I've heard both Jim Hightower and the late Molly Ivins toss around an earthy adage they claimed came from their home turf of Texas: "If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging."
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has a March 4 Democratic primary date in Texas (and another the same day in Ohio) that may save or slay her gasping campaign, does not seem to have learned anything from Texas' sweaty wisdom.
I picked up a Washington Post on February 21, and there on the front page was a punishingly detailed story, under the headline "Clinton Says Obama Isn't Ready: She Sharpens Attacks As Crucial Tests Loom," chronicling with sad specificity how the Senator from Desperation is trying to make her campaign's broken persona work by revving up precisely the tactics that have steadfastly failed to work: personal and transparently petty attacks against the man now sprinting toward the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama.
You've probably heard both of Clinton's latest high-decibel mental lapses: her charge, after 10 primary defeats in a row, that Obama is not presidential material and that it's time to "get real" about who Americans want in the White House (uh, Senator Clinton, the "real" evidence so far is that it's not you), and her even more inexplicably mindless attacks on Obama for allegedly plagiarizing speech lines from his friend Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts.
It makes me wonder if maybe Hillary was the Clinton who inhaled -- like, last week.
Even after the audible national "ugh!" that followed her soap-writing trash slogans on the windows of Obama's limo, Clinton persisted in this craziness right into Thursday's debate with Obama, where her reiterated "plagiarism" charge justly earned her boos from the audience and a dismissive quip from Obama about the campaign's having entered its "silly season."
Don't misunderstand me; I'm not trying to offer advice to save Clinton's bacon here. I don't wish her ill, but I do think her ship has long since earned its right to sink. I believe she is a poll-driven cynic still living in the obsolete days of the Democratic Leadership Council (remember when accommodating the hawkish right was a slick Dem's ticket to Washington?), and I don't trust her integrity for a millisecond, as I've written before.
Nor am I an Obamamaniac. Who is this guy, anyway? All we really know is that he is a former real-life Chicago community organizer (yes, we like that) who orates like a champ but whose actual policy ideas have wilted in direct proportion to his ascension through the political filtration system known as campaign finance (no, we don't like that. At all.). Where is his principled willingness to declare the practical necessity to immediately bring American troops home from Iraq and to craft the only realistic security solution for that devastated country: a truly international peacekeeping force in which the United States and our oil- and power-hungry interests are not in charge? (Remove the U.S. from leadership of the Iraq "security" project, and watch the incentives for insurgence dissipate and our formerly recalcitrant industrial allies sit up straight and listen to an American president.) Where is Obama's readiness to call for true, comprehensive government-backed universal health care in the face of the insurance lobby? Where is Obama on the need to hold the predatory mortgage industry accountable instead of hedging (as he has) with whimpers about the culpability of homeowners? Where is he on effective (as opposed to easily sold) public policy on drug addiction and related crime? Where is he on the catastrophically bloated military budget, besides supporting it?
I also have real questions, as I've also written before, about whose button the majority of voters will actually push in November.
At any rate, it's not so much that I'm hot (or even warm) on Obama's politics as it is that I'm left ice-cold by Clinton's stale corporate-huckster positions ("Solutions for America?" Is this a political campaign or a management slogan?) and that I'm mystified, stunned actually, by the extent of her stubborn political stupidity. Hello, Hillary? It's us. Americans. WE DON'T CARE if Barack borrows some lines from his pal Deval. OK? We are plummeting into recession and drowning in personal debt and earning less and less in real wages and watching our tax dollars being flushed down the hole of a criminal war, and we want a president who will, well, get real. Get it?
And let's not even talk about this moment's ruckus surrounding John "Perpetual Failed War" McCain's alleged affair with a boastful lobbyist who is just as blond as his relatively youthful wife and somewhat younger. Yes, there is a valid issue here regarding a senator who proclaims himself to be immune to lobbyists. But think for a moment about how much un-investigated corporate money McCain has accepted to date. If you think we've played this hypocritical "gotcha!" media game before, it's because we have. I'll never vote for McCain. But I'd take a president who stains dresses over one who kills soldiers and civilians by the thousands for a lie. Any day of the week.
The more I think about it, the less I want to look at tomorrow's newspaper.
One recent evening I was sitting in a booth, writing and having a glass of wine at a suburban chain restaurant, the kind of place where patrons often feel free to loudly make conservative political proclamations with which they are certain that everyone in the room will agree.
At a table across from me, a Caucasian couple and a Caucasian and Chinese-American couple (I know this because the Chinese-American woman declared herself to be) were talking, over martinis, with passionate dismay about the primaries and the prospects for a tolerable president. The white guy who was with the Chinese-American woman complained, to forlorn nods all around, "You can't go with Hillary. Clinton-Obama, you gotta go Obama. McCain-Obama, you gotta go McCain. McCain and any other Republican, you gotta go any other Republican."
It gets worse. That very same week a colleague of mine, a committed liberal Democrat, lowered the boom on me with what she fears will be the doomsday nuclear-powered Republican ticket: McCain-Powell.
For me as a registered but left-of-the-Democrats Democrat, the potential McCain-Powell ticket is a blood-curdler, a night-shrieker, a sweat-yelper. It would, I fear, brilliantly exploit two traits buried miles deep in the body politic of a certain broad swath of white American suburban and rural voters: 1.) A reflexive inclination toward a white male for the presidency as long as he is an upright biped (to get an idea of the surreal lowering of standards afforded white males in this regard, consider that millions of white voters not once, but twice, accepted W as presidential material) and 2.) The power of "The Good Negro" to succor the part of said white psyche that wants to feel able to embrace a black authority figure (as second fiddle, anyway) as long as he does not have "too black" a persona or social agenda.
No offense to either John or Colin, neither of whom I consider to be the devil, but McCain-Powell would be a ticket of evil genius. It would serve as a perfectly moderated balm for white voter anxiety. When I think about the two of them raising their joined hands in front of crowds, I wake up screaming.
I mean, let's go back to the voters in the suburban chain restaurant. Clinton-Obama, you gotta go Obama. Why? Because sexism, at least in this case, trumps racism. Sad but true. In a certain very common state of mind, better that light-skinned smart-if-slippery black guy than that uppity woman. (Personally, given her record, I don't trust Clinton any farther than I can throw a wiffle ball, but something tells me this is not the gut issue driving the "not HER!" response.) As for Obama-McCain, say the folks partway through their martinis, you gotta go McCain. Why? Easy. McCain is white, a war-talking military vet, and an anti-tax Republican of sorts, albeit one a little too prone to accommodating the safety-net whiners.
This is unfair of me, I realize. What do I know, after all, about those folks at the next table? Regardless of what they say over their drinks, I know little of what they believe, and I know nothing, nada, of what they will actually do in November. Further, Obama and Clinton are, so far, doing very well, thank you. And moreover, table-full of reactionaries or not, the reason why progressivism will inevitably win its broad victories -- whether in this upcoming election or in subsequent ones -- is that three decades of American so-called conservatism are coming up literally and figuratively bankrupt, and saner and more humane policies will inexorably prove themselves the best hope for reversing the nose-dive in the fortunes of working and non-working Americans. At some point even the most neolithic throwback will get the point: Me hungry. Conservatism no food. Liberalism food.
Still, eternal progressive though I am, I can't shake this chilly feeling about what might happen when millions of white Americans step up to their non-paper-verified touch-screens and actually face a choice between a white man on one side and a black or a woman on the other.
And I'd sleep a whole lot better if it weren't for that McCain-Powell scenario.
I have had my problems with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). I think that sometimes, like some of the zealots of the anti-abortion movement, PETA members can be mean, unfair, and abusive toward human targets in their fervor to protect the rights of animals.
But on the PetSmart issue, if the animal rights organization's claims are true, I'm with PETA all the way.
PETA sent an undercover investigator to work at a huge animal breeding and wholesaling facility, Rainbow World Exotics in Hamilton, Texas, which counts PetSmart as its largest buyer. The secretly-recorded video and audio subsequently posted by PETA appears to depict every pet-lover's worst nightmare about the pet breeding industry: animals crammed en masse into cages that are stacked toward the ceiling, sick creatures apparently left to die, rabbits physically forced by humans to copulate, animals trapped in enclosures flooded by faulty sprinkler systems, a botched "operation" on a still-kicking and profusely bleeding animal by a non-veterinarian with a dull blade, sick animals being thrown in the trash before they are known to be dead, a narrator's account of a loose hamster being deliberately stomped to death by an employee. And more, if you can stomach it.
Allegations such as this in the pet business are hardly new. Monopoly capitalism, with its centralized and profit-fixated mega-production systems, virtually guarantees that huge puppy mills and other animal factories will serve as sources for the cute critters in the windows of mall pet stores, just as large-scale corporate meat production assures horrific lives and deaths for most of our supermarket chicken and beef. With a government regulatory system neutered by private industry via campaign donations and the resulting political appointments to key agency positions, the last and best hope for responsible industry -- including the humane treatment of pets and livestock -- lies with the consciences of consumers. That would be you. And me.
If you care at all about animals, I suggest you gird your loins, watch the video and decide for yourself what you think about PETA's evidence and whether you care to set foot in a PetSmart facility again.
Do it sooner rather than later, as it's possible PetSmart may try to legally block PETA from continuing to show the footage.
At last: someone in the mainstream medical profession is calling American health care what it is: A system of socialized medicine for our political leaders, unlimited care for the wealthy, and bad medicine for the rest of us.
A wickedly effective new ad campaign (pictured above; I saw it in the online New York Times) tells the story. The sponsor is CheneyCare.org, a national project of the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee, who have been pushing for progressive health care policy for years. The ad's message: Dick Cheney (he of the chronically failing heart) and his cohorts in government leadership enjoy for themselves precisely what they preach against for the rest of us: nationally-subsidized health care that covers everything, with no excuses crafted by accountants or "review panels" of mercenary doctors. Cheney, in fact, as the ad puts mercilessly in our faces, would likely be dead without the comprehensive government-financed health care he takes for granted.
The real problem here, of course, is that Cheney and his pseudo-conservative neocon henchmen are using the language of conservatism to conceal an agenda of big government -- but big government in service of the wealthy and the powerful. Big government that lavishes health coverage choices on senators and CEOs while putting HMOs in charge of the rest of us. Big government that pours oceans of cash into wars and public policies that serve the interests of the few. Big government that steps in to persecute some (e.g., so-called terror suspects) and to block the rights of others (e.g., gays) and to limit privacies and liberties (e.g., a woman's right to choose, a law-abiding citizen's right to not be spied on) according to its own autocratic ideological gospel.
Fortunately, when a government treats its citizens in this way, some citizens tend to fight back.
For its part, the CheneyCare campaign is teaching us, in its own way, what the Bush Administration has already learned from librarians:
I give Bill Cosby a hard time for what looks to me like his one-sided ranting about dysfunction among some black youth. But I also give Cosby his propers: not only has he given away a ton of money to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and been a tireless champion of jazz as America's chief art form, but at his most brilliant he is one of the funniest people alive. Check out this vintage Dick Cavett Show clip on YouTube of Cosby doing a riff on his having sat in as a young drummer with jazz titan Sonny Stitt.