Thursday, April 17, 2008

No to Clinton

Reason we dare to hope for an Obama victory
April 17, 2008
Tribune, London
Ian Williams - Letter from America

MY FAVOURITE memory of Hillary Clinton is her address to New York trade union activists fundraising for her Senate campaign. “I have been associated with the same causes as you all my working life”, she declared with her typical brass-necked chutzpah. Indeed she has. She was a corporate lawyer working for anti-union companies.

While many of the Republican attacks against her smack of fervent misogyny, the Clintons give plenty of more rational reasons to provoke unsupportive reactions. Hillary has all the negative connotations of Bill’s tenure, but lacks her husband’s charisma and political charm.

Barack Obama is not the new prophet to lead the United States out of the wilderness of neo-liberal capitalism, but his election would augur well for the maturity of American society. It would indicate that the scars of slavery were fading and, along with them, the Republicans’ “Southern strategy”, aimed at winning white voters.

Obama did not always have the lock on black American votes that he now has. Clinton inherited her husband’s tremendous (and not objectively merited) support among them. It was hers to lose – and she did, as she sent out coded signals to whites, which black voters were historically well-equipped to decode. Registrations of young black voters have soared across the US – and it is open to question whether they would actually turn out for Clinton in a presidential election.

On the other hand, Obama’s deft footwork has benefited him in the racial minefield of American politics. His skin colour is belied by his mixed race origins, so that white voters who would cavil at what they see as the influence of “professional” blacks can and do support him. His thoughtful speeches on this issue show that Obama knows how to walk the tightrope, while Clinton’s cynical attempts to push him off seem to be backfiring.

One question is the Hispanic vote, which has been going solidly in favour of Clinton. Many Hispanics are, in their own way, redneck about blacks. It remains to be seen how the endorsement of Governor Bill Richardson – hitherto the most prominent Hispanic Democratic candidate – will help Obama in the primaries. In the presidential election, it is unlikely Hispanics will switch to the Republicans whose overtly anti-immigrant and covertly racist attitudes offer little to them.

Underlying the attenuated ideological content of the Democratic Party, both Obama and Clinton have been raising more money from the Republicans’ natural business base, which perhaps suspects the right-wing ideology of the conservatives makes McCain unelectable. Obama has been even more successful in this area than Clinton, which should serve as a reality check to leftists and keep their expectations within modest bounds.

However, an Obama victory would be a fitting nemesis for the “new” Democrats and the Clintons, whose dark side becomes more apparent as Hillary sees herself baulked of what she had taken for granted.

The Clinton strategy – the model for Tony Blair’s “new” Labour – depends on raising funds from wealthy people and staying unconstrained by pandering to the “special interest groups” representing the poor, workers and ethnic minorities, whose votes are taken for granted. In the primaries, Hillary neglected “unimportant” states, just as she neglects “unimportant” people.

Her Karl Rove-style tactics against Obama have exacerbated her conscious abstention from building a grassroots campaign to raise serious doubts about her ability to win the race to the White House against McCain.

Regardless of any damage to her party, she will not bow out, hoping that its senior officials – the so-called super delegates – will defy their constituents’ mandates and support her at the Democratic convention.

In contrast, Obama has built up a national grassroots campaign, which is hardly surprising. That is how he built his political base in Chicago. Unfortunately for Clinton, many among the party leadership now see her as the least viable option to break the Republican hold on the White House. But by fighting to the last, she ensures the Democrats are, in the nature of the primary system, eviscerating themselves in public while McCain concentrates on November’s election.

What does all this mean to the rest of the world? In terms of foreign policy, it is justified in cheering for Obama. McCain supports the war in Iraq and hews to a vigorous unilateralism mitigated only by a rationality lacking from the current administration. At least he recognises the need for allies and is opposed to torture.

Clinton is basically a neo-conservative who stayed with the Democrats. She supported the war in Iraq and now only opposes it for the inimitably Clintonian reason that open support is an obvious vote-loser. She has the spine her husband lacks, but shares his unscrupulousness.

Obama has been a voice of reason, consistently opposing the Iraq war, calling for engagement with Iran and Cuba and even sailing dangerously close to the wind on the Israel-Palestinian issue.

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