The Pennsylvania primary will be over by this evening and the votes will be counted. But the Clinton campaign has once more disgraced itself with a last minute TV ad. On the blog, I recently wrote an article on the ABC debate comparing Hillary Clinton to Richard Nixon. This time she has sunk I think lower than that to the level of Joe McCarthy.
At the 1952 Republican Convention McCarthy attacked the Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson by saying "Alger, I mean Adlai" a reference to former New Dealer and State Department official Alger Hiss, who had been successfully portrayed as a Soviet spy and convicted of perjury in a major political show trial a few years earlier. The Clinton ad wasn't directly comparing Bin Laden with Obama but it was playing on , as the Obama campaign noted, "the politics of fear" (which by the was also the title of a classic study of McCarthy and
McCarthyism by Robert Griffith, The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate).
From press reports , the ad throws together flashes of a sinister bin laden and the September 11 attacks with newsreel clips of the Stock Market crash, the Pearl Harbor Attack, the "fall of the Berlin Wall," and Hurricane Katrina. That these events have nothing to do with each other(and that "fall of the Berlin Wall" was something that was hailed in the capitalist world) doesn't matter to Clinton. What matters is that all of these events are meant to invoke fear.
What are the fears? Obama campaign workers are still running across people who think that he is Muslim, which of course the Osama reference is meant to strengthen that, since advertisers operate from the principle that people are not rational and that the best way to sell anything is through often hidden messages that the product will make them glamorous, athletic, rich and successful, or that the competitor will make life miserable for them. Senator Obama again answered these ugly attacks the way a serious statesman, not a self-promoting politician would, when he said "it frustrates me that people would even ask a question like that, because they don't ask the same questions of some of the other candidates....if they don't vote for me, it should be because they think that Senator Clinton or Senator McCain have better ideas. It shouldn't be because they think that I am less patriotic or because they question what my religion is."
But Hillary Clinton really doesn't care. That she is in effect using coded language to play to centuries of institutional and ideological racism which made African-Americans invisible when it was not either demonizing them as dangerous violent people or trivializing them as comedy relief characters who could never attain the skills and "experience" of whites (however they acted) because they were inferior people doesn't matter to her. That the commercial that she is using against Obama could be used against her as a women by McCain at the drop of a hat doesn't matter to her.
Instead she is staying on message as her campaign slings mud against her opponent. I have experience and he doesn't, she claims, although what the experience is and what achievements it produced aren't really mentioned. We did it better in the 1990s, she claims, sharing "credit" for her husband's administration, when we created millions of new jobs (no mention that they were largely low skill job like those under Reagan), and began to reduce the federal debt (true, but through fiscal conservative policies that were better for Wall Street than Bush's policies, and pretty good for the corporations and the wealthy although no where near as good as Reagan or W. Bush, but not so good for working people in comparison with previous democratic administrations). What does it all come down to? You can trust me even if I am a woman because you know that my husband was president and I am white, coded appeals which are both racist and sexist.
Hopefully the voters of Pennsylvania will see through the "politics of fear" and not give Clinton the big victory she needs in the primary to keep her alive for the nomination. If they don't it will be objectively a defeat for the anti-rightwing forces in the U.S. because it will become harder for the progressive core constituencies of the Democratic party to actively support Clinton as the nominee against McCain (except passively as the lesser of the two evils) and her politics of fear tactics will almost certainly be turned against her by McCain, losing her support from the centrist voters whom she has consistently courted while she has taken the support of progressives for granted.