Are you as tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton's sore-loser gymnastics as I am of writing about them?
I want to ignore them. But how can we? Every swipe she takes, every shamelessly dirty maneuver she tries, drives a deeper wedge into what is left of the Democratic Party -- or, maybe I should say, encourages more disgruntled Dems to step out of the way of a McCain presidency, which would be a true disaster for the country.
So, with sincere apologies, in case you haven't heard I need to tell you the latest. Clinton is moving ahead with her complete about-face on the question of seating the delegates from Michigan and Florida. The gist of this story is that when those two states defied the Party's rules and leapfrogged their primary dates ahead of those of other states to gain themselves some clout and press, Clinton voted with the Party to nullify the primary results of the two rogue states. She also signed a pledge (as did Barack Obama) to not campaign in either state, and in support of this she made pious public statements about respecting rules and fairness to voters. But then something happened. Clinton dropped from leader to lagger, and her campaign unraveled, and amid her slide she won Michigan, where she, cannily, had kept herself on the ballot (Obama, honoring the Party pledge, took himself off the Michigan ballot) and Forida. And today, desperate for a last foothold for the nomination, she has whirled a full 180 degrees to declare, with passion, that Michigan and Florida's delegates must now be seated -- in the name of respect and fairness to voters, of course.
It takes the breath away, this clanking, hydraulic-powered pursuit of perceived self-interest at any cost. It makes me wonder, seriously, if this candidate is simply addicted to battle, with no room for understanding its self-destructive consequences. If Clinton were to sit and ponder the most effective way to trash her own public standing, she couldn't possibly do any better than this.
NPR ran an interesting and nearly acerbic story today about how Clinton's position on the delegates has "evolved," in the polite but terse language of NPR correspondent David Greene, who I've noted in the past has been prone to political niceties and euphemisms. (Greene formerly wrote for my local newspaper, the Baltimore Sun.) Greene didn't pull many punches today, to his credit, and it's hard to witness this latest Clinton chapter without feeling true contempt for the senator's lack of political conscience.
I understand that Clinton voters have honorable reasons for supporting her. But sufferin' succotash. Will somebody stop this already?
My Montana friend Sandy Pittendrigh -- who I usually talk about for his fly-fishing and boat-building exploits -- traveled to the Crow Indian Reservation for an Obama rally recently, and he took pictures. Beautiful pictures, and a lot of them, a selection of which I've posted above and below. Sandy also sent me this link to a video clip of Obama's speech at the Reservation, which I recommend to you if only as a welcome reminder of what presidential demeanor looks like.
Obama gives a good speech, all right: light-years more inspiring than, say, the presumptive Republican nominee's warmed-over McBush War Corporation sales pitch. At the Crow Reservation, he also spiritedly addressed principles of justice for Native Americans – itself a rare thing in mainstream political campaigning. What continually leaves me less than thrilled about him, though, it that his rhetoric so often sounds like coy progressive foreplay: "change we can believe in" without the daring details of the changes themselves. Obama seems to stop chronically short of how, for example, we could step in to streamline and tightly regulate our absurdly redundant and obscenely price-gouging health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, or craft policy to actually block (or deter) private money from public politics, or propose hard numbers for how and when we will direct our military's ravenously unnecessary share of our national treasury back into education, health, the environment, and diplomacy. And let's not even start on the Israeli regime and the occupation, on which Obama parrots the one-sided American pro-Zionist line as if he has been personally threatened by the Massad.
I know, I know, I'm carping. I should think positively, be grateful that the system of cash flow we call our electoral process has allowed a candidate like Obama within speechifying distance of the nomination; be happy that the over-cranked Republican machine has busted its own gears and that the virtues of liberalism are once again becoming popularly self-evident. And I am happy. See? I'm smiling.
But cripes, Senator. Have you studied the tapes on FDR and on Howard Dean's pre-ScreamTVLoop campaign? How long will it take for you and your party to realize that a candidate with a bold agenda of specific, brass-tacks social action can actually win? "Change We Can Believe In" would have the architect of the New Deal rolling in despair in his grave.
Okay. I'm done. Let's get to the important stuff: These photos from the rally at the Crow Reservation.
OK, so I'm no fan of Hillary Clinton's candidacy -- at the least the way she has executed it. But the beating she's taking in the press (during this 17-second news cycle) for her RFK assassination remark reminds me, for maybe the third time today, of why we need a press corps that dares to cover public politics (as in positions) instead of mere personal politics (as in personal screw-ups, styles, and offenses).
Yes, evoking a massively tragic assassination to make the point that California primaries matter ranks pretty high for stupidity, selfishness, and insensitivity. If my last name were Kennedy, I'd be staring at the wall and asking myself how Clinton ended up entirely devoid of the shame gene. But it's not as if she said that Hitler was destined to usher Jews to Israel. It's pretty clear that, in her own tactless way, she was trying to say that some pretty heavy contenders have cast their lot in the California primary over the years.
The irony here -- and it's a real gender-stereotype-buster -- is that husband Bill would never have said such a thing in such a way. Why? Because he's, well, a sensitive enough politician to know that it would sound icy and unfeeling. Now, bear in mind, we're talking about the guy who hyped NAFTA and who high-fived "welfare reform." For Hillary to look soulless by comparison is just damned depressing.
Former Congressperson Pat Schroeder spoke ruefully, and I think rightly, on NPR the other day about how flagrant sexism is one of the last widely permissible forms of bigotry in American media, and how this has hurt Hillary Clinton. True, sadly. Just as sad, though, is the fact that people's hopes for the first female president have been pinned on a candidate with such a poor history on the issues and such a shortage of political humanity.
The pandering excesses of American presidential posers would be funny, except they're not. Maybe you've heard about former candidate Mike "It's the Stupidity, Stupid" Huckabee's joking remark to a National Rifle Association audience about an assassination attempt on Barack Obama, for which Huck has apologized. Watch it and weep. A real knee-slapper, Mikester. As if we needed more proof, beyond the current White House occupant, of the kinds of recklessly hapless hucksters (ouch, sorry) who gain access to national politics when the admission criteria are money and aping for the camera.
Anti-immigrant violence in South Africa is at literally riotous levels, with the May 19 New York Times reporting 12 dead in Johannesburg over the weekend. More recent reports have the dead at 22. Tinder for the firestorm seems largely to have arisen from resentment toward an influx of refugees from neighboring Zimbabwe, who are fleeing a disintegrated economy and political chaos. Underneath the rage, though, you'll find a pattern that any American can recognize: a panicked clasping of scarce essentials amid a scared populace, with added help from demagoguery.
According to the Times:
"Newspaper editorials have called the
outbursts a matter of using immigrants as scapegoats for South Africa’s
problems. The official unemployment rate is 23 percent. Food prices have risen sharply. The crime rate is among the highest in the world.
yet South Africa, with the most prosperous economy in the region, is a
magnet that draws a continuing stream of job seekers from Malawi,
Mozambique and elsewhere. An estimated three million Zimbabweans have
sought refuge in their neighbor to the south, many of them fleeing here
in recent months as Zimbabwe’s economy has utterly collapsed and political violence has intensified."
Lower the unemployment rate and add "heath care costs" and "exported jobs" to the first of the above two Times paragraphs, and you could be talking about any of thousands of American burgs.
But interestingly, as often happens when social upheaval strikes safely overseas, certain words become permissible for American corporate journalists that are generally forbidden in covering events on our own shores. In this case, the Times informs us that "This latest outbreak of xenophobia
began a week ago..." and goes on with the salient details. "Xenophobia" is, in fact, exactly the right word. Problem is, though, that when gangs of thugs in southern Texas or Arizona kick the you-know-what out of de facto refugees from the economic ruin we call Mexico, "xenophobia" is virtually nonexistent in the media vocabulary unless handily attributed to a statement by some vested player such as the ACLU. What we read and hear instead are such relative verbal puffballs as "anti-immigrant sentiment" or "immigrant-targeted violence." Hardly a xenophobe to be found, apparently, although the countryside is crawling with them.
To be sure, the rioting and the waves of all-out violence now roaring through South African cities far outstrip -- for now -- what xenophobic violence we have seen here. But with thousands of physical attacks on Mexican immigrants nationally to date, and with a rising tide of police raids and vigilante actions against "illegals" in America's version of a cheap-labor junta, otherwise known as the Deep South, and with rage-talk media bigmouths railing with profitable absurdity about how imported slave-wage slaughterhouse workers are stealing the "good jobs" from hungry American families, good-sized chunks of America have already qualified themselves for xenophobic status many times over.
Except in the language of the official national storytellers.
It reminds me of how our mainstream journalists blithely use the terms "state-supported media" or "state-controlled news agency" to contemptuously describe purveyors of slanted information in certain foreign nations, while shrinking from terms such as "corporate-supported media" or "corporate-controlled television" here in the States -- even though eerily similar anti-democratic dynamics apply.
But then, that's how timid, well-trained journalists behave in any punishingly propagandistic nation, including ours.
Obama takes the North Carolina primary by 14 points, loses Indiana by two. He scores a net gain in delegates as well as in the popular vote, and pundits declare a Clinton victory all but impossible unless Obama plants a bomb on a plane. Former Wal-Mart board member and Iraq War supporter Clinton, principled and public-minded as a great white shark as she temporarily refashions herself as a "populist," loans her bankrupt campaign a few million more dollars from her bank account and moves her party-splintering operation to the next state primary.
And the only reason we are still talking about this, the only reason Hillary Clinton remains politically visible at all, hanging from the cliff by her synthetic-populist fingernails, is race.
Race is why a white electorate that was poised to shoo Obama into the nomination suddenly went into a cold sweat at the prospect of his possibly turning out to be, you know, just another scary black guy who's not nuts about white people. Race is why Rev. Jeremiah Wright has 24-7 traction as a notorious associate of Obama's while John Hagee (know his name?) has none as a henchman of John McCain's. Race is why mouthy and intemperate black figures in Obama's background are infamous Bad-Nigger bogeymen while equivalent white figures in the backgrounds of white candidates are invisible and inconsequential.
Journalist Bill Moyers has gone public about this, prodding this double-standard with a sharp stick, and I suggest you read his May 4 essay in which he names the names (like Hagee's) and cites the nasty political facts of the perennial Black Scare. Question: With an economy plunging into recession, an unwinnable and unsupportable war siphoning off desperately-needed public resources, gas approaching $4 a gallon, and health care in outright crisis for much of the country, why are we talking about Obama's ex-pastor and his absent flag lapel pin? Answer: Because of undying racial anxiety that, here in the year 2008, has millions of white voters wondering in the privacy of voting booths whether Obama is one of Those Hostile Black Guys We Can't Trust.
So it's happening, like an overheated passage in a pulp slavery novel.
Barack Obama is cast as the genteel house Negro, the friendly family facilitator who bears no grudges for whips and chains and who poses no threats to the assembled white polity at the table, most of whom nod at the idea of "change" without having to make any painful changes, and at the sentiment of correcting oppression without identifying oppressors.
And Rev. Jeremiah Wright is cast as the black buck, the field Negro, the darkie with an attitude about the whole damned ball of wax: the banning of the drum, the bones at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean (see poet Amiri Baraka), the tyranny of King Cotton, the military occupation of black impoverishment, the black male heart attacks in elevators where white women clutch purses.
I hate this narrative. Hate it. I dreaded its potential emergence when Barack Obama began trying to sell himself as a politician immune to the collective understanding of blackness, and when the corporate press and Obama's rivals -- hello, Hillary? -- made it a project to seek and find the angry and anti-white black man who surely must lurk somewhere in the Obama candidacy. The black man who so many white Americans have dreaded for so long. The Bad Nigger.
They have found him, in a preacher who is part truth-teller and part egotistical demagogue.
In the end, I think this roaring tornado in a teacup is about class and caste. As in political points of view based on the economic and racial realities of who -- in the words of Malcolm X -- is catching hell and who is not. Barack Obama is the voice of politely unchallenging reconciliation, of what he calls "unity," which amounts to delicately addressing social crimes without naming perps or calling for specific accountabilities. Jeremiah Wright, on the other hand, is the voice of defiant proletarian (and what Marxists call lumpenproletarian and what pundits call "underclass") cynicism, a resentful, in-your-face I-don't-give-a-shit-you-white-motherfucker rawness about justice denied and remedies owed according to the impolite legacy of a troublemaker named Jesus.
And so Obama, like Jesse Jackson and others before him, is busy publicly backpedaling from the Bad Nigger persona, and Wright is busy raising hell and bringing fed-up disenfranchised black congregations to their feet.
I have read the entire transcript of Wright's National Press Club speech, and as with his previously condemned and selectively-looped sermons, I find little that ought to offend, aside from his cagily-couched suggestion -- popular among many in America's most vulnerable black communities -- that this government may have used the AIDS epidemic to decimate and disempower black populations. Even such unspeakable evil, I would assert, is well within the potential of the Bush Administration, which is easily the meanest and most corrupt Presidential Administration of my lifetime, and feasibly the worst ever. But the charge of a decades-long deliberately-concocted genocidal AIDS epidemic is an explosive assertion to which one ought to expect explosive reaction, and which demands far more evidence than any I have seen. The one undeniable reality here is the long-existing fact that some broad swaths of black Americans have concluded from their experience that you can't trust white people.
At any rate, it looks as if Wright is now in full-tilt Fuck-You mode, the electoral chances of his onetime friend and congregant be damned. And Obama is in full-tilt Get-This-MF-Away-From-Me mode, the truth of many of Wright's criticisms of our country notwithstanding. There is no refuting, for instance, the observation that a nation that has carried out and colluded with terrorism, from its very founding to the present, cannot reasonably be choosy in the acts of terror about which it decides to howl. This kind of truth-telling, however, is still too hard for many of us to choke down, and it is fatally toxic for a presidential candidate who is still trying to fend off the deep and widespread fear that he might prove to be one of those Bad Niggers after all. I'd bet a pile of cash that this post-plantation racial fear factor is a bigger element in Hillary Clinton's current appeal among working-class whites than any aptitude she has for recreational gunplay or political honesty.
I feel for Obama, although I've always found his vague "unity" pitch to be a kind of sidestep. Social injustice, after all, is not cured by mere calls for across-the-board "unity," but by the conviction to stand and struggle for social justice. Obama, as a former Chicago community organizer, ought to know this. Yes, in a money- and corporate-media-dominated electoral marketplace, running on conviction is tough. (That's why we need electoral reform.) But it is nonetheless necessary.
In that sense, I think Obama, through his non-confrontive I'm-With-Everybody approach, has helped set himself up to be ambushed. I also think that Wright, his rightness on many of the issues aside, is being, well, an asshole. He does not have to do this in the way that he is doing it, treating it as an attack on the church (it's not), making a sarcastic and mocking and crowd-titillating show of his venom and his umbrage. You don't have to play it that way, brother.
But hey. America created the Bad Nigger. Hillary Clinton is happy to let the narrative do some of her dirty work for her.
And, as I've said, one of the results may be President John McCain.