Monday, October 22, 2007

Presidential Politics Anyone?

I've mostly stopped posting about the current presidential race and politics in general, because I really don't have the time and I've gathered (perhaps wrongly) from the lack of reponse that this topic isn't that interesting, or, more accurately that my unoriginal opinions aren't that interesting. To merit commentary, that is. Since I'm not at all interested in the "horse race" narratives, nor in the constant obfuscations and dissimulations the traditional media like to engage in, and since I don't have time to delve deeply into the Democrats' proposed policies, I sometime wonder if there is anything else to say. I realize, above all, that unless I'm offering something new, other blogs that have devoted readers and commenters who really are energized by political discussions are the places people will head.

Still, I have to note that it's already clear to me the Republican presidential field (which now includes Alan Keyes, for God's sake!--doesn't that say it all?) is a steadily worsening horrorshow of ignorance, racist and sexist pandering, delusion, authoritarianism, and incompetence, that could actually leave us in a worse position than we're in today, if that's possible. All the Republican candidates save Ron Paul zealously support the Iraq War. They endorse torture. They advocate (even more) theocracy. They think the Autocrats have generally done a great job. (There's no punchline.) They have zero clue about economics or the tenuous state the US economy is in. They advocate openly homophobic--and in the cases of many of them--racist policies. They have no plans whatsoever to alleviate any of a number of current crises the country faces, be it health care or our infrastructure problems or immigration or worsening relations with Russia. Their pandering and dishonesty and hypocrisy would be breathtaking were they new, but unfortunately this is now the mainstream Republican way. Any one of them has the capacity to be so awful that they will make George W. Bush look like William Howard Taft (that is, nothing to write home about but still better than the worst ever). In fact, Rudy Giuliani at times acts so bizarrely and Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo make such dangerously outlandish statements that it's unclear that they're sane at all. John McCain (he of the "Bomb, bomb Iran" chant) recently claimed that the Constitution enshrines Christianity as the state religion while Mike Huckabee proclaimed to an audience that the majority of signers of the Declaration of Independence were ministers. (ONE WAS.) I ask, Are these people insane? Seriously?

And yet the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, increasingly disturbs me with her neocon dalliances (I don't have a problem with her "personality," her "laugh," her being a woman, etc.--Lord knows, we could use a competent president of any gender, and a truly progressive female president would be a miracle), particularly on the issue of Iran. She has the gall to claim that her recent vote for the Kyl-Lieberman resolution did not give W a free pass to bomb Iran, as if we're supposed to accept that. How gullible does this woman think we are? I'm not surprised by her NeoConning, or her ties to lobbyists, particularly those affiliated with the defense industries, which can only be salivating over her (and Obama's and Edwards's) comments about not pulling the troops out of Iraq as soon as they can. Over all, as I have said before, I think she would be a marked improvement over the current White House occupant. Nevertheless, the steadily cementing narrative of her indomitability as the nominee, her rightward positioning (cf. her husband's infamous "triangulation strategy" and both their longstanding ties to the quasi-Republican Democratic Leadership Council), and the media's obvious delight at this fact, make me worry.

Which brings me to Mr. Second Place, Barack Obama, who's fading to third as I type this entry. I've more than once made it clear that he has been one of my top candidates. He's smart, he's expressed real vision and ideals in the past, he's one of the most progressive members of the Senate (which unfortunately isn't saying that much), and he would probably be a pretty good to excellent president. At the same time, he also gives me pause; his campaign is not especially effective, he often fails to get out in front of issues, he seems overly cautious, he has a horrible block on the issue of gay marriage, and he constantly is whining about Hillary Clinton's campaign and cheering about how much money he's raised without putting forward a compelling political narrative that would galvanize voters and make Clinton's "inevitablity" moot. It's as if he thinks being smart and handsome and visionary is going to get him over. He has to know better, doesn't he? Doesn't he?

I don't think he does. I think he's caught up, like Narcissus, with the beauty of his own image--as the "uniter" or "third wayer" or something. But whatever it is, it's increasingly not working. The other night I was chatting with the poet Sterling Plumpp, who knows from some Leftist politics, and he suggested that Obama was just not doing what he needed to do, was not being outspoken, was not being the candidate who'd energized Illinois voters in 2002. I agreed--the metaphor that came to mind was a hologram, as if that's what Obama's project, as opposed to the "authentic self" that he feels he must conceal. I noted to Sterling that Obama seemed to be following the usual high-paid Democratic consultants' terrible advice, which usually spells trouble for presidential candidates, and that for whatever reason, he could not or did not want to break out of it. Reciting what is clearly conventional--and thus not really--wisdom, I said it was clear that Obama wants to "appear about the fray," though as I note above, I think there's really something to this.

Another way of putting it is that he's been trying to run a general campaign, and a subtle, timorous, and ineffective one at that, in the Democratic primary. Or perhaps he's running a Vice Presidential campaign, hence his reluctance to distinguish himself from his leading rivals. Part of this general/VP campaign attitude is the lipservice he keeps paying to evangelicals, particularly right-wing ones, at the expense of the Democrats' general and longstanding constituencies. I recognize that there are some Black evangelicals who want to hear Obama trumpet his faith and talk about God, as a way of validating not only his religious beliefs but his "authenticity" as a Black person (that this is still in an issue in 2007 is maddening, but so it is). Nevertheless, Obama appears to go the extra yard, to the extent that, as has been pointed out on other blogs, he is now going to tour South Carolina with the self-loathing homophobic homo Donnie McClurkin. I don't care what arguments Obama or his campaign give, there's no excuse for this. None. Today, however, he was defiant about hitching his star to McClurkin, or vice versa. If he thinks this is going to win him enough votes in South Carolina to pass Clinton, or enough votes anywhere to do anything, he has a real wakeup call coming.

It's clear to me that Obama could gin up Black votes--and Black voters, like a majority of American voters--by actively and aggressively pushing progressive politics and policies, especially if he wraps them in an appealing narrative. Right now, however, he seems unwilling to do that, and is taking a very problematic route. Ultimately I think it's not going to be to his benefit, but perhaps he needs to experience this firsthand. He'll sign his credibility over to a creep like McClurkin and in the end, will be the sucker when Clinton romps to the nomination. The sad thing is, it doesn't have to be this way.

To that end, I had to tell one of Obama's earnest campaign workers today that they shouldn't call me until Obama cuts McClurkin loose and gets his act together. The phone bank person got an earful, but perhaps that's the only way to reach them/him. Letters, emails and other forms of communication have failed, as have my refusals to give them any more money. Let's see if they get the message. Meanwhile, I did donate to Senator Chris Dodd's presidential campaign. Dodd, you may recall, took the courageous step last week of placing a hold on the Cheney-Rockefeller telecom amnesty bill. Although the Democrats still have not gotten anything close to coherent and complete answers on the administration's spying on American citizens, and although even more grave questions have arisen from the Nacchio-Qwest trial (such as why the administration allegedly asked Qwest to allow spying on Americans in early 2001, nine months before the September 11, 2001 attacks!), Democratic senators Jay Rockefeller and Dianne Feinstein acceded to the grossly unpopular president's and administration's constant drumbeat to give retroactive immunity to the telecoms, which are currently being sued. The wrongness of this step is obvious, but until Dodd stepped forward, the Democrats--including the other Democratic presidential candidates--remained silent. Supposedly now both Obama and Joe Biden are on record as supporting the hold, which might have to become a filibuster, since Majority Leader Harry Reid is said to want to push the bill through, so we'll see what happens.

But Dodd's star rose immeasurably to me. Help him out if you feel the same way.


  1. John, I would definitely miss it if you stopped commenting on politics, and the upcoming presidential race. I was never as confident as you have been regarding Obama's potential success as president. I think the Narcissus problem was part of what propelled him into the race to begin with. He was listening to all these people tell him how much good they thought he could do because he was a charismatic visionary, how much money and time people would commit to get him in the white house, and focusing on that instead of developing a substantial platform/plan to deal with the various national woes you enumerated in your post. If he had just taken the time to shut those voices out and ask himself what he actually had to offer the country as a leader, and what kind of leader he envisioned himself as being, as opposed to being seduced by others' projected "idea" of him as a leader. Then I think he would be much more clear-headed vis-a-vis those unfortunate campaign consultants--sending them packing, for one.

  2. Audiologo, I think you're on, though when I heard him campaigning in Illinois for the Senate race and met him personally, he DID articulate the kind of vision--the policies and the political strategy for realizing--that you describe. Yet now he's decided that he's going to listen to his consultants, and his whole little ragged buggy is falling apart. He's not about to get rid of those consultants, though; they're his carapace and they're going to stay till the end, especially given all the money he's raised, which is keeping them on happy street, at least for now.