Sunday, January 27, 2008

I Don't Hate Hillary, But...

I don't hate Hillary Clinton. I think that she gets a bad wrap for things that, if she were a man, wouldn't be questioned. I think that people are scared of her because she is a strong, intelligent and powerful woman. I am appalled at the level of "I Hate Hillary" sentiment that exists in this country because I believe that most of it is driven by peoples' fears of strong, intelligent and powerful women.

All of that being said, I hate Hillary Clinton's politics.

The fact that her campaign, largely led by Bill, has gone on an inexplicable offensive in the past couple of weeks is bad for politics and it's bad for the Democratic party. Josh Marshall has an excellent post about trying to pinpoint where he finds a problem with "Bill 2.0". He settles, it seems, largely on the fact that Bill Clinton is the leader of the Democratic Party and, as such, has an obligation to ensure the health of the party—even if that means not supporting Hillary as much as he would otherwise want to. For Josh, the problem is that Bill Clinton is thinking personally when he should be thinking professionally. His obligation to his party and, given the way that the two parties control the election of public officials in this country, also his country should come above his family obligations. Bill's actions are bad because it leads to political dynasties, not because of the actions themselves.

I respect Josh's analysis and believe that he is right about the problems of political dynasties. From very early one of my largest reservations with Hillary Clinton is the fact that, if she is elected and subsequently re-elected in 2012, two families would have controlled the Presidency for 28 years. Over a quarter of a century ruled by two families. That's bad for democracy. But, I have a bigger problem with what has happened with the Clinton campaign in the past two weeks that really gets at my intense dislike for the Clinton's politics.

That problem is this: Hillary Clinton's campaign is designed to win her the nomination at all costs and that cost might be the health of the Democratic Party. The actions of her campaign in the past couple of weeks has demonstrated that she does not mind stepping on the party if it can be a stepping stone to her nomination. In the past two weeks, Bill Clinton alleged that Obama was suppressing votes and the campaign was simultaneously claiming that the Culinary Workers Union was ordering members to vote for a particular candidate. Those lines are straight out of the corporate anti-union tactics playbook. Of course, that shouldn't be a big surprise, considering Mark Penn is one of her top advisors, and CEO of the company that runs the PR for firms such as Cintas, who has run an intense anti-union campaign against UNITE HERE, the same international with whom the Culinary Workers are federated, and whose poor worker safety led to a record fine by OSHA for a worker's death.

Then, in the past week to stir up controversies over the fact that Obama is winning in South Carolina because he is likely to get more black votes, among the other questionable truths (h/t lmw) means that the Clinton campaign is intentionally using this race-baiting tactic because they know the saliency of race and politics in this election. This was confirmed today, when Bill Clinton subtly brought up that Jesse Jackson won S.C. in the 1984 and 1988 primaries. Feeding into perceptions that black voters are going to vote for Obama because he is black feeds straight into the kind of despicable behavior that Republicans have used against black Democratic candidates (see Harold Ford).

This win-at-all-costs politics is bad. Not only does it have the effect of suppressing voters who are not already active participants in the political process (among whom, I believe, the majority would support Democrats) but it also sells out the very base of the Democratic Party. Arguing that union bosses intimidate their own workers does nothing to help workers organize and it undermines the very institutions that are responsible for the largest and most effective political machine on the left. Claiming that Obama is going to win South Carolina because he is black, not for his politics, plays into the racial-quota race-baiting of the conservative movement. But, it is politically expedient. And, it's worked. Many of the major media outlets are covering Obama's huge margin among black voters (including the AP, CNN, Fox, and international outlets). And, it seems that Clinton's strategists agree, "Clinton campaign strategists denied any intentional effort to stir the racial debate. But they said they believe the fallout has had the effect of branding Obama as 'the black candidate,' a tag that could hurt him outside the South."

Even I have fallen into it. I have spent this entire post discussing Clinton when, in fact, the day belongs to Obama. He didn't just win South Carolina, he skunked Clinton there. His 55% percent mandate against two candidates is as high as Clinton's Michigan win against "Undecided." This is his day, his week and should be—at least until February 5th—his campaign. And, his victory speech was brilliant. It is worth watching all 17 minutes of it. But, talk about striking back with a brilliant political move, here is my favorite part of his speech:

We're up against the idea that it's acceptable to say anything and do anything to win an election. But we know that this is exactly what's wrong with our politics. This is why people don't believe what their leaders say anymore. This is why they tune out. And this election is our chance to give the American people a reason to believe again. (Cheers, applause.)

But let me say this, South Carolina. What we've seen in these last weeks is that we're also up against forces that are not the fault of any one campaign but feed the habits that prevent us from being who we want to be as a nation.

It's a politics that uses religion as a wedge and patriotism as a bludgeon, a politics that tells us that we have to think, act, and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us, the assumption that young people are apathetic, the assumption that Republicans won't cross over, the assumption that the wealthy care nothing for the poor and that the poor don't vote, the assumption that African-Americans can't support the white candidate, whites can't support the African-American candidate, blacks and Latinos cannot come together.

Obama is right and his politics are good for the country. Whether I agree with him about the issues (I think, in the end, I would tend to support Edwards the most on the issues), the fact that people are engaged, involved and active in a presidential campaign is better for democracy and could help prevent useless wars and unbridled corruption in the future. Obama's campaign will mean more to the politics of this country losing this election than Clinton's will winning it.


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