Monday, April 28, 2008

I Have a Dream

Conventional wisdom, conveyed infallibly by Cokie Roberts on NPR and by scores of others, is that Jeremiah Wright’s recent media appearances – on Bill Moyers’ PBS show, at an NAACP dinner in Los Angeles, and at the National Press Club – are a problem for Barack Obama. Ever careful not to challenge the conventional wisdom, watch for Obama to distance himself even more blatantly from his old friend and mentor. I have a dream, though – that Obama will tell Cokie and the others where to go.

Were he to say forthrightly that Wright is right -- except maybe for one over the top remark about the government’s role in spreading HIV/AIDS in the black community and, of course, for the godly spin that shrouds his otherwise keen observations – Obama would move out of the lesser evil category into the ranks of candidates who are worth supporting with (measured and critical) enthusiasm, and not just because of whom they are running against. But this is even less likely than that she whom Obama is running against will come to the aid of her party by just going away. Nevertheless, the fact remains: what the good Reverend said about racism and America’s role in the world is on point, timely and urgent. If there is a pundit sophistically clever enough to show (not just assert) otherwise, she or he is still slouching towards CNN headquarters --or the headquarters of one or another of its (increasingly few) rivals in the pro-regime propaganda business -- to be born.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Closing the Deal

Ever true to form, the Democrats are about to collaborate with their co-thinkers across the aisle to fund the Bush wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at unprecedented levels. Some of them too are having a hissy fit because they weren’t told until yesterday that what Israel bombed in Syria last year was what the CIA claims was a North Korean supplied nuclear reactor. Not one of them points out the obvious: that the only clear violation of international law in the whole affair was Israel’s aggression against a sovereign state. These are just a few of the latest of a seemingly endless stream of Democratic perfidies. But, for the corporate media and corporate-friendly NPR, it is beyond the pale to take the Democrats to task for any of them. They only want to write or talk about the never-ending contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

I can hardly blame them, since I do it myself. In mitigation, I would point out that, though one wouldn’t know it from what media pundits say, the Obama/Clinton struggles do provide a prism through which the larger deficiencies of the Democratic Party become apparent. Moreover, it is an interesting question in its own right why Obama is having so much trouble “closing the deal.” After all, barring some improbable and colossal stumble, he will eventually win the nomination; and the internecine struggle the Democrats are now going through only helps John McCain. I've been writing for months that if Obama is good for anything, it’s for blowing Hillary and her husband out of the water. It’s looking more and more like he’s good for nothing.

Why can’t he close the deal? If recent history shows anything, it’s that in American elections nice guys finish last. I think it became clear in Pennsylvania that Obama is too nice a guy or at least not enough of a scrapper to send the Clintons down to the ignominious defeat they deserve. [True, unlike Bill, Hillary hasn’t killed more than a million people yet. But she did permanently marginalize the very idea of single-payer, not for profit health insurance, and she set the cause of universal coverage back a generation.] In 2000, Al Gore gave up after winning the election; he didn’t have it in him to fight back against James Baker and the other Bush family fixers Poppy Bush had mobilized to install his son in office. In 2004, John Kerry lost the popular vote. But he may not have lost Ohio and therefore, he might have won on electoral college points, just as Bush did (with a little help from some Reaganite Supreme Court Justices). But Kerry wouldn’t fight back either. Obama seems to have about the same fire in his belly; he’s still very much the unthreatening Rorschach Man he was months ago. On the other hand, Hillary, ever a piece of work, has transformed herself into a new model national security, post-neo-con Democrat – a Scoop Jackson for the twenty-first century. In this her latest incarnation, she projects toughness, and she just keeps on going and going.

This would be fine if there were some principled reason for it. But, as we know from the past fifteen years, principles and Clintons are like oil and water. Hillary is fighting for herself; for what she thinks is her due. There could not be a cause less worthy. But at least it does show gumption.

I would venture that it’s her scrappiness, in contrast to the Democratic norm, that’s the basis for the working class support she garners. No doubt there are some white working class voters who won’t vote for Obama because he’s black. But there probably aren’t very many of them, and their numbers are probably no greater than among the vaunted “elites” who support Obama. No, the reason why Obama isn’t doing well among working class voters is that he’s been presenting himself too much like a typical, spineless Democrat. There is not a single, bold program he has offered. He neither seems to be nor is a champion of any progressive, domestic cause.

If only the corporate media and the heralds of goody-goody identity politics hadn’t done John Edwards in! Then Hillary would have an opponent who would at least appear to be fighting for the working class, for all hues of it; not just for inchoate “change.” I’ve voiced the hope that the two Clintonites, Clinton and Obama, would fight each other to exhaustion, and that the Party Elders would turn to Edwards to set matters right. Clinton and Obama are indeed fighting each other to exhaustion, but the Party Elders are too feckless to do anything remotely bold or wise. So we’re left with just the two Clintonites – the one more onerous than the other (for reasons I’ve set out repeatedly – most recently here.) However, the less onerous one, Obama, is a pussycat liberal – a nice guy who, like other liberals (according to Robert Frost), won’t take his own side in an argument. Under Hillary it would be worse, of course, but, even so, someone like that is unlikely to make the Democratic Party better. When Obama becomes President, the Democrats will in all likelihood muddle on from depredation to depredation, just as in recent days -- and weeks and years.

The good news is that, in all likelihood, will become President. For that, thank John McCain and George Bush – not any Democrat. The Democrats betrayed the expectations that led voters in 2006 to give them control of the Senate and the House. They will betray expectations again. But unless that lesson sinks in to a point where voters become indifferent between them and a blatantly greater evil, we’ll get the lesser evil this time around. Against Hillary, Obama may not have it in him to close the deal, and the Democratic leadership won’t dare close it for him. But he can beat out the clock. Then, unless he flubs at levels that would embarrass even Al Gore, and unless he (like Hillary) pays undue deference to McCain’s alleged (actually criminal), “heroism,” he can wait for that doddering, warmongering, Bush emulating “maverick” to defeat himself.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

PA Plubs

Ten per cent indeed! Now the Clintons get to boost John McCain for at least two more weeks -- while the eponymous “ism,” Clintonism (neo-liberalism, imperialism, the neo-conservative dream), thrives all the more. Whether or not racism did it, the harpies got their way; them and the papists, still on a roll after Pope Benny.

Note: I just deliberately violated two liberal taboos: not to say anything that can be construed as sexist, and never ever to bad mouth religion. There are harpies out there who find any anti-Clinton remark sexist, just as there are Zionists who find any anti-Israel remark anti-Semitic. I say: if it pisses them off, how bad can it be! Ditto all the more for those whose “faith” (in the preposterous) makes them prissy. In any case, the need to be rid of that wretched family justifies cutting a little slack.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Clintonism in Action: Worse and Worser

Today the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a resolution (H.Con.Res.322) “recognizing the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the modern State of Israel and reaffirming the bonds of close friendship and cooperation between the United States and Israel.” And, in case that isn’t enough, Nancy Pelosi has reserved time each week through June for representatives to make statements congratulating Israel on its 60th anniversary. Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton recently affirmed in several venues – the Gibson/Clintonopoulos fiasco in Philadelphia, on ABC News and on Keith Olbermann’s program on MSNBC – that, were she President, if Iran threatened Israel with nuclear weapons (which it doesn’t have), she’d nuke ‘em. Never before has the American nuclear umbrella sheltered the Promised Land. Evidently after November, should she win (which, unless there’s a God in Heaven, she won’t), it would. It is remarkable that something so momentous could be proposed without arousing discussion or controversy. But it isn’t surprising. Who, after all, would object? Nancy Pelosi?

Monday, April 21, 2008

McCain v. Bush

For weeks, the Clintons have been building up John McCain in order to knock Barack Obama down – implying that Obama is not (yet) ready to take on such a titan. Then, since yesterday, after Obama said in passing at a campaign rally in Reading, Pennsylvania, that even McCain would be better than Bush, the Clintons have been “making a federal case” of his remark – presumably because it was too McCain friendly. “A foolish consistency” may be “the hobgoblin of little minds,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaimed. Evidently, it is also no obstacle in the way of self-serving opportunist politicians, once they decide that their only chance is to throw “the kitchen sink” at their opponent.

Will Pennsylvania voters put an end tomorrow to the Clintons’ harmful, tiresome and self-serving petulance? I’m not holding my breath. But hope springs eternal.

Meanwhile, the time is long past due that Democrats stop using John McCain as a campaign prop. The man is a menace, and his past should be used against him. Obama, especially, should stop praising McCain for his “service” to the country and for his “heroism.” Had the United States come to terms with its past in Vietnam, the way the Germans and Japanese have come to terms with their pasts in World War II, a McCain candidacy would be unthinkable. Unfortunately, this never happened; our ruling classes and their flunkies saw to that. Because Obama (and lately Clinton too) are doves on Iraq, not anti-imperialists, it is likely that this time around the outcome will be similar; that, at great future cost, we will not learn our lesson -- again. But, however quixotic the effort may be, for the sake of preventing future harms, we should try as best we can to face the facts. We can start with John McCain.

McCain was a prisoner of war, to be sure. But his “service” and “heroism” consisted in dropping napalm and bombs on a civilian population struggling to resist imperialist aggression. He should not be able to set foot in public without being reminded of this. The man is not just a doddering “maverick” with “bad ideas for America.” He’s not just a hapless warmonger. He’s a low level war criminal who should be held to account.

Still, though, he just might be better than Bush.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Combat Clintonism!

Nearly a year ago, I began these commentaries on the race for the Democratic nomination with a call to combat Clintonism. What has become clear, over the past year, is that that struggle will have to continue beyond the current electoral cycle. There is a chance that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy will finally be defeated this Tuesday in Pennsylvania. But there has been that chance before, and she is still in the race. The happy day that we see the back of her is likely still far off. But even if the voters of Pennsylvania rise to the occasion, Clintonism will not be defeated. Barack Obama is a Clintonite too.

However the struggle against Clintonism will be abetted by an Obama victory – first, because, at the level of rhetoric and atmospherics, if not policy, his victory would provide more openings for social movements dedicated genuinely to struggling against the awful influence of that wretched family. FDR was no New Dealer at the start; and JFK was, by the standards of the time, a right-wing Democrat. Both of them, however, unwittingly encouraged developments that transcended the horizons of their political perspectives. FDR briefly embraced those developments and even came to champion them; JFK did not live long enough to do anything of the kind, even were he disposed to do so (as he probably was not). Nevertheless, in both instances, things happened that were about as welcome as the capitalism of the time could sustain; and movements were encouraged that put those limits in question. It is far from sure that anything of the kind would happen under Obama, but it’s not impossible. Under Hillary Clinton, it is impossible. Both candidates are owned by corporate America. But Obama might just be free enough in his own mind and capable enough to wrest himself (somewhat) free. Clinton that she be, Hillary is and always has been of one heart and mind with her paymasters.

There is also a more immediate and surer reason to dispatch the Clintons. They and the people they empowered did more to dismember the New Deal than any President before them; they did what Ronald Reagan and his cohort only dreamed of doing. They deregulated with abandon, and fatally weakened our already feeble welfare state institutions. They and the people around them prepared the way for what has come to pass since 9/11 -- by projecting American military power at every opportunity, and violating international law as they saw fit. They and the people around them killed over a million Iraqis through sanctions. They and the people around them promoted the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, encouraging ethnic cleansing on an unprecedented scale. They and the people around them wedded American foreign policy to the interests of the Israeli Right even more surely than their predecessors. The list goes on.

There is no reason to think that Obama will not call upon many of the same people. But, if only because he is not a Clinton, just a Clintonite, he is bound to call on fewer of them, and to introduce different, possibly better, people into the mix. This isn’t much to hope for. But it’s better than the alternative.

In a slightly more just world, the criminals of the Cheney/Bush Administration would now be doing hard time in prison colonies (though not the ones they had built, those having been dismantled, and the ground on which they stood turned back over to the Cuban, Iraqi and Afghani people). In such a world, the Democratic Party would now be settling accounts with its Clintonite past. Needless to say, the leadership of the Democratic Party will never allow anything like that to happen. But the voters of Pennsylvania -- or, if not them, of Indiana and North Carolina and the states and territories that follow -- can at least deal the Clintons, if not Clintonism, a woefully inadequate dose of retributive justice. They can send Hillary down to ignominious defeat.

John McCain illustrates with every foul word he utters that even Clintonized Democrats are still by far the lesser evil. Therefore, the sooner voters dispatch the Clintons, the better. Otherwise, in their hopeless quest for what they take to be their due, the Clintons just might undo Obama’s chances to be President -- and therefore the world’s chance to be free of Cheney/Bush politics and, along with it, our chance to struggle against Clintonism in the most favorable circumstances currently available.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Of Mice and Men (and Women)

Last night’s debate in Philadelphia achieved what seemed impossible: it made earlier debates, especially the ones held before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, look good. Those very early debates were so crowded that the candidates’ remarks inevitably fell short on “depth.” But there were two genuinely progressive, though “unelectable,” candidates on stage back then, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel; and there was the “populist” John Edwards, who would have been electable had the corporate media not taken it upon themselves to marginalize his campaign. Thus there was at least mention of programs and issues that ought to be on the agenda now, and that would be if the Democrats were the opposition party they pretend to be. With the progressives gone, impeachment, immediate withdrawal from Iraq, single payer health insurance, fair play for Palestine and so on, went unmentioned. For anyone expecting a substantive debate, last night was, to put it mildly, a disappointment.

It was also an embarrassment. Does “democracy” really need all those annoying commercials! Even CNN wouldn’t stoop so low. But ABC would. Evidently, the Mouse (Disney, ABC) saw a chance to cash in on last night’s happenings. They seized the time.

In the good old days, when directors got bored with the candidates’ same old same old, they would turn their cameras longingly on Elizabeth Kucinich. Last night, it was Chelsea Clinton. That about says it all.

Watching the proceedings, I actually missed Wolff Blitzer. Disney’s (ABC’s) Charles Gibson makes him look like an intellectual titan. Gibson’s sidekick, George Stephanopolous, was no better. It didn’t help that the two of them were “fair and balanced” in the manner of Fox News, keeping the first third of the debate focused on the Clinton/McCain/corporate media non-issues of the recent past: Obama’s “bitterness” remark, his not wearing a flag pin in his lapel, the sermons of his pastor Jeremiah Wright, and his relations with Bill Ayers, formerly of the Weather Underground. What was going on? Could the Clintons have promised the Mouse a romp in the Lincoln bedroom? I wouldn’t put it past them.

In any case, Obama was on the defensive. He handled himself well enough. But, for those who still care about substance, he hardly distinguished himself from Hillary Clinton. When pressed repeatedly on the topics the Clintons, the Republicans and the corporate media refuse to let go, he failed again to state the obvious: that Wright’s “offensive” and “inflammatory” remarks were, for the most part, true; and that America’s gun culture and religiosity are insane. When the moderators asked questions that assumed Iran was a “menace” – to the tribal state of the Chosen People, and to American interests generally – he went along with that. As he did last Sunday in the “Compassion Forum,” he vied with Hillary for emoting over the merits of religiosity. He even joined her in praising George Bush’s Poppy. Obama knows better, of course; even the Clintons do. But when there are narratives to reinforce for the benefit of the economic elites they’re working for, and contributions to be gained by pandering to well-heeled constituencies, knowing better counts for squat. Thus, Obama’s positions, insofar as he is willing to say what they are, are very nearly as abject as Clinton’s.

Meanwhile, the irascible (but “maverick”) Bush Three continues to gain ground against both Democrats. Who can calculate how much harm the Clintons are doing just by not going away! Hillary will lose the nomination; and, on the whole, it’s a good thing that she will – if only because an Obama presidency will result in less of a full-fledged Clinton Restoration than a Hillary Clinton presidency would. But the Clintons are putting the lesser evil’s party’s prospects for victory in November in jeopardy, and for what – because they think they’re owed the office again.

Amazingly, the leadership of the Democratic Party refuses to stop them. If the Democrats somehow manage to defeat themselves again this November, don’t expect the Clintons to be blamed. Instead, expect the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, to gear up again to blame it on -- Ralph Nader.

Monday, April 14, 2008


There are obvious issues that the Democrats have made non-issues. Impeachment is an example; for that, we have pusillanimous Pelosiites in Congress to thank. Not for profit, single-payer health insurance is another; for that, thank Hillary Clinton’s success in marginalizing the concept in her corporate-friendly effort to reform health insurance in 1993, plus the continuing influence of insurance companies and other “interested” parties. Then there is immediate withdrawal from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s off the table because the Democratic Party, though it has lately become more dovish, is no more anti-imperialist than it was five years ago when many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, voted to authorize George Bush’s plans for perpetual war in oil-rich regions.

Then, on an entirely different order, there are Democratic taboos. Near the top of the list is any hint that perhaps Israel should be treated like other countries or that it should be held accountable for its violations of international law and basic standards of political morality. Until Bill Clinton broached the idea of privatizing social security, that last bastion of the New Deal was a taboo topic too. [Clinton was distracted from following through, thanks to problems arising from his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.] It is also taboo for Democrats to utter kind words about “socialism,” say, or to violate prevailing norms of “political correctness.” Then there is a taboo that dwarfs all of the others. It has to do with religion.

The conventional wisdom after 2004 was that the Democrats would have won the election had they not estranged themselves from people “of faith.” From the Clintonite bowels of the party, the call went out: Never Again! And so, until now, Democrats have worn unseemly professions of faith on their sleeves. At no time has this been more retchingly apparent than last night (April 13), when CNN hosted a “Compassion” forum at Messiah College in deepest Pennsylvania.

Despite Campbell Brown’s generous display of leg, I could not bring myself to watch for more than a few minutes. Hillary Clinton came on first, and it was just too soon after dinner. Then I realized that I might have to vote for Barack Obama some day or at least hope that others do, and that that would be a lot easier if I didn’t hear what he had to say. Besides, what matters is what the pundits think and, on Monday mornings, one can count on hearing the doyenne of conventional wisdom herself, the inimitable Cokie Roberts, on NPR. She was, as usual un-illuminating; but I did gather that both candidates were appropriately respectful of godliness, and that the speak-not-ill-of-religion taboo was scrupulously observed.

Will the time ever come that an American politician can say that “civility” towards beliefs that have been known for centuries to be unworthy of serious consideration and that do so much palpable harm is, as Barry Goldwater might have said, “no virtue”? For the time being, one can only hope. Thanks again, Democrats.

In the short run, look for Democratic obeisance to godliness to get even worse. The next few days should be especially ghastly -- with so many Catholic voters in Pennsylvania and Pope Benny on the way!

The Messiah College gibberish took on special significance after Obama’s remarks to a closed fund-raiser in San Francisco last week about how hard times have turned many rural and working class whites “bitter” –causing them to cling to pro-gun and anti-immigrant sentiments and also, God forbid (that anyone should say it!) to religion. This “gaffe” caused the Clintons to go into full-fledged denounce Obama as “condescending” mode. They also suggested that Obama had violated the taboo – with untoward consequences to follow. No matter that what he said, though uncharacteristically unnuanced, is generally true, as everyone, including the Clintons, know. No matter too that Obama’s celebrated explanation for black anger “expressed in the pulpit” made essentially the same points. Clintons will do whatever Clintons must do – for Clintons.

Despite the successes of CNN and the rest of the corporate and corporate-friendly (NPR) media in dumbing down the political culture, and notwithstanding the inanities he may have uttered last night at Messiah College, Obama’s San Francisco remarks give cause for hope. Obama presents himself as a convert to Christianity – from agnosticism. But what he said in San Francisco, with the spotlight (supposedly) off, gives (some) reason to hope that maybe, he’s less than sincere; that maybe he didn’t take quite as benighted a turn as he claims. Maybe Obama has taken to heart Edmund Gibbon’s praise in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire of the wisdom implicit in Roman antiquity, where “the various modes of worship that prevailed…. were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.” The Clintons know this too, of course; but, ardent panderers that they are, they are less inclined to take it into account at a policy level as they respect the mother of all debilitating Democratic taboos. That’s why, under a Clinton Restoration, the Bush dream of “faith-based” initiatives in all areas of life is more likely than under an Obama administration. In this respect, as in so many others, it is reasonable to hope that Obama, in office, would be a (slightly) lesser evil.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hurrah for Jimmy Carter (Again)!

Jimmy Carter has demonstrated, yet again, that, where Israel is concerned, a Democrat who would dare state the obvious or take obviously worthwhile initiatives must be at least a septuagenarian and harbor no political ambitions. This was the case when he pointed out that Israel has imposed an Apartheid system on occupied Palestine, a point many Israelis would concede. And it is the case again with his announcement that he will meet next week in Syria with Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas. According to a March poll published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, 64% of Israelis favor direct talks with Hamas. Why not? The siege of Gaza is not only politically and morally wrong (after all, Hamas won an indisputably free and fair election); it’s also a transparently failed policy – as European Union leaders and even top retired Israeli and American government officials concede. The Israeli blockade has created a severe humanitarian crisis, turning Gaza into an open air prison. One would think that the horror – directly affecting over a million and a half people -- would sway even the rankest of opportunists. But Democrats are worse than that. The Israel lobby will not countenance talks with Hamas until it recognizes Israel’s “right to exist,” not just in practice (as it already has) but in servile words (similar to those that the United States and Israel finally wrung out of the Palestinian Authority). As the lobby goes, so go Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Once again, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, shows its colors.

As befits the lesser evil party, Clinton’s and Obama’s statements on the Carter initiative have so far been less loathsome than John McCain’s. They’ve only said they “disagree” with Carter, not that they actively oppose what he’s trying to do. Needless to say, both Clinton and Obama know better. You don’t get as far as they’ve gotten by being stupid; only Republicans can do that. But, as Abba Eban might have said, the Clintons “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” to do the right thing, so long as the constituencies they pander to or the moneyed interests that support them object. That Hillary would distance herself, again, from Carter is therefore not surprising. Obama’s case is more complicated. Before he embarked upon a national political career, his position on Israel/Palestine seems to have been borderline reasonable. I’m not aware of any outright condemnation of the clear illegality of the Israeli occupation or of Israel’s failure to live up to the obligations of occupying powers under international law. But there is evidence that Obama expressed sympathy for Palestinian suffering. Watch for the Clintons and then the Republicans to use that bit of his past against him, and watch him then list even more egregiously towards the Morally Abominable Zone the Clintons inhabit.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Why Not Nader?

The Nader campaign has lately taken to castigating prominent liberals, the kind who should know better, for agreeing with Nader on the Iraq War, health care, Middle East policy and so on while supporting Barack Obama or, should it come to that, even Hillary Clinton. In a recent email, they specifically name Eric Alterman, Medea Benjamin, David Corn, Ariana Huffington, Robert Kuttner, Victor Navasky, Harold Meyerson, Morton Mintz, Wes Boyd, John Nichols, Katha Pollitt, Jesse Jackson, Matthew Rothschild, Bernie Sanders, Micah Sifry, Robert McChesney, James Fallows, Markos Moulitsas and Katrina vanden Heuvel. It is hardly surprising that some of the named individuals – for example, the ones associated with America’s flagship “progressive” journals, The Nation and The Progressive – are, as the email says, “cowardly” and “shameful.” They’ve been that way for years. Eric Alterman is an extreme case – in 2000 he supported Al Gore as vehemently as Gloria Steinem and Carl Pope – and he is adept at finding ways to position himself as a “liberal” while endorsing positions barely to the left of the Clintons. Jesse Jackson is also no stranger to the cowardly and shameful. Throughout the 80s, he organized and led a genuinely progressive, multi-racial movement, the Rainbow Coalition, that, after the 1988 primary season, he dissolved back into the bowels of the Democratic Party, where he himself has been happily ensconced ever since. However some of the people the Nader campaign castigates are more surprising: Robert McChesney, for example, and Medea Benjamin. What’s up with them?

I’d feel more comfortable with the Nader campaign’s castigations if, as in 2000, Nader was running to help build a “third” party, the Greens; and if, unlike in 2000, he endorsed a “safe states” strategy that wouldn’t increase the likelihood that a doddering and irascible Bush Three might actually become President – should the Democrats succeed again in finding a way to lose. To be sure, Nader has his reasons. The Green Party has been around for a long time and seems to be going nowhere. Why bother to run for its nomination? Also, if the idea is to impel Obama leftward, running only in safe states – states sure to fall into either the Democratic or Republican camp – diminishes the pressure on him. But these reasons are not compelling.

Contrary to what the Nader campaign suggests, our world is no longer relevantly like nineteenth century America. Back then, dissident third parties could grow strong regionally and sweep their ideas into the political mainstream. In the twenty-first century, institutional obstacles (especially to ballot access), new technologies and media concentration make duopolistic electoral contests more difficult to influence than they used to be. Elections do focus peoples’ minds on politics; therefore no sensible political organization can afford to ignore them. But it is far from clear that the best way to seize the opportunities they present is to run candidates in independent or third party ventures.

There are also two special problems facing a Nader campaign this year. First, the liberals, not just the ones the Nader campaign deems shameful, but the hordes of them to Alterman’s and Jackson’s right, have had it in for Nader since 2000. They’re wrong of course: Nader didn’t spoil Gore’s chances the way the Clintons are now spoiling Obama’s. Gore did that to himself. But, no matter: it’s what they believe that counts. “Liberals” mobilized against Nader in 2000; in 2008, if he were somehow to break free from marginality (as he did not in 2004), they’d mobilize all the more and with greater vehemence. The other factor is even more disabling: it is that Obama, because he is a hundredfold more charismatic than Gore or Kerry, draws enthusiasts from precisely those sectors of the population that an independent left-wing campaign needs – from the young (who propelled Nader on in 2000) and from African Americans (where he never got much traction). Electoral campaigns can be educational, and these constituencies do need to be “educated.” But it is far from obvious that the way to educate them is to run a candidate against the one they’re enthusiastically determined to elect.

Still, given that Nader is in the mix, I imagine I will continue to support his campaign financially, and perhaps even to vote for him. I cannot imagine bringing myself to vote for Hillary Clinton. For reasons I’ve explained countless times in these postings, Obama is a (slightly) different story. Because I live in a “safe” state, I will probably feel, when November comes around, that I won’t have to vote for Obama, though I would if I had to. But I’m not entirely comfortable with this: it’s only luck that enables me to avoid voting for the least bad neo-liberal imperialist in the running. Since not voting for Obama will serve no other purpose than avoiding doing something personally distasteful, it seems self-indulgent to take advantage of the situation. But I probably will take advantage of it, nevertheless. Does that mean that I would vote for Nader again? Not necessarily. If the Greens nominate Cynthia McKinney or, better yet, someone a little less nutty and to her left, I might vote for the Green candidate instead – for the sake of the party building Nader has forsaken.

It is worth pointing out, though, that I still wouldn’t be voting my “conscience,” as the Nader campaign urges everyone to do. Nader (and Green) politics is up-dated New Deal politics – pro-worker and anti-corporate, but not anti-capitalist. If the idea is to vote one’s dreams, it is relevant that some of us have more radical dreams than the Nader campaign or the Green Party. Still what they promote is better by far than what an Obama presidency will bring, even if all the (audacious) hopes some liberals have for it come true. Therefore, if we could get from here to there by voting for Nader or McKinney or whoever else the Green Party nominates, it would be wonderful. But so long as we don’t have what other “democracies” have – proportional representation or at least run-off elections (or their functional equivalents), easy ballot access and real public financing of electoral campaigns – voting for the better, when the better is not a Democrat, is more often than not a non-starter. For Nader or Green politics to prevail or even to gain significant influence, social movements, not elections, are key.

Elections can be helpful, of course, in some circumstances – for building organizations and for promoting marginalized ideas. Whatever liberals think, those circumstances existed in 2000. Nader owes no one any apologies for that; it was the Democrats, not Ralph Nader, who loosed Dick Cheney and George Bush upon us. I’m much less sure that the conditions are propitious now. This is emphatically not a reason to support Obama uncritically, the way so many liberals now do. But it may be a reason to vote for him, where there is no better way to vote against McCain. It may also be a reason not to expend much energy or to dissipate scarce resources on someone running against him, even if it is someone whose politics are much better. No doubt, many liberals (including most of the individuals the Nader campaign has named) have come to this conclusion out of cowardice; no doubt their stance is shameful. But there are other ways to arrive at the same conclusion, and it is not at all a sure thing that the conclusion is wrong.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Working Class Hero

The word is finally out: Hillary, the working class hero, had a family income of $109 million in the last eight years. Evidently,the Clintons have figured out how to cash in like Cheneys and generations of Bushes. Now that the union’s inspiration runs through Hillary’s blood, maybe she’ll be moved to organize her comrades: Political Profiteers of America, Unite!

In addition, it turns out that Hillary, the feminist hero, got most of her loot through her loving husband’s efforts; though, to be fair, she did pick up a hefty batch of it on her own. But it’s Bill who has the Midas touch. Read all about it here. In part, he followed in the path of the Reagans and the Bushes: getting rich (or, in the case of the others, richer) off ghost-written memoirs and shady business deals with sleazy “donors.” But nearly half of his ill-gotten gains come from speaking fees! It seems that he charges $150K a pop, and sometimes much more. Wall Street has been especially eager to stuff his copious pockets.

Since a normal person would rather pay not to hear the Slickster than to listen to him, one has to wonder. To be rich enough to pay fees like Bill Clinton demands, a captain of High Finance or Industry (if there are any left) would have to be a little bit smart; if not, our economy is in even bigger trouble than we think. Maybe some of the money is payback; honor among thieves. But being in the thrall of the bottom line, the Clintons’ benefactors must also think that they’re getting their money’s worth. Could it just be that they’ve been betting on a dynastic succession and an ensuring Clintonite Restoration? Perhaps; but then how explain the corresponding enrichment of Reagan and Bush? In the early nineties, when Poppy Bush was raking it in big time, no one would have imagined that his simpleton son would ever become the Decider-in-Chief. And Reagan’s offspring are good for nothing -- except, in the case of one of the family’s several black sheep, punditry. Maybe some day some smart investigative journalist will ferret out the details.

Here’s the good news, though: in just a few weeks, workers (and others) in Pennsylvania can make it true that our titans of high finance f…ed up again – that they might as well have flushed the money they paid Bill Clinton down the toilet! It couldn’t happen to nicer people! But can Obama make Pennsylvanians see what they need to do to stick it to the Clintons’paymasters? It isn’t likely, given the extent to which they’re his paymasters too. But, for the next few weeks, we can take consolation in the thought that it’s still not too late to hope – “audaciously.”

Friday, April 4, 2008

Hillary's "Demographics"

Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee were too clever by half: they scheduled the primaries in order to select a nominee (Hillary Clinton) by February. But their best laid plans went astray. It ain’t over yet and although Clinton can’t win, at least not fair and square, her contest with Obama is likely to continue for a long time, perhaps even into the national convention in Denver. She who was once deemed “inevitable” has turned out only to be unstoppable. To paraphrase an observation of Stephen Colbert’s, cut off her head and she still keeps coming at you.

This has meant that the media have had to deal with a long spate of empty time before the Pennsylvania primary. How to fill it? One way, when nothing more interesting comes along, is to talk about Clinton’s – and Obama’s – “demographics.” She, we are told, appeals to the elderly, Catholics (by which they mean socially conservative “ethnic” voters), Latinos, and trade unionists. Obama appeals to African-Americans and to “liberals” (by which they mean well-educated, affluent voters), especially young ones. The conventional wisdom is that since there are more of the former than the latter in Pennsylvania, Clinton will win the state, but that she won’t win by enough to give her any chance of beating Obama in the popular vote nationally or in the national delegate (and super-delegate) count.

Suppose the conventional wisdom is right. What does it tell us about the electorate? Since Clinton and Obama hardly differ on “the issues,” and since the Clintons in power and then Hillary in the Senate did bupkiss for elderly, ethnic, Latino or union voters, it is hard to understand why she has the “demographics” she purportedly does. Women who will settle for just about any woman are one thing, but how account for the rest?

Obama’s support is also hard to understand, though there is at least a detectable rationale behind it. His prattle about “change” resonates with many voters. Fair enough, given what they seem to think he means. But there’s little reason to think that Obama will deliver for them. Little reason, but not, as in Hillary’s case, none at all. At a rhetorical level, Obama, the Great Inspirer, is more likely than she is to open up a space in the political culture for social movements to his left, and more likely to be dragged along by them.

But this is only a hope. The enthusiasm of obamamaniacs notwithstanding, Obama is a neo-liberal imperialist, not a Messiah. Compared to the other neo-liberal imperialist candidates, Hillary and John McCain, he is undoubtedly the lesser evil. But the jury is still out on how much of a lesser evil he is.

As I’ve written countless times before, the Democrats and the country need to settle accounts with the real high crimes and misdemeanors of the Clinton era – not the philandering and prevaricating, but the bombing, the Iraq sanctions, the illegal wars. I doubt that Obama can be carried that far along. But an Obama presidency will likely amount to less of a Clintonite Restoration than a Hillary presidency would. That’s not a trivial difference, and it’s reason enough to hope he beats her for good.

Still, the prospect of a turn to the left under Obama’s aegis is an almost groundless hope. Yet there are many “progressive” people and organizations who should know better who declare themselves pro-Obama, not just anti-Hillary. I don’t get it. Have they forgotten about “critical support”? For all practical purposes, we may be stuck with the bad choices our party duopoly offers us, but we surely don’t have to support them with more enthusiasm than they deserve.

This brings me back to Hillary’s “demographics.” The obvious explanation is that white working class people are more racist than white liberals. But this is a self-congratulatory canard. We white liberals are as racist as anybody; and, in any case, it doesn’t seem that Obama’s racial “identity” is a problem for most of Hillary’s supporters. I think that if what we are being told about Hillary’s demographics is correct, the explanation has more to do with good, old-fashioned culture conflict than anything else. Remarkably, in view of what her public persona used to be, Hillary has become the standard bearer for folks who don’t like snooty liberals or youthful idealists all that much. But there’s no reason why she should be their candidate more than Obama or why all Democratic voters, along with others too, can’t “all just get along.” If the divide the media speak of is real, given money enough and time, Obama should be able to win Hillary’s constituencies over.

I suspect, though, that the media have got it wrong, for a change; that Obama is already doing well among voters in Hillary’s purported demographic. This may just be wishful thinking; it would not be the first time that I’ve hoped, against the odds, that somebody would trounce the Clintons. Unfortunately, we’ll never know for sure because in our political culture, media prophecies have a way of becoming self-fulfilling. It wouldn’t be this way if we had a more intellectually serious and politically responsible media culture; in other words, if the corporate and corporate-friendly media weren’t calling the shots. But, if that were the case, we’d have better ways than voting for Obama to combat Clintonism too.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"None of Your Business"

Almost anything Mel Brooks’ Two Thousand Year Old Man had to say was wiser by far than the distilled wisdom of two thousand media pundits. It was the Two Thousand Year Old Man who laid bare the essence of patriotism when he recalled his cave’s National Anthem – “Let ‘em all go to hell, except Cave 76.” It was the Two Thousand Year Old Man who made clear how politics, along with almost everything else, “stems from fear.” Yes, Hobbes said it too, but Mel Brooks said it better. The Two Thousand Year Old Man also said, of American Presidents, that they “gotta do it,” and that “if they don’t do it with their wives or girl friends, they’ll do it to the country.” Remarkably, he said that in the Kennedy (or was it the Johnson?) era, before the proof afforded by the examples of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But his insight has not yet registered at CNN and MSNBC [or, I suppose, at Fox News, but who has the stomach to find out!]. Thus the current flurry over Chelsea Clinton’s responses to derogatory questions about her father’s philandering. A truly wise pundit would say that the problem was that he didn’t philander enough.

Instead, the media pundits say that Chelsea Clinton needs a better answer than it’s “none of your business,” when someone asks her about Monica Lewinsky. [It’s interesting that the folks who come to Clinton campaign events ask Chelsea about la Lewinsky, not her mother!] To be sure, media pundits have a daunting task: since they’re on 24/7, they have to come up with a continuous stream of inanities that seem timely and fresh, while remaining within the confines of conventional wisdom. But the latest hair-splitting about what in “the Lewinsky affair” is and is not “our business” is over the top. The plain fact is that, on this, if on little else, Chelsea is right; just as surely as the plain fact is that, notwithstanding another pundit consensus, Reverend Wright was (almost, but not completely) right as well.

[Another plain fact, unthinkable to Obama enthusiasts as much as to media pundits, is that Wright’s ostensibly “inflammatory” remarks have almost nothing to do with race; except in the sense that “black liberation theologians” are more disposed than people on CNN and MSNBC or Obama fans to speak the truth – that is, when they’re not endorsing the illusions that make them theologians rather than straightforward advocates of liberation.]

But being right that it’s “none of your business” doesn’t let Chelsea off the hook. If she’s going to be a surrogate for her mother, then, since her mother is running largely on the “experience” she got as her father’s partner in “governance,” and since there’s no political space between Chelsea’s parents, it is appropriate to ask about the public consequences of her father’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. So far, no one has done anything of the sort

The question is appropriate because, for good or ill, Bill Clinton is no John Kennedy. By all accounts, JFK was a more proficient and prodigious cocksman. But he was also a first class compartmentalizer. There is now much that is known about his presidency; none of it suggests that either his amorous adventures or his many and extreme medical problems (and the medications he took for them) affected his political decision-making even a little bit. Not so with Chelsea’s dad.

I’m not just thinking of those timely bombing raids on pharmaceutical factories and the like in Somalia and Afghanistan. Arguably, they were caused as much by (bad) “actionable” intelligence as by personal pique or the need to “wag the dog.” But what about Social Security? Bill Clinton was on the way to privatizing it, in accord with the wishes of his Wall Street cronies. As a Democrat, he just might have been able to pull it off. Fortunately, the “distraction” of Monicagate got in the way. Thus Monica Lewinsky inadvertently did her country much good; we are all in her debt.

In this respect, it is fair game to compare her, the other woman, with the official wife; and it is therefore fair, if she puts herself in the line of fire, to ask for the former first daughter’s opinion. What good does Chelsea think her mother did, intentionally or not, that compares with the good Monica Lewinsky did? Since, in her one quasi-official role, Chelsea’s mom permanently marginalized the very idea of single-payer not for profit health insurance while setting back the cause of universal coverage for a generation, I suspect Chelsea would have a hard time coming up with a plausible answer. “None of your business” just might be the best she -- or her mother or, for that matter, any Clinton supporter -- can concoct. In a slightly less dumbed down political culture, it wouldn’t get her off the hook. But it might be good enough for ours.