Friday, January 18, 2008

No way to heaven, but at least missing Hell

My column in this week's Tribune, on the primaries.

After a year, the final decisive round of the great Primary Circus is upon us. Last week the best-qualified Democratic candidate for the presidency dropped out. Bill Richardson had been a congressman, ambassador to the UN, Energy Secretary and Governor of New Mexico, in between being a negotiator with the North Koreans. His thoughtful policies, on global warming, and pulling out of Iraq for example, were clear and explicit, unlike the evasions and temporizing of most of the other candidates.

While the headline writers stressed Barack Obama’s race and Hillary Clinton’s gender, they all overlooked the fact that Richardson was Hispanic – half Mexican, which was in itself groundbreaking. However, he lacked one essential qualification: money. The media and the TV networks that are the prime beneficiaries of the hundreds of millions of dollars that the candidates raised would not accept him as a major candidate without corporate backing on a huge scale. The sums that the Labour Party deputy leadership campaigns raised would not buy a single TV spot in an American primary. Indeed, they are literally a thousandth of the amounts that the American front-runners solicited. They represent a massive IOU to corporate America on the part of the Democrats.

When I spoke to him recently, the Senate’s only avowed Socialist, Bernie Sanders, gave his preference as John Edwards first, Obama second, and Hillary Clinton last. While the unions and many more progressive Democrats are indeed supporting Edwards, who is voicing what one might call “Old Democrat” values, the media have concentrated on Hillary and Obama. That could reflect their charisma, but it only takes a soupcon of paranoia to wonder whether an underlying reason is to ensure a Democratic candidate almost guaranteed to excite negative feelings among voters. For example, while the Iowa caucuses, which mobilize Democratic activists, voted for Obama, the New Hampshire vote, which is open to anyone who registers as a Democrat, reversed what they told the pollsters before about supporting him. That does suggest a large degree of latent racial prejudice, observed before, where conflicted white voters claim to be voting for a black candidate when polled, but in the safety of the voting booth cannot bring themselves to do so.

Even so, while Obama is clearly a fresh voice, one should not be too dewy-eyed about him – he has shown distressing signs of learning from the Clinton school of political contortionism. Hillary herself excites paroxysms of vituperation and misogyny from conservatives, to the extent of gaining a feminist backlash. The irony is, of course, that her own policies on almost every issue are actually very conservative, reflecting her funding base from Wall St. Hillary Clinton’s career suggests that for her, it is the advancement of one woman that matters, and that the uninsured mothers on welfare will have to sink and swim without too much in the way of sisterly support.

However, what could induce even the most jaundiced anti-Clintonista to vote for her in general election is the Republican ticket. Most of them were bad to start with, but their efforts to win the support of the Evangelical and wacko right have most of them choking on their own words. What will be even more nauseating will be watching them regurgitate their more recent verbal mastications as they try to retriangulate back to the centre after securing the nomination with the wacko votes. Outstanding in this respect is John McCain, who five years ago was the victim of Karl Rove’s dirty tricks, and who showed some independence and integrity, which he has now traded for the support of the Republican leadership, which is of course concerned about the prospects off the rest of the field.

Who can blame them? Think of Rudolf Giuliani who preached Catholic family values while announcing his impending divorce at a press conference, without telling her, and who busily disappearing up his own rectum as promises to stack the Supreme Court with anti-abortion and anti-gay justices even though not holding those positions himself. Mike Huckabee, a creationist, has equally faith-based views on economics, wanting to abolish income tax, while Mitt Romney, a Mormon, does a jig on a Moronic angel pinhead as he explains his vision of a faith based America that evades some major points of his theology. In this context, the campaign of Ron Paul, the libertarian Texas Congressman, is almost refreshing. He does not triangulate at all. He puts his programmes up on a pole and rallies supporters by the hundreds of thousands. Ordinary Americans have given his campaign an amazing amount of money. He does not get corporate support, and Murdoch’s Fox excluded him from their screens and debates, thus alienating a vociferous group who had hitherto slavishly supported Fox News through its decade of distortion and libel of Democrats. His grass roots campaign certainly pulls in the wackos but his populist, anti big government, not to mention anti-war, policies reveal a fissure line in the working class white vote that an astute Democrat could appeal to.

One of the purposes or at least an effect of recent Primaries has been for Democratic candidates to render each other unelectable. This year the effect will be stronger on the Republican side, where ideology rather than pragmatic policies are the chosen grounds for challenge. In end, the race is for the Democrats, which after two disastrous Bush terms has to be a step forward. To paraphrase what an American Secretary of State said about the UN, a Democratic victory may stop us going to Hell, but is unlikely to advance us far towards Heaven.

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