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.

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