Saturday, March 1, 2008

A few quick points on election propaganda

by Norman Markowitz

As we head to the Texas and Ohio primaries, the Clinton campaign is trying to portray itself as "populist" (the only word the press can think of when it wants to characterize policies that appeal to low income people).One human interest story in today's New York Times has Hillary Clinton renewing old acquaintances with Latino Texas Democrats who led the McGovern campaign in Texas and are now supporting Clinton who was also active in the campaign. The article even refers to McGovern as someone who had become "the Godfather, at least to some, of the Democratic party."

These comments got me very angry. I supported and campaigned for George McGovern in 1972 (he was the only Democrat that I ever gave a few bucks to) and I saw in Illinois where I was in that Summer and in New Jersey and New York, kids in their early twenties running the McGovern campaign as the party organizations abandoned him. I saw McGovern, who ran on a peace in Vietnam program, along with extensive cuts in the military budget and programs benefit labor and fight racism and sexism attacked by the same kinds of politicians who today are attacking Barack Obama. I also know that the social forces who supported George McGovern then are largely supporting Barack Obama today, except that they have been joined by large sectors of the labor movement and and the Democratic party leadership As one working class Democrat who didn't like McGovern then told me recently, Obama reminds him of Bobbie Kennedy, who he liked a lot and who some hoped before his assassination,could lead the Democrats out of the Vietnam War and back to the War on poverty and social justice policies.

Other stories today deal with the support that Hillary has received from Latino and Latina voters whom the U.S. government calls "Hispanic" (which most of my Latino and Latina friends don't like). My suspicion is that they are trying to create a bandwagon effect among voters in the Texas primary.Here the propaganda thrust of the stories are to play ethnic politics, to disparage the idea that there is anything like "persons of color" and to pick out of context a number of examples from New York to Los Angeles to say that "Hispanic" voters don't support African American candidates and vice versa.

Having grown up in the South Bronx where the Democratic political machine was quite skilled at playing African American voters against Puerto Rican voters when it suited them, I think I understand the way this politics works. I also know, as African Americans, "Hispanic" Americans, Asian Americans and others know well, that a history of "white" racist, has created "persons of color," people who are not considered "white" and don't consider themselves white in the society. American racism historically portrayed Irish and Eastern and Southern European immigrants as either not really "white" or inferior versions of "whites," who could, unlike African-Americans, become "white" as they both became affluent and acted like conservative "white Anglo Saxon protestants." I personally remember an incident in the Bronx in the 1960s when I argued to no avail with people who were calling a dark-skinned Puerto Rican candidate in a Democratic primary the "white candidate" and a light-skinned African American candidate "the Black candidate" even though they could see with their own eyes that the skin color of the former was much darker than the skin color of the latter.

The press is saying that Obama and Clinton have similar stands (which is true) on immigration and other issues to highlight the" conflict" between African American and Hispanic American voters in the campaign. I would look at it differently. My perception is that many Hispanic voters think that Clinton's position on immigration is really significantly better than Obama's (it isn't) and that her political campaign has been successful in this regard. Polls that I have seen also show Obama gaining support among Hispanic voters, who stand to gain much more in substance from his presidency, in my opinion, than Clinton's, if only because his victory would constitute a major defeat for color racism, which has harmed both African-Americans and Hispanic American deeply, however pundits may sneer that "there is no such thing
as a person of color."

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