Saturday, March 22, 2008

Richardson Endorses Obama

Leaving the “unelectables,” Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, aside, Bill Richardson was my second choice for the Democratic nomination -- way behind John Edwards and a tad ahead of Chris Dodd. He was, after all, the only electable candidate who promised to end the Iraq War for real. On the other hand, Richardson has worrisome ties to the Clintons. Nevertheless, yesterday (March 21) in Portland, he endorsed Barack Obama.

The Clinton campaign’s immediate response was that Richardson is now irrelevant. Presumably, they mean that his endorsement might have helped Obama before the Texas primary, but that it won’t do him any good in Pennsylvania where the Latino vote is, they might as well have said, “small potatoes.” The Clintons seem to be pursuing a three-part strategy: build up John McCain (while suggesting that only Hillary stands a chance against that Mighty Fly Weight), impugn Obama’s “patriotism” (Bill Clinton did it again yesterday in North Carolina and then denied that was what he meant – he for whom it matters what “is” is), and exacerbate racial and ethnic differences (recalling, incidentally, the Clinton strategy for the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the Cheney/Bush strategy for the dismemberment of Iraq).

Richardson’s endorsement announcement was remarkably candid. He pointed out what is indisputably true: that Hillary Clinton will not end the electoral contest with the majority of either votes or pledged delegates, and therefore that she can only win the nomination by convincing “super delegates” to contravene the popular vote. Without quite saying so directly, he also pointed out that, even running against John McCain, a doddering hot head, the Clintons’ throw “the kitchen sink” at Obama antics could wreck the Democrats’ chances in November. The conclusion is obvious: the Clintons should go away. To this, I would add: the farther away they go, the better.

Part of me wishes otherwise because I harbor two unrealistic fantasies: that the Democrats will settle accounts with their Clintonite past, and that they will select a progressive alternative to Obama as a candidate of party unity. But, of course, neither will happen.

The Democrats won’t even impeach Cheney and Bush, let alone bring them to justice. There’s not a chance in the world, then, that Bill Clinton will be called to account, though his actionable crimes are morally, if not politically, comparable to Cheney’s and Bush’s -- killing more than a million people in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Somalia and Afghanistan through sanctions and wanton bombing, waging a patently illegal war in Yugoslavia,and so on. A humiliating defeat for his better half’s candidacy would provide a semblance of cosmic justice -- but only a semblance; hardly enough to make it worth increasing Bush Three’s prospects. Anyway, Obama is too shrewd and perhaps also too nice to humiliate the Clintons and their hapless supporters.

I used to think it would at least be entertaining to watch Obama and Clinton tear each other down. But the Clintons play too dirty; the past several weeks haven’t been entertaining at all. I also once imagined that maybe, just maybe, Obama and Clinton would fight each other to exhaustion and that the party would then turn as one to John Edwards – or even, yuck, the born-again Al Gore -- for unity’s sake. But that’s out of the question too: Obama has too many enthusiastic youthful supporters and the aging harpies backing Hillary wouldn’t hear of it either.

So, Yes, Richardson is right: to maximize the chances of electing a lesser evil in November, the wretched Clinton family should go away. They’ve already done more than enough harm. What the Democrats need now is a good last look at the backs of them.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The "Anti-War" Obama (and Clinton too)

Six years ago, Barack Obama, as a legislator in Illinois, delivered a speech opposing Cheney’s and Bush’s war plans for Iraq. Around the same time, Hillary Clinton voted in the U.S. Senate to authorize Cheney’s and Bush’s war. As Obama insists, this shows his “judgment” is better than hers. But since he became a U.S. Senator, Obama has voted with Clinton every time to fund the war or, what amounts to the same thing, to “support the troops.” Clinton has never apologized for her pro-war vote. But, as public opinion has turned, the Great Triangulator has come increasingly to present herself as an anti-war candidate. If Obama is the measure, she has succeeded. The two of them oppose the war in words; they agree it was a “mistake.” They agree that its economic consequences have been disastrous. They agree that it has wreaked havoc on military preparedness. They agree that too many lives, American and Iraqi, have been ruined by it. Nevertheless, the two of them say they would keep American troops and mercenaries in Iraq for an indefinite period -- ostensibly to maintain “order.” The two of them seem to think that this is America’s obligation: that we broke it, so we have to fix it. I have no quarrel with that, but I strongly disagree that the way to fix it is to break it some more. That is plainly their view. That’s why both of them concede that, after the “draw down” begins (within some large number of days after one or the other of them takes office), tens of thousands of personnel will have to remain in or near Iraq for indefinitely many (but fewer than a hundred!) years. Meanwhile, both of them would increase the American military presence in Afghanistan as part of the so-called War on Terror.

The Obama/Clinton position on Iraq resembles Obama’s position on health care. Obama has said that if we were “starting from scratch,” whatever that means, he would favor a single-payer, not for profit, Canadian-style system. But since we’re where we are – we’ll have to make do with something like Hillary-care but without mandates. In other words, we can’t do what’s obviously right because of where we are. And where would that be? Neither Obama nor Clinton will dare utter the obvious answer: we’re in a world where Democrats and Republicans are in the pocket of insurance and pharmaceutical companies. What they will say is that some people like the insurance they have in the present system, and that it would be too disruptive to force them to change. It’s true, of course, that some people do have decent health insurance. But who wouldn’t prefer a cheaper, more rational, more just system? Who, that is, other than the insurance and pharmaceutical companies? They’re the only reason why we can’t have what people living in civilized countries expect as a matter of course.

To say that we can’t leave Iraq immediately and entirely because it would be bad for Iraqis is of a piece with saying we can’t have single-payer health insurance because it would be bad for people (and employers) content with the status quo. Not only is this contention false; it’s meretricious. It deliberately misrepresents the real reason. We can’t have single-payer insurance because the Democrats’ and Republicans’ paymasters won’t hear of it. We can’t leave Iraq, really leave it, because our economic elites and their political operatives in the Democratic and Republican Parties agree that abject defeat is out of the question. Yes, we should never have gone into Iraq, and we shouldn’t stay there a day longer than “necessary.” But we can’t leave with our tails between our legs.

Never mind that, in the real world, we’ve already lost. It’s the appearance, stupid. The “Vietnam Syndrome” tied our masters’ hands for years; we can’t have that again. The problem is not that an Iraq Syndrome would disable the United States in the War on Terror. As John Edwards pointed out in a moment of lucidity, the War on Terror is a “bumper sticker war.” There is and can be no such thing; the idea is absurd. This is not to say that there isn’t much the United States can do to diminish the threat of terrorism. For example, it could get out of Iraq. But that would militate against the real fear: that an abjectly defeated United States would be less able to project its power in the oil-rich Middle East, less able to control strategic resources generally, and ultimately less able to sustain its position as the world’s one and only “superpower,” along with the economic benefits that follow from that role.

Our anti-War Democrats like Obama and Clinton can’t abide that any more than the neo-con advisors of Cheney and Bush and John McCain (Bush Three) can. In this sense, the anti-War Democrats, Obama and Clinton, are of one mind with the warmonger McCain. Where they differ is on how much harm they are willing to do to achieve their shared objective. Because they draw their votes, in part, from genuinely progressive constituencies, the “anti-War” Democrats Obama and Clinton want to do as little harm as possible (and to seem to be doing even less). Because they are accountable to the Darker Angels of our Nature, McCain and Company are less constrained.

McCain and his sidekick, Joe Lieberman, may even think the Iraq War can still be “won.” Obama and Clinton would like victory there too; they just don’t think it’s possible – not at a cost the country or at least the part of it likely to vote for them can bear. The punditocracy may see a deep divide here; and indeed the Obama/Clinton position, because it is less bellicose at a practical level, is the lesser evil. But at the level of underlying political conviction, these differences, though important in practice, effectively disappear. What remains is nothing but wrong-headed, degraded and dangerous “bipartisanship.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama's Speech on Race

Everyone agrees: Barack Obama delivered a high minded, cogent and moving speech on race at Constitution Hall in Philadelphia. He handled his Jeremiah Wright problem deftly. Having to deal both with the traditional, anti-Hillary “great right-wing conspiracy” and with the Clintons’ own right-wing conspiracy, he could hardly have sided more overtly with Wright. Not wanting to alienate everyone else, and for reasons of personal integrity too, he could hardly have denounced Wright more than he did. He seems to have found the “golden mean.” In doing so, perhaps he will succeed in moving the electoral contest to higher ground, notwithstanding media like Fox News hell bent on moronizing political discourse.

Of course, the problem isn’t just Fox News; it’s also the liberals. For an especially perspicuous example, take Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen’s account of Obama’s “pastor problem” published the morning of the speech. Cohen likened Wright to David Duke and, just to show his thinking isn’t too Israel-centric, Meir Kahane. Gimme a break! Wright is no racist. By all accounts, he’s been a major force for good, as I’ve pointed out in earlier entries. Moreover, as I’ve also pointed out, most of what he said is unequivocally true; the rest is, at worst, hyperbolic. That’s why, despite its brilliance, I still have trouble with Obama’s speech.

Yes, Wright did go over the top if he said, as reported, that the government introduced HIV/AIDS into the black community or that it promotes drug use among African Americans. Such things do happen, of course, when one people dominates another: ask our Amerindian aboriginal peoples whose ancestors were given small-pox infected blankets or the descendants of survivors of the Opium Wars. There are many other examples as well. Moreover, in this age of corporate globalization -- where jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, are in short supply -- our ruling classes have come to regard the black people they can’t coopt or make bourgeois as a surplus population, fit for little more than incarceration. They don’t even need them for a “reserve army of labor”; not when it’s so easy to lower labor costs by shipping jobs overseas. But kill them with AIDS? Or drug them into passivity? Not likely. If Wright suggested these things in his sermons, the Holy Spirit must have gotten the better of him.

Wright’s other publicized remarks are thoroughly reasonable: institutional racism was indeed a founding principle of our union. It is inscribed in the Constitution. In fact, it took a Civil War to redress that problem -- partially and very imperfectly. It can get better, as Obama pointed out, but sugar-coating the past is not the way to make it so. Far better, as Immanuel Kant would say, “to dare to know” or, as I would say, “to call a spade a spade.”

Neither is there any doubt that the U.S. supported state terrorism in Apartheid South Africa and in Apartheid Palestine, where it continues to do so (today more than ever). Is it incendiary and offensive to express solidarity with a people living for generations under a brutal occupation? It is indeed in the political culture of the Land of the Free, but not for anyone who wants, as the Clintons would say, to “get real.’

Wright’s “God damm America” remark plays well on cable TV, but it’s essentially meaningless, much like the “God bless America” blather that has now fortunately subsided a little since it erupted with full force after 9/11. The Reverend is a man of the cloth -- that’s his one and only “sin” -- so perhaps he does think he can confer blessings and curses, but to a “reasonable person” “God damn America” just means “boo America” -- a perfectly reasonable thing to say in the context in which Wright said it.

That leaves the comment that, I suspect, rankles the most: the claim that the United States brought 9/11 upon itself. But, if it didn’t, what did? Do the purveyors of conventional wisdom think it’s because “they [evil Muslims] hate our freedom?” Do they agree with the Bush boy about that? 9/11 was blowback. If we don’t want to be mired forever in the so-called “war on terror” – in other words, if we don’t want perpetual war for the sake of empire – then we need to confront that reality too.

How much better it would have been if Obama had pointed these things out! Instead, he told only part of the story. Of course, as Obama said, African Americans of Wright’s age harbor anger that we white folks need to recognize and respect. He might have added that younger African Americans, along with most everyone else, do too, and they have every reason and right. Expressing that anger is not offensive or incendiary; it’s honest. It’s also indispensable if we’re ever to get beyond where we now are.

It was wonderful to see Obama put America’s racial problems in the context of its class divisions and class struggles. Of the major Democratic contenders for the nomination, only John Edwards had done anything like that before. Needless to say, the liberal media have taken no notice. Nothing slows down their condescending references to (white) “blue collar” racism. But here’s a news flash: workers aren’t the problem, prevaricating liberals are.

Like the liberal media, the Clinton camp is full of them. My worry is that Obama is one of them too. He has certainly appeared that way throughout the campaign. However his Philadelphia speech does provide a glimmer of hope that he can transcend the horizons of Democratic Party politics after all. But only a glimmer, and we’ll have to elect him to find out. In the context of an Amerik(kk)an election, with the Clinton (and McCain) attack machines ready to pounce and media working 24/7 to dumb everyone down, it may just be too impolitic to face reality squarely or to propose, credibly and substantively, to change the status quo fundamentally.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Clintons' Victims

We’ll never know the names of the million plus people whose deaths the Clintons caused in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere. [In fact, the actionable offenses were committed only by the husband, but since the wife’s claims for foreign policy “experience” come mainly from the time she was First Lady, it is fair to regard her as part of the team.] Back then, the Clintons’ victims were casualties of policies undertaken to keep the empire intact and to insure that European powers would remain subordinate to the United States. Now the Clintons’ enemy is only Barack Obama. But, for them, that’s no reason to be any less ruthless in the quest for victory (for themselves). Since our media have nothing better to do than report continuously on what CNN calls “the electoral bowl,” the names of the most recent victims of the Clinton attack machine are on everybody’s mind.

It is hard to feel anything but Schadenfreude for Samantha Power, the other woman’s other woman. Power was a journalist who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1999. Somehow she has already become Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy [whatever that means] at Harvard. Granted, it’s only the Kennedy School, not High Church Harvard, but the name “Harvard” is magic and the twenty-four hour cable services don’t know the difference. Power was a golden girl (and also a magnet for titillating gossip), according to The New York Times; therefore her fall from grace is a pity.

Not to me. I, for one, rejoice that this episode has brought yet more disrepute upon the World’s Greatest University. It deserves it always, but especially of late for whitewashing Alan Dershowitz’s latest shenanigans. However the main reason to rejoice is that Power is a prominent defender of the Clintonite wrinkle on imperialist politics – “humanitarian interventions.” She’s also a promoter of the Clintonite narrative on Yugoslavia, the test run for the Cheney-Bush narrative on Iraq: demonize the enemy, scare Americans by making up a devastating threat, then impose American dominance militarily. She didn’t invent that story line, but she has helped promote it. Therefore, if the Clintons want to knock her down a peg, I don’t mind. They have every right; she’s their girl (even if she has gone over to the other side). If Obama doesn’t want to stand by her for calling Hillary a “monster” – big deal! -- then so be it too. As the Meyer Lansky figure in The Godfather would put it: “this is the business..[she] chose.”

On the other hand, it is hard not to feel sympathy for Jeremiah Wright, not just because he’s been attacked for telling the truth, but also because he seems to have been, on the whole, a force for good. Even The New York Times, which usually favors frothy academic gossip over matters of relevance to African Americans, found that news fit to print.

Obama cut Wright loose; even the Clintons stood by Geraldine Ferraro longer! That doesn’t make him worse than them. But it should cause those who think that maybe he isn’t so bad after all to think again.

I still harbor the fantasy that Obama and Clinton will destroy each other and that a genuine progressive will emerge at the Denver convention, if not before, as a candidate of party unity. However the new and (much) improved Al Gore has taken himself out of the picture, and John Edwards, who only “suspended” his campaign and who would be far better than Gore in any case, has disappeared down the media’s memory hole. Even if he hadn’t, it won’t happen. Obama has too many clueless enthusiasts. Clinton has enthusiasts too. They are fewer in number, but when they don’t get their way “hell hath no fury….” In all likelihood, the “winner” will therefore be one or the other of them, no matter what the Clintons do.

Should their squabbles put John McCain (Bush 3) in the White House, who will the Democrats blame? Not the Clintons certainly; Clintons have every right to do whatever they want. But maybe, depending on how the vote totals go, the Democrats can blame Ralph Nader again.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wright is Right (About Some Things)

The Clinton (or is it the McCain?) attack machine has now turned on Barack Obama by targeting his pastor, Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Obama then forced Wright to step down from an advisory post on his campaign’s African American Religious Leadership Committee. Not unrelatedly, Wright is also retiring from his position at Obama’s church.

There’s a certain irony here, as in much that the Clintons do when they throw “the kitchen sink” at their rivals. There is an inexpugnable rumor in right-wing circles that Obama is a Muslim. Who knows who started it. But Hillary has been quoted as saying that “as far as [she] knows,” there’s nothing to that “charge.” One would think that her supporters, especially the erstwhile ladies’ libbers who have morphed into high-minded liberal ladies would object; after all, their politics is all about niceness and “celebrating difference.” But because they think that electing Bill Clinton’s wife would constitute a great leap forward for Womankind, they are her most loyal constituency; in their eyes, she can do no wrong. So they will not insist that she say something like -- “so what if he is a Muslim?” – not if illiberal words can do Obama harm. It’s not just the Clintons who are unprincipled opportunists; many of their supporters are too.

However, there is indeed something to be wary of in the Obama-Wright connection – namely, that it exists at all. There are many reasons why, in the days of slavery and segregation and even nowadays in some quarters, the Black Church was black America’s “salvation.” For one thing, thanks to white Southern piety (or fear of impiety), it was comparatively immune from racism’s worst predations. It is therefore not surprising that, at the height of the civil rights movement and subsequently, some black clergymen would become prominent in the struggle. But Obama is not from that world. Were he “spiritually” or politically connected to his pastor only for appearance sake – because American politicians cannot seem ungodly to a benighted electorate -- then his ties to Wright might be forgivable. But this does not seem to be the case. By all accounts, Obama is a believer. More than two centuries after enlightened thinkers definitively exploded the beliefs upon which Christianity (and other Abrahamic religions) rest, there is no excuse for this. [In fact, I suspect that Obama, like most Americans, deceives himself about faith. As a well educated, intelligent and thoughtful person, he can’t really believe such nonsense, though he probably thinks he does, for any of a variety of morally and psychologically suspect reasons.] The same criticism applies of course to Hillary Clinton. To the degree that her vaunted religiosity is not feigned or that she is not in a state of self-deception, there is reason to worry about her judgment too.

Obama’s “faith” is troubling, but what Reverend Wright said is not. It’s right on. For example, in a sermon on the Sunday after 9/11, Wright purportedly suggested that the United States brought the attacks on itself. The New York Times quotes him as saying: “We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye.” Don’t expect Obama or Hillary and Bill or any other prominent Democrat to sign on to this, but since they’re not idiots and they’re reasonably well informed, in their hearts they know he’s right.

Then, according to the same article, Wright said: “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

Malcolm X got into trouble with liberals after the Kennedy assassination for using that expression about the chickens. Malcolm is no longer demonized the way he used to be; he has even become something of an icon in popular culture. But Wright’s reference to chickens coming home to roost conjures up the bad old days; no matter that what he – and Malcolm – said is true. Wright is also guilty of stepping on the Third Rail of American (especially Democratic party) politics – by saying something that could be construed as less than unabashed praise for the state of Israel and its crimes. His remark about supporting the use of state terrorism against Palestinians, though obviously true, crossed a line where a pusillanimous Obama, aspiring to lead the Party of Pusillanimity, dares not go.

[As I’ve noted before, Obama wasn’t always as servile as he now is on the Israel/Palestine Question. Expect his good deeds to come back to haunt him.]

Then in a 2003 sermon, according to The Times, Wright said that blacks should condemn the United States. “The government gives them drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn American for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.” Apart from the reference to the Bible, there is nothing to fault in this either. [What Wright said is remarkable because it implies, no doubt unwittingly, that, like America, God, if He existed, would have to be counted as cruel and incompetent and generally full of Himself.]

Wright also said that we live “in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people,” and that “Hillary ain’t never been called a nigger.” Can anyone deny this? Can Obama, even as he distances himself from it?

Apparently, Wright is also “guilty” of identifying America with the Ku Klux Klan, by having used three “ks” to spell “Amerikkka.” In the Black Power days, this spelling was a way of calling attention to the centrality of African American oppression throughout American history. In the same period, many white leftists took to substituting a “k” (only one) for the “c” in “America.” Then the reference was to Kafka’s novel, Amerika, and thereby to the absurdity of the ambient culture. There was also the implication that the Land of the Free had come to be of a piece with authoritarian (perhaps even Nazi) Germany. In this regard, it is interesting to observe how profoundly impressions have changed after Cheney and Bush and their Democratic enablers. Today, in comparison with the United States, Germany is a bastion of decency, human rights and the rule of law; and everybody knows it, even in the United States.

In recent decades, these spellings have rankled self-declared patriotic leftists of the old school – the now deceased Richard Rorty is a prime example. These are people who deserve to be irritated at every opportunity. I won’t engage their “arguments” here except to note that both Obama and Clinton are in their camp. Verbal patriotism is not the only reason those two are scoundrels, but it helps assuage their bad consciences. It helps them think they’re doing the right thing when they “support the troops” by funding wars they claim to oppose. Even worse, it helps them to support Cheney’s and Bush’s war aims, by conceding the “need” for a quasi-permanent Amerikkkan/Amerikan presence in Iraq.

In a word, Wright is more right than Obama. Except for the “reverend” thing (assuming his faith is for real), better he than Obama to rid us of those dreadful and pestiferous Clintons. Too bad that the negative forces the Clintons unleashed have dealt him such a low blow. According to The Times, the United Church of Christ issued a 1400 word statement praising Wright’s church for its community service and work to nurture youth. It also praised the pastor for speaking out against homophobia and sexism in the black community. Shame on the Clintons (and/or McCain) for turning the media against him, and on the godly Obama for not standing by his man. Evidently, in Amerik(kk)a nowadays, audacity, like hope – and loyalty too -- has its limits.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ferraro Gone

The spark became a prairie fire so the Clintons, being consummate balancers of benefits against costs, decided Geraldine Ferraro had to go. Meanwhile, Ferraro stands by her remark: that Barack Obama is where he is today because he’s an African American male.

Of course, what Ferraro said can be construed as a truism: if Obama was not an African American male he wouldn’t be the person he is, and therefore wouldn’t be where that person is today. She may also be right that, in present circumstances, given everything else that’s true of him, being African American is, on balance, a plus. But it wouldn’t be an advantage at all if, for example, he was “black” enough to scare white folks or if he wasn’t so “articulate.”

[Joe Biden got into trouble, briefly, for saying that. Biden is the Geraldine Ferraro of currently active Democrats, just as (if we substitute “real change” for “new ideas”) Obama is the new Gary Hart.]

Ferraro’s remarks implied more: that, just as Ferraro herself was picked for the VP slot in 1984 because Walter Mondale thought it would help his chances, in a desperate race against Ronald Reagan, to run with a woman, Obama will get the nomination, if he does, not because he is the most “qualified” person but because he is black. Her remarks also suggest the additional contention, famously articulated by Gloria Steinem, that men, even African American men, are advantaged over all women, even highly privileged white ones. In recent issues of The Nation, and throughout liberal circles, the idea is afoot that “progressives” shouldn’t go there; that they shouldn’t weigh in on whose oppression is greater. Perhaps not, though it’s hard not to point out that what Steinem said was nonsense. But even if claims like hers are only strategically impolitic, their relevance to the contest between Clinton and Obama is moot. Can anyone, even Gloria Steinem, not notice that Clinton is where she is not just for “affirmative action” reasons of the kind that got Ferraro the VP slot in 84, but for a reason one would think a second-wave feminist would abhor: because Hillary Clinton was and is an obscenely loyal (and opportunistic) wife?

If anyone has a gripe against whatever boost Obama gets this year from his (ambiguous) racial identity, it’s those of us who saw a chance, in this historical conjuncture, for a genuinely progressive candidate to win the presidency. It’s also those of us who saw an opportunity for even more progressive alternatives to gain a purchase in the political culture. There was a progressive Democrat who could have won, John Edwards; and there are Ralph Nader’s campaign and Green Party efforts. But the confluence of historical forces that made outcomes better than what we’ll get with Obama live possibilities are also propelling Obama’s candidacy. If progressives can deal with it, why not the War and Wall Street Democrats angling for a full-fledged Clinton Restoration? Are they so wedded to their corporate paymasters and the Reaganite-neocon policies Bill Clinton’s administration promoted that they’d prefer the irascible Bush-like flyweight John McCain to a Democrat a tad less noxious than they are themselves?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gravel Goes Green

Of the original contenders for the Democratic nomination, John Edwards was the candidate of “real (progressive) change” and Dennis Kucinich won on all the issues. But I liked Mike Gravel because he wasn’t afraid to tell the rest of them, Hillary especially, that they are full of shit. [For good or ill, he put the point more civilly, but his message was clear.]

Since it was plain that Obama would trounce Clinton in the Maryland primary, I felt free to vote for Gravel – though I’m not sure what that meant since all the pledged delegates on my ballot were committed to either Clinton or Obama (with the exception of one for Edwards, who had already withdrawn, and one “uncommitted.”) Anyway, I’m glad I did vote for him, especially this morning. Don’t expect to read much about it in the corporate media or to hear about it on NPR, but today Mike Gravel announced that he would be supporting Jesse Johnson of the West Virginia Mountain Party for the Green Party nomination for President. The press release didn’t quite say so, but the clear implication was that he’d support the Green nominee, whoever it is, over the Democrat. Since Gravel lives (and, I presume, votes) in Virginia, a likely “swing state” in November, that’s a brave choice. He’s evidently less of a lesser evilest than I am. More power to him!

Meanwhile, the Clintons continue to make voting against Democrats more problematic by continuing to show their inherent baseness and, in doing so, to boost John McCain’s chances of victory. The latest: it seems that they’ll let Geraldine Ferraro’s suggestion that Obama is an affirmative-action candidate stand, though in a typically weasel way – rejecting the contention, but keeping its purveyor on board . Geraldine (as in “Neat and Clean for Geraldine” or what that some other, better Gene?) was adept, even back in 1984, for putting her foot in her mouth. Back when she was the affirmative action VP nominee in a campaign Walter Mondale was destined to lose in every state but his own, she made a sarcastic remark about Italian men when her husband was caught in some shady real estate scheme. That got Mondale into trouble; diminishing his already dim prospects further. The beat goes on.

As I’ve written countless times, the reason to prefer Obama to Clinton (though not necessarily to vote for him, when there’s no harm in not voting for him) is not his politics (which are probably not much better) and not his vacuous talk of “change,’ but the likelihood that, when he is President, fewer Clintonites will be restored to power. Geraldine Ferraro is only a dunce, not a Henry Kissinger wannabe like Richard Holbrooke. But she’s typical of the kind of “help” the Clintons attract. The evidence for my contention mounts. Too bad that, in the process, gestures like Gravel’s become more problematic to carry out.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Right to Run

Despite actionable culpability in the deaths of more than a million people in Iraq, Yugoslavia and elsewhere, Bill Clinton is a free man and a lecture fee magnet (though whoever wishes to know how much of a magnet risks being likened to Ken Starr). Therefore he or rather his wife, to whom he is joined at the hip (politically, if in no other way), have what his liberal friends concede Ralph Nader also has – a right to run. But there are differences:

-the first is that the Clintons, who will end the primary season with fewer votes and fewer delegates than Barack Obama, are actively diminishing Obama’s chances of winning in November by throwing “the kitchen sink” at him instead of just going away. He’ll probably win anyway thanks to Dick Cheney and George Bush, and thanks to the fact that he’ll be running against an irascible war mongering light weight, but it’s no sure thing -- especially if Democrats continue to portray their opponent as a war hero and national security champion. On the other hand, the Nader campaign takes nothing away from Obama except perhaps an insignificant number of votes in “swing states.” Most of Nader’s votes will come from people who, like me, live in safe states and think that Barack Obama doesn’t quite make it across the lesser evil threshold. In any case, a few votes in swing states will only matter if, as in 2000, the Democrats undermine themselves. Thanks to the Clintons, that’s what they’re now doing. But the harm the Clintons are doing is probably surmountable, inasmuch as they will have to go away sometime before the Democratic convention in Denver this summer -- enough in advance of the general election for Obama’s operatives, if they are skillful enough, to make up for most of the damage.

In any case, one has to weigh the costs against the benefits. I think a very slight diminution in Obama’s chances of defeating McCain in November is a small price to pay for putting utterly sensible and moderately progressive views forward -- to the extent that the corporate and corporate friendly media will allow. These include single-payer, not for profit health insurance; a balanced policy on Israel/Palestine; genuinely ending Bush’s wars and the occupation of Iraq; strengthening labor laws and repealing anti-labor legislation (such as Taft-Hartley); DC statehood; cutting the military budget; rolling back the national security state; introducing measures to combat global warming and other impending environmental catastrophes; regulating financial institutions and public corporations in the public interest; restoring and enhancing state agencies that protect public health and safety; restoring the progressivity and fairness of the tax system; and rebuilding America’s decaying infrastructure. Count on Obama to do none of the above.

-the other difference is that, in the liberal view, the Clintons have every right to harm Democratic prospects significantly by exercising their right to run; while, by exercising his, Nader has the unmitigated gall to harm Obama’s prospects trivially while expanding the universe of political discourse to the best of his ability.

It’s nuts, of course, but it’s an article of faith for true “blue” liberals. Democrats: can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Who's Afraid of the Israel Lobby?

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton certainly are. But so is every damn Democrat in Congress. Not one of them voted No this week on a resolution supporting Israel (and rightly condemning Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians) that did not object at all to Israel’s murderous assaults on civilians in the Gaza Strip or to the humanitarian crisis Israel has caused there. The resolution passed 404-1. The one No vote was Ron Paul’s.

Here is some background from Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies: “In Gaza, the five-day Israeli assault left the already besieged, impoverished, disempowered population reeling from the heaviest losses since Israel first occupied the Strip in 1967. The numbers of dead - 125-131, half civilians, at least 22 children, 4 infants - resulted in whole rows of mourning tents lining the torn-up roads in areas hardest hit. At least 370 children were reported injured. Hospitals faced hundreds seriously injured without reliable electricity and with huge shortages of vital drugs, spare parts for medical equipment, and surgical supplies. Ambulances came under Israeli fire, 3 medical workers were injured and at least one was killed. The destruction hit hardest in the bleak, crowded refugee camps; in Gaza City itself, two bombs from a U.S.-provided F-16 jet destroyed the 5-story headquarters of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, seriously damaging scores of nearby apartments….”

Only in America is this OK. Bennis continues: “The international outcry was fierce, with even UN and European Union officials condemning Israel's "disproportionate" and "excessive" violence. Israel claimed, as is its wont, that its attack was only "in response" to Palestinian rocket fire. But that claim ignored the immediate fact that the rocket fire itself escalated only after Israel's latest "targeted assassination" of a militant leader in Gaza, which also killed several members of his family. More importantly, it ignored the broader fact that Israel remains the occupying power in Gaza. According to John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories, "this means that its actions must be measured against the standards of international humanitarian law and human rights law. Judged by these standards Israel is in serious violation of its legal obligations. The collective punishment of Gaza by Israel is expressly prohibited by international humanitarian law and has resulted in a serious humanitarian crisis."

“Dugard appropriately condemned Palestinian attacks that terrorize Israeli civilians, but argued that such acts are an "inevitable consequence" of the Israeli occupation. "While such acts cannot be justified," he wrote, "they must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation." His report recognized that violence would continue as long as Israel occupies Palestinian land, and that "this is why every effort should be made to bring the occupation to a speedy end. Until this is done peace cannot be expected, and violence will continue. … Israel cannot expect perfect peace and the end of violence as a precondition for the ending of the occupation."

“Dugard's words,” Bennis writes, “take on particularly powerful meaning in the context of the March 6 gunman attack on a settler-linked yeshiva in Jerusalem that left 8 Israeli students dead and more injured.” Indeed.

Not only has the U.S. Congress, under Democratic leadership, failed to utter even a mute condemnation of what Israel has been doing; it has actually, as Bennis says, “….continued to add fuel to the fire by supplying Israel with more weapons, in contravention of the U.S. Arms Export Control and Foreign Assistance Acts. This year, U.S. taxpayers will provide Israel with $2.55 billion in arms shipments, a 9% increase over actual spending in 2007. This is the first installment of a ten-year U.S. commitment to increase arms shipments to Israel by 25%....”

The problem is not just the Democrats; it’s the Republicans too. The hands of the Bush administration, and especially Condoleezza Rice, are dirty up to their elbows in these events, and in the series of Israeli atrocities that preceded them. As much or more than every other administration since the Six Day War, they have bankrolled the Israeli government and given it carte blanche to do as it pleases. But they couldn’t have done it without enthusiastic Democratic encouragement and support. Of course, there are Democrats, a few anyway, who know better; and Republicans too – not just Ron Paul. But fear of the Israel lobby makes cowards of them all. This is why, when it comes to facilitating the government of Israel’s predations, and even egging them on, neither of our two parties is a lesser evil. There is only unvarnished “bipartisanship” at work.

Clinton = Lieberman

Scratch a Clintonite or, worse, a Clinton and what do you find beneath the surface – Joe Lieberman! Not necessarily Lieberman the sanctimonious twit; but Lieberman the soul mate of John McCain. How else to explain the contents of “the kitchen sink” that the Clinton campaign have hurled at Barack Obama in recent days? According to Hillary, she and John are ready to handle 3 a.m. phone calls that threaten the safety and security of tucked in bed three year olds. Obama is not ready yet; all he knows how to do is give speeches. According to Hillary, McCain is a Mensch; Obama still has a way to go.

It has dawned on many pundits that this is self-defeating behavior, should she somehow lean on enough superdelegates to become the nominee. She’s boosting, not knocking, her opponent. It has also dawned on them that, should Obama prevail, as he almost certainly will, she will have given John McCain ammunition to use against him. What the punditocracy has yet to note is how adept the Clintons have long been at helping Republicans defeat Democrats. Perhaps Bill Clinton’s gravest political offense as President was helping to turn Congress over to the Republicans only two years after he took office. For the remainder of Clinton’s tenure, he gave the Newt and his minions periodic boosts. Then, when he was no longer in a position to be helpful, the Cheney-Bush fear machine took up the cause for the Newt’s descendants. Six years later, the manifest incompetence of the Cheney/Bush crew brought the Democrats back. But the Democratic leadership was, by then, so thoroughly Clintonized that they’ve continued to aid and abet the criminals they earlier enabled.

For the time being, Obama has remained on the high road, while the Clintons not only go low and dirty but bafflingly incoherent. They’ve become so desperate that their double standards have been noted even in the corporate media. For the Clintons, it is OK to liken Barack Obama to Kenneth Starr, their former prosecutor-persecutor, but not OK to call Hillary a “monster” who’d do anything to win an election. Since when did truth stop being a defense?

It is ironic that Samantha Power was out of the Obama campaign within hours of her “monster” remark being reported. In academic legal and philosophical circles, Power has become notorious lately as the other woman’s other woman. But her claim to more than fifteen minutes of fame rests on her apologetics for “humanitarian interventions” and, especially, for Bill Clinton’s role in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the ethnic cleansing of its constituent parts. Hers is one of the more spirited defenses of this monstrous turn in American diplomacy. One would think that the Clintons would be grateful. Apparently that is a sentiment monsters cannot feel.

Meanwhile, Hillary continues to present herself as like McCain only better. In fact, if it comes down to who is more of a hawk, a“national security” war monger, she’s just McCain Lite. Her co-thinker Lieberman should explain this to her.

I would venture that, whoever wins the Democratic nomination, Lieberman will spend next fall continuing the McCain boosting that Clinton began. He’s a “natural” for the Republican VP slot. Foolish independents like him well enough; Connecticut proved that in 2006. And the part of the Republican base that hates McCain the most will be assuaged because they’ll love Lieberman’s piety and his from-the-heart support for Israel, as they await the apocalypse, the conversion of the Jews (Lieberman included) and the rapture of the Final Judgment, as everyone else is cast into eternal torment.

Them Republicans are pretty weird, but their sentiments are sounder than the liberals’ in at least one respect: they think that monsters should rot in hell.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


The good news is that Dennis Kucinich will keep his seat in Congress. Ron Paul will keep his seat too. Paul is a whacky libertarian and corrupter of youth. But his positions on the Iraq War, Israel/Palestine, “humanitarian interventions,” and other imperialist predations are better than Barack Obama’s or Hillary Clinton’s or, it goes without saying, John McCain’s. It was also a good day for media outlets in Pennsylvania. For the next several weeks, they’ll be on the gravy train.

The pundit consensus as of this morning is that it is bad for the Democrats that the race isn’t settled yet. Perhaps so, but it’s good entertainment for the rest of us – so long as we don’t end up with another neo-con symp – this time a “straight-talking,” “maverick” one- – in the White House. I still harbor the dream that Obama and Clinton will destroy each other, and that a progressive alternative will be crowned the nominee. That could only be John Edwards; but I’d even settle for the (environmentally) born-again Al Gore. Of course, that’s not going to happen. But what is very likely to happen is that Obama will find himself obliged to go “negative” – like the Clintons did.

Because the Democrats are a party of pusillanimous Republican wannabes, we’ll never get from them a serious assessment of the crimes of the Clinton years (in Iraq, Yugoslavia and so on) or of the politics of Clintonism. But we could see Bill Clinton torn down and humiliated on the way to Hillary’s defeat, and that would be some consolation. I’m not counting on it though. Obama is too nice a guy.

That’s too bad because the Clintons deserve not only to be defeated, as they will be in time, but to be humiliated and brought low. It’s the least we can do to make whole the million Iraqis Bill Clinton killed through sanctions or the other victims of his crimes. That’s why instead of countering the red-phone-at-3.a.m. commercial with a competing red phone commercial that says to vote for Obama because six years ago he had better judgment than Hillary (that he wasn’t quite the Clintonite he is today), I would show Hillary answering the phone in a tizzy because, at 3 a.m., Bill was still out with some intern. I’ve been going back and forth on the suggestion I floated months ago about starting Monica Lewinsky Democratic Clubs in every city, town and hamlet. It seemed like a good idea back then. Then Hillary choked up before the New Hampshire primary and went on to win. [At least, that’s the conventional wisdom; I still wonder if racism didn’t have more to do with it.] Now I’m thinking again that it might be a good thing to go for the Clintons’ gonads.

* *

Speaking of which, the March 17 issue of The Nation prominently displays a “letter from feminists on the election.” It isn’t clear who wrote it, though a number of self-important feminists are cited as having attended a Kaffeklatch where the idea for the letter arose. It’s also not clear what the point of the letter is except that “we should all get along,” by not countenancing gender/race divisions among “progressives.” What is remarkable about this letter is how well it illustrates the complicity of liberals and even some self-identified leftists in narratives that help to maintain the status quo. The problem is NOT that there are two perfectly fine candidates – one more “experienced,” one more “inspiring” – and that, because one is a woman and the other an African American, we need to remain civil as we decide between them. The problem IS that the Clintons [the designation is plainly fair because Hillary is only where she is because she was Bill’s wife] are god-awful and that Barack Obama probably isn’t much better, but at least he’s less likely to restore the old Clinton hands to power. That’s why this is not a time to make nice. It’s a time to expose the Democrats for what they are. Race and gender, sure -- but in the end, “it’s the politics, stupid.”

[There’s a tale to be told about how, over the past several decades, ostensibly oppositional forces have come increasingly to collaborate with their putative opponents. The story would start back in the 70s, when the idea of socialism came to seem problematic; it would pick up in the (Bill) Clinton era with all the prattle about “humanitarian interventions” in Yugoslavia and elsewhere; and then accelerate after 9/11 with the so-called War on Terror. Largely thanks to this unhappy trajectory, we now face the prospect that we could end up with a full-fledged Clinton Restoration -- at a time when real (not just Obama) change is on the agenda thanks ironically to the manifest failures of Cheney and Bush.]

In the same issue of The Nation, Katha Pollit goes after Ralph Nader for running for President again. She seems not to understand that there is a threshold even for lesser evilists and that it isn’t clear that Obama, not to mention Clinton, meet the standard. She even suggests that the only reason not to vote for the Democrat, even if it’s Hillary, is “hard left” sexism. Need I say again – “it’s the politics, stupid.” Hillary is a non-starter not because she’s a woman, but because, as I’ve explained countless times in these postings, her politics and her husband’s are of a piece, and Clinton politics is Bush politics, competently deployed. The only other difference is that the Clintons play to potentially progressive constituencies, while Bush appealed to the dark side. On balance, this is for the good, but it is not an unmixed blessing. Among other things, it facilitates the moral and political obtuseness evident in the letter those feminists published in The Nation.

Nevertheless, Pollit may be right in insisting that a campaign to the left of the Democratic Party’s candidate, Obama presumably, would be futile. But she’s shaky on the reasons. Pollitt maintains that the failure of John Edwards’ campaign and, for that matter, Dennis Kucinich’s, and the reasons for Ralph Nader’s poor showings in 2000 and 2004 demonstrate that “populist” appeals to economic interests don’t have popular appeal. She writes: “maybe someday we can have a real conversation about why the candidate who embodied the white-working-class-man-friendly economic populism that this magazine [The Nation] has promoted for years fell flat, and the woman and the biracial, multicultural man have inspired huge crowds of supporters.” Then she concludes by asking rhetorically: “Is identity politics, long blamed for the Democratic Party’s low fortunes, now riding to the rescue?” Well, maybe. But it doesn’t explain why the Democrats have the front runners they do. The explanation for that has more to do with the ways the corporate and corporate friendly media marginalize dissidents who threaten corporate interests, and with the pervasive cluelessness that afflicts our political culture.

There’s another point Pollitt seems not to recognize: that in our very undemocratic electoral system, outcomes depend as much or more on electoral institutions than on individuals’ preferences (informed or not). If like any of a host of more (small-d) democratic “democracies,” the United States had run off elections (instant or otherwise) or proportional representation, there would be nothing at all quixotic or vain about Nader running for the fourth time. Although John McCain is loathed by Republican theocrats, free marketeers and anti-immigrant nativists – in other words, by most Republicans -- he is the Republican nominee because the Republicans rely mainly on winner-take-all primaries (in which “independents” can vote). Obama will probably end up with more votes in Democratic primaries than Clinton will, but he will be the Democratic nominee, in part, because, in the primaries, the party relies, quite sensibly, on proportional representation. In this respect, the Democrats are more democratic than their rival. But, if this morning’s pundits are right, they may also be more adept at putting their electoral prospects in jeopardy.

In short, it’s not as if we’re aggregating freely chosen, informed preferences the way we’re supposed to in democracies. Instead, we’re acquiescing in the intended and unintended consequences of electoral mechanisms that combine individuals’ less than autonomous choices.

Paradoxically, though, the winner-take-all electoral college system that makes Nader’s campaign quixotic in Pollitt’s eyes, also makes it appropriate and even urgent -- in states where it has no prospect of affecting the chances that the greater evil (McCain) will defeat the lesser evil (Obama or, God forbid, Hillary Clinton). Those of us who live in “safe” states can in good conscience oppose the lesser evil choice our institutions force upon us. We can make lemonade, as they say, out of the nasty lemon we’ve been served. We don’t have to be satisfied just with voting against McCain (and therefore Cheney and Bush). We have the opportunity to vote against Obama (or, if it comes to that, Clinton) too! We may not yet be able to go after Clintonism directly, but we can do it expressively -- by proxy. For that, I thank the electoral college.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Ohio matters

Tomorrow, March 4, Ohio Democrats – along with Democrats in Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont – will hold primary elections. The presidential primary in Ohio could spell the end for the Clintons. But there is a Congressional primary that is more important still.

Barack Obama is, at best, a vacuous – though “inspiring” – centrist. Nevertheless, it is plain that an Obama presidency would be less bad than a full-scale Clinton Restoration. It would therefore be good, very good, were Ohioans to hand Hillary Clinton a good shellacking. But we must not exaggerate: Obama’s and Clinton’s policy proposals are almost identical, and so are their inclinations to pander. To take just the most timely example: two days ago, Israel killed 60 people, most of them civilians, in Gaza, its outdoor prison for 1.3 million Palestinians. Altogether, the Israeli army has killed over a hundred Gazans in this latest episode in Israel’s on-going effort to overthrow the democratically elected Hamas government. From Barack Obama, this latest atrocity – the latest in a series extending back two generations – has not elicited so much as a peep in protest. To the best of my knowledge, his only comment, made long before this most recent escalation of Israeli violence, was to castigate Palestinian resistance fighters (“terrorists” in media-speak) for firing rockets into Israel! This puts the whole Hillary thing into perspective: Obama is a lesser evil certainly, but an evil nonetheless.

On the other hand, a genuinely progressive Democrat’s Congressional seat is at stake in Cleveland. Even if an Obama victory tomorrow brings the Clintons to their last hurrah, it will be small consolation if Clevelanders do the same for Dennis Kucinich.

According to news reports this morning, the Ohio election, like the one in Texas, is close. I confess that I wouldn’t mind if Obama loses tomorrow in Ohio, especially if it keeps the Clintons in the race a while longer. It would be better of course to dispatch the Clintons once and for all; the sooner the better. But, if the race drags on, it will keep alive my (ridiculously improbable) hope that Obama and Clinton will fight each other to exhaustion, leading the Party Elders to turn to a genuinely progressive candidate for the sake of party unity. The chance of that was near zero when I first suggested it, it’s even lower now that the media have cast John Edwards into their memory hole.

[Remarkably, the other day on CNN, a few second-string pundits were musing on whom Obama’s VP might be: names like Sam Nunn came up, along with the terminally boring white bread governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius. Nunn, they opined, would supply foreign policy and military experience; Sebelius would help Obama make nice to the disgruntled older women who like Hillary. Edwards wasn’t even mentioned.]

The more likely scenario, if the race drags on, is that the Clintons will suffer a bigger and more humiliating defeat later. That is a pleasing prospect. Bill Clinton will never be brought to justice for his actionable offenses: for example, for killing a million Iraqis through sanctions or for his role in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the ethnic cleansings that followed. Nor will the Democratic Party come to terms politically any time soon with Clinton’s role in completing “the Reagan Revolution” and in enabling Dick Cheney and George Bush to wage perpetual war. But if Bill’s official wife goes down to ignominious defeat, there will be a semblance of justice – as much as we’re likely to see before future historians have their due. The Clintons will have lost something that they think is theirs by right. This is not much consolation. For them, it is more likely to trigger self-pity than repentance. But it is better than nothing.

Meanwhile, three candidates are running against Dennis Kucinich for his seat in Congress; one of them, Joe Cimperman, is heavily backed by Cleveland’s corporate “elite.” The official narrative is that, in pursuing the presidency, Kucinich has neglected his constituents. The real agenda, of course, is that corporate Cleveland – in tandem with the leadership of the Democratic Party – would be happy to see that gadfly gone.

To the extent that there is any truth to the official line, Cleveland’s loss has been the nation’s gain. Somebody had to do the work an opposition party would have done, if we had one. That role has fallen to Kucinich and a handful of others – maybe a half dozen of the so-called Progressive Caucus’s seventy-two members. Even that miniscule group has disgraced itself during this primary season: two of its stalwarts, Lynn Woolsey and Sheila Jackson-Lee, have shown their colors by endorsing Hillary Clinton! Yes, Kucinich is more than a little flaky. But genuinely principled progressives are an endangered species in official Washington, and he is one of the very few left. Dispatch the Clintons, of course; but it is even more important to keep Kucinich in Congress. These are the stakes in Ohio.