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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Obama vs. Hillary

I've concluded the Obama can't beat McCain in the general election. I'm basing this opinion on nothing more than my personal experiences living in a very Red State, Indiana. Indiana, for the first time in years, also happens to be a vital state for any would-be Democratic Presidential candidate.

Indiana, you need to understand, is the state that people on the coasts think of as backward, and provincial. It is in many ways politically so. But that's not the point and making it the point will only exacerbate the image of elitism projected by a Democratic party which is dominated by an East Coast establishment.

Now I wouldn't stereotype the people here beyond their political orientation because deep down inside, people are people and all people everywhere have redeeming properties (as hard as that is to believe sometimes.) This stereotyping has become a hot button in the primary struggle between Obama and Clinton, leading to accusations of elitism levelled by the opposing camps.

Overcoming differences between us involves more than ascending race. Much of Obama's support comes from people who are eager to show that race is no longer a factor in their choice of candidate. Honorable yes, but choosing Obama based on the fact he is black does require rejecting Hillary on the grounds of her race. If the candidates are to be compared in a way that transcends race, Obama's race shouldn't matter. This is the point Geraldine Ferraro tired to make when she said that Obama would not be in the position he now is if he'd been white--or, to be more accurate--a white man with the same qualifications.

I don't think we've come to a point in American society that race doesn't matter. Obama supporters could say that I'm rejecting a black man but I don't do so because he's black. I'm not supporting Obama largely because his race is a factor, not with me, but with millions who harbor racial prejudices. I don't doubt that Obama has the ability to perform the job. As much as my heart yearns for an America that can elect a black man, we haven't come far enough. Call it realpolitics or racism, the truth is that America isn't ready. Obama might not be either. In 2012, assuming Hillary is not the incumbent, or 2016, Obama will be the man to beat, more experienced, and more effective.

Most of the discrimination Obama has faced--and will continue to fight against--isn't overt, but it's there. The Red states don't have a monopoly on racism. In the Blue states, support from blacks and the young might compensate for those who oppose Obama because he's black. With fewer blacks, and fewer young people, the Red states are more vulnerable to racial prejudices that might sink Obama.

Racists are more likely to be anti-female and anti-Hillary as well. I guess the issue is whether race will be a bigger obstacle than sex. Among less well educated white females, Hillary does well; support from this group could well compensate for the racists who'll vote their prejudices come November should Obama win the nomination. Gauging the extent of race's impact on voter preference through polls might be hard. Many closet racists won't lay bare their inner demons until voting curtain closes.

The Republicans can stimulate racial animosities quite subtly, like the way Hillary's people darkened Obama's complexion in a television ad opposing him. I've written about McCain's adopted daughter and her Bangladeshi descent as a big reason for his outright rejection of racially-based smear tactics. However McCain doesn't control the 527 groups that will contribute massively to his campaign in the form of attack ads like those that made up John Kerry's swift-boating.

Better that the Democrats, the party which has done the most to fight racial discrimination, confront America's problem with race early on, before Obama has to fight deep-seated, race-based prejudices in the general election. Some people might identify with Obama regardless of his race, but the majority of American won't choose him head to head with McCain.

Avoiding the Elitist Tag

The Obama/Clinton dialogue might go like this:
"You, you're even more elite. You went to Wellesley," Obama might say, wandering shirtless on a beach.
"You went to Harvard...Law," Clinton might say, fiddling with a gun.
"You and that retired President husband of yours have made $100 million since 2000," Obama might say. 'That qualifies you to be highly elitist."
"Yeah, maybe, but at least I don't act like an elitist," Hillary could say, downing a shot as the cameras roll.
"Yeah, it's your pretending not to be an elitist that proves you are the elitist you say you aren't," Obama might reply, adjusting his designer suit and Gucci tie.

So on and so forth. The two race for the bottom in the quest for identity politics (to not seem so elite) and perception management (for the camera), this time of their public images.

The last two candidates that the Democrats have offered to oppose Bush have been retroactively labelled as "elitist." Nothing is a bigger wedge in identity politics today than being elitist. Worse even than "pro-gay marriage," the Rove-inspired wedge from '04.

"Elitism" accusations have surfaced in the squabbling between Hillary and Obama, used like a hammer as if one of the Senators were "less elite" than the other, and that simply accusing the other of elitism would somehow diminish their own eliteness.

Almost every Presidential candidate has been elite. Would it be wise for our country to be led by someone who wasn't an elite? Look at Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer from Georgia. While Carter did hold the line on federal spending--unlike Reagan, who exploded the deficit--his Presidency is viewed largely as a failure.

Our fragile American psyche makes us want to believe the perception even if the reality is wholly different. Bush has been quite effective at disguising his liberal New England origins to the point most everyone sees him as pure West Texas. Image is everything. By seeming red-necky, the idea is that average people, identifying more with rednecks than with East Coast elitists, will vote with the person who's most like them, even if they aren't like them at all.

At least the Democratic party leadership has become more sensitive to the way their East Coast elitist candidates are perceived out here in the vastness of the heartland. It's worth remembering Gore didn't win Tennessee though he'd been from there prior to his term as Vice President; his father had been a popular Senator from there.

I heard one conservative Democrat here attribute Kerry's 2004 loss to his failure to kill any ducks for the camera. He recommended that Kerry brag about killing some little innocent animals simply to identify more with people from the Red states. It's not that people here are necessarily sadistic, it's just that many do wear a big chip on their shoulders when it comes to the Second Amendment. Hunting is viewed largely as an expression of the right to bear arms. Any candidate that doesn't support hunting and gun rights is in trouble out here. So kill the duck, do it publicly, the messier the better.

I'd explained identity politics in a post a little while back. The idea is that a politician doesn't win based on his positions, but rather the way he identifies with the voter. Kerry could make a more logical case for why he should be elected, but voters are motivated more by emotional affinity than by logic. So just as Kerry could make appeal for reason, Bush could joke, chuckle, and call him a flip-flopper, or assail his character to great effect.

Hillary has just recently talked about guns. The media naturally made jokes about her and Annie Oakley. That may have got some grins around the New York City newsrooms, but woefully underestimates the power of the gun in the Red states that determine the presidency, regardless of the attitudes among more educated people on the coast. Hillary is clearly steering towards the pro-gun demographic that Democrats likely "misunderestimated" in their last two defeats, to borrow the Bushism. She will need to at least not alienate this crowd to win Ohio and have a chance to win in other states which went to Bush in 2004.

Now on to the bar drinking episode. Nothing could have displayed the importance of identity politics than doing a shot of Crown. I could almost like her for that alone, despite all the issues of hers which I disagree with. Surrounded by beer-bellied bar patrons gives a impression of Hillary as Everywoman, someone who's not without her faults, but also as someone whom the voter can identify with.

Drinking shows a non-elitist side just as accusations of Barack's elitism found their way into the media dialogue, the product of his "embittered small town" comment. Living in a small town, and even if Obama had been correct in his stereotyping, he did rub my ego the wrong way. Surely Obama could have done a better job not to alienate small towns, places where he should at least try to improve his popularity, considering rural areas and small towns do constitute a much larger proportion of the heartland than the areas where he has done is best, with their large African American minorities.

Anyone who's spent any amount of time around Chicagoland also knows that the kind of people in the bar where a hardy blue collar crew, compromised of steel workers, cogs in the rusting machine in the heart of the Rust Belt. This area is called "da region" in no small part due to its affinity with the Chicago Bears, the monsters of the midway since the days of Dick Butkus. The people are largely descendants Polish immigrants, tough, and not the type to back down in a fight. I've counted those I've known as good, loyal friends; they'd make the worst enemies I could imagine.

Back Home Again

Indiana is the root of the nation in many ways. Politics do tend to be very conservative, but there are bastions of Democrats in the northern portion of the State (da region), Bloomington (Indiana University) and Indianapolis. Conservative Democrats do tend to do much better than traditional liberals, evidenced by the 2006 success of Congressional candidates Baron Hill and Brad Ellingsworth.

We are also a loyal state, giving up far more to the federal coffers than we ever take in. This ratio is expressed as a "patriotism" index. Indiana has been on the bottom for decades, although I did see on the Tax Foundation website that we'd moved up in the rankings to 35th by 2005, after spending decades at no better than 43rd in the total amount of federal tax dollars that are spent here per capita. On that scale, things have been looking up for the state since 1982 when we were 46th in the nation in getting our money back.

The Tax Foundation data shows that "Spending Received Per Dollar of Tax Paid" of $1.05 received per dollar of taxes paid. The nickel Indiana gets back in addition to revenues it sent in must be borrowed.

The $1.05 still isn't enough to qualify Indiana for the top half. Giving more out than they take in has become the new benchmark of the Federal government. To get back what we put in is simply not enough for most recipients of Federal monies. States expect to get back more than what they put in, even if it means the Feds will boorow it and the deficit will grow. This borrowing is of course deferred taxation, plus the interest our children will have to pay on that debt. Another method of reducing the debt burden is to just printed the stuff up, resulting in inflation, a more innocuous form of theft than outright taxation.

In an era of growing budget deficits, the patriotism index has become a race to the bottom. Whoever gets the most out of federal spending is also responsible for the most debt that our children and their children will have to pay off. This reality means that the states compromising this country really are in it for themselves, like greedy individuals, and will take as much as they can, now, regardless to the long-term impact on the whole of these United States.

Back to Obama

I've been forced to support Hillary for no other reason than my prediction that Obama can't win here. Hillary might still lose to McCain, being that Indiana is very socially conservative and Republican, but she will do better than Obama, if primary results in Ohio are any indicator of future returns here.

By winning in Ohio, and emerging victorious in Indiana, Hillary could flout her Red State credentials over Obama. Red states are where Presidencies are won or lost. Black voters might be taken for granted and eat away at Democratic support should Hillary win, but I'd rather lose some black support than reduce the chances of a Democratic victory in states like Indiana, Ohio and Florida.

I know the poll data has shown that Obama can be competitive, but Kerry and Gore were competitive. Progressives need a victory, not a competitive candidate. Yes, Clinton may not be much of a progressive, but she is more progressive than McCain, isn't she?

Progressives who are thinking about a protest vote on Nader should think again. The idea that somehow a vote cast away will punish the Democrats for being less progressive is sheer idiocy. Upset though many are with Hillary's establishment background, progressive must unite under her if she's the best candidate.

By taking votes away from Gore, this obstructionist rabble enabled the ascension of George Bush, who went on to win a Nobel Prize for his work fighting global warming. The result of the protest action was a triumph for the Republicans, who will be egging on and funding Nader in the upcoming election too. As in 2000, the Naderites will have the Republicans grinning over the defections.

Don't expect the GOP to protect the environment, which they tend to see victimized as the natural consequence of free market economic growth. To this group, economic expansion comes only at the expense of the environment.

As I understand it, private ownership in the traditional libertarian view is the right to do anything with what one owns, regardless of the environmental impact on others. I've tried to reason with Lew Rockwell but never seem to get a response back. I'll therefore surmise Lew doesn't live in the ever-shortening shadow of a mountain pulverized daily by explosions to get at its coal, even as the slurry and dust pile up and doom the surrounding community to permanent ecological disaster.

Easy it is to live within your principles if you don't have to contend directly with the direct negative consequences. most notably the impact on the environment. NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) not only describes self-obsessiveness over property ownership but also implies a willingness to put neighbors at a distance. A YOYO (You're on your own) world incents the individual to forsake the group for the purposes of wealth generation and retention. It's worth noting that the United States was first settled as a commune, and almost didn't survive as a result. Only private ownership entitled individuals sufficent reward for their own productive effort. The Colonies prospered. Times have changed.

Patriotism is easy without having to sacrifice. Launch a draft and watch the previously patriotic scream in rage against their sons and daughters being sent off to war. With the oil setting new highs almost daily, the inflation that Bush's wars have caused will produce genuine concern about where the President's military and energy policies have taken this country. Until the impact of Bush's decisions are felt, they don't exist, but felt it will one day be! Runaway spending and open-ended, extralegal treaty agreements with Maliki's regime in Iraq will resolve itself financially. As it did during Vietnam, the economic impact of too much borrowing will lead us into a prolonged recessionary spiral that ended up affecting all.

I'd love a system of proportional representation which would allow Libertarians, Greens, whoever, to have their representatives. Being that non-associated candidates rarely win in our two-party system, Americans who don't live in Vermont (Bernie Sanders) or Kucinich's district are out of luck. They are therefore destined to a future devoid of representation at the federal level. While the trend may be looking up for independent candidates, the two-party system is too entrenched to allow a threat to emerge to its duopoly.

While the duopoly and the false dichotomy it represents may be an inadequate system, the fact remains that political actors need to exert influence through that system to affect changes. Ignoring the political basis in reality that modulates the exercise of politics is self-destructive. Progressives shouldn't assume that the GOP is a dead end, although there is of course a socially conservative movement which has seized the helm of the Republicans' national leadership. After the 2006 debaccle, their future may be limited if the GOP has follow-on failures in 2008.

Message to Would-be Protest Voters

Nader voters are people I'd consider my friends if they'd leave their naive assumption on their doorsteps instead of denying the need for compromise in the battle against the real enemy, which is in Marxian terms the exploitation of the working classes by the rich. It's not like they have to go out for dinner together afterwards, to quote a recently departed Vietnam Veteran and antiwar activist from Chicago.

If you like what Bush II has done, vote for Bush III (McCain) by not voting for the Democrat in the fall. Responsibility for the consequences, which include mountaintop removal, removal of EPA standards, perversion of FDA oversight responsibilities, abandonment of New Orleans, two wars, torture, surveillance society, falls to the protest voters, particularly in Florida, who could have prevented it all.

In the present political system, rejecting the Democrat because they aren't progressive enough is tantamount to voting Republican, in a close election. While being true to one's beliefs is honorable, it doesn't help get a Democrat elected as President, which will invariably mean that a Republican will be more likely to win.

McCain may be what some environmentalists want. He's certainly an improvement over Bush. But to assume McCain better represents progressive values simply because Hillary isn't an ideal progressive would be a mistake. My advice to those who really care, and are perhaps wise enough to value compromise, is to hold back on their pride, avoid the protest vote, and work to get independents and Greens elected at the local level, where the bulk of meaningful change tends to originate.

Voting Nader might make a progressive feel good, but results do matter. A choice of lesser evils might be a bad choice, but it is a choice that must be made nonetheless. Better to have one's vote count than to not be counted. In the fall, progressives should vote for the most progressive candidate available, not against her, should it be Hillary.



  • At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I've read this on Smirking Chimp, but won't post there because I'm tired of being attacked by Obama supporters (ironically the supporters of the "unity" candidate). My concern about Sen. Obama's electability is based on the fact that the press/media has given him a free pass. Columnists, pundits, bloggers won't touch anything remotely critical of him (with the exception of this latest "elitism" flap). I think his biggest baggage will prove to be the words of Rev Wright which have been carefully hidden from the public. You can read all 11,000 pages of Sen Clinton's White House schedules on the websites of all major newspapers, but you can't find the complete sermons of Rev Wright from which the controversial quotes were taken. This enables his apologists to claim that his comments were taken out of context. After hunting for weeks, I managed to find just one and I can assure you that the quotes in question were NOT taken out of context. As you point out the Republican 527's will not be dependent upon the press to distribute their attacks to the public and they have plenty to work with. Many Obama fibs have been reported in papers all over the country, stories that then sink like stones, while every Clinton flub is beaten to death. It was brave of you to post this to Smirking Chimp. I admire your courage.

  • At 4:16 AM, Blogger jbpeebles said…

    Appreciate the comment. As a blogger, I believe I'm entitled to express my opinion.

    Thanks to some background in sales, I don't take rejection as personally as I once did, but I do appreciate the comments in favor what I see as the unelectability of Obama.

    I do think people are too critical of my position, bludgeoning me to death. Actually, my provocative position exposed what I see as more weakness in their opinions as they really did make me more confident that Obama can't win. These people want to skip to the finish line. They are cult-like in following Obama so they attack me personally rather than address the fundamental problems with Obama: his lack of experience, and lack of white support which translates into weakness if he gets to the G.E.. None of his fans understand the need for compromise in taking the battle to the Right. This may reveal their general inexperience in politics. I am saddened that race is still such an issue and that Obama can't win. I did say Obama was qualified--I don't think the baying hounds even noticed that as the bone it was.
    Democrats are fracturing, which at a certain point does do the Republicans a favor.
    A Nader replay is likely. Like I said the "obstructionist rabble" may have too much pride to vote for Hillary if she's nominated. In NY Daily News, Michael Goodwin wrote that 20% of Obama supporters would not vote for Clinton in the G.E. and 25% of Clinton supporters would not vote for Obama if he got the nomination.
    I could go on and on.

    Rather than refute my critics, I'd like to reference a few more sources that show cracks have started in the Obama. ("the Obama" was actually I typo, heehee--it should have been "that Obama...")

    Truthdig has a small quib on Obama's over-saturation of the media. David Mark has this article in politico.com.

    I understand the price of my conviction. I speak from the heart, and from what I know. I'm not going to sugarcoat the truth, I owe that to my readers.


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