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.

1 comment:

Mr.Natural said...

EGG-SLENT thinking and writing, thank you! I am going to blog this over at my angry poli blog with a link back here to you!