tomemos

March 4, 2008

What makes a man turn neutral?

Filed under: Laws and Sausages — tomemos @ 1:00 pm

(Updated below)

I figure I may only have time for one more post about the Democratic nomination, so here it is:

Following the Democratic primary has given me a new political experience, which is the experience of being nonpartisan. Normally, whenever a news story breaks, I know exactly how to feel, who’s at fault, who’s the victim: the left is right, the right is wrong. In the back-and-forth between Clinton and Obama, though, I don’t have a strong preference (as I’ve mentioned before), and thus I don’t have a strong automatic response when one of them (or, more often, one of their supporters) takes a shot at the other side. Sure, there are things that I disagree with: I roll my eyes and spit when Clinton releases a fearmongering ad, or when Obama lets it be known that he might appoint Republicans to his cabinet. And lest you think that I’m dedicated to the idea that the candidates are exactly equal, it does seem to me that the Clinton side has been making more reprehensible attacks of late (ahem). Of course, if Obama were on the brink of defeat, he might be taking some desperate steps too…but if a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass a-hoppin’.

But my non-partisanship does make me feel qualified to say: a lot of what people are complaining about is just manufactured outrage, tortuous transmutations of ambiguous or poorly-worded statements into supposedly clear examples of “dog-whistling.” I don’t feel that, when Hillary Clinton answered the question “You don’t think Senator Obama is a Muslim,” by saying “Of course not, there isn’t any basis for that—I take him at what he says and there isn’t any reason to doubt that,” that she was trying to imply that he may be a Muslim. I don’t feel that, when Obama said “I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she’s feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal,” that he was trying to imply that Clinton makes attacks when menstruating (though it is still a patronizing comment). Both explanations are feasible, I suppose, but the simplest explanation in both cases is the innocent one. Beyond which, if you think that millions of people can be swayed by commentary that requires PhD-level analysis to unpack, then the electorate is either much smarter or much stupider than we’ve previously supposed.

From a position like that, I’m very sensitive to commentary that claims to be objective, but in fact is anything but. At Days of Industry, Hungarian Great Bela Tarr links approvingly to just such an article, by Paul Jenkins at the Huffington Post, entitled “Clinton and the Vast Media Conspiracy.” I don’t agree with Jenkins’s premise—that contrary to her claims, Clinton has not been treated unfairly by the media, and in fact has been favored by them—but I’m not interested in discussing that here. Indeed, I would rather pound a nail into my eye than get into another debate about media coverage of this campaign. I’ll simply link to what Digby said, not just about the obvious sexism Clinton has faced but also about the left’s failure to demand that she be treated fairly:

…I would warn that if unfair and biased press coverage is now a disqualification for elected office, then I think we’d better think long and hard about whether the Democrats are going to be viable as a political party. Bad press for Democrats is part of the package. (And I would also add that I think it was part of the Netroots job to help fight back this kind of bias against all Democratic presidential candidates, even if as individuals we were pulling for a different one. That did not happen and I think the Netroots failed miserably in one of its primary missions this time out.)

Digby is right. No one has an obligation to like Clinton or to want her to be nominated, but to actually rejoice in her public stoning (and to pretend that the reporting really is Fair and Balanced) because it benefits your candidate of choice is to sell out, not just one candidate, but the party itself—anyone, and that includes Obama, who wants to succeed as a Democrat in defiance of right-wing attack. Which brings us to what I am interested in talking about: Jenkins’s first sentence (emphasis added):

Hillary Clinton has convinced the media that it is biased against her, one of the great (and rare) successes of her presidential campaign, akin to her creation of the vast right-wing conspiracy responsible for conceiving a string of sexual and other disgraces in her husband’s White House.

And I’m thinking: wow. Jenkins has gone so far against Clinton that he has become a 1998 Republican: sneering about the vast right-wing conspiracy, saying that the real problem is the “sexual and other” (which other?) scandals that the Clinton presidency committed. When Molly Ivors at Whiskey Fire says that some Obama supporters “do not seem to know whose framing they’re adopting,” I assume she refers to something like this. (H/T to Mithras, about whom more in a bit.)

I hope I never hear another person wondering why so many Democrats don’t seem to trust hardcore Obama supporters, why they strike us as a little bit of a cult of personality. Anyone who will side with Newt Gingrich and Ken Starr over Bill Clinton, all to score points against Hillary Clinton a decade later, is no Democrat. They should register Republican and not talk to me about politics; they should not talk to anyone about politics, frankly.

Also, the camel’s back having broken, I’ll go ahead and say it plainly: if you hate Hillary Clinton, hate her like the Republicans hate her (and Jenkins, though he puts it most directly, is hardly the only “liberal” who feels this way), it is because she is a woman. I can’t pretend otherwise anymore, and it was cowardly of me to do so in the first place. Reasonable people can disagree on the impact of her war vote, her compromises with the center, and her effectiveness as a speaker and politician, but speaking as an impartial observer, there’s nothing rational that bridges the gap between those objections and finding her repellent, at least not if you didn’t recoil from Kerry and Gore and Bill Clinton (and if you did, shouldn’t you be voting for Nader?). Mithras, who is a dedicated Obama supporter, puts it well:

Some Obama supporters have made it clear that they are not against Hillary because she is a woman, but because of what kind 0f person she is. I don’t think there is any way to know, really, whether that’s true or not. My gut tells me it’s largely bullshit. I doubt these Democrats loathed Bill Clinton in 1996, by which point you knew what you had in the Clintons. Electing a woman to legislative positions seems to be problematic enough. Electing a woman to be Commander in Chief stirs up anxious masculinity all over the place. You can hear it in the vitriol directed at her that isn’t aimed at her husband. Women hear it and know where it comes from. They’ve heard it before.

So that’s why I’ll have trouble feeling very excited when Obama (who is largely blameless in this) wins the nomination: if it means that the Democrats can’t nominate anyone who has a political history, who has established political connections, or (worst of all) who is a woman, then (as Digby says) our long-term viability may be in question. The Yes We Can generation better stick around until 2016, is all I’m saying.

Now, having said all that…I’m aware that the nonpartisanship I feel (between Clinton and Obama) is not the same as neutrality; in fact, I am still being quite partisan, defending both candidates against attacks that could harm them in the general election. This means that I tend to play down the importance of even those attacks, on both sides, that have merit. A nonpartisan viewpoint is not necessarily the wisest or most unclouded—if it were, Michael Bloomberg really would be what this country needed. So I think I can corral my strong feelings, which are the result of a long and trying primary fight, long enough to say (returning to Jenkins): Obama supporters, let us not go down this road. The vast right-wing conspiracy is real; it was real in the 90’s and it’s real now. How else do you explain the coordinated questioning of Obama’s patriotism, at exactly the moment that he became the front-runner? Do you think that they’re not going to find or manufacture some scandals—as Whitewater was manufactured—starting at about 8 pm Central Time today, if Obama wins the nomination?

I think Obama is great, I really do. But let’s not miss the forest for this one very exciting tree. It’s not just a matter of not alienating female voters and other rational people this November; it’s a matter of understanding, in the long term, who the enemy is and who it isn’t. If we don’t hang together, we’re going to hang separately—maybe in November, maybe further down the road.

Update (3/5, 10:15 a.m.): What’s the word for the kind of prescience where you predict something, and it turns out it already happened?  Above, I wrote that Obama would have to deal with manufactured scandals, just as the Clintons had to deal with Whitewater, a complete boondoggle and fishing expedition in which the Clintons were cleared of wrongdoing but nonetheless acquired a vague association with financial scandal that persists to this day.  (Indeed, it is almost certainly part of what Jenkins is referring to with “other disgraces.”)  Well, Obama is already dealing with this, in the form of this Rezko nonsense, and it’s just going to intensify if he gets nominated.  Glenn Greenwald lays out not only the utter hollowness of the non-allegations (“…Obama isn’t even accused of — let alone proven to have engaged in — any wrongdoing at all”) but also discusses the similarities to the Whitewater Technique.  Digby has more on this.

Now, this is not a point in Hillary Clinton’s favor; indeed, her campaign has tried to benefit from this and other phony “scandals,” to its and her discredit.  It is, however, a refutation of the fairytale that Obama is immune to groundless attack (as if the various ethnic canards haven’t already proved that), as well as an argument for opposing specious allegations regardless of which candidate they affect.

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7 Comments »

  1. “…clear examples of “dog-whistling.”
    I like that!

    Comment by Dominic Savio — March 4, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

  2. obama supporters have made it clear that they are not against clinton because she is a woman and clinton supporters have made it clear that they are not against obama because he is black. but neither side seems to believe the other. i have seen many ugly fights between friends, and, I think both candidates ARE contributing to the problem, since this is a competition. (obama is fostering and enjoying the cult of personality around him. I mean he looks like an angel in his white suit flying about the clouds and the dove on the community blog on his website…)

    Comment by gwenie — March 4, 2008 @ 7:54 pm

  3. Dominic: Thanks, but I can’t claim credit for it. I’m not sure who coined it, but it’s commonly used to refer to agreed-upon code words that politicians use to tip off in-the-know voters, like “state’s rights” to refer to racism. Of course, it’s been pointed out that neither Clinton nor Obama used any kind of code; the worst you can say about either of them is that they may have been dropping hints.

    Gwenie: I’m fine with it being a competition, and I’m fine with both Clinton and Obama pressing their honest advantages—they are, after all, trying to win an election. It’s when they either mislead voters, or play on voters’ fears and prejudices, that the party moves backwards.

    Comment by tomemos — March 4, 2008 @ 9:04 pm

  4. Ooh, band name!: The Various Ethnic Canards

    Comment by drew — March 5, 2008 @ 3:56 pm

  5. I don’t know if you’ve read about Hillary’s “commander in chief threshold” comments, but Obama supporters are hardly the only ones using “Republican” frames.

    Also, I think the Clinton campaign is a little quick to play the “your campaign is using republican talking points” card. Comparing Obama to Ken Starr because he reqeusts her to release her tax returns since 2000 is totally out of proportion.

    Comment by Brandon — March 7, 2008 @ 10:51 am

  6. The word is “clairvoyance.”

    Comment by Joseph Kugelmass — March 21, 2008 @ 1:48 pm

  7. I probably wouldn’t say I hate Hillary – hate is a strong word.

    I would say that her behavior, and by behavior I speak of things she has done or said personally, not her campaign or surrogates, has been entirely un-Presidential during this primary season. When confronted with adversity, she has stopped to insults, name-calling, and mockery. Obama has fired back at her to some degree, yes, but I have perceived the tone as being very different.

    The thing that sealed the deal for me was when she took the stage in Rhode Island and proceeded to mock Obama’s message of change and hope: making fun of someone who says, “We can do better than this”. At that point I decided

    Comment by Chrys — March 29, 2008 @ 6:10 am


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