Friday, May 30, 2008

The Impending "Brooks Sisters Riot"

How ironic that less than a week after the premier of “Recount” on HBO, with its graphic reenactment of “the Brooks Brothers riot” that interrupted the hand counting of votes in Palm Beach County, Florida, another Brooks Brothers (or is it “Sisters”) demonstration-riot is brewing – organized, this time, by persons whom we can presume to have been Al Gore supporters. It will take place tomorrow, Saturday, in Washington as the Democratic Party’s Rules and By-Laws Committee meets to decide what to do about the Florida and Michigan delegations. We owe this reenactment to the Clintons. Evidently, they have forgotten Karl Marx’s amply corroborated observation that when history repeats itself, the first time is tragedy, the second farce. The Republican operatives mobilized eight years ago by James Baker and other Bush family fixers ultimately got their way. Not only were the Gore forces inept; Baker & Co. had already lined up Tony “Two Vote” Scalia and his co-“thinkers” on the Supreme Court in order to preempt all rules and by-laws. The ladies pouring into DC are up against a more competent political operation than Al Gore mustered, and there are no Supremes this time eager to supersede what little democratic governance our “founders” bequeathed us. Thus Scalia’s sneering advice to the American people, “get over it,” applies in this instance. The Hillary fans will just be acting out, much like their grand daughters might. It is fitting, I suppose; after all, it is for their sake, they say, that they’ll do whatever it takes to hand the nomination to Hillary Clinton, the “role model” who got where she is by hard work and indomitable pluck and, oh yes, by being a wife and not only that, a wife who stands by her philandering husband.

The Clintons and their boosters want all the votes from Florida and Michigan to count (no matter that they thought otherwise when they still thought they would end the primary season ahead in delegates), so that they can change the goal posts (again) to a point where they can make a barely plausible argument to the “super delegates” to cast good sense aside in order to give the nomination to Hillary. It’s the Clintons’ only chance – so long as no disaster (hint!, hint!) befalls Obama. This is not only farcical; it is disgraceful – not for the Clintons (that would be impossible because there is nothing they have not disgraced already), but for politically active Democratic women of a certain age. From the Raging Grannies and the Grey Panthers to lets call them “War Democrats are Us.” Who would have thought!

I confess, though, that I like the theatrics, and hope it continues – all the way to Denver. The more obstinate the Clintons become and the more obstreperous their supporters are the better. The harder they’ll fall. Let them compare their quest to the struggle for Civil Rights in the South or for “democracy” in Zimbabwe. Yes, Obama, the lesser evil, may need Hillary’s ardent supporters on his side when the Swift Boaters get back into business full time. But probably not. Even our benighted electorate has no taste, at this point, for a John McBush III. In any case, if our politics can’t be bold and visionary or even serious, at least let it be entertaining!

In a slightly better possible world, the Bush crime family would long ago have been impeached and the worst among them would be doing hard time in orange jump suits. In that same world, Bill Clinton would be brought to justice for his actionable offenses – his murderous sanctions in Iraq, his illegal wars in Yugoslavia, his wanton bombing of defenseless Third World countries for the sake of political expediency. That won’t happen, however; not with our Democrats. Ignominious defeat for his official wife is the most justice that Bill Clinton will ever see. It isn’t much, but it’s not to be despised. In any case, it’s a necessary stage in the most urgent, feasible political task of the present conjuncture: the liberation of the Democratic Party and the larger political culture from the dreadful legacy of Clintonism.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Yet Again, Carter Dares Utter the Unutterable

Over the weekend, at a press conference in the UK, Jimmy Carter “revealed” that Israel has at least 150 nuclear weapons. Israel has never admitted to having any, though no one doubts that it does. Nevertheless it tries hard to keep the facts from view. Mordecai Vanunu can testify to that. Since 1986, when he delivered indisputable evidence of Israel’s nuclear program to The Times of London, Israel has persecuted him relentlessly, turning his case into an international cause cel├Ębre. But Carter did say one thing that is not widely known -- the number 150. He also said that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is “one of the greatest human rights crimes now existing on Earth.”

Now watch the Democrats squirm and watch Barack Obama distance himself from the former President as surely as if he were Obama’s former pastor who also let some “outrageous” and “inflammatory” but perfectly obvious truths sneak into his preaching. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Obama might not do literally anything to win; but he’ll do a great deal.

Could it be that for a Democrat to say true things about subjects the party holds taboo, he has to have already been President? That would be a plausible conjecture but for the obvious counter-example. But then Bill Clinton still has a dog in the fight. [In order not to further enrage the good women of Clinton Supporters Count Too, I’ll refrain from using the correct, sex-specific term.] Also, not being beyond being on the make, not just in the obvious way but financially and politically as well, Clinton is far less able than the octogenarian Carter to free himself from the constraints that tie down would-be players. But whatever it is in his situation that frees Jimmy Carter from the need to pander to the Party’s paymasters is, at most, only a necessary condition for his possession of that rarest of body parts in a politician, a backbone. The decisive thing is his character; the fact that he is a man of decency and integrity -- much as it grieves me to say this about someone whose politics has always been, at best, just barely centrist. So Bravo, yet again, to Jimmy Carter – not only the best former President the Democrats have going, but also the best Democratic President in many a generation, not that Bill Clinton or LBJ or the overrated but “inspiring” JFK or the vastly overrated and thoroughly uninspiring Harry Truman give him a whole lot of competition. Just don’t expect to see much of him this summer in Denver.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Where There's Death, There's Hope

Is Hillary losing it – not just the nomination, but “it.” To be sure, when bad reactions started pouring in, she did “clarify” the comments she made yesterday in South Dakota about Robert Kennedy’s assassination. But, even then, she was mainly concerned to apologize to the Kennedy family, which of course is troubled enough these days without this. As to the great fear of many, especially many African-Americans, that Barack Obama, having risen so high and raised so many hopes, will go the way of others before him, she seems almost oblivious.

Given how careless of human life abroad the Clintons have always been, and how determined they are to win at any cost, one might almost suppose that they’ve set plans in motion. But their villainy is not that stupendous – even Nixon’s wasn’t -- and, anyway, they know they’d get caught. Is tiredness, then, the explanation, as many commentators think? Perhaps. But I think it’s more likely that, like some of her admirers, Hillary Clinton just can’t process that it’s over; she can’t stand to lose.

Friday, May 23, 2008

It's the Politics, Grannies

A day in the life of the Democratic Party: yesterday, Barack Obama spoke in a synagogue in Boca Raton, proclaiming his eternal fidelity to the Jewish state. It seems that some of my tribesmen fear that, given his background and ethnicity, Obama might be less supportive than Hillary (or John McCain) of Israel’s on-going ethnic cleansing. But the publicity his speech got, at least on NPR, paled before the news about “Clinton Supporters Count Too,” an organization of Hillary fans up in arms about what they regard as the “misogyny” of pundits, and the anti-Hillary bias of Democratic Party leaders. These good women, it seems, have vowed to stick with Hillary to the bitter end – even to the point of not voting for Barack Obama or holding their breaths till they faint or something similarly “mature.”

They have a point. After all, what does it matter that Hillary set back the cause of universal health care for a generation, permanently marginalized the very idea of single payer, not for profit, health insurance, voted to authorize Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and, looking forward to the next few months, his longed for war against Iran; or that, to the extent she gained “experience” being Bill Clinton’s wife she helped him dismantle the New Deal, wage a war (in Yugoslavia) as illegal as any Bush War, kill about a million Iraqis through sanctions, drop bombs recklessly on helpless people whenever it seemed politically expedient, and on and on. All of that pales before the fact that a few pundits, most of them from Fox News, have made a few sexist remarks -- or that the voters have had the temerity to deny these women’s grand-daughters a role model to show them that they too can grow up to be Whores of AIPAC.

Much of what CSCT cites as evidence is indeed objectionable. But some of it is true. [There’s a certain parallel here with most of Reverend Wright’s “outrageous” comments.] For instance, CSCT is especially exercised over Chris Matthews’ remark, on “Hardball” on MSNBC, that Hillary is where she is because of how she withstood Bill’s philandering. Surely, that’s at least part of the story; the other part is how she got her vaunted “experience” being a First Lady, an official wife. I pointed out long ago that, by that standard, Mamie Eisenhower would have been an even better candidate. Be that as it may, isn’t it odd that second wave feminists – not just the ones who won’t vote for Obama if they don’t get their way, but sensible ones too, like Pat Schroeder (on NPR this morning) – can’t praise Hillary’s “qualifications” enough.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Some time ago, I remarked on how odd it is that the media assigned the bad guys – the even worse guys, that is – the color red. No doubt the graphics departments at our crack news organizations are populated by citizens of what Gore Vidal has aptly called the United States of Amnesia. Lately, it has gotten even worse. Now entire news organizations have emigrated into the same territory, and not just with respect to color words. They have even forgotten what “the working class” is.

In the good old days of just a few months ago, the media consensus was that there is no working class anymore. Everybody was “middle class” -- as in Bill Clinton’s quickly forgotten promise of 1992, to make things better for “the great forgotten middle class.” That charming thought allowed Clinton to neglect working class issues, while keeping working class organizations more or less in tow. It allowed him, along with nearly all our political leaders for many decades, to deny the reality of an historical antagonist to the capitalist mode of production; to see everyone without regard to their place in the economic structure as a consumer only – one with more or less (usually more) disposable income to spend.

But at least Bill Clinton didn’t mess too much with the meaning of the word he avoided using. Where words still mean what they say, the working class is comprised of wage workers – typically, but not necessarily, in industrial enterprises. It does not include small farmers, shop owners, independent producers and the like; though all these groups may, and often do, ally with the working class in particular times and places. It was in reference to the working class, so conceived, that, for more than a century and a half, people have spoken of working class culture, working class organizations (industrial and trade unions) and working class political organizations (Communist, Social Democratic, and Laborite). In this last respect, the United States has always been an outlier. We have never had a significant political party representing, or purporting to represent, working class interests. That task has long been assumed by the feckless POP -- the Party of Pusillanimity, the Democratic Party – for which workers in general, and organized labor in particular, were just one constituency among many.

Lately, though, the wordsmiths in charge of dumbing down political discourse in these United States of Amnesia have surreptitiously redefined the term – to designate rural, poorly educated white people, living mainly, but not necessarily, in Appalachia. You’re working class, on this view, if you favor Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama because you think he’s a Muslim. For the long legged beauties and cartoon character older men who pontificate on the cable networks, “working class” and “redneck” have almost become synonymous.

How did this happen? Since the myth of the great forgotten middle class is still serviceable, I think that blame must be ascribed to the media’s grip on what the Right still calls “political correctness.” Nobody dares say that the Clintons are trying -- probably in vain, though at great cost to Obama’s chances of victory in November -- to mobilize “white trash” by appealing to their latent racism. Because no one dares say such things or use such words, the Clintons can have it both ways. They can capitalize on racist attitudes; and they can present themselves as working class heroes – notwithstanding the fact that, in two terms in office, Bill Clinton did nothing, repeat nothing, for organized labor or, for that matter, for the ever growing numbers of workers who no longer benefit from union protection or who, even in better times, never did.

A government that would help the working class organize, that would foster the revitalization of working class culture, that would help workers rise, as Eugene Debs long ago said, “with their class not out of it,” is what this country needs. What it does not need are Clintonites and pundits who cut Clintonites too much slack who are hell-bent on redefining the working class to mean “uneducated,” “uninformed,” “unsophisticated” and bigoted. That’s false of most real workers and of most residents of Appalachia. It is insulting to both, and overly complementary towards people who live in “blue” states and who have college educations. But it is a useful thought for those who are, as Samantha Power, late of the Obama campaign, aptly put it, “monsters” who will “do anything to win.”

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The Cheney/Bush government announced that it has promised to provide Saudi Arabia with enriched uranium, thereby giving the prospect of nuclear proliferation a major boost. At the same time, it has stepped up its saber rattling towards Iran – targeting its (perfectly legal) uranium enrichment program. It bears mention that the semi-feudal, obscenely rich Saudi state rules over a land awash in terrorists of the kind the Cheney/Bush government ostensibly opposes – to the point of waging “war” against them (or their methods; that part has never been clear). Saudi Arabia was the birthplace of most of the 9/11 terrorists and, of course, Osama Bin Laden. Meanwhile, Iran has not initiated wars against its neighbors in centuries, and none of the 9/11 terrorists came from there. Moreover, there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear program under way; quite the contrary, there is good reason to think that it does not. The real question is why it doesn’t, since Iran’s need for a nuclear deterrent is genuine -- being surrounded by unfriendly and overtly hostile nuclear powers: India, Pakistan, Russia, Israel and, of course, the United States.

No awareness of this craziness registers in the public remarks of Barack Obama or, needless to say, Hillary Clinton. Clinton, especially, salivates at the thought of war with Iran, much like John McCain, her alter ego. But then what would one expect of a Democrat more than usually intent on winning the hearts --and wallets -- of the Israel lobby?

This is all the more reason why it is also crazy, at this point, for anyone not in the thrall of Obamaniac illusions, to applaud the nauseating niceness Obama and his supporters are lavishing upon the Clintons. The Obama campaign’s position is at least understandable. Recent primaries, especially those in West Virginia and Kentucky, show that racist attitudes are still virulent enough to spell trouble for their candidate in November, at least in some parts of the country. But why would anyone not militating for Obama also heap praise on that wretched family? No doubt, there are Hillary enthusiasts out there who can make trouble and must be appeased. But most of the pundits who shape what passes for public discourse in this country have never liked the Clintons very much. Why do they find Hillary’s unwillingness to throw in the towel so admirable? Here is a particularly ludicrous illustration from the May 20th Washington Post. To be sure, Richard Cohen is a silly man and a dreadfully inept “thinker.” But swooning over Hillary’s “toughness” is over the top, even for him. Hillary is not tough in any admirable sense of the term; she’s childishly obstinate. Perhaps she appeals most to the elderly, but her staying in the race at this point is infantile. A Freudian might well deem her behavior borderline narcissistic.

More serious pundits than Cohen – Tim Russert, for example, during the coverage of the election results from Kentucky and Oregon on MSNBC – claim that the Clintons are “positioning” Hillary for something, they know not what. It has even been suggested that she could be the next Ted Kennedy – a liberal “icon” in the Senate. That’s crazy too. Kennedys are glamorous and tragic figures; Clintons are sleazy. Kennedys, Ted anyway, genuinely are liberals; the Clintons, Hillary and Bill, are rank opportunists. The tragedy is that Bill Clinton will never be brought to justice for his actionable offenses – his crimes against the peace and against humanity in Iraq, Yugoslavia and elsewhere – and that the Clinton family will never be made to pay for the political harms it has done. How much “credit” Hillary can take for completing the “Reagan Revolution” and preparing the way for George W. Bush is debatable, but it is beyond doubt that she set the cause of universal health care coverage back a generation, while permanently marginalizing the eminently sound idea of single payer, not for profit, health insurance.

Therefore, lets do what we can to quash the niceness. Lets do what we must to get the Clintons out of our public life. That would not nearly suffice to do Clintonism in, but it would be a start. Were it somehow to happen, the Clintons would no doubt spend the rest of their lives enriching themselves, rather than wallowing in the infamy they deserve. It’s a galling thought. But it would be a small price to pay for seeing the backs of them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Wrecker

By all accounts, Hillary Clinton will win big tonight in Kentucky and Barack Obama will win well enough in Oregon to assure him a majority of pledged delegates. By all accounts, the Clintons will then just keep on going – through the three remaining primaries (Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico) and maybe beyond – not for any principled political reason (unless accommodating second wave feminists counts as a principle), but for their own psychological reasons, reasons of no interest to anyone except perhaps themselves.

Richard Nixon’s historical criminality, like his own inner torment, had a certain Shakespearean quality. He was a great villain. Bill Clinton’s villainy – in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Somalia and elsewhere – was considerable but only a pale approximation of Nixon’s. He is a much less interesting figure too: not tragic, not sublimely evil – just base and petulant. His wife follows in the mold, maybe even ratcheting up her husband’s petulance and certainly his baseness. She’s more tiresome too. The world, the country, and especially the Democratic Party would be well done with both of them. Unfortunately, that won’t happen any time soon. Even as her campaign crashes, Hillary will still be the Senator from New York, and Bill will still be the money machine he’s turned into thanks to his political “friends.” Barack Obama, like other Clintonized Democrats, is hell bent on “appeasing” that dreadful family. No chance, therefore, that their party will turn on them, even to the extent that, to its everlasting shame, it has turned on Jimmy Carter for daring to state the obvious about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Liberal Democrats are a sorry lot. When Ralph Nader campaigned for progressive but not especially radical policies – for what was essentially an up-dated New Deal style program – they fell on him tooth and nail. They are still after him; trying now, as much as in 2000, to stifle his and other progressive voices. Their methods haven’t changed: they concoct legal obstacles to ballot access, then they see to it that the media ignores their candidacies. If that fails, as it did to some extent in 2000, they move into full-scale attack mode, hauling out their biggest liberal guns. With Obama, unlike Al Gore, fooling many of the people all of the time, they’ll probably not need to go that far this year. But even as they recognize how utterly hopeless and harmful the Clintons’ quest for personal power has become, they will continue to cut that family all the slack in the world. Hillary is a wrecker, something Nader never was. Nevertheless, should the Democrats somehow manage to lose this year, he, along with other genuine progressives, will be blamed for wrecking --and she wont. This column, by Eric Alterman, The Nation’s most Clintonian commentator illustrates the phenomenon perspicuously. It should be remembered that Alterman was among the most dedicated of the liberal Nader baiters.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dream Ticket

In recent days, but especially after the West Virginia primary, many pundits and a few politicians have been calling for an Obama-Clinton ticket, a so-called “dream ticket.” Among the most egregious of the politicians is the venerable Mario Cuomo. Cuomo is always disappointing because he looks and sounds like he should know better -- like a shrewd Italian or Irish liberal of yesteryear. But he never gets it right. Putting Hillary Clinton on the ticket would wed Obama to Clintonism even more than he already is. What Cuomo calls a dream ticket would in fact be a nightmare.

Should it come to pass, it should, but probably won’t, drive many of those who harbor hopes for an Obama presidency into the arms of the Green Party or Ralph Nader. That would not be a bad thing if, by November, the Republicans remain squelched -- as they now seem to be after Travis Childer’s victory in last Tuesday’s special election in a solidly Republican congressional district in Mississippi. An electoral insurgency to the left of the Democratic Party is always welcome; especially at this historical watershed. But its benefits would hardly counter the harm of a Clinton semi-restoration.

Meanwhile, after John Edwards’ endorsement of Obama yesterday in Grand Rapids, and after his substantial showing in West Virginia (where, while not running, he won 7% of the vote!), the prospect of a more suitable “dream ticket” has been given new life. Edwards could energize organized labor, and he could help Obama gain a foothold with those white ethnic voters we’ve lately been hearing so much about. From a strictly electoral point of view, tapping him for VP is probably wiser than bringing a “national security” Democrat on board, as many pundits have been recommending. From a moral and political point of view, it’s obviously preferable. To be sure, it’s far from clear that Edwards would draw Obama to the left, rather than vice versa; but it’s not out of the question. In any event, it would be salutary for the Democratic Party and the country to have someone on the ticket more nearly in line with the policy aspirations of the majority of Democratic voters.

Edwards’ endorsement speech was a variant of his old stump speech about the two Americas; less inspiring perhaps than a Barack Obama speech, but more substantive and, of course, more progressive. He started out, though, with a now obligatory paean to Hillary. It was more than a little nauseating. The one good thing was the booing her mention elicited; booing that Obama, by Edwards’ side, did all he could to quiet. Booing is hardly adequate recompense for authorizing Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and now, with the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, in Iran as well! It’s even less suitable “punishment” for her one quasi-official role in her husband’s administration – where she succeeded in permanently marginalizing the very idea of single-payer, not for profit health insurance, while setting back the cause of universal coverage for a generation.

But to the extent that she wants to take credit for her husband’s presidency, as she has repeatedly throughout the primary season, the booing in Grand Rapids was grotesquely inadequate. Bill Clinton’s efforts to continue the “Reagan Revolution” by dismantling our increasingly feeble welfare state institutions and by deregulating everything in sight was bad enough. So too were his preparations for Bush II – for the so-called “war on terror” (actually, on civil liberties and other traditional freedoms), his unilateralism, and his disregard for international law. But then there are the actionable offenses – like killing roughly a million Iraqis through sanctions, bombing Afghanis, Somalis and others for the sake of political expediency, and aiding in the dismantling of Yugoslavia and in the ethnic cleansings and civil wars that proto-neocon policy engendered.

The Democrats won’t even impeach Cheney and Bush, let alone bring them and the other criminals in their administration to justice. They certainly won’t come to terms with the political shortcomings and blatant criminality of the Clinton years. But the facts are what they are. Booing Hillary – as the Obama (and Edwards) forces set out to make nice to her, is a ridiculously lame response. But at least it points in the right direction. It offers some reason to hope that the Clintons really can’t fool all of the Democrats all of the time.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Stakes

I have been arguing recently – for example, here -- that the effort to wrest the Democratic nomination away from Hillary Clinton is only an indispenable first step in an urgently needed struggle to rid the Democratic Party and the political scene generally of Clintonism. I have been arguing too that an Obama presidency, though obviously preferable to a McCain presidency, by no means assures Clintonism’s demise – because Obama is, like most Democrats, a Clintonite.

I have also argued that Clintonism pervades the Democratic Party, and that its virulence explains the betrayal of the aspirations of the voters who gave the Democrats control of the House and Senate in 2006. It was in this context that, in earlier entries, I identified what I called “Pelosiism,” an especially pernicious form of Clintonism – “progressive” in its self-representations, Clintonite in its content.

Lest anyone doubt how thoroughly Pelosiite the Democratic Party has become, with or without a Clinton at its helm, consider the charade now going on in Congress. The Democrats – eager, as always, to “support” the troops by keeping them in harm’s way -- are about to give Bush and Cheney more than $70 billion additional dollars to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through January, when, if all goes well, Barack Obama will assume office. As they have so many times before, they are making a show of opposition – by launching yet another attempt to attach a meaningless stipulation for a withdrawal date to the bill, and by trying to sneak in funding for social programs. Because Bush has threatened to veto anything that constrains him at all, the Democrats have held up the vote for a short while. But count on them to cave, giving Bush everything he wants. Count on them also self-righteously to protest his machinations. This is more than hypocrisy; it’s plain, unmitigated bad faith. What could be more fundamentally dishonest than for Nancy Pelosi and some other Democratic “leaders” to say that they will not vote for the bill Bush will finally sign, even as they work diligently to assure its passage!

Shirley Golub is running a brave campaign against Nancy Pelosi in her Congressional district in San Francisco. She has encountered resistance, not just from party hacks but also from corporate malefactors – most recently Comcast, which has refused to run her political advertisements. Her campaign deserves support. BUT Golub is wrong to hold that Pelosi does what she does – and doesn’t do what she should (like put the impeachment of Dick Cheney and George Bush “on the table”) -- because she is a coward. What Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders do and don’t do follow as much from conviction as typical Democratic pusillanimity. They want Bush’s wars funded because they believe that, having lost these wars thanks to incompetence, the U.S. must not appear to go down in abject defeat -- the better to fight another day, for the benefit of their corporate paymasters.

This is the kind of thinking that has made a John McCain candidacy possible. Had the United States come to terms with its past in Vietnam to the degree that Germany and Japan came to terms with theirs after World War II, a McCain presidency would be as unthinkable as, say, a German government comprised of enthusiastic veterans of the SS. But we have never come to terms with Vietnam; as a superpower, fully intact after our defeat, we have never had to. We are paying the price. This is why a Hundred Years War in the Middle East is not beyond the realm of possibility, along with all the other depredations of an impending third Bush presidency.

Pelosiites don’t want the U.S. to lose face because it would be bad for America’s economic and political elites. However, for the rest of us, nothing would be more salutary. If we are to make a soft landing into the world order now emerging, we desperately need an Iraq Syndrome more profound and long lasting than the Vietnam Syndrome Bill Clinton, following Reagan and Bush I, struggled to overcome. Pelosiites in Congress, along with Clintonites in all precincts of the Democratic Party, including the Obama campaign, are hell bent on insuring that this moral and political necessity not come to pass. Like the soon to be vanquished Clintons, they must not get their way!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Defeating McCain and/versus Defeating Clintonism

Now that everyone except Hillary and Bill and their pimped out daughter (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) realize that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee, the Party’s wise men (and women) would have Obama make nice to that wretched family and their supporters -- for the sake of party unity. Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times makes the case nicely. Obama seems to agree. This is wise. What the Democrats do best is lose elections that are theirs for the taking; and the Clintons have done everything in their power to assure that this will happen again. If we are to avoid Bush III, their handiwork must be undone. [Note, though, that if the party of Kerry and Gore does manage to lose again in November, the Democrats will likely blame Ralph Nader and the Greens again; not the First Lady of Clintonism and her better half.]

As Krugman points out, Obama does need to get white workers of all ages on board. Allowing that bold and urgent pro-worker policy initiatives that his corporate backers won’t like are out of the question, he could still get the job done by choosing a Vice President more progressive than himself – John Edwards, for example or even Bill Richardson, who might also help out with latino voters. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if, instead, Obama goes for a VP who is “strong on defense.” [Hard as it is to believe, there are silly souls out there who think that an Obama-Clinton ticket would be ideal. Fortunately, there is too much bad blood between them now for that to happen.] In any case, the foolishness that brought erstwhile Democrats into the Reagan camp is unlikely to carry over to John McCain. As for those second wave feminists who would support any woman this side of Elizabeth Dole, they will have, as a Clintonite triangulator might say, no where else to go. “Maverick” McCain has already said that he likes George Bush’s Supreme Court Justices, and that he’d appoint more of the same. Also, don’t forget, he’s for “the right to life.” Therefore, unless racist attitudes are much stronger than now appear, getting most Hillary supporters on board should not be difficult. But, to that end, he does have to do what Krugman and the others suggest; he does have to make nice.

But we don’t; not those of us who hope Obama wins faute de mieux (as elitist, secret Muslims might say). It is distressing how poorly this is understood in what passes for the Left nowadays. What ever happened to “critical support”? Yes, better Obama than Clinton, but Obama is hardly the one to lead a struggle against Clintonism. If progress is made on that front under an Obama Presidency, and if Obama ultimately plays a positive role, it will be because he’s dragged kicking and screaming.

Anyone who doubts how Clintonite Obama is should reflect on his appearance in Washington last night at an event honoring Israel’s sixtieth anniversary -- where, not incidentally, Dick Cheney was the keynote speaker. These days, it goes without saying that Democrats (and Republicans too) have to abase themselves before the Israel lobby. But was it really necessary wholeheartedly to praise a settler (and essentially tribal) state, founded on the principle of ethnic cleansing; a state which, with American backing, flaunts international law shamelessly, wages wars with abandon, and imposes an Apartheid regime upon the population it usurped in territories it has occupied illegally for some forty years. I suspect Obama knows better, just as I think Hillary Clinton does. I suspect too that Obama would be more amenable than any American President since Eisenhower to being a tad less unfair on matters pertaining to Israel and the Palestinians. But, again, he’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming. In any case, don’t expect inklings of fairness from Obama before November – and don’t expect them ever unless militant political and social movements force his hand. The point is perfectly general; as this sordid matter goes, so go all others.

For now, then, let Obama do what he has to do to repair the damage the Clintons have done. But for those of us who see an Obama victory as anything but an end in itself, let there be a division of labor. Defeating Hillary Clinton was a necessary first step in defeating Clintonism; defeating John McCain will be another. I am cautiously optimistic that Obama and his supporters are up to these tasks. It’s their job; let them do it -- therefore, let them make nice. But if the larger struggle against Clintonism is to advance beyond just defeating an outright Clinton Restoration, the more of us who will not pull our punches, the better. This will be true, of course, after November. But it is also true now – before the dreadful specter of a McCain presidency is vanquished.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Next Stage

Despite a handsome loss in North Carolina and only a faint “victory” in Indiana, it seems, as of the morning after, that the Clintons will fight on – further increasing the likelihood of “a third Bush term,” as some leading Democrats now describe a John McCain presidency. Perhaps the leadership of the party will find the courage to force the Clintons to cease and desist. It is unlikely, however. Hell hath no fury like a Clinton whose sense of entitlement is offended, and the Democrats are not the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, for nothing.

Nevertheless, after last night, it is almost certain that the Clintons will be defeated -- eventually. But their defeat will not be, as Churchill might have said, the end of the matter or even the beginning of the end; it will only be the end of the beginning. The next, far more difficult, stage will be to defeat Clintonism within the Democratic Party. That will not be easy with Barack Obama, a Clintonite, as the nominee. As last night’s victory speech in North Carolina, essentially a call for “unity,” made plain, Obama is already looking ahead to November – already inching rightward, as if he weren’t already ensconced far to the right of his various constituencies. By November, he will surely still be the lesser evil, and it will be crucial that he defeat John McCain. But an Obama presidency will only make the struggle against Clintonism more subtle – and more urgent.

More than ever, we will have to fight against a foreign policy that uses American military and economic power in the service of a “vision” not all that different from the neo-conservatives; a foreign policy organized around the principle of American dominance, that shows scant respect for the rule of law. We will have to struggle to free domestic policy from the thrall of the interests that finance our politics. Bill Clinton was a more competent imperialist than George W. Bush (though probably less competent than Bush’s Poppy); at least he took care to enlist the support of economic and political elites abroad, and to keep Americans from getting killed by the people he sent them to bomb. Bill Clinton was as abject a tool as his successor of corporate interests and Wall Street. But because, as a Democrat, he had to gesture towards the interests of the constituencies who vote Democratic, he was a bit less brutal than either of the Bushes in the ways he pursued the deregulation of everything (the so-called “Reagan Revolution”) and the (Reaganite) assault on the affirmative state. He was also less of a theocrat, and more socially liberal, than any modern day Republican, except perhaps Ron Paul. Hillary Clinton would no doubt follow in the family tradition. Were she somehow to gain the nomination, we would have a full Clinton Restoration to look forward to or rather to dread.

That danger now seems to have passed, but Barack Obama, so far, shows little sign of being much different. To be sure, he is likely to bring fewer old Clinton hands back into the government. That’s all to the good. And since what he does best is “inspire” the young and clueless, he just might unleash forces that would transcend Clintonite horizons. In this respect, his presidency could resemble that of someone whose politics was even worse than Bill’s Clinton’s, JFK. But this is wishful thinking, grasping at straws. Obama is not good news; it’s just that Hillary is worse.

This is why, after the Clintons are defeated, the next stage of the struggle must begin: to defeat the “ism” that, for long as the memory of the nineties remains fresh, and for as long as Bush/Cheney collaborators control the Democratic Party, it is convenient to name after that dreadful family.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Wright Stuff

The primaries in Indiana and North Carolina will probably not put the Wright/Obama story to sleep – not so long as there are Clintons and Republicans stirring up trouble – but it should advance the narrative and maybe even alter it. The broad outlines of the next stage are clear. It is very unlikely that African American voters will desert Obama for his repudiation of his pastor; though there is reason to think they should. With the Wright affair still percolating, it remains to be seen how much worse or better Obama does with white working class ethnic (i.e. Catholic) voters. Most likely, the data generated in these next primaries will be equivocal, and therefore susceptible to a variety of spins. Moreover, it is unlikely that these primaries will change much in the larger Obama v. Clinton story. According to the polls, Obama will probably win North Carolina and barely win or barely lose in Indiana – leading the Clintons to plod on for their own sakes and John McCain’s.

Though one would hardly know it from media discussions, there actually are insights to be gleaned from the Wright/Obama saga. They have to do mainly with the deleterious role of religion in politics -- and in general. But that is not a topic that gets raised in our political culture. Doing so is considered “uncivil.” In promoting this false and disabling view, the liberals are the worst. Though many of them know better, they can’t cut “faith” enough slack. Thanks to them, there has arisen a miasma so thick that one cannot even tell for sure whether Hillary Clinton’s saccharine spirituality (from her “politics of meaning” days to the present) is sincere or whether Barack Obama’s professions of faith are (or were) more opportunist than genuine. If he is to be our President, one can only hope that opportunism has been the main factor, but the evidence is not promising.

Of course, the “black Church,” which Reverend Wright self-servingly deems under attack in the guise of attacks on him, is a more complicated problem, calling for a more nuanced assessment. At the most basic level, it is as bad as the rest. But it has also been a haven for black resistance – from the days of slavery, through Jim Crow, to the not-as-post-racial-as-Obama-would-like present. Evidently, the Reverend Wright is no outlier in its complex and multi-faceted ranks. He is certainly no “worse” – more “inflammatory,” that is – than the now venerated Martin Luther King Jr. But one would have no notion of this from the Clinton-McCain attack machine or its many friends in the mainstream media.

There is an interesting psychological dimension to the Wright/Obama story. It is not surprising that Obama would feel obliged to turn on Wright; politicians do what they gotta do. But, assuming that he knew what he was doing at the National Press Club, as he surely did -- why did Wright turn on Obama? No doubt part of he explanation is just that, as a “true believer,” the man is a bit unhinged – even when he is generally right. But I suspect that an impolitic need to piss off the right people was also at work. I thoroughly sympathize. When I read that a gaggle of rabbis and “leading” advocates for the Tribal State want Jews like me to boycott the Olympics this year – in protest over the handful of human rights violations for which Israel is not mainly responsible – I’m inclined to set aside my differences with the capitalist-roaders in charge of (formerly but still officially Communist) China, if only to spit in their collective face. Maybe Wright succumbed to a similar temptation when challenged by a similarly noxious Democratic Party and “liberal” press.

How ironic that the Wright/Obama miasma should engulf the political scene just at a moment when inklings of policy differences between Obama and Clinton are finally emerging. Since neither of them would dare take on the insurance and pharmaceutical companies that have made health care in the United States the most costly in the world, the only significant policy difference to have emerged until now was whether universal coverage was more likely to be approximated with or without compulsory mandates. Common sense says that Clinton was right to follow John Edwards’ lead in insisting on mandates. But in the real world common sense isn’t always right. In the end, the question turns on speculations about intended and unintended consequences that no one can firmly establish. I suspect that Obama’s no mandates position is worse than Clinton’s contrary view; but it isn’t obviously worse, as one might suppose. On the other hand, when Clinton sides with John McCain on a federal gas tax holiday for the summer months, as she recently did, and Obama points out that this is just a “gimmick” that will further impoverish the national treasury while increasing demand for petroleum products, likely canceling out savings to consumers, he is clearly right. Or when, with Cheney and Bush clamoring ever more loudly for war with Iran, Clinton salivates at the prospect of bombing that country – bombing being her family’s favored method for waging illegal wars – while Obama demurs (not nearly forcefully enough), Obama is less wrong than she is.

One would expect that these developments will weigh on the minds of voters in Indiana and North Carolina. But, in recent weeks, the atmosphere has become more than usually clouded thanks to the Wright stuff. Even so, when the sun rises Wednesday morning, perhaps we will have a better idea whether voters can see through the miasma well enough to take these few “issues” differences into account. If they can, it bodes well for Obama’s prospects in November. If not, it bodes poorly, suggesting that, despite his glaring deficiencies, McCain just might win.

In the current issue of The Progressive magazine, Adolph Reed argues forcefully that both the Obama and Clinton candidacies are problematic enough – in ways that have already become apparent and in ways that will doubtless emerge as the Republicans go into full attack mode – that either one is likely to lose. If he’s right, it raises the question of which of Obama or Clinton one would rather see fail. Reed argues that, all things considered, it would be worse if Obama loses. His argument is cogent. My quarrel is with its premise. I still believe that John McCain is too Bush-like, too neo-con, too irascible, too dim witted, and too much of a warmonger to win this time around – no matter how much the Democrats destroy their own chances. But the longer the Clintons persist in their vain pursuit of the office they think their due, the more likely it is that Reed’s prediction will come true.