Thursday, February 7, 2008

"Advice" to Clinton: Stop Playing Into Republican Hands

by Norman Markowitz

The most important development, as I see it two days after "Super Tuesday" is that la lutta continua, the campaign and struggle goes on, hopefully energizing millions.

The Clinton campaign, in its desire to elect its candidate at all costs, has begun to undermine the unity that will be necessary to defeat the Right in the election. Although the media has said over and over again (hoping that people will believe it) that Clinton and Obama have been equally attacking each other, the reality is that most of the attacks have come from Clinton. Obama has kept on his message of hope and change, going after Clinton largely on the Iraq War, which given her record is, I think, legitimate.

Now the Clinton campaign is calling Obama the "establishment candidate" and pointing to his endorsements by Ted Kennedy and John Kerry among others as proof. Frankly the overwhelming majority of Democratic organizations are supporting Clinton, even in Massachusetts, where the Kennedy endorsed Obama was defeated by Clinton.

The fact that there is significantly greater AFL-CIO endorsement of Clinton should also be seen for what it is--a continuation of the old politics, the old rut, so to speak, that sections of the labor movement who "pay to play" with sections of both parties, but particularly the Democratic organizations, have been involved in for generations. Obama represents, at least potentially something new, and the mass forces coalescing behind him are clearly something new. Those organization Democrats and trade unionists, who are not conservatives and who in principle may very well support a progressive program, are, as they have been in the past, suspicious of new forces coming into mass politics, new progressive forces.

The Clinton campaign has also picked up on the media factoid that Obama raised 32 million dollars in January while Clinton's campaign raised only 13 million, further evidence that he is the establishment candidate. Hillary Clinton also said a profoundly dumb thing politically, when she referred to the fact that she had "lent" her campaign 5 million dollars so that would be competitive with Obama's and that given her showing on "Super Tuesday" this was a "good investment."

A good investment? Does Clinton realize what such a statement means to the low and moderate income voters who are the mass support for the Democratic party. In a way she was telling the truth in that politics in the U.S. is a big business where, as we say in New Jersey, one has to "pay to play." Capitalists invest in politicians and in this case a politician who has received millions in book advances, is married to a former president who has turned himself into a cottage industry over the last eight years, can afford to "invest" millions in her campaign, a privilege that Senator Obama, who doesn't have millions of personal wealth, can't afford to do.

Other themes that are beginning to develop in the media and, at least here in New Jersey in the Clinton campaign are very worrisome. One Clinton supporter here on local public television, referred to Obama voters as an alliance of the African American community and people who were called "limousine liberals," whereas the working and middle classes were for Clinton. The media is also playing with this theme, referring to Obama supporters as "educated" upper income whites and African Americans (even though much of the country, from Alaska and Kansas, to Illinois and Minnesota and Southern states where African Americans are easy to find, but not upper income "white liberals, have nothing to do with this "model').

Besides being a gross distortion, this analysis is a resurrection of Richard Nixon's "Silent Majority" demagoguery, in which he proclaimed himself the candidate of "Middle America," against Blacks, anti-war youth, feminists, and rich college educated "limousine liberals." These attacks on Obama will certainly be used by John McCain, who continues to get preferred treatment on the cable stations, and will probably recycle similar themes and use them both to attack Obama (and Clinton for that matter if she is the candidate) and disassociate himself from Bush.

Although things can certainly change, it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that Clinton represents old politics, not the "old" and vicious right-wing Republican politics but the politics of the Democratic party establishment since the 1970s, whereas Obama represents (as Franklin Roosevelt did in 1932, in a very different situation) a real possibility of new politics, a break not only with the policies that had produced the depression but with longterm political reaction.

In 1932, much of the left, including progressive writers and "pundits" not associated with the Communist or Socialist parties, put Roosevelt down for speaking in glittering generalities, being vague, taking specific positions that they didn't like. But they were ultimately wrong, because Roosevelt was even then appealing to mass forces in the society and opening himself up, even though many of his early policies were attempts to save capitalism from the top, to an alliance with those forces as they maturedIt is that kind of leadership, in essence a "new Franklin Roosevelt," not a"new" Harry Truman, or John Kennedy, whom politicians like McCain sometimes now invoke, or a "new" Lyndon Johnson, that the working class, the whole people, and especially, the broad left, if we are to break out of our rut, need a leadership that will consolidate in policy a new progressive majority that will "catch up" with the second half of the twentieth century in the twenty-first. Obama, because of what he is and because of what the mass forces supporting him are has, in my opinion, a much better chance to become that than Clinton.


Joel said...

I could not disagree more with Norman's analysis of why some labor unions have endorsed Clinton.

I don't think they did so out of some old style of "pay to play" politics.

Many endorsed Clinton early and did so after polling their memberships on the matter to which tens if not hundreds of thousands of workers responded.

I think some sections of the labor movement (members and officials) are genuinely excited about her positions on union issues: pass employee free choice act, pro-worker NLRB, serious attention to safety and health issues, for real investments in public education (why the teachers endorsed her), her addressing retirement security issues, advancing the universal health care idea (as limited as the left might see her position on this), and other specific issues that directly impact unions.

I think this was reflected in the Super Tuesday vote, where union members and their families came out for her strongly in a lot of places.

I think we are also seeing the results of her long-standing position as a national figure with ties to some of the top people in the Democratic Party (note I am not calling it "experience"). They know her personally better than other candidates, and they know who supports her.

These are tactical and strategic questions for the labor movement and shouldn't be dismissed cynically as merely old style politics -- which has a more insidious influence on the Democratic Party itself, especially certain sections of it.

But the labor movement as a whole or even in part should be seen as distinct from that.

Matt said...

yeah, but even if the unions went for her because their members wanted to doesn't change the fact that she's much more the establishment candidate, and her campaign has been based on exploiting people's fears. Also, her whole flip-flopping on the war in Iraq only after it became politically necessary for her to do so is disgusting (but not surprising). It's no wonder young people don't vote for her. She's an embodiment of a certain aspect of what young people hate about American politics.