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?

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