Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Things I Think About As We Approach The Tsunami Primary on February 5

Here are the things that do not worry me at all.

That Barack Obama smoked pot. The only thing I can say about this is: Oh. Please. Stop. This -- and the severe penalties that people can be exposed to for taking naked pictures of their toddlers at the beach and having them developed at Walmart -- are perhaps the worst residue of the Reagan era's conservative cultural backlash. Being honest about getting high is, in my opinion, one of the things that makes this man genuine in his approach to others -- it's no wonder that young people like him! And I can name at least one prominent conservative intellectual/pundit, a man who helped get us into the Iraq war, who I got high with repeatedly in college. So shut up already. Clearly getting high is not a barrier to power.

That Hillary Clinton is a racist. This is truly absurd. Hillary and Bill have been profoundly progressive on race, Bill as a white governor in a state that -- under former governor Orville Faubus -- was for a short time the poster child for massive white resistance to desegregation. And Barack Obama has offered us proof of what he said in last night's debate was his great weakness -- a lack of executive experience -- by not putting the hammer down on this right away. I am quite sure that he does not believe in the kind of attack that was launched by people in his campaign in response to Senator Clinton's remarks about Dr. King. Now the Clintons are not so progressive on welfare, education, unionization or fair trade. But those are different -- if related -- issues, and not what Senator Clinton was attacked about. Which, to my mind, means something about the political intent of those who attacked her.

That John Edwards has a large, expensive house. Has anyone evaluated the Clinton bungalow lately, in lovely Westchester County? How about the Obama homestead in pricey metropolitan Illinois? And perhaps the founder of modern liberalism -- not to mention the welfare state itself -- Franklin Roosevelt: what was his net worth, and how many houses did he own when he became President? President Reagan? That newish Bush ranch? And let me just say -- you could easily spend $400 on a haircut. Someone needs to ask Hillary what she spent on her most recent color job.

That Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Honestly, as an exiled Westerner, I kind of like him for this. Do you know that Mormonism is the only true American religion? As a queer, I've never seen polygamy as entirely bad -- only abused as an institution. And why would Mitt Romney be a worse president than Mike Huckabee, who believes that the world will be devoured in fire and chaos, with the Devil walking the earth, and that only those who have taken Jesus Christ as their Saviour will survive and be taken to heaven to live with their loved ones?

Here are the things that do worry me.

That every Democratic candidate is solid on civil unions that convey equal rights for gay and lesbian people, as well as gay and lesbian adoption and child custody, but all candidates have tacitly accepted that marriage for queers is a political poison pill. Ok -- I don't believe in marriage as a way to convey equality. I don't believe in marriage at all as an institution that is inherently good for anyone. But really -- if civil unions and marriage would be the same in every way in a Democratic administration, why would we keep the two legal statuses separate (but equal)? This is the kind of thing that causes me to sympathize with gay men and lesbians with whom I otherwise have nothing in common: letting them get married undermines our society and economy -- how?

That Barack Obama doesn't think his lack of administrative experience/ability is an issue. Honey, that's why they call it "Commander in Chief," and the President's quarters "the Executive Wing." And no, you can't just say you will hire the good people who will run the government for you, you will supply great ideas for change and it will be ok. Who are these people? Will we be electing them?

That Hillary Clinton says things like the Martin Luther King statement and doesn't think it will come back to smack her in the fanny. The Clintons are too damn smart and too ready to demonstrate it: that caused people to hurt them before, and it will cause people to hurt them again. And of course Hillary was historically correct: what activist actually does move legislation? Did John Brown, Frederick Douglass, or Harriet Tubman end slavery? Did SDS bring the troops home from Vietnam? All you have to do is read Robert Caro's terrific third volume on Lyndon Johnson (which only goes up to 1960) and you know what the woman was talking about. The Senate sat there for twenty years watching mass black protest in the South and violent white resistance to that protest and did almost nothing. It took a President who knew how to control the Senate to get voting rights and civil rights legislation passed. Hillary is talking about the moral authority of the presidency, but she is also talking about raw, statist power. And in politics nowadays we are supposed to talk about political power in user-friendly ways that mask and mystify its real nature.

That media outlets get to decide for the rest of us citizens who is a legitimate candidate and who is not. Lucky for democracy, the kickin' Dennis Kucinich is taking this on by suing NBC over his exclusion from the televised Nevada debate. My question: what happened to the League of Women Voters, who used to sponsor these debates?

That Mike Huckabee reminds me a lot of Huey Long. Or Henry George. Watch him talk, why don't you?

But can I say that I do just love politics? I really do.


Ahistoricality said...

That Romney is Mormon specifically bothers me a lot less than the fact that Romney and Huckabee both espouse versions of Christianity that are effectively forms of religious supremacy and show little understanding of how their faith and tendency to blend faith and politics makes people like me (Jewish with a secular approach to politics) very nervous.

The rest of it, though, is dead on. I live in a state which is arguably one of the least influential in the entire United States with regard to presidential politics, so we've seen very little of it up close. Uncommitted doesn't even begin to describe it, and I'm a hardcore political junkie; I love the theater, but I'm increasingly unhappy with the choices.

cantdance said...

How is it that you worry about Obama's administrative experience but not Edwards'?

Tenured Radical said...

That's a really good question. I guess because Obama himself brought it up as a flaw in the debate, and then said he didn't think it mattered, and that he would just find the right people to run the government. Which struck me as not terribly reassuring.

On the other hand, I am not clear what Obama has done except run for office, whereas running a litigating team and a court case requires a lot of executive ability.

I think we all know Hill can run the government.


DCJ said...

Hillary's experience isn't exactly impressive either. She and Bill basically ran a permanent campaign during their eight years in office, but she's never held an executive position in government and has been in the Senate for seven years. She says she's battle-tested but running on her own she's never beaten any significant candidate. She's hated by 50 percent of the population, and if the Democrats nominate her that will give the Republicans their best chance to keep the White House. I'm not a registered Democrat, but if I were, I would vote for Obama.

Anonymous said...

"Hillary and Bill have been profoundly progressive on race."


Lani Guinier, Sista Souljah, and Rickey Ray Rector might say otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I don't think any of the democrats have significant administrative experience -- it's not something that distinguishes Obama from the rest. And much of Hillary's "experience" (especially in foreign policy)is vicarious: she knows the job because her husband held it.

Oh, and on the houses front: remember the Clinton's have two, one in Westchester, and one on Embassy Row. They had to be approved by the Secret Service...

Tenured Radical said...

One obvious point is that nobody has the experience to be President until they become President. I think it is Obama's statement that he isn't a good executive *and* that it doesn't matter that I think is a problem -- I often believe that if Bush had simply been a better executive and not delegated to so many people with separate, evil, agendas, that things would not be as bad as they are. I just think Obama is wrong about this and I find it worrisome. Question for my academic audience: would you be comfortable with a university president who said he s/he didn't think of himself as a good administrator?

But having though about it overnight, I also wonder if there isn't another interpretation: that Obama is positioning himself as "not a Washington bureaucrat like the others."

And as to Mr Franklin's comment: well, I get what you mean. And yet, is a white person's track record on race entirely suspect because of having dealt with some black people unfairly or unkindly? And is the "blackness" of these three people their most salient characteristic, since in fact it is virtually their only similarity. Although the three people you mention are certainly black, one is a wealthy and powerful Harvard law professor, one is a wealthy and influential musician, and one was a convicted murderer and repeat violent offender.

To push this -- although not to argue with your opinion, which is yours -- I think that summoning such examples as canceling out the Clintons' progressive record on race is exactly what I am talking about in relation to the way recent MLK flap was manipulated by the Obama camp. Clinton withdrew the Lani Guinere appointment because she is a genuinely leftist scholar and the Republicans were opposing her appointment as too radical; Clinton was disrespectful about Sistah Souljah because she was an outspoken cultural critic of the values agenda he and the DLC were promoting for women; and the execution of Ricky Ray Rector would never have become a prominent humanitarian issue (since most death penalty cases in the US unfortunately are not) but for the fact that he was massively mentally disabled. So the identity category of "black" is crossing a lot of other categories here which are arguably as -- or more -- important to the issues at hand when each person entered the picture.

And the list of people betrayed by Clinton is very, very long, and very white: start with Hillary, and move down the list. Should be worried about opportunism in a third Clinton term? Should we worry about structural racism more generally? Yes, I think so, on both counts. But not racism, at least not in the personal way you mean.


Anonymous said...

I saw the debate and Obama's comment, too, and I didn't take from it that he thinks he's a bad administrator in general. I thought he meant that "weakness" in a lighter sense-- he loses things, and is maybe a little disorganized. And, really, that DOESN'T matter as President.

I agree that it would be a problem if he actually thought he was a bad administrator and didn't think that was an issue. But, even if some people took his comment that way, I don't think that's what he was going for.

Anonymous said...

Well, now, that's an interesting take on Clinton's comments about MLK and LBJ. While it's a good point that as president, you have to actually DO THINGS and that is different from calling on other people to do them -- I don't think you can necessarily divorce that from the whole idea/implication that it took a white guy to do things. There's a lot loaded into that statement.

Then, too, does Hillary Clinton think she is the second coming of LBJ? I don't buy that. He was majority leader of the Senate for many years, and worked his will on the Senate in many ways both as leader & as President. I don't think there is any evidence to suggest that ANY of our current candidates could play Congress like a violin, the way LBJ did.

Of course LBJ eviscerated Congress and it never recovered, so maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe any president could make them do whatever s/he wants.

I just don't think that, in terms of political acumen, Hillary Clinton comes out on top of a comparison with LBJ.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear human;

Total agreement. No one is or ever will be butcher and badder than LBJ (except Lincoln -- suspending habeus corpus -- *dude!). And actually, he was pretty corrupt too. It is him we have to thank for Halliburton -- since Brown & Root were his personal benefactors, and Brown & Root is now Halliburton. They would bring suitcases of $$ to Washington for him to hand around, and he helped them become powerful. Tit, as it were, for tat.

Re. the white guy gets it done thing while black people play a cast of thousands -- I know, I know. But I think that is an inference that Clinton did not mean, and that was spun by the Obama campaign (according to Congressman John Lewis, who worked w/ Dr. King and talked about memos he had seen on the Lehrer News Hour.) But re. the principle of the thing: it is a hard truth of political history that white people have dominated the political structures of this country, often through violence and corruption, but dominated them all the same. And when progress happened at the level of the state, it often happened because of pressure from below -- but it didn't happen until presidents, from Truman on, staked their presidencies on change. Presidents didn't get civil rights bills passed because they were white; white people got them passed because they were presidents. And I think you can tell that history the way it was without discounting the moral, intellectual and political movements led by people of color in this country.

I think a good analogy is women's suffrage -- a mass movement of white and black women that was seventy five years old, with a long intellectual and political history of mass mobilization, by the time the 19th amendment was passed -- by (white) men.

And the only way that such a scenario privileges white people or white men is if, intellectually, we privilege the history of popular politics over the history of state building. If we don't, then where's the racial beef?

I don't want to push this too hard because I understand that it comes from a symbolic place that is emotionally critical to American political culture, but practically speaking -- it isn't clear how the civil rights bills of the 1960's *would* have been passed if LBJ had not made it his mission. What's the historical counterfactual that makes sense?


Anonymous said...

I would not be happy with a Presidential candidate for the Uni who said he had no experience and it did not matter. However, I think that is a misrepresentation of what Obama said. Clinton criticized her opponents in the now infamous "crying" speech for not being prepared to take office, a statement many interpreted as a direct attck on Obama because her camp has consistently referred to him as inexperienced and in that same week Bill Clinton called him a "kid." Obama was asked to respond to criticism that he was not a good administrator (ie he did not bring it up, the moderators did) and he responded by saying: 1. create a competent cabinet with bipartisan appeal and wide range of thought, 2. delegate to those within the cabinet with the best knowledge base of the situation, 3. lead the cabinet rather than shuffle paperwork. If a Uni President candidate said that, I would walk away thinking that they understood that leadership is not top down, that wide ranging input and support is important to being a good leader, and that they were not going to micromanage us to death. I worry about Clinton's rebuttal during this same question in which she stated that to be a good leader you must be in control of everything that is going on in your cabinet, following up all of the paper work, as well as the decisions. My concern is two-fold: 1. sounds like micromanagement which I hate; but I cut her slack here because when it comes to the Pres of the US, I want to know they are on top of things. & 2. because at the beginning of the debate she claimed that she could not be held responsible for the racist or racialized comments of members of her camp because they spoke out of turn and did not represent her. So which is it? Do you keep on top of everything and take responsibility for it or do you disavow anything that comes back to bite you in the butt?

Tenured Radical said...

All very good points, anonymous. Very thoughtful indeed.


Anonymous said...

Obama didn't just smoke pot, he used cocaine too. I think that calls his judgment into question.

Debrah said...

TO 9:26 AM--


I think judgment is called into question when a desperate and greedy-for-power-double-wide Hillary stays with a man who had a chubby intern hidden under his desk.....

......and met this intern for the usual assignation on Easter Sunday right after being photographed leaving church with a Bible in his hand. (LOL!!!).... a place of the White House--the taxpayers' house--where his Eleanor Roosevelt lookalike daughter Chelsea lay sleeping one floor above.

Talk about embarrassingly bad well as the undignified decision to stay in such a marriage.

At least with Watergate "Deep Throat" was just a metaphor.

Debrah said...

Slate's "Happy Anniversary Monicagate" explores how the media have deliberately assisted Hillary by not covering as they always do infamous "anniversaries" of everyone else and everything else.

The humorous article concludes with:

Are there any lessons to draw from Monicagate? Not a lot. But there are a few:

1. Never ask about a politician's sex life, because someone just might tell you.
2. The sky does not fall when a newspaper prints the word penis.
3. Ditto vagina, which Eve Ensler couldn't have freed from its taboo status in the mainstream media if Monicagate hadn't freed penis first.
4. All politicians commit adultery. There are exceptions, but they're statistically insignificant and not worth investigating.
5. Guilt is but one consideration when a nation undertakes to expel a president from office before his term ends.
6. If you have or had an "inappropriate" relationship with the president of the United States, don't tell your best friend.

Debrah said...

The stupendous and devilish Camille Paglia says it best.

Unknown said...

Although I agree with you that it is not fair to call Hillary or bill Clinton a racist, I would not go so far as saying they are so progressive on this issue either. In particular what I can't forgive either one for is the passage of welfare reform for purely political purposes. Welfare can't be separated from race in the US (or gender for that matter) as the political discourse on welfare is so entwined with race. I will gladly vote for her if she is the nominee but as a welfare law attorney it is this issue more than anything else that prevents me from supporting her in the primaries. Although that said, unlike other progressive/left types, I don't quite see why some think it is so obvious that Obama is self-evidently the more progressive candidate.

Anyhow, I do enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 95% of this, TR, so consider this a quibble, but how do you figure that "Mormonism is the only true American religion"? Where does that leave Christian Science, or Scientology, or any of dozens of other American religions with somewhat lower profiles?

Tenured Radical said...

Shane, you got me there. The Mormons are just so boss they outshine all the rest.


Anonymous said...

Erm... yeah, agrees Shane, as he wonders whether the state-run liquor store is open on the holiday that the Mormon-dominated Utah legislature until recently insisted on calling "Human Rights Day" rather than ML King Jr. Day...