Thursday, June 5, 2008
To provide a little background, Chicago in the 1980s was a city in transition. The first Mayor Daley had died in office and his son had not yet ascended to the throne. African Americans were slowly gaining in political power but the city was still politically dominated by European Americans. One fact that seemed constant was that politically the city was completely ensconced in the Democratic Party.
In 1983 the Democratic Primary for mayor came down to three candidates, Chicago’s first woman mayor, the incumbent Jane Byrne, the mayoral heir apparent Richie Daley (who combined represent Hillary Clinton in today’s drama) and the dark horse Harold Washington (obviously played by Barack Obama today). Thanks to an evenly split electorate along with Harold Washington's rhetorical skills and personal charisma, he pulled a huge upset to win the Democratic nomination of mayor.
Normally in Chicago at that time, being elected the Democratic Party’s nominee would represent an automatic ticket to the becoming the next mayor (this is somewhat analogous to how near the beginning of this election cycle most political pundits predicted that the Democratic nominee for president would be a virtual lock to be elected in a year in which America is suffering from acute Bush-fatigue). But the completely unexpected nature of Washington's win combined with its implications regarding the changing nature of the city awakened something ugly in a significant portion of the electorate and their representatives in government.
As a result, the true political power brokers in the city rallied around that year’s Republican sacrificial lamb, a little known former government functionary named Bernard Epton (yesterday’s version of John McCain). Their efforts managed to transform this political "dead man walking" into a seemingly viable candidate. The irony that a Jewish politician was Chicago bigotry’s last best hope for salvation was not lost on many of us. One of the “wits” at the time came up with an unofficial slogan to explain the ballot options: “Press 2 for the Jew or 9 for the Shine”.
Bernard Epton’s official slogan perfectly epitomized that campaign. I still derive a certain perverse amusement from it: “Epton, Before It’s Too Late!” This was the perfect catchphrase for speaking to unspoken (and sometimes unspeakable) fears. Vote for Epton or whatever you’re most afraid of will happen: black people moving into your neighborhood, taking your job, burglarizing your home, raping you or one of your loved ones. Whatever you’re afraid of, voting for Epton will prevent it. A vote for Epton is not a shameful vote for racist bigotry; it’s a noble vote for stability, safety and security.
Nonetheless, Harold Washington won the Chicago mayoral election of 1983 and after a long hard struggle actually won over the heart of the city; only to die shortly after being re-elected to a second term. But the fact that Epton, a candidate who under normal circumstances would have done well to garner 4% of the vote, only lost by that amount says something about how effective such an approach can be.
Barack Obama was a citizen of Chicago in 1983. He admits to having been deeply moved from the saga of Harold Washington. Somehow circumstances have Senator Obama playing out or portion of that bygone municipal drama on today's national stage. Now that he has secured the Democratic nomination, the threat of him having to face a Republican 527 version of “Before It’s Too Late” is palpable.
Today “Before It’s Too Late!” sounds a bit heavy-handed but rest assured, it captures the essence of the promised Republican campaign against Barack Obama. Listen for the setup in lines like “He is too different from us”, “He doesn’t share our values” and “He associates with the wrong kind of people”.
In a campaign where for once, the candidates are poles apart on almost every major issue, how could such blatant fear mongering be more important than the issues? Because some people are looking for an excuse to not vote for someone who to their minds, embodies the fears that they are no longer free to articulate in polite company.
Today's Republicans can’t explicitly use “Before it’s too late” as a slogan but their contemporary fear mongering has a similar, though unstated objective: “Keep the White House White”! Directing this message at the low information white voters making less than $50,000 per year (the Information Age euphemism for “poor white trash”) represents like a cynical attempt to go after a demographic that is stereotypically seen as racists.
This is not to say that the Republican Party and John McCain are racist bigots; they are simply political creatures willing to win the White House by exploiting the not insignificant racist bigot constituency that spans party lines within the American electorate. As such, the 2008 presidential election represents a litmus test of sorts that will indicate how far America has truly advanced over the past 25 years.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
The First Woman President?
While I would truly like to see the
There are appropriately extraordinary women in the
The Bill Factor
How viable would the presidential candidacy of Hillary C. Linton be? If Senator Clinton were to win would we really be electing the first woman president or merely initiating the second
At this point no one can say for sure if the
The baggage of the
Agent for Change?
Senator Clinton is proudly running as the ultimate
This year US voters have been turning out in massive numbers to decide who will replace the second President Bush. Three primary factions seem to have emerged among the
The Republican Faction represents those who insist that on the whole, the second President Bush was on the right track and we must simply give his policies more time. The Clinton Faction is comprised of those who say the Bush Years were a tragic mistake and we need to get back to the illusory Clinton Utopia. The Obama Faction is people who believe the problems run deeper than what the other two factions are saying, though their approach currently lacks focus.
To my mind the Republican Faction is psychotically wrong (in the post-Super Fat Tuesday world it looks likely I can start calling them the McCainiacs). They have so completely lost sight of what the true problems facing the
The Clinton Faction is delusional in their idealization of the 90s, which I see as a profoundly squandered opportunity. The Clinton Faction is living in a dream. This dream is analogous to a female baseball player whose husband, who in the last game of his career as a ballplayer, struck out to cost his team the championship. The wife has a recurring dream thereafter in which sometimes her husband and sometime she hit a home run instead and won the championship.
In her waking world she is trying to get to the championship game while still believing this dream is real and those who say otherwise are playing mind games as a part of a vast conspiracy. Unfortunately, the pitcher who struck out her husband last time will be pitching against her in the championship with an even nastier arsenal of pitches. Ultimately the Clinton Faction believes that simply undoing the last 8 years will end our national nightmare and solve all that is wrong with the
The Obama Faction is also led by a dreamer. Their dream represents escaping from a terrible nightmare into a hazy world of limitless opportunity but not knowing how to exploit it. The haziness of Obama’s vision is in part based on the fact that it is about creating a new paradigm instead of a reaching a specific destination. A “Where” is always easier to articulate than a “How”.
The Obama Faction must realize that “change” is not the objective, advancement towards a specific ideal is. Getting out of the frying pan also represents change. While this faction seems to have the best appreciation of the fact that the problems facing the US run deeper than foreigners, liberals or the previous president, so far they seem to be more focused on the symptoms than the root cause. The Obama Faction has the right idea but does not seem to know precisely what to do with it.
Nonetheless, I qualify as a member of the Obama Faction by default. This is because, if history is any guide, the Republicans will never admit to being wrong and the
The Republican and Clinton Factions are analogous to two doctors treating a cancer by each insisting that the patient will immediately get better if the other doctor is taken off the case. The Obama Faction is at least aware that a more substantive regimen will be required, though their leader is still short on specifics at this stage.
The potential I see in Senator Obama. It is not a potential that would be realized if he had the “experience” of a Senator McCain or a Senator Clinton. I see him as being the only person in the race who is even remotely capable of appreciating and thus addressing the true problems facing the
Now that Super Fat Tuesday is over I can unload some of how I have come to feel about this election and its implications for the future of the
- With the end of the Cold War the
was faced with a tremendous opportunity to unite the world in peace and prosperity. Arguably such an opportunity was unprecedented in all of human history. US
- But George H. W. Bush, the president at the time, lacked “the Vision Thing” required to begin to take advantage of this opportunity and was kicked to the curb after one term in office.
- Unfortunately, due to early political missteps, reactionary pandering and an ultimate lack of a moral compass, the next president, Bill Clinton, managed to polarize the US political discourse, leaving the nation a political basket case as was demonstrated by the election of 2000 (anyone charging me with “blaming the victim” here needs to remember who was in charge at the time).
- Many US Democrats see Bill Clinton’s presidency as a near Utopian period that was only interrupted by term limits and his vice president’s inability to run a competent campaign. But these people generally lose sight of the fact that President Clinton was impeached, and while his crimes may not have arisen to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” he did lie under oath. President Clinton had a scandal-plagued administration and not all of it can be blamed on partisan Republicans creating something out of nothing.
- In addition, it should be noted that the economic revival of the late 90s that led to the first federal budget surpluses in decades, was primarily fueled by the end of the Cold War, the expansion of the Internet Bubble and Y2K-based expenditures, not by Clinton economic policies.
- The lasting legacy of President Clinton is that he made it easy for Republicans in general and conservatives in particular to see liberals and Democrats as not merely misguided, but as evil. This feeling was relatively one-sided until President Clinton’s successor was elected in 2000.
- The election and presidency of George W Bush made it easy for Democrats and liberals to demonize all things Republican, conservative and fundamentalist in return.
- The second President Bush upped the ante in his handling of the aftermath of the attacks on the
and the Pentagon. President Bush not only squandered another chance to unite the world in peace, he polarized the world stage in terms of “US versus Evil”. His so-called “War of Terror”, potentially ruinous Iraq policy and pandering to corporate interests run amok to the detriment of the shrinking US middle class have left the United States teetering on the edge of irrelevancy; the post-Cold War opportunity in tatters. World Trade Center
Friday, February 1, 2008
Because of the historical significance of the Obama campaign, this blog will be primarily devoted to chronicling thoughts on the political events as they play out. It is my intention, through the musings of this blog, that ideas for overcoming these fears can get out into the “ether”.