How did it happen? We finally had a Democratic primary where a genuine national discussion could perhaps cut through the Gordian knot of race, gender and class. Instead we blinked at the last minute and settled for something far less. We cry for "change" at political rallies then like the horses in Anna Sewell’s classic Black Beauty, we run back into the burning barn of familiar prejudices and stale political infighting.
It would be easy to surrender to cynicism and sit this one out. I have a Trotkyist friend who impatiently dismissed all of the candidates, even Dennis Kucinich, as tools of capitalism, not worthy of anyone’s vote. What made me sad is that a lot of his criticisms of the Democratic Party candidates actually made sense, despite being framed in a 20th century left-over ideology.
So what are we supposed to do?
Over at the Nation magazine, Christopher Hayes has a thoughtful article about why we should vote for Obama instead of Clinton. He makes it clear that on policy issues there is hardly a dime’s worth of difference between the two of them. Then he goes into the intangibles. Obama articulates a message of hope and reconciliation to a badly divided nation. He’s firing up young people who normally treat elections like an after school detention. The message is powerful and persuasive as shown by how he climbs in the polls as people become more familar with him.
It’s hard not to think of JFK in 1960. Like Obama he was cautious calculating moderate Democrat, but a man who was able to articulate the desire for a change that was already blowing through the America of 1960. It’s best summed up by his famous line,"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
Obama taps into that same desire to DO something. To get off one’s fat ass. To turn off the endless consumeristic propaganda on TV and go out to save the world. His years of as community organizer serve him well when he speaks of being," Our brother’s keeper…our sister’s keeper."
But let’s not get all misty-eyed quite yet. Both Clinton and Obama have something else in common besides their policy positions. They are both political junkies heavily dependent on corporate cash. It’s really not their fault. In our corruption-soaked political system, any serious national candidate has the same problem.
So with the policy and funding issues roughly equal, Hayes gives the nod to Obama. Not only does he articulate peoples’ deep emotional desire for positive change, he could create a broad mandate that will give the progressive movement a place to grow. Think Lincoln, Roosevelt or Kennedy.
So with Hayes, and for the reasons he explains so much better than I can, I’m voting for Obama as well.
But I have a dirty little secret. I’d really rather be voting for Hillary Clinton.
The American working class has taken a terrible beating over the past couple of generations. Our labor movement is on the ropes. We’re badly divided along every possible fault-line of gender, race, immigration status, sexual orientation, age, and well, you name it. Our jobs have been shipped out, deskilled, sped up and turned into a series of "temporary" no benefits-drudgefests that seem all too permanent.
Our environment continues to deteriorate into a overheated muckpit of toxic sludge. We’ve been so dumbed down that a lot us of believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago and that Ronald Reagan should be enshrined as a national hero for beating up on us with such smiling fervor.
Our sons and daughters go off to war for oil and empire and come home in body bags or so badly wounded in spirit that some of them end up killing themselves….thus saving our parsimonious US government the expense of caring for them in our overcrowded and understaffed VA hospitals.
And over it all has been one of the greatest transfers of wealth in American history. From us to them…..the Corporate Elite. I won’t bore you with the numbers. That’s what a Google search is for. But we all know in our hearts that we’ve been flimflammed by a ruling class who who doesn’t have even a token notion of noblesse oblige (that’s French for giving the grateful servants a few scraps off of the master’s table).
So what does this have to do with Hillary Clinton? Well, Hillary spent years as a corporate lawyer. She was on the Walmart Board of Directors. She knows these people as if they were her own kinfolk. If she could only step away from the Dark Side, what a treasure trove of knowledge she could share with us.
Then there are Hillary Clinton’s personal qualities. She’s tough. She’s smart. She’s focused on winning. Attack her and she’ll fight back tenaciously with all of her formidable inner resources. And she has a mean streak that I think is one of her greatest strengths. Make an enemy of her and you are in serious deep shit for years to come. Think Bobby Kennedy and his famous "ruthlessness".
Frankly, we could use someone like that on our side. We’re in a battle for our survival and I’m tired of losing. Hillary Clinton has been viciously attacked from all sides from just about everywhere and she’s still standing. That speaks well of her.
Now if only she would only take the side of the people instead of the corporations… like the soldiers and war veterans who come over to the side of the peace movement.
The kind of change we need can only come from energized social movements operating in a political culture where they are not treated like rabid skunks at a country club cocktail party. And it is here where Obama has the edge over Clinton.
Make no mistake about it. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are beholden to Corporate America. But Obama has had the good sense to put a little distance between himself and the worst of their excesses. His years as a community organizer contrast with Clinton’s years as a corporate lawyer. And Clinton as a Board member of Walmart? Jaysus, Joseph and Mary, what was she thinking?
But Hillary, it’s never too late. Win or lose this election, you’re always welcome to change sides.
It worked for Captain Renaud in the film Casablanca. It could even be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.