Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Wright Stuff: Clinton '08

Make no mistake: there is still a clear road ahead for Hillary Clinton to take the Democratic Party's nomination. In fact, there is only one identical road for either Senator Clinton or Sen. Obama-- the superdelegates. Have a problem with this arguably "undemocratic" aspect of the nomination process? Well, chart it up with the Electoral College, US Senate apportionment of seats by states, the Supreme Court, the non-seating of the Michigan and Florida delegates, and other violations of the Periclean Age democratic "ideal" we all supposedly aspire to.

But we don't. And the Democrats' bevy of superdelegates, created in the wake of primaries that ended in the nominations of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter-- weak candidates and, in the latter case, a fascinating but ultimately unsuccessful President (who suffered an earlier "Civil War" within the ranks of the Democratic Party in 1980 between himself and Senator Ted Kennedy) are ideally positioned to finally assert themselves in history by fulfilling the function they were dreamed up to do: prevent fickle and misguided voters from anointing an unelectable and unfit contender.

The Jeremiah Wright scandal has revealed Barack Obama's bona fides, both as a character and a phenomenon. Despite the fact that his address on the controversy was roundly (and predictably) praised by mainstream, center-left and hard-left pundits and bloggers, it has revealed deficits of judgment and candor not to be overlooked in a contender for the nation's highest office. Obama still wields his silky oratory and commands high marks from his acolytes, but the rest of the country is still reeling (as poll numbers strongly indicate) with difficult and rather angry questions.

Obama's speech, though seemingly a nuanced and moderate take on America's contemporary race issues, didn't serve to answer the questions that forced him to deliver the speech in the first place. What exactly have been Obama's reactions to his long-time pastor and spiritual mentor's remarks from the pulpit? Does a would-be President and "uniter" flinch at sermons crying out "God damn America?" Does the mixed-race multiculturalist have quibbles with a message of black victimhood and liberation theology out of the pages of Sixties radicalism-- the same sort of kneejerk agitprop which Obama has repeatedly claimed on the campaign trail has a pernicious hold (in his analysis) upon the minds of Newt Gingrich and the Clintons? How does one claim to be a sort of new New Democrat, moving beyond competing radicalism of the Left and Right, while attending a church so ostentatiously committed to a gospel of Black Power? And what about Rev. Wright's brazen claims as to questions of fact: that the United States government is responsible for the narcotics trade, or that it invented AIDS as a weapon of genocide against black people?

Perhaps Obama sincerely shrugged off these and other statements as rhetorical excesses, or perhaps he didn't see it as his place to castigate his pastor, the man who led him to Christ. Granted, many other churchgoers across the country might similarly have refrained from approaching their minister. But then, in the man who would lead us, hold Cabinet meetings and conduct negotiations with foreign leaders, surely we can ask for more backbone. I have long been skeptical about Obama's fitness to lead precisely because of his endless boilerplate about 'unity' and 'change', coupled with his alarming suggestions that his foreign policy would lead with apologies and no-conditions-attached summits with noxious dictators. Obama's conduct via-a-vis Wright underlines this point. That he not only held his tongue then, but, his speech notwithstanding, is STILL holding his tongue on these specifics, tells us that Obama is either a calculator or a coward-- in either event, hardly "transformational" and clearly not "leader"--like.

The Rev. Wright's "U.S. of KKK A." and "God damn America" comments might be perfectly allowable protest in a slam poetry event or on a blog. I by no means wish to suggest that these bare words themselves, or others like them, constitute traitorous conduct. But Obama is not running to be Poet Laureate or Activist-in-Chief, dream jobs where spontaneous effusions can always be chalked up as "moral challenges" (yes, I've indulged a few myself!), and during his Presidential campaign he has rather ostentatiously sought to distance himself from Wright, ever since the infamous invite/non-invite that kicked off the campaign-- in fact, Obama has shunned being the candidate of "protest". Yet his background as a "community activist" (one of these nauseating descriptions, like 'barrista', so tragically beloved of the hip Left) and, as is now glaringly obvious, as a state Senator representing the Chicago South Side, home of campus academics and black liberationists, has left him with a woefully one-sided take on the nation's politics, one rooted deeply in Sixties agitprop and soft-focus utopian attitudinizing. What has he done to demonstrate a grasp of practical politics, aside from grabbing up a score of caucuses in this competition?

Given the similarities in stated positions between Obama and Clinton, it has always been an open question, why one would pick the unseasoned newbie over the veteran infighter? Well, the Democratic faithful (God love 'em) are forever dreaming of the Messiah, and the Messiah cannot appear on Capitol Hill except to be crucified. Do we really want four years of Obama getting mangled before Congress and on the world stage, just to satisfy an emotional itch for some vague 'inspiration'? Are the threats posed by multiple wars and recession really relegatable to the back seat thanks to an "historic opportunity" to affirm the laying-to-rest of the legacy of racism, in large measure a symbolic gesture, perhaps of little real help for the immediate needs of black communities reeling under the pressures of crime, poverty, and failing schools? Would it not be better done to tackle our real-world problems first, elect a leader with demonstrable committments to make life better for impoverished and middle class Americans?-- one who, by-the-by, also embodies the wish for an "historic opportunity"?

Hillary Clinton's experience and competence have been treated with a counterfactual nay-saying difficult to be believed, culminating in one of the most bizarre non sequiturs to ever cross my ears: when pundits were granting us their comments on Hillary's newly-released White House schedules on NBC's "Today Show", one offered this odd verdict on her overseas visits: "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." To which my internal "Terminator" response-selection screen can only blink out the odious text-speak: WFT?!? Has the sexism of the Chirping Class reached such nauseating lows that we must deny the possibility that a First Lady who visited eighty countries and who once had six Cabinet Secretaries answering to her on Healthcare policy never ventured no further into our nation's global affairs than to swap Pillsbury recipes with Cherie Blair? Or can we not even be bothered to recall that Hillary sits on an obscure Senate committee that has to do with Armed Services? No-- for these are mere technicalities compared with the awesome charm of the fact that our multiethnic skywalker once lived on a distant desert planet known as "Indonesia" when he was (oh, can I be forgiven for not memorizing the particulars of the messiah's childhood?) eight or something.

Which brings me abruptly back to the superdelegates. Hillary's route to the nomination is not a jot more "mathematically impossible" than Barack Obama's-- they are both quite entirely dependent upon superdelegates for the nomination! And so we have the endless sophistries about how they should decide their votes-- none in the least binding, or indeed other than completely arbitrary. There is only one basis upon which they are compelled to decide: their own judgment. And they are transparently free to base that judgment upon whatever factors they wish to calculate upon. And it is likewise transparently clear that they were created to be free-- free of the democratic majority, free of the states, free of the "delegate count" going before them. What they SHOULD decide upon are two exclusive factors: first, who would make the best President?; and second, who is more electable?

Obama's political inexperience and naivete are, respectively, so narrow and so expansive, I don't think there can be any question about the first. Hillary Clinton is no saint and, Heaven be thanked, she isn't running as one. Lord knows she's made mistakes-- but she knows it too. Every American has long since had seared into their consciousness how tough, how unembarrassable this woman is. New Hampshire, Super Tuesday, Ohio and Texas-- all the comebacks urge us just how strong she can be. And this personal strength is being matched to demonstrable (and growing) electoral clout. With her current lead in the Pennsylvania polls yawning open to 16% over Obama, she appears set to racket up some very strong wins in the final months of the nominating campaign. Indeed, a majority in the popular primary vote may finally be hers. Yet Obamamaniac pundits still parse every news flash for a 'Hillary withdrawal'-- see the latest with Bill Richardson's endorsement of Obama (and oh, what calculations were going on there?)-- as if a Hillary withdrawal somehow could make even a sliver of sense now. After Texas and Ohio, with momentous winds at her back and the potentially ruinous Wright flap, Hillary would be insane to throw in the towel, and the vast majority of Americans would be left with jaws gaping, mouthing only (what else is new?) "WTF?!?"

Indeed, let us venture now that if Obama still takes the Democratic nomination, he will give the Democrats a perceived Patriotism Gap far in excess of that suffered by the likes of Carter or Kerry (both, like McGovern, with distinguished records of military service, as if that ever helps a Democrat!). Will you blame the Republicans?: what, YOU wouldn't go after a Republican with a minister who cried out "God damn Muslims" or "God damn homosexuals" or-- for whatever reason-- "God damn America"? [and remember: Hagee is not McCain's personal pastor!] George W. Bush was castigated for speaking at Bob Jones University: can Barack Obama not be castigated for his choice of church? Yet Democrats, for the moment, seem to be basking in an idiotic insularity. When Obama wins a state like Wyoming, the cry is "See, he can make us competitive in red states again!!" Good people, take a deep breath and listen to me: It's a Democratic Party caucus. They're going to give it to a DEMOCRAT. Bush carried Wyoming in 2004 with SEVENTY PERCENT of the vote. You are NOT going to carry Wyoming!!!

Hillary's negatives are all long since "known knowns"; Obama's are fresh, raw as a wound. Hippie idealism will not stand for long in the bracing air of reality in any event; and in Obama's case, naysayers don't have to drag out those recruiters with the Che Guevera poster any more. Clinton's direct speech contrasts more and more favorably against Barack's vague wordings and questionable juxtapositions (did his grandmother's fear of black youth-- a streetwise norm, however regretted-- really demand comparison with Wright's public effusions?)-- while her vastly greater experience, however ludicrously underplayed in the media today, offers a rational rebuttal to Obama's claims to office that is well-nigh decisive by itself. That Richardson, a long-time Clinton crony, would throw in his hand to the Obama camp is mystifying, but it hardly troubles Clinton's ever-stronger showing [perhaps it was his only shot at outreaching Holbrook for Secretary of State?]. No matter. It ain't over till the superdelegates sing, and they damn well know they'd better sit still for the fifth act. Hillary's under the spotlight, standing center-stage.