Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Other White Meat

What else to call a post about the Democratic primaries? 'The Taming of the Shrew' would be misleading - she's not a 'shrew', she's a complete asshole. 'The Man Who Wasn't There' would be unfair to Dennis Kucinich, who is the best candidate, but isn't running a serious campaign. 'Futurbama' is trite, and sounds like I'm seconding his campaign. 'The Mancunian Candidate' is obscure, and probably wouldn't work. And I never seriously considered 'The Three Stooges'. 'The Other White Meat' refers to that layer of white voters who would ordinarily never touch a black candidate with a stolen vote, but are now moistening at the ducts and crevices for the gangly African American who insists he was never a Muslim. Obama-mania has apparently taken hold of some slightly loopy American voters after his surprisingly strong finish in Iowa. The commentariat is effusive - Obama doesn't inspire, they say, he elevates. What does Obama offer? Not a great deal, but he does it with aplomb. His foreign policies include gradual withdrawal from Iraq, redeployment to Afghanistan and Pakistan, discussions with Iran, and strongly pro-Israel policies. (Among his foreign policy advisors is Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose ideas look like they have made some impact.) Despite his position on Iraq, neocon Bob Kagan likes him a great deal. Domestically, he offers a few meliorative reforms in healthcare, neoliberal fiscal policies which potentially contradict his package of tax cuts for the poor and pay increases for teachers - if he sticks to PAYGO, any drop in the income of the Treasury due to recession will have to be made up for with spending cuts. He appears to have acquired a progressive aura simply by exuding some nebulous quality of hope and optimism and - the buzzword of the election - 'change'. He looks elegant and dignified, sounds like he knows what he's talking about, and he has performed that Clinton routine of triangulation and glittering generalities much more convincingly than Hillary. Obama's main charm for white conservatives is that he assures them that race doesn't matter in America - classy guy, they say, not like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. No hysterics. Kind of guy you could have round for dinner and he wouldn't embarrass anyone.

In second place in Iowa was John Edwards. Edwards isn't showing well in New Hampshire polls, but he is by far the most interesting of the three main Democratic candidates. Essentially, the role he has crafted for himself is that of a John Grisham hero, a ferocious lawyer from a rural background taking on corporate America. Conservatives try to play on the pretty-boy image he has, but the hot-shot with the North Carolina accent is pure Hollywood. He plays his role well anough to get the approbation of left-wing figures such as Ralph Nader and Tim Robbins. The unions are strongly backing him. His campaign messages consistently bash corporate greed and Washington lobbyists, and he urges a fight with the insurance lobby to secure a single-payer healthcare system. He promises a 'New Deal' for rural America, and talks up the 'underdog' quite a bit. He has tried to escape from the pall of his lasting support for the invasion of Iraq by repudiating his vote and lambasting the 'war on terror', but he remains essentially very hawkish and makes no guarantee that he will end the occupation of Iraq by the end of his term, should he win. He has always been an ardent supporter of Israel and - like Obama and Hillary - voiced his support for the attack on Lebanon in 2006. (And if you want to know how slavishly most of the candidates are backing Israel, check out Haaretz's ranking system). Edwards is socially conservative on some issues too - doesn't support gay marriage, approves of the death penalty, has supported the Patriot Act (complainly only of 'abuse' of those laws), wants to keep the 'war on drugs' ticking over and so on. There appears to be a natural position for him as Obama's Vice-President, and I suspect he'll happily occupy it.

Now, Hillary. Oh dear. I don't know who likes her, or why, but she seems to have a reputation for liberal politics simply because the right-wing characterises her that way and subjects her to sexist attacks. A recent poll of voters found that 54% of them consider her a liberal. More hawkish than the other Democratic candidates (she seems to be competing with John McCain for the "nuts and proud of it" vote), more stridently pro-Israel than Ariel Sharon, an advocate of 'humanitarian intervention' who claims to have stiffened her husband's spine over Kosovo, fiercely hostile to Iran, Clinton has nothing to recommend her as 'liberal'. She has consistently defended her vote for the invasion of Iraq, and shows no sign of being willing to end the occupation. Her domestic policies include some rollback of the tax-breaks for the rich, a few reforms in healthcare (but not single-payer, an option she has always hated), support for the giant 700km fence construction on the US border, and support for the Patriot Act (twice). She also supports the death penalty, and has led the charge to make flag-burning punishable by a year in jail and a $100,000 fine in 2005. On education, she supports Bush's policy of 'No Child Left Behind'. If she is reputed as some kind of "feminist" (a "shit-kicking" one at that, according to Michael Moore), she also upholds the Genghis Khan principle, and knows when to rally round family values - no gay marriage under a Hillary Clinton imperium. They say she is disliked by Republican voters and conservative men because of her relentless liberal assault on the American way of life. The trouble is, she is disliked by almost everyone else as well. The only people who really like her are those poor, sad people who think that she and they alike are meaningfully on the liberal-left. (You should see the nauseating video on Youtube where 'Code Pink' antiwar women explain to a stern Hillary that 'we know you really agree with us...', as if). Quite how she was the 'default' Democrat for so long is utterly mysterious to me, because she has neither charm nor policies to offer anyone, and doesn't even appear to have sufficient flexibility to back off the themes that most repel potential voters. Once a Goldwater Republican, her instincts always seem to take her back to that luminous era. And, poor thing, she cannot really rely on happy memories of the 1990s, since anyone who has been fucked over by Enron capitalism will recall a bit that it was fully nurtured by the same Clinton regime that was busily torturing Iraq with a genocidal sanctions campaign.

All of these candidates are pompous frauds, but the impact of the antiwar vote and the desire for radical change is nevertheless obvious. Ask young Americans why they so vigorously support Obama and, while drenching you with saliva, the poor saps will explain that they expect him to tackle the 'special interests' and lobbyists, to end the war on Iraq and also symbolically end hundreds of years of Anglo-Saxon hegemony in the White House. Those are laudible goals. (And also he, like, toooootally blew them away). Ask them why they support Edwards, and they'll say they're sick of the corporate duopoly, the destruction of good industries, the job flight, the attacks on wages and working conditions, and the way companies get away with murder. And he's really, really sorry about the whole Iraq thing - really. Even Hillary promises to begin to reduce troop levels in Iraq and was smart enough to oppose the 'surge'. There are two excellent ways to piss the energy and enthusiasm of politically-minded Americans up the wall. One is to abandon them to the Democratic Party, and the other is to tell them to vote for Ron Paul, who is simply a thinking man's Pat Buchanan. Here's to Cynthia McKinney (or Ralph Nader) in 2008.