By Joel Wendland
Four people met in New Hampshire tonight to talk about a new era of politics and social life in our country tonight. Some of it wasn't new. Some of it was a re-hash of projecting US military around the world. But some of it was inspiring.
For working families, this debate suggests a turning of the page from a failed Bush regime of anti-working families policies, an endless war of choice based on lies that have taken so many of the lives of our loved ones, and an unprecedented handing over the treasury and power of our country to a small group of corporations.
I would like to be able to say that all of the candidates won the debate. And in a way they did because they each would end the ultra-right policies of the Bush administration. Nothing to scoff at. But tonight I feel that Sen. Barack Obama stood out.
I am not in love with some of the specific foreign policy ideas discussed in this debate. Threats against Pakistan and promises of boosting military forces in Afghanistan don't appeal to me, and shouldn't appeal to working people. Terrorists who seem to have a free hand in Central Asia threaten the collective security of all democratic-minded people everywhere. But collective security has to be secured collectively, not by a single imperial power.
I think approaches that favor multinationalism – even with countries whose leaders get under the collars of the US bourgeoisie – through UN and regional multilateral organizations will work best. Each of the Democratic candidates supported the idea of striking terrorist groups within sovereign foreign states. I just can't abide the idea.
But only Sen. Obama talked about reinvigorating the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Why is the NPT important? Because it is a multilateral vehicle that has two sides: 1) using international instruments to block proliferation and 2) nuclear disarmament. Read more here...
There was a general opposition to the war in Iraq and a sense that it was both a distraction from anti-terrorist actions and from domestic needs such as universal health care, improving education, and the like. Though, Sen. Clinton appeared to be the most hesitant to discuss specific actions for troop withdrawal. She did say, "I don't see any reason to have our troops stay beyond today." But quickly added that her real plan is to seek advice from military leaders once she's in office – rather than emphasizing her role as commander-in-chief. My skepticism meter went haywire at that point.
Now, I have stated before that I think she faces a disproportionate amount of pressure because of sexism to project a hawkish policy in order to be taken seriously, and that male candidates are given a free ride when they present antiwar programs.
But for me, the reason why I argue Obama won this debate has to do with certain realities – fair or unfair – that Sen. Clinton accepts when she claims the Clinton legacy as her own. In this debate and elsewhere, we saw her claim a role in the passage of S-CHIP in the 1990s (as part of the welfare reform package, though she wasn't in Congress or an official member of the Clinton administration). We saw her claim a role in the epic battles between the ultra-right and the Clinton administration. The result of those years is the pure hatred and dislike the Republicans, of all political stripes, have for anyone named Clinton.
Well, you my partisan friend, might say that is a good thing. And I'd agree that earning the ire of Republicans suggests you have done some good things. But what makes Obama's arguments about "change" and "breaking with the status quo" so convincing is that he isn't burdened with that anti-Clinton animosity. Indeed, his call for Democrats, independents, and disillusioned Republicans to work together is an appeal that Sen. Clinton just can't make.
And that kind of broad coalition is going to be needed to win universal health care, and end to the war, and economic turnaround (with the caveat that the most advanced programs in these issue areas will not likely come to ultimate fruition).
Though, if she is the nominee, I am glad to say that I will vote for her and try to help her win election, Sen. Clinton's talk about "getting things done" in government will be for naught if the country has to go through four years of personality politics – like the 1990s – rather than the politics of passing universal health care, green alternatives to oil, ending the war, and passing real economic reforms that provide relief, jobs, and workers rights to working families. We just couldn't take it.
And frankly, it's not fair. President Clinton did things that made right-wingers mad. Some of them worthy of public discussion; others not. And now she is being punished for them. And it could cost her the presidency and a brilliant political career that could potentially make her a great president.
Maybe Sen. Obama should set these realities aside and run a campaign that refuses to raise them. But why should he set aside his ambitions to lead a movement for a new direction for our country? Sen. Clinton said she embodies change because she is a woman, and that would be a huge change. True. It would be a sign that male supremacy and sexism are being swept into the dustbin of history.
But Sen. Obama too embodies a change that strikes at the very foundations of our national past rooted in racism, hate, xenophobia. He doesn't wear it on his sleeve and has been rightfully criticized for it. But the viable candidacy of an African American is the culmination of generations of struggle for freedom and equality that cannot be dismissed or set aside so easily. Indeed, all of the things that allow Sen. Clinton to "embody change" are present in Obama, his personality, his ideas, and his record.
I don't want to get caught up in rhetoric. Candidates have talked about "change" every election cycle since Cain was a pup. But given the failed promise of the 1990s, a fresh start is the best step forward. This, I think, was Obama's message more than anything else. And this is why he won tonight's debate.