Saturday, March 8, 2008
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Someone mentioned to me the other day that there are basically two major “wings” of the Democratic Party. Actually that is somewhat of an oversimplification, since there are actually many factions. But there is some truth to that bisected depiction. Indeed, there are certainly party "insiders" on the one hand (i.e. the establishment) and "outsiders" on the other. There are those who almost always play it "safe" on major policy issues (the insiders) and those who stand up for what they actually believe on a given issue, even though their positions may not be popular with the nervous poll-driven party establishment. Paradoxically, sometimes the outsiders eventually become insiders and appear to "sell out" in the process.
I'm old enough to remember how Sen. Gary Hart (labeled an outsider) challenged the Democratic Party establishment candidate of the 1984 presidential election, Walter Mondale. In fact, I ran and was elected as a Hart delegate that year. At the time I was really excited by all of his fresh “new ideas.” He was touted as a “neo-liberal” reformer that wanted to dramatically change Washington’s political climate. He was even a defense policy expert.
However, that was right after the "superdelegates" had been created, which helped Mondale win. More importantly, the Mondale campaign was able to lift a simplistic line from a Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the beef?” to question whether Hart's ideas actually had any real substance. As a result, the party insiders slowed Hart’s momentum and triumphed in the short term by winning the nomination. But the lackluster candidacy of Mondale went down to defeat against Ronald Reagan in the general election.
Ironically, Bill Clinton was deemed n "outsider" in 1992 by challenging the traditional liberal orthodoxy of the Democratic Party establishment. After years of losing presidential elections to conservative Republicans, Clinton’s strategy was to move the Democratic Party to the center and therefore appeal to a broader cross-section of the electorate.
Though many neo-liberals and progressives - including myself - were disturbed by some of Bill Clinton’s more conservative positions (on issues such as the death penalty, welfare reform, and growth of the prison-industrial complex), we still appreciated his charisma and leadership skills. Despite my misgivings, I liked him personally and credited him with some important accomplishments - especially regarding balanced budgets, the booming economy, and the peace processes in the Middle East and Northern Ireland.
The dynamic of Democratic insiders/outsiders changed again as a result of the Iraq War. The Clinton-era moderates had become the new insiders by this time, though a new cadre of more liberal/progressive outsiders was now on the horizon. Countless thousands of liberals and progressives across the country had spoken out against the use of force resolution, urging Congress to vote against it. It was obvious to virtually anyone who followed politics that President Bush intended to go to war against Iraq and was seeking Congressional “cover,” particularly since the U.N. route had been ruled out by this time.
Many Democrats - including a majority of Democratic members in the House of Representatives - voted against the use of force authorization of 2002. But a plurality of Democratic Senators - including several that had planned to run for President such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden, voted in favor of the resolution.
This was a defining moment for "liberal outsiders" such as myself who were mad as hell that any Democrat in Congress would basically give Bush a green light to invade Iraq. That's why I supported the maverick liberal outsider, Howard Dean, for president in 2004. That's also what initially attracted me to Barack Obama in the current election. But I soon found out that Obama was much more than just another anti-Iraq war outsider. He was filled with specific new ideas and policy prescriptions, while at the same time heading up a nationwide grassroots movement dedicated to overturning the corrupt status quo in Washington, D.C.
Of course, John Edwards reinvented himself as an "outsider," after leaving the U.S. Senate, adopting populist rhetoric, and actually apologizing for his Iraq war vote. But Hillary did not follow suit and for this reason further alienated many anti-Iraq war liberal outsiders such as myself. Despite my generally fond feelings for Hillary, I felt betrayed by her 2002 vote and her stubborn refusal to renounce that vote.
Ironically, Hillary had become the consummate insider, reaping the benefits of "insider" party patronage and network ties from her years spent in the White House. Though the idea of the “first woman president” was appealing, the idea of another poll-driven Machiavellian candidate of the corrupt Washington status quo was revolting.
For those of us who have seen countless liberal outsiders go down to defeat in the primary season over the years, Barack Obama has given us hope that the status quo can be challenged successfully this time. Now more than ever we are particularly hopeful that the new outsider (Obama) will ultimately triumph over the new insider (H. Clinton).
But the insiders are very adept at fending off such challenges from outsiders and tend to use overly simplistic attacks to marginalize their opponents. Mondale played that game and won the nomination in 1984. Hillary Clinton is employing similar tactics today, no matter what lasting harm that may be done to the Democratic Party. Hopefully, this time the outsider candidate will secure the nomination and lead his party – and more importantly his social movement - to victory in November.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
There has been a not-so-subtle use of such xenophobic themes by persons associated with the Clinton campaign and an all-out frontal assault by far-right talk radio commentators and bloggers in recent days. Anyone who would resort to such tactics is attempting to appeal to the unwarranted fears of many voters, particularly those who are easily swayed by such race-baiting demagoguery.
I would expect such ethnocentric tactics from conservative talk show hosts such as Bill Cunningham and Rush Linbaugh, since they are notorious for appealing to the dark side of the American electorate. But to have fellow Democrats employ such tactics is really sickening. As Linbaugh of all people noted on the O'Reilly Factor recently, the origin of the "controversy" over Obama's middle name goes back to Democratic supporters of Hillary Clinton. It was actually a Clinton surrogate, former Senator Bob Kerry, who first repeatedly used Obama's middle name back in December while he was campaigning on behalf of Sen. Clinton.
As a Democrat, I am very disturbed that the Clinton campaign would use or condone such a xenophobic approach. Did Hillary apologize for Bob Kerry's remarks or admonish him in any way, shape, or form? No. It's very sad that Sen. Clinton's campaign is apparently resorting to such tactics even while John McCain has criticized such language.
There is also reason to believe that someone associated with the Clinton campaign was behind the leaking of Obama's Kenyan photo to the Drudge Report. What's going on here? Why does the Clinton campaign feel the need to encourage xenophobia in attacking their rival? This sort of thing is very ugly and Senator Clinton owes the American people an apology for her campaign's thinly veiled attacks on her rival's ethnic/ancestral background.