Monday, February 11, 2008
Senator Clinton and the ABCs (Anybody but Clinton)
As I was entering my Massachusetts polling place on February 5, I encountered a Clinton supporter yelling out to prospective voters about how Senator Clinton was “the real liberal,” and how Mr. Clinton had brought the country eight years of economic growt and well being. I couldn’t hold my tongue. I responded that it was after all Alan Greenspan and Silicon Valley that accounted for the good times; that they were only really enjoyed by some; and that it was Bill Clinton’s good fortune to be in the White House at the time. Senator Clinton’s poll watcher responded chanting over and over again as I walked into the polling place: “You're wrong. Clinton did it, Clinton did it, Clinton did it…” So much for dialogue, but here in Jamaica Plain, people spit up their politics like they spit up like curdled milk. Even at 6:30 in the morning.
Chalk it up to misguided enthusiasm, wishful thinking, or just ignorance. Take your pick. Senator Clinton cannot be held to account for one over-zealous poll watcher.
But in a way, Senator Clinton and Ex-President Clinton “did do it,” or are doing it.
And to Senator Clinton and her consort, I say: Beware the ABCs -- "Anybody But Clinton." I have never sat out an election in my life, and never voted for anyone but a Democrat for president. Even if my own politics stand considerably to the left of the party, I come from a yellow dog family, and have never strayed in the voting booth. In American politics, there is no other option, and I accept this as an “inconvenient truth.”
Well, God help me, as my Irish grandmother used to say.
“Anybody but Clinton” has crept into my thoughts. It was a shock – a kind of Pauline horse fall – that I experienced last Tuesday at the polling place. In my family, sitting out an election was a sin of omission. Despite all of the doozies that the Democratic Party has passed off on voters from time in memoriam, they still have to thank Franklin Roosevelt, my grandmother and her undying love for “that man” as the local reactionaries used to call him for my life as a, ahem, “block voter.”
It used to be so automatic. “Just pull the big red lever,” the committeeperson would say. Doing poll work and getting voters out for about forty years of election days, I would say the same thing too, and I even served some time as a committeeperson in the black and liberal remnants of the Philadelphia Democratic organization. Palm cards, election courts, running the voter lists around five in the afternoon were as natural to me as watching water run downhill. Not going out to work an election seemed a sin, let alone sitting one out. For all of the insurgents I worked for – and yes for the party hacks who at least voted the right way -- there was always a reason. Spring or fall, fellow workers and I were like the postal carriers of politics. I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the machine. Da Mayor and his crowd in Chicago taught me a lot.
So I say to Senator Clinton and her supporters: Beware the ABCs. There have been many elections about passion since World War II. People were passionate – I was passionate – about John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson until the latter really dug us into the Vietnam War. I was for Gene McCarthy in the worst way, but I felt bad about Hubert’s Humphrey's 1968 loss. Though a red-baiter historically and a little too friendly with his patron Dwayne Andreas, the Archer Daniels agro-business boss (Wonder why we have ethanol now so conveniently at our disposal? Your tax dollars at work for almost half a century), Humphrey fought for causes in the Senate nobody else would touch. Lyndon Johnson's by then deadly embrace effectively ended the career of a now-forgotten man. Then when George McGovern’s running mate reported that he truly had lost his head in bouts of depression, George lost his. And as they used to say in my house, for McGovern that was all she wrote.
Reagan and a roll-over Democratic Congress pretty much finished the passionate politics of the Democratic Party, save Teddy Kennedy’s run in 1980 and the good works of fringe candidates like Fred Harris and maybe Mo Udall. Mike Dukakis is a very intelligent and decent human being, but didn’t inspire passion. There were other worthies, but I hope you get the picture. The passion that make movements and effective political majorities has passed from the Democrats to the Republicans.
Senator Clinton and her consort had better watch out. Barack Obama inspires a passion I have not seen abroad in the land since the Teddy Kennedy 1980 run, and that was nothing in size and scope to the feelings that Obama is inspiring. Perhaps Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign came close, but many like me chose McCarthy, or mind over matter. With the assassination, the passion dissipated.
Kennedy’s capacity to inspire passion was palpable. In 1966, Bobby Kennedy stumped for Senator Paul Douglas, perhaps the last truly gifted intellectual Illinois sent to the Senate until it elected Obama. He and Senator Douglas spoke to about 50 people on the lawn of a shopping mall about a mile from my house. Bobby radiated heat. Trying with all my might to resist him, to channel thoughts for instance of his despicable performance as an aide to Senator Joe McCarthy in the fifties, it was impossible. He inspired passion.
So it goes with Obama. Pick your side, but he radiates that heat.
Obama is the “Hail Mary” pass of American politics.
Passion and desperation run together today: everyone except the rich has the sinking feeling or experiences the brutal truth that the United States itself is sinking into a cesspool, using the hiking boots of empire to drag itself out of a 25-year morass of a politics as destructive of American life as any since the age of the Roosevelt rescue.
By the way, talk about heat. Listen to any of FDR’s fireside chats and try not to feel the warmth of voice and feeling that when all else failed, actually talked my grandmother’s generation through the Depression. He was "that man" for a reason.
Obama is the “Hail Mary” pass of American politics because our political system has no game plan, no plays to move the country toward mending its ways and sorting out how to become a decent society of equal opportunity and a good neighbor abroad. Its elite of which the Clinton are proud members has little intention of pulling American ambitions and power back from their world struggle for resources and military dominance. Americans, one senses, are finally tired of fighting for Standard Oil (we call it Exxon now) and fighting daily struggles for affordable medical care and education for their kids. They want a Social Security retirement they can count on, and would I think be interested in stopping the spending of its blood and treasure for imperialism and repression abroad.
Obama brings no guarantee: when did you ever see a “Hail Mary” pass that did? He has joined America's political elite, no doubt about it. The risks of betrayal are always there. But have you ever been to the South and "East" Sides of Chicago where Obama worked as a community organizer? I have. I worked there too, almost a generation before Obama. That counts for me as at least a forward pass.
Beware, Senator Clinton, of the passions Senator Obama is stirring up. Heart is winning over head – not yours, Senator Clinton, but the hearts winning over the heads of tens of millions placing whatever hopes they can conjure or hold on into Obama’s candidacy. Don’t expect those voters to come home to you if your campaign goes the way of your Massachusetts poll watche -- and worse with each triumph. Democrats don’t always reunite for Election Day. Remember Hubert Humphrey. He lost because people stayed home, their passions spent and their hearts unwilling.
I was appalled by the 2000 “Vote for Nader where you can, and Gore where you must.” The narcissism was breathtaking. I recall so many West Side liberal New Yorkers I knew believing they could vote for Nader and leave the rest of the city, black, brown, working class, or whoever was not them, to get Gore New York’s electoral votes. Don’t you wonder where those Florida Nader voters got some of their gumption? From just the arrogance that the politically safe expressed Election Day 2000? And those assurances that Nader would be there for “us” afterwards: that was some whopper.
But as I write, I wonder: Perhaps Gore was the Nader voters' bridge too far. By my reading, Gore despite efforts on behalf of Big Pharma and his deadly participation in the protection of the patents of multinationals, was surely decent enough to deserve election. His subsequent record speaks for itself. Did he deserve to lose because of Nader Know-nothingism?
Voting or not voting for Gore rested with the head, not with passion. It was a duty. It was pulling the big red lever. You did it out of habit, or out of rational belief. Save billionaire Bloomberg, he who proves what all that money can do to you and do for you, no third party prospects are stalking the horizon. So Democrats may have a decent chance this time.
Millions are leading with their hearts. Passion can be unreason, but it can also trigger the stuff of which major social changes are made. Step on that, Senator Clinton, and bring on the ABCs.
When people are passionate, and feeling that their candidate was ill-used or cheated by a well-oiled, client-driven political machine (The Clintons have been running for the presidency for a quarter century, and with those eight years of patronage from the White House, likely can call up favors in every election precinct in America), reason can take a holiday.
Beware the ABCs. Anybody but Clinton? If you are the candidate in November, Senator Clinton, it could happen to you.
Regrettably, given a desire for a rational world, I could happen sense a case of the ABCs coming on. Even possessing what Max Weber called the ethics of responsibility is not helping this time.
When the air leaves the balloon, it falls. Obama is part of the air in our political balloon. Puncture it, and the energy for reform dissipates, as does the majority to do it.
Ask Hubert Humphrey, who loved not wisely but too well. He was the happy warrior of his time and was defeated by disillusion and withdrawal. His combination of reason and passion didn't prevail. The passions were too strong, and the disillusion too great.
Mark Twain said that history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. Against all hope, I have begun to hear the world in couplets.
Posted by Michael Blim at 05:44 AM | Permalink