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.

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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.

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