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.

1 comment:

Gordon Barnes said...

I think that Obama's position on the mandates issue is actually very defensible. Since Romney enacted a similar mandate in Massachussetts, the effect has been that lots of people who cannot afford health care simply get fined, and then pay the fine, and there is no real gain there, as far as I can see. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) So I confess that I don't really see the big advantage in the mandates.

Clinton's salivating use of the word "obliterate" explains her appeal to all the angry warmongers out there, whose false consciousness must be appeased somehow. And on the issue of her religion, I think that her participation in that Psycho-Jesus Bible Study, in which they talk about Power all the time (and how you should really admire Hitler because, after all, he got a lot of Power)--I think that confirms that she is religious in an especially crazy, dangerous way.

I heard today that in 26 out of 29 contests, Clinton has beaten Obama among white voters who lack a college education. Sadly, I suspect that this trend will continue in the primaries on Tuesday. That population is too deeply ignorant of their own interest, and until someone succeeds in educating them concerning their own interest, their voting behavior will not change.

However, with that said, I will go out on a limb and say that, if Obama is nominated, then he will win. I have no doubt about it. Public opinion on the war has not changed substantially, and the poor economy will favor the Democratic nominee, as it has in the past, and these two factors will be more than enough to secure Obama's win. People who think otherwise are simply forgetting that politics has a short memory, and the present issues (Wright, etc) will eventually fade from the public consciousness, in light of the larger issues of the economy and the war. Then those who once waved the flag and burned Dixie Chicks albums will reluctantly admit, with their vote, that they were completely wrong. (Though they'll never admit it any other way, of course. That's the American Way.) If Clinton were the nominee, the same is probably true, though I think it's a little less sure. (The numbers still support that last claim, though by less than they used to, I admit.)