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.

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