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.

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