Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Hampshire horse race 2: the wall holds

a brief additional quote from Greenwald's essay that I excerpted yesterday:

As Kevin Drum says, there are all kinds of reasons why a rational person might consider the defeat of Hillary Clinton to be a good thing. The fact that it's being caused, in part, by snide, catty sniping over petty matters from reporters who hate the Clintons isn't one of them.

Greenwald's comment above is of course apropo of Obama's somewhat surprising win in the Iowa caucus, but his point is still worth discussing in the context of HRC winning in New Hampshire. Many people in Big Media and the lefty blogosphere have been spinning Senator Clinton's victory as a repudiation of the pollsters, or a repudiation of Obama's messianic affect, or even a repudiation of the people who like to dump on the Clintons. While I imagine all these may have an element of truth to them, I'm a little surprised that I've heard no one say that(see below*) maybe, just maybe, the kindly, well-meaning and mostly caucasian democrats of New Hampshire may have simply freaked out and contemplated the suddenly very real possibility that their party might go to bat against the GOP in November with a black guy.

Apparently this is something we're not allowed to discuss. Not only is racism bad-- and yes, its badness is a good thing-- but suggesting that somebody, or a group of people, are acting according to racially tinged motives is just not done.

We've all agreed not to talk about it, and that's how we know it doesn't exist, and the people who bring it up are a bunch of troublemakers anyway, so we try to ignore them.

Many years ago my friend "Tracy", a nice white girl from the suburbs, told me that her mother said that she shouldn't date outside her race because society will make life harder on her. I imagine her mother was partly right, that her daughter would experience social pressure in some quarters, but this just begs the question of how much power you want to give to people who want you to behave according to their vision of a society where people know their place and "stick with their kind."

Now I won't for a moment claim to have George Bush Junior's ability to look into someone's soul, Russian or otherwise, and assess the contents. So I won't say that I know that New Hampshire's democrats are prejudiced against Obama because of his race, or even his funny name. For one thing, I happen to think there is a wide assortment of reasons to not vote for Obama that have nothing to do with race(or even a funny name), although to my mind I fail to see how they'd subsequently lead you to Hillary's arms-- but that's another post.

However-- just like Tracy's mother, maybe some of New Hampshire's democrats decided that while they don't have a problem with a black guy as the party's standard bearer, maybe other voters who might otherwise consider a democrat for president nevertheless wouldn't go for a black democrat.

("I'M not prejudiced, but I know that a lot of other people are. What?")

I've heard of the South Carolina GOP primary referred to as the "firewall" designed to protect establishment republicans from insurgents and supposed insurgents, such as when Bush beat McCain there in 2000. But nobody talks about Iowa and New Hampshire as firewalls against the same for the democrats, perhaps because democrats are less comfortable discussing these things-- but given Iowa's 92% and New Hampshire's 96% white populations, maybe they are, or at least they're supposed to be. And whatever you think of Obama, maybe it is in fact a testament to Iowa's young people that they weren't white in quite the way the big time party strategists thought they'd be.

Needless to say, political reasoning isn't the same as choosing a lover, or at least it isn't supposed to be. Voting against Obama because you think he'd have a hard time in the general isn't the same thing as shunning your black neighbors, or your black co-workers, or your daughter's boyfriend.

But it's not that different either. If you hold electability as the greatest good beyond practically everything else, you are empowering the troglodyte Big Media types that Greenwald rails against, as well as prejudiced voters, in the same way that Tracy's mother encouraged her to live according to dictates of the most hateful members of her community.

Now, I happen to think that Obama and Hillary Clinton are both unsatisfactory choices, but the idea of voting for or against either one based on (TV news dictated perceptions of)"electability" strikes me as exceptionally cowardly and vacuous, and even a threat to democracy.

Because additionally, you are helping to create today's post-liberal democratic party that can't get anything done besides aligning itself with big business and traditional republican interests, apart from on a few token identity politics issues-- the same post-liberal democratic party that lefty bloggers and the democratic rank-and-file are so fond of decrying.

One of the reasons I've never understood this is because it's precisely the same idiots who hold "electability" up as the greatest good who are the most susceptible to groupthink and to conning themselves into believing that whoever the party chooses for them really is as blitheringly awesome as the pundits and other clever types say, and will vote for whoever they're told to at the end of the day anyway.

They're the same people who in 2004 rejected Howard Dean in favor of the phlegmatic patrician John Kerry, because the media doctored the sound on a poorly-shot video and told them that Dean was Crazy Shouting Guy. Although most democrats were already against the war by then, they sucked it up and told themselves that Kerry's weasley "I voted against it before I voted for it" actually meant something, and that when Kerry saluted the nice safe audience at the democratic convention in the summer of '04, while he steadfastly ran away from the fight with the Swift Boat smearers, that he was somehow "inspirational."

One of the problems with the democrats rejecting Dean in 2004 was they also ran away from the fight. Dean opposed the war from the get-go, without Kerry's rhetorical hem-hawing baggage, so because the dems ran with Kerry they ran with a candidate who wouldn't allow a real debate to occur about the war. I'm not saying that Dean should be regarded as the second coming of Thomas Jefferson or anything like that, but in rejecting Dean democratic voters, at the behest of their leadership and the people on the teevee, effectively took the debate about the war "off the table", just as Nancy Pelosi did with impeachment two years later.

That's the funny thing about obsessing about "electability." Voters don't exactly have a lot of power to start with, but when they give up what little they have because millionaire pundits and news readers tell them they have to, that's how "you get the politicians you deserve" instead of the ones you need. And simply telling pollsters that you care more about the issues doesn't absolve you of the mundane work of sifting through the muck to actually find out about the candidates and issues rather than worrying about whether they "look presidential", have a pricey haircut, a spouse with a tongue-stud or sundry other brain-clutter foisted on you by Chris Matthews and company.

*An update, and an apparently needed clarification:

Others have in fact discussed the possibility that Obama's support melted because of race. I think my argument is somewhat different from the one that Digby cites, wherein Chris Matthews suggests that Americans are too racist to elect a black person president. Some are, clearly, but that's not what I'm saying.

My argument is that over the past few years democratic voters have become conditioned, to be so readily cowed by their hidebound leadership and the pundit class, that if some jerk with a TV show tells them they need to worry about Obama not being electable, or that they don't dare run a real antiwar candidate if they want to win, or what have you... they chicken out and buckle, empowering their opponents, as well as childish pseudo-journalists who aren't necessarily their opponents but clearly don't give a damn about democratic hopes and aspirations.

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