By Joe Sims
Hillary Clinton made an important point yesterday (Sunday) by singling out the historic character of having an African American and a woman as the two front-runners for the Democratic nomination. She’s right. It’s a sea change in US presidential politics and speaks to how far the US people have come in recovering from and struggling against the ideological onslaught of almost two decades (with brief interludes) of right-wing Republican rule.
This was further underscored by a New York Times/CBS poll, published today (Monday), that Democratic voters, while still favoring the New York senator nationally, saw both Obama and Clinton as evenly matched in leadership ability viewing both as being ready to assume the job as commander-in-chief. Clearly anti-racist and anti-sexist attitudes are becoming increasing prevalent, at least on the democratic side of the left/right divide. While institutional sexism and racism remain deeply imbedded in the fabric of the US economy and body-politic, the willingness of wide sections of the population to accept Black and female leadership suggests the time has come for renewed civil rights campaigns aimed at deep going reforms to address structural obstacles to equality. For these reasons it’s extremely important as the Democratic campaign heats up, to keep ones eyes on the prize. Only unity can overcome the negativity of right-wing Republican attack machine and achieve a people’s victory in November.
It was disappointing therefore to read in this morning’s papers about the charges and counter charges on race and gender during weekend campaigning with Clinton accusing Obama of distorting her words and the Illinois senator responding understandably but not necessarily smartly in kind. Senator Clinton’s now widely circulated comments speak for themselves and have been roundly criticized in broad circles including the powers-that-be at the New York Times. The Clinton’s are clearly on the defensive on the issue, with Bill calling into Al Sharpton’s radio show on Friday to explain himself and both placing calls to the King family and others in the civil rights leadership. Better to say it was mistake and move on than to continue to dig at an issue the very digging of which insure it festers: unless there is a calculation that festering will help ones campaign.
On the other hand, it’s also the case that influences of sexism have become an issue and the response to it a rallying point for women backing Clinton’s bid. Comments made by both Edwards and Obama during the New Hampshire debate coupled with the media’s handling of the Democratic campaign have fed the idea that Senator Clinton has been treated unfairly. Today’s New York Times article on the issue of race and gender curiously argues that Clinton has subtly introduced gender into the campaign by attempting to “soften” her image. I’m sorry but it’s much more likely that the accumulated effects of the “beating up on” factor contributed to the perception and reality that sexism is playing a role. And the press is fanning the flames. And the Republicans are drooling in delight.
It was Obama’s positive and uplifting message that has garnered him so much praise and support, a message that in the opinion of astute New York Times columnist Bob Herbert said has the potential of “changing the way we see ourselves.” And he’s right. The unprecedented broad movement around the Obama campaign has the potential of capturing the democratic spirit of the nation and beginning to move it decidedly away from an epoch of Republican extremism. In this sense it carries with the possibilities of being both transitional and transformational: transitional because it could provide a bridge along which peoples of different classes, races, sexual orientations, generations and outlooks could walk away from the politics of division of the past period; transformational because it is founded on the idea of grass roots empowerment and places itself within the framework of the great democratic battles of the past; the American revolution; the fight against slavery; women’s suffrage, the defeat of fascism and the civil rights movement.
No one should get the wrong idea: this is not a left movement: it is not anti-monopoly or even anti-corporate. It is however, anti-right-wing and pro-democracy. It is a mass movement of all the people and if successful will open the door to greater democratic initiatives and changes from below.
It is from this standpoint that one must consider critiques of the Obama movement from some on the left who, pointing to the money trail, question whether it represents real change. Doubtless it’s a legitimate question. But is it the right one? Fundamentally what is at issue is what is financially required to win presidential campaign in today’s world. And more what kind of campaign must an African American run that at once allow maintenance of both a dignified posture and the status of being electable? The answer to the second question was pointed to above and therein lays the Obama movement’s brilliance. On the first, Clearly it takes big money. To paraphrase a rationale given in another era: Why go to Wall street? Because that’s where the money is. This is bourgeois politics plain and simple. No one should forget that. Will it be real change? Compared to Bush? Give me a break! And while you are at: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.