby as assiduously as any Clinton ever did. But in his days as an organizer in Chicago, he did, meekly, exhibit some awareness not only of Palestinian oppression, but also of the rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No American politician, no Democrat especially, can get away with that! If McCain is shrewd enough to run with his Super-Bowl buddy Joe Lieberman (Independent-Likud), or even if he’s not, Obama’s erstwhile decency could come back to haunt him.

[I wouldn’t bet against a McCain-Lieberman ticket, just as I wouldn’t bet against a Clinton-Richardson ticket. Gamblers would do well to take note of who watches the Super Bowl with whom!]

The anti-immigrant/tax cutting/”values” coalition is divided and losing favor even among Republican voters who seem to prefer “security” freaks to greedy, godly pols. That’s why it’s unlikely, though not impossible, that Mitt the Family Guy (and prospective CEO of the USofA) will be the nominee. Were Romney the candidate, either Clinton or Obama would have a much easier time of it. Romney, like Huckabee, is a hoot – and nothing more. In all likelihood, therefore, the plutocrats, many of whom still don’t feel comfortable switching parties, will see to it that John McCain will be the nominee, even if the voters don’t close the case tomorrow. Then the greater evil party will be well situated to exploit one or the other of Clinton’s or Obama’s vulnerabilities. That’s an excellent reason to be afraid.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Slouching Towards Tuesday

The good news, two days before Super Tuesday, is that Mitt Romney is falling way behind John McCain in the polls. The bad news is that John McCain is ahead. Never has a plague on both their houses – and on Mike Huckabee’s too – been more needful.

On the Democratic side, the Kennedys are piling it on: now even Ethel has come out for Obama. Still, the polls suggest that Clinton is a bit ahead nationally and in some key states. My hope is that the two of them annihilate one another, leading the party to call on a genuinely progressive candidate. But since that isn’t going to happen, there’s nothing to do but hope that the Rorschach Man (Obama) continues to gain “the Big Mo” (as in Poppy Doc Bush speak) over McCain Lite (Bill Clinton’s better half). “Lesser evilists of all states voting on Tuesday – unite. You have a scourge to lose.”

Meanwhile, it is being reported that Bill Clinton will watch the Super Bowl in New Mexico with Bill Richardson, and that the Clintons are wooing him hard. They could offer him the Vice Presidency in return for a timely endorsement; something Obama can’t do since an African-American/Latino ticket would be too much even for “post-racial” America. A Richardson endorsement of Clinton would set back Obama’s efforts to increase his Latino support. That could hurt him, especially in California, Arizona and New Mexico and perhaps even in New York. Richardson might figure he has nothing to lose – not even his virginity, having already done yeoman’s duty for the Slickster in the UN and in the Department of Energy. He would lose one thing, however, though it probably isn’t foremost in his mind: he’d drop from second to third in my ranking of the original seven Democratic contenders.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Rorschach Man

The danger of an outright Clinton Restoration is still considerable; but, with Super Tuesday approaching, the rush is on to endorse Barack Obama. It’s not just the Kennedys; Susan Eisenhower, “lifelong Republican,” has gotten in on the act too. Caroline thinks Obama is “inspiring,” like her father; Susan thinks he’s “pragmatic” and sensible, like her grand father. These endorsements would be reasons to vote against Obama, were he not running against the Clintons. Camelot was bad enough; in retrospect, the boring, uninspiring and uninspired Eisenhower years were better, but who needs that again either! There was, and maybe still is, a chance that we can do better; but the Forces of Darkness (the corporate and corporate friendly media, mainly) in conjunction with a politically clueless Democratic electorate have all but done that prospect in. So, yes, lets hope Obama beats Hillary on Super Tuesday. Vote for him, faute de mieux. But endorse him? How pathetic is that!

That’s precisely what did. They polled their members who voted overwhelmingly for Obama. The way they posed the question – forcing a choice between Clinton and Obama – constrained the answer. Who wouldn’t vote for Obama in those circumstances? Lots of people, probably, as we’ll soon see. But those people, the ones who aren’t covert racists, are a tad deluded; they think Bill Clinton’s presidency wasn’t god awful. Compared to Cheney and Bush’s, they have a point. But anything or anybody, except maybe John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Preacher Huckabee, would look good in comparison with those two. That doesn’t change the fact: the Clinton administration, with its Iraq sanctions, its Yugoslavian wars, its murderous bombing raids and, let’s not forget, its Reaganite assault on the poor and “the great forgotten middle class” (aka the working class, but no Clintonite will use those words), the inevitable by-product of free trade, deregulation and the diminution of already feeble welfare state institutions, was indeed god awful.

The New York Post, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship scandal sheet, endorsed Obama too. What gives with that? Bill Clinton’s media giveaways and his support for media deregulation were good for Murdoch, and the Clintons have been kissing Murdoch ass assiduously for years (especially after Hillary decided to run for the Senate). They’ve had some success. If nothing else, Murdoch never went after Hillary the way “the great right wing conspiracy” used to go after her and Bill. Why didn’t he endorse her then? After all, he is not averse to helping out inveterate opportunistic centrists who can be useful to him (Tony Blair, for example). You’d think the devil would go with the devil he knows. There has to be some percentage for him in The Post’s endorsement. Is it just that he wants to get on the good side of the candidate he thinks will win? Or are more sinister machinations going on? The media are mum. Perhaps time or somebody’s self-serving memoir will tell.

Schemers apart, it seems that, through the skillful deployment of vacuous abstractions (change, hope, unity), Obama has made himself into a Rorschach man in whom naïve people see what they want. Whether or not there’s any there there – that too only time will tell. What is clear now is that there’s enough ambiguity and vagueness in Obama’s “message” for quite a few people to think that a vote for him really is a vote for change and/or hope and/or unity and/or who knows what. What these endorsements tell us about Obama has been clear for those who are not willfully blind for a long time. The more interesting question is what they tell us about the endorsers.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Could John Edwards' Sudden Withdrawal from the Primaries Have Been a Shrewd Strategic Move?

NOTE: what follows is an exercise in wishful thinking. Even I don’t quite believe it. But I do think that the argument is plausible.

It occurred to me, in the opening minutes of the CNN/Politico/LA Times “debate” last night, before it degenerated into a nauseating spectacle of mutual admiration and civility, that maybe Edwards didn’t exactly take himself out of the race after all. It almost seemed obvious – watching Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama make their pitch to Edwards supporters by lavishing praising on their erstwhile candidate. Of course, it’s not obvious, and probably not even true. But isn’t it relevant that Edwards said he was “suspending” his campaign? Rudy G said he was ending his. Isn’t it relevant that he didn’t endorse Obama, even though, like any other moderately progressive person, he obviously prefers an Obama presidency to an outright Clinton Restoration? Isn’t it relevant that Clinton and Obama agreed that one or the other of them would be elected President of the United States in November? Since they’re wrong about almost everything, why not that? Here’s why I think the answer to each of these questions is “maybe.”

The one sure thing is that our system for selecting candidates is worse than ludicrous; it’s patently undemocratic. It confers incalculably more power to the median dollar than to the median voter. And it accords inordinate political influence to small handfuls of voters, effectively disenfranchising almost every one else (except, of course, the moneybags).

Given that the Edwards campaign, like all the others, had to compete under these conditions, it is clear, in retrospect, that all was lost by the end of the Iowa caucuses. Edwards did come in second in Iowa; and it did seem, for the next few days, that Hillary Clinton was the big loser. But the fact is that to have had a chance at the nomination – in the face of so much opposition from the corporate and corporate friendly media and from other interests his presidency would challenge – Edwards would have had to win in Iowa. The reason why is clear: the candidate who posed the biggest problem for him was Barack Obama, not Hillary Clinton. White and Latino racism could still do in Obama’s chances to win in November. But Iowa showed that he could win handily in a nearly all white state, at least among persons willing to caucus under the aegis of the Democratic Party. That validated his candidacy. That’s why Obama was able to win nearly 80% of the black vote in South Carolina and why he could raise some $32 million in January. That’s why, even after she bounced back in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton is still not the clear front runner. Edwards could probably have won the nomination on the anti-Clinton vote alone, if Obama was out of the picture. But he didn’t have a chance against Obama one on one – not if the African American candidate is seen as viable – and, in a three-way race, running also against a woman, his prospects were even worse. No matter that his politics were better than Clinton’s or Obama’s, for women and African Americans along with nearly everyone else. For Democratic voters this year, the prospect of nominating the white guy, when there’s a black man and a woman in the running, was just not going to fly.

Thus it became increasingly obvious that Edwards was unlikely ever to finish better than third. He worked Nevada hard. Had the Culinary Workers Union evinced a glimmer of loyalty, he would have had strong labor support. He should have had strong support in rural areas as well. Instead, he lost his shirt in Vegas. Then he came in third in South Carolina, the one primary he won in 2004. In all likelihood, he’d have come in third in each and every Super Tuesday primary.

If there is no clear winner between Clinton and Obama after Super Tuesday, and if no winner develops in the weeks that follow, Edwards might then have emerged as a “king maker.” He probably would have had enough delegates. But all that would come from that is that Obama would be crowned king. If Obama can’t make that happen on his own, running against Hillary Clinton, then he doesn’t deserve the title, and his chances in November would be poor, even running against the likes of John McCain or Mitt Romney and after eight catastrophic years of Dick Cheney and George Bush.

However, the scenario that would make Edwards a king maker if he remained in the race, could also put him back in the running if he bowed out when he did. Obama and Clinton would first have to fight each other to exhaustion, with no clear winner emerging. Then, it would have to become clear to more people than it now is that Hillary Clinton would unite an otherwise divided Republican Party. It would also have to become clearer than it now is that racism could stand in the way of an Obama victory. It would help too if Obama’s detractors dig up evidence – there’s plenty of it – that before he had national political ambitions, his position on Israel/Palestine was not nearly as servile to the Israel lobby as it now is. [This is true to a much lesser degree of Hillary Clinton as well, but she has more than made up for it through diligent ass kissing from the moment she decided to run for the Senate.] One could imagine AIPAC and the others getting behind John McCain in the general election. After all, many of them believe, to this day, that the Bush boy has been good for Israel. That possibility could cause many Democrats to rethink the Obama question.

In the meantime, Clinton and Obama and every other Democrat in captivity will be heaping praise on the fallen John Edwards, just as they did in last night’s debate. In much the way that JFK, the paradigmatic “inspirer,” did well for himself by getting killed, over the next few months it is likely that Edwards will be transformed from a pariah into a hero – a living one at that. Then maybe, at the convention if not before, the Democratic Party will turn to him, as the recalcitrant French turned to DeGaulle to end the Algerian War and restore France’s “grandeur.” Stranger things have happened. If nothing else, it would make Democratic Party politics interesting for the next few months. Otherwise, expect Clinton or Obama, whoever comes out on top, to run even more to the right (or, as the corporate media would say, the center), as they become even more beholden to their corporate paymasters, and as they go after “independents.” Then expect the winner to star in a truly nauseating spectacle of self-congratulations this summer as the Democrats coronate one or the other their standard-bearer.

* *

Oh yes, then there was the rest of that “debate” between McCain Lite (Clinton) and the Rorschach Test for clueless do-gooders (Obama). If you look hard enough, you can see that behind last night’s cordiality, a few differences on “the issues” did come up. All of it was painfully familiar.

But things aren’t quite as clear as they seem. On health care, Clinton (following John Edwards’ lead) favors universal coverage; Obama does not. On the Iraq War, Clinton is still unrepentant for her part in authorizing Bush to go to war, while Obama claims a less ambivalent anti-war record. But lets look at the facts. On health care, there already is a Clinton “legacy.” Thanks to her pandering to insurance and pharmaceutical companies in her first try at reforming the system, she shattered a coalition in favor of universal coverage that had taken years to forge, setting the cause back a generation. Even worse, she assured the continuing marginalization of the obviously best policy – not for profit, single-payer insurance. After Dennis Kucinich was shut out of the debates by The Des Moines Register, and then by the Disney Corp (ABC) and Time Warner (CNN), the single-payer solution became a non-issue in Democratic Party circles again. Hillary is better on health care, even so; but she’s hardly the paragon she makes herself out to be. On the war, it is true – in 2002, before he could do anything about it and before he was a national political figure, Obama was a genuine opponent. But since coming to the Senate, he and Hillary have been of one mind – or, at least, on the same side when push came to vote. Bill Clinton isn’t right about much, but he was right about that.

As I’ve maintained in countless entries, the reason to favor Obama over Clinton is not that “hope” beats “experience” or that his policy proposals are better than hers. On health care, they’re slightly worse; on nearly everything else, they’re about the same. The reason is that she is likely to restore Clintonism more thoroughly than he will; more likely especially to reempower the old Clinton hands. Last night, Obama couldn’t say enough in praise of the (Bill) Clinton years; he is certainly not going to launch the kind of discussion that is called for in a country almost as much in need of de-Clintonization as it is in need of reversing the additional – and more salient -- depredations of the Cheney/Bush years. If Obama understands this, as he well might, he shows no sign of it. This is why last night’s one on one exercise in cordiality was good for one and only one thing: as an emetic.

Unless I’m right about Edwards’ tactical shrewdness, and maybe even if I’m wrong (and Edwards really is out of the picture), there’s only one more thing to say: Run, Ralph (or Cynthia or somebody), Run!