A Bad Conversation and the Democratic Primaries


And now I will comment on a brief conversation I overheard in a college-town coffee shop in Iowa yesterday, one day after the big "Super Tuesday" primaries.The conversation took place between two Caucasian undergraduate students at a Big Ten University.  Both of the students were strong supporters of Barack Obama during the Iowa Caucus.  Both are now rooting for Obama in the national Democratic primaries. 

Young white upper-middle class Obamanist # 1 (female): “hey, how you doing? So what do you think about Barack last night?’


Young white upper-middle class Obamanist # 2 (male): “I’m worried.  It just seems like Hillary is too dug in and is going to win.  It’s so depressing.  I mean, she’s so conservative and he’s so progressive, you know?”


Obamanist #1: “Dude, you are so right. Barack just makes me feel good about America and what it stands for – you know, peace and democracy and justice. She’s so boring and corporate and military and everything.  I’m so afraid she’s going to win.  We need change, not the same old same old.”


Obamanist #2: “I don’t know what to do.  I’m going to be traveling abroad a lot this year and I’m so tired of hearing people trash our country and everything. If Barack wins, it’s like I’ll be able to hold my head up and be proud of my country because, you know, I can say, ‘hey, we’ve got a progressive and liberal president and we rock, so get off my back.’ If it’s Hillary, I’ll just have to hide out and say, ‘oops, sorry, I tried.”


Obamanist # 1: "Yeah, my sister was in France and Italy over break and she was at this ski lodge in the Alps and it was like, ‘we sure hope you Americans can get your shit together and elect Obama. He’s awesome.’" 


Obamanist# 2: "I’m in this Econ class right now and its like everybody in it is a big white male conservative.  I come in there with my Obama button and they just give me all this crap about being a leftist and everything and I’m like, excuse me people, this country isn’t just for rich white people, you know?" 


Obamanist # 1: “It’s so depressing.  I’ve gotta go. Let’s get together before the Ohio primary.  See ya.”


Obamanist # 2: “Later.  Maybe it’ll turn out okay, but I doubt it.”


This was a very sorry exchange on two levels.  First, the two young Obama fans should have been high-fiving, not commiserating. Obama had a very good day and is doing quite well, all things considered.  Yesterday was supposed to have been Hillary’s big knock-out punch.  And that did NOT happen.  Obama is looking like Ali: he’s ready to rope-a-dope the Clinton machine for a full fifteen rounds.  Obama won more states than she did.  He got some interesting states (e.g. Kansas, Colorado, and North Dakota and so on) that fit his argument about superior electability. He’s tied with Hillary on total delegates.  He was far behind her in national polls a month or so ago and has pretty much pulled even. He appears to have more money on hand now. The next primary and especially caucus states (he does well in caucuses began his support is more upscale and the caucus process tends to favor the more economically advantaged) and districts (heavily black Washington D.C) look good for him. 


The race is too close to call, of course, and Hillary probably has the edge with the super-delegates (the unelectted party and elected officials who exist precisely to block excessive "change" in the party) but Obama could very well win the nomination. He has the momentum and the media love (dominant media favoritism towards Obama has been quite graphic) and those two go together. There’s real reasons he’s smiling all the time and she often looks like she’s putting a brave face on a bad diagnosis.


Second, the notion that there’s some sort of big or significant right-left/conservative-progressive difference between Hillary and Obama is very dubious, to say the least.  Hillary and Obama are corporate-neoliberal and imperial look-alikes in numerous critical ways.  Neither of them has the progressive guts or decency or courage or soul to advocate single-payer health insurance or to call for the immediate de-funding and end of the criminal oil occupation of Iraq or to attack corporate globalization or to help rebuild the American labor movement or to meaningfully address the problems of entrenched racism and class disparity in the U.S (the industrialized world’s most unequal and wealth-top-heavy society by far) or to….(fill in the progressive cause blank). I could go on on about their shared core moral-ideological and policy grounds from my “controversial” (because actually democratic-left) perspective. 


Even "mainstream" discussion (ie, PBS, the New York Times, Fox News, NPR, Gannett, and your local political science department, etc.) routinely notices that: (i) there is very little policy room between Hillary and Obama: (ii) Democratic votes are dividing between them pretty much along lines of candidate “image” and voter identity and demography (race, ethnicity, gender, age, education, income, and rural v. urban) and not in accord with (relativelt tiny differences of) world view and policy proposals; (iii) policy is shockingly irrelevant and marginalized in US campaigns and voter decisions. 


These three points are well and widely understood at basic levels and across the ideological spectrum.  There are some over-educated bamboozlers like George Lakoff, the “Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics” at the University of California at Berkeley, who insists (in a “Common Dreams” commentary published six days before the pivotal Super Tuesday Primary) on setting up significant moral and ideological divisions between bad Hillary and good – because “deeply progressive” (Lakoff’s actual term to describe the BaRockstar) – Obama.  But that’s an absurd position for Lakoff to claim to hold in light of numerous exposes that have been done on the power-conciliating junior senator from Illinois (I have penned more of those exposes than anyone so far). If anything, Obama is running to Hillary’s right on domestic policy. 


Here’s a few longer-term reflections on the sad narrow-spetcrum primary and general election situation. 


One thing for young (or old or in-between) Democrats (or independents, including radicals who fear continued Republican rule) to be reasonably depressed about is that the Republicans appear to be selecting and starting to rally around their very dangerous and hyper-militarist presidential candidate – the onetime carpet-bomber of Vietnamese children and current 100 Years Iraq War advocate John McCain – while the Democrats are digging in for a long and “divisive” (ironically enough given Hillary and Obama’s extreme ideological compatibility) nomination battle.


What should the Democrats do? I don’t know how much this blog’s readers value the defeat of the Republicans. I value that defeat, without illusion about the Democrats.  Anyone who has regularly read my ZNet writings in recent years (there’s a giant category, I’m sure!) knows (or should know) that I am left of Kucinich (and for that matter of Nader, for whom I voted in 2000) and have zero progressive illusions about the Democrats but that I also think it matters to block dangerous and extremist Republicans in swing states (sorry, but I didn’t invent our currently dominant narrow spectrum party and elections system and political culture).  And from that perspective, let me say two things:


 1. Hillary will help mobilize and unite the Republican Party like Obama never could.  I hear this from Republicans all the time and I completely believe it.  McCain is going to have some difficulty rallying all the shock troops of the far and evangelical right (as would Rudy G) and Hillary will be just the medicine he needs when it comes to that.


2. Hillary will have a much harder time wining independents than Obama and independents and some center Republicans are probably going to have to be won in swing and red states for the Democrats to prevail. 


If I was the king of the Democratic Party, I’d cut the crap. I’d hand the nomination to Obama as soon as possible and begin the "healing" work with the Clinton voters. It won’t  take much ideological or policy repair since they’re close to identical on policy and ideology, with neoliberal Hillary slightly less awful on domestic policy (health care above all) and neoliberal Obama slightly less awful on foreign policy (he at least followed Edwards and Kucinich in denouncing her terrible Kyler-Lieberman vote). The healing will be about images, identities, advertising and product identification.  It will also have to be about shared fear of the lunatic Republicans.


Interesting, isn’t it? The Party of Right Wing Lunacy is putting forth the most nationally elect-able of its leading candidates (McCain), who was not the best-funded of its group.  But on the "left" side of ther party divide, big money and media booted out the Democrats’ most elect-able national candidate (the semi-populist labor-liberal Edwards) before Super Tuesday


MCain v. Hillary (even money chance of happening): advantage GOP.

McCain v. Obama (even money chance of happening): too close to call.

McCain v. Edwards (aborted in advance by corporate and elite financial power): advantage Democrats.


Of course, if I was the king of America, I’d trash the whole U.S. Winner Take All Narrow Spectrum and Corporate Crafted Elections System and replace it with a truly democratic, participatory, and egalitarian political structure. I would not end my benevolent reign unless and until the new system was ready to go – fully operational and equipped to abolish the extreme inequality that is inherent in the capitalist socioeconomic system and incompatible with democratic values and institutions.  

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