Thursday, March 6, 2008

More Thoughts on the Primaries and the Campaign for the Democratic Nomination

by Norman Markowitz

In the 1960s, a New York African American minister and Civil Rights activist, the Reverend Eugene Callender, said that New York had the only real two party system in the nation, regular and reform Democrats. At the time I thought that he had a great point, since the the regular or machine democrats in New York City had much more in common with the Republicans than they had with the reform or insurgent progressive democrats, fighting both the machines and also for progressive policies. The people in both camps were also very different.

From my experiences here in New Jersey and also from what I am reading in both our blog and in a wide variety of sources, this campaign has developed into one where the "reform" Democrats, including non Democratic party left activists who supported them in New York politics, are overwhelmingly for Senator Obama and the regulars are overwhelmingly for Senator Clinton. Sometimes the differences between a regular incumbent and a reformer weren't on the issues too great or even significant (there were very sadly even such politicians as Ed Koch and Herman Badillo who began as reform Democrats and ended up as much worse than the regulars) but those who made the fight realized that it was less about the specific candidates than about the future of New York politics.

More and more people I feel are beginning to understand that this nomination struggle will also be a watershed in U.S. history, just as the election will certainly be. Unity is not a static thing and it can't come from one side. Senator Obama has avoided a campaign based on division and Senator Clinton hasn't. The press reports that he is beginning to look toward questioning her record rather than articulating his overall vision, which I believe is positive and can advance eventual unity.

In essence, we should remember that he has held elective office longer than she has (as a State Senator in Illinois from 1997) While it would be unfair to hold her to the record of Bill Clinton's administration, the role that she did play in that administration, particularly in its early years, where the President gave her the assignment of directing his national health care legislation, which was decisively defeated, setting back the movement for national health care, deserves to be addressed, since national health care is once more a major issue sixteen years after Bill Clinton's presidential campaign pledged to implement it. Senator Obama should raise it. Since Clinton raised the question of NAFTA in what I consider to be a demagogic way against Senator Obama in Ohio and got away with it, Senator Obama certainly has the right and I would say the responsibility to remind voters in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary and through the country that NAFTA would not and could not have been enacted had not President Bill Clinton gone against the great majority of Democrats in Congress and a larger number among the electorate in pushing it through. For Hillary Clinton to "run" against NAFTA is a little bit like Ronald Reagan in 1984 running as the candidate of "recovery" from the recession which his administration had brought about (Reagan in 1984, got away with this demagoguery, as Clinton did on NAFTA in the Ohio primary, but it still was absurd). Senator Obama should make the point that there would be no question of "renegotiating" NAFTA had it not been for the Clinton administration.

I see significant differences between OBama and Clinton on the issues--he is better and more trustworthy than her and more likely to develop in response to his progressive mass base than she is in response to the organizations that had endorsed and worked for her. But it is as important to emphasize that he is also, as I see it, more electable. A presidential candidate leading and inspiring activists, bringing new people into the political process, both young people new to it and many others who had given up on it, is much more likely to win than a candidate who is a lesser of two evils, a candidate supported by the regular Democrats and organization politicians who who will have greater difficulty distinguishing herself from McCain and mobilizing masses of people.

Her record in the Senate is frankly mediocre by the standards of Northern Democrats. and the record of her husband's administration, in which she was initially an active participant (although she really stopped playing much of a role after 1994, when the administration itself stopped doing much beyond seeking to "moderate" the right-wing Republican congress. opposing it on some issues, collaborating with it on others) strengthened the Republican right and set the stage for the disastrous Bush administration.

Her "experience" is that of an "inside dopester" politician, someone with the connections and the appearance of knowledge about how things "really operate" but no record of any real achievements on anything, including advancing women's rights, and, unlike Senator Obama, no ability to reach out to people and both unite and mobilize them on a political program. Senator Obama has every right to make the point that the defeat of the Republicans in the 2006 congressional elections was the result of the mobilization and activism of the kinds of people who are leading his campaign, not of the pundits and pollsters and political consultants who flood the media today with their "analysis" (from the Democratic party side, many former Clinton administration role players) and are directing her campaign. The defeat of the Republicans in 2008 will require a much higher level of activism than 2006 and Obama has shown very clearly that he is much more capable of that than Hillary Clinton.

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