Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hillary... Goodbye and God Bless (Part 1)

In spite of the mountain of work that I have to do (conference organizing and the usual mountain of papers I have to correct at this time of the year AS WELL AS my chapters deadline), over the past weeks I have kept an eye on the endgame of the U.S. primary season. My Sky box though went kaput about a week ago (I only made one phone call to the technical support, which advised me to just wait for up to four hours, hah! Of course nothing worked, but I decided not to follow up not only because I didn't get around to, but also because it's one less distraction when I need to put my head down to work), so I only really got my news through the Internet (though I strictly stayed away from blogs in the last while). Anyway...

I have so much to say about Hillary Clinton's historic run for the Democratic nomination of the U.S. Presidential office, that I am going to not only break my blog curfew on politics, but am going to write several posts on the subject - on race, on gender, and on looking backward as well as, and most importantly, forward.

So, without further ado...

LOOKING BACK...

Part 1. Surviving the Obama Hate Machine. (Yes you read that right, I too can't believe it, and it really pains me to type it).

Reflecting on Hillary's historic run for Presidency, given my interest in her candidacy from the very beginning as I compared her to other female world leaders both past and present, there have been much done on Hillary's part in the final stages of her campaign that has disquieted me. Not for the fact that she stayed in the race until the very end, which is actually most commendable (which I have written before, but more on this later). But for her dangerous sabre-rattling comments on Iran, and indeed, the whole she-should-really-have-known-better "sniperfiregate" gaffe. In all fairness, these two incidents were no less alarming or troubling than Obama's so-called "tough stance" on striking Pakistan during an earlier Democratic debate, and his really-should-also-have-known-better "Auschwitzgate". But I am not so blind in my admiration of her candidacy from afar as to think Hillary should not be held accountable for these mistakes, just as Barack should be held accountable for his.

What Hillary should NOT have been held responsible for however, were the blatant lies that have been spread deliberately to misrepresent the Clintons as "race-baiting" by the Obama campaign (a whole catalogue of such outrageous charges and perceived Clinton-on-Obama slights are helpfully collated by net-savvy Obama supporters into a wikipedia here, though, contrary to their presumed intents, their so-called "incident tracker" actually shows up their sheer bat-shittery for what they really are; which are not unlike the rants from some crazy Obamatons that you would find on the Guardian blogs here, who demonstrate their uniquely overrated critical faculties by wilfully projecting any and all of their own anti-Clinton biases into even the mildest and most innocent of utterances).

For some reason, it is perfectly okay for Obama's campaign to highlight from the beginning that his biracial background is the reason why his candidacy - rightfully portrayed by his admirers as a historic one, with a huge potential of him becoming the first African-American President in a country whose history had been blighted by centuries of slavery - is particularly inspirational and meaningful, especially in current times, a point on which I totally, whole-heartedly agree, myself being a member of an ethnic minority in the country that I live in. And yet it is considered an offense of the highest order if the Clinton camp made precisely this very same point. The so-called Jesse Jackson (Youtube footage of the full dialogue) remarks by Bill were used by the Obama camp for what a commentator on the NYT elegantly called "fake umbrage", crying foul at Bill's audacity to compare Obama's historic bid of the presidency to Jackson's previous attempt to do the same, even if all Bill said was that they both ran good campaigns. The so-called "fairytale" (ABC.com video of the full dialogue) comment from Bill to describe Obama's "judgement" argument, based on what he saw as misleading distortion of Obama's voting records as compared to others, was later grossly contorted by Obama surrogates as referring to Obama's overall chance at landing the highest office in the land itself. The latter would have been a huge insult - unfair and unjust - if indeed it was true. Except it wasn't. Not at all. And yet this slime on Bill as belittling Obama's chances stuck, as a result of yet another cut-and-paste mainstream media sound-bite job. And the "kid" comment attributed to Bill as describing Obama by an op-ed columnist in the NYT? Here there is not even a cut-and-paste, as no actual source could be found for it (not even those zealous Obama slight-trackers at the afore-mentioned wiki could find it - though they have no problems including it and commenting on it of course).

Bill was subsequently portrayed, again with utter disregard to the facts, as taking out on the press (a jokey repartee "Shame on you" (Youtube footage of the full dialogue) at the end of a civil and pleasant conversation between Bill and several reporters about how the media trumped up charges of the race card for both candidates gets turned into an "angry outburst" in mainstream media).

Obviously I recognised that there have been really regrettable instances when clearly inappropriate comments were made, such as Geraldine Ferraro went over the line and subsequently resigned from the Clinton campaign, just weeks after Samantha Power was fired from the Obama camp for making similarly over the line comments. Both otherwise worthy women - Ferraro was the first woman to be on a U.S. Presidential ticket; Power is a policy professor from Harvard specialising in the topic of genocide - both quickly resign from or let go by their respective campaigns for their unfortunate mouthings-off. Both candidates were quick to distance themselves from such inappropriate comments, and should therefore NOT be held responsible for them. Indeed, when the Jeremiah Wright controversy spiralled out of control, causing the eventual painful split of Obama from his church, it helped to establish that "guilt-by-association" is NOT a kosher campaign modus operandi.

Yet fake umbrage continues to be turned into a fine art by the Obama camp in the last so-called RFK assasination comments (actual Youtube footage), when they exploded in apoplectics over Hillary's so-called veiled suggestion for an Obama assasination, when it was plainly obvious from the context of her speech that she was comparing HERSELF (and not Obama) to Bobby Kennedy (in the same way that she was comparing herself to her husband Bill Clinton to remind people that her campaign should not be called to end prematurely):

“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?” she said. “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

(This intrepretation was not only just invented for backpedaling expediency, but was consistent with her earlier use of the remark:

NYT Reporting: In March, she told Time magazine: “Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A. My husband didn’t wrap up the nomination in 1992 until June. Having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual.”)

Even Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who endorsed Hillary, defended her use of the language: “I’ve heard her make that argument before,” Mr. Kennedy said, speaking on his cellphone as he drove to the family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass. “It sounds like she was invoking a familiar historical circumstance in support of her argument for continuing her campaign.”

But it is perhaps not so surprising that, on closer inspection, Obama's campaign is not any more purer-than-thou than his supporters and neutral observers have hoped and indeed been promised. For all the high-minded rhetoric and above-the-fray imagery of Barack Obama the man himself, his campaign and his surrogates, not to mention his legions of fanatic supporters, have not necessarily engaged in good-faith, above-the-gutter politics.

There was one very specific instance that made me turn from a diffident neutral observer (my neutrality stemming not only from the fact that, in terms of race and gender either of the two camps would have fitted me fine, but more importantly because I do not believe in supporting a candidate because of a biographic affinity, and for a good while I was thinking Obama and Clinton were both second bests to Edwards policy-wise), to a specifically Hillary Clinton supporter.

This incident was in relation to Obama's smear of Hilary's universal healthcare plan, a subject on which I actually know something about given my professional background (and is the chief reason why I think Edwards was superior to these two, and why I think Clinton's actual mandatory universal health care plan was both more realistic and more feasible than Obama's watered-down non-mandatory version). Here I will use Hillary's own words in denouncing Obama's campaign's dirty tricks (the dirty trick in question was substantiated by an Obama supporter's angry retort of the same video, thinking that by declaring this dirty trick was brought to Hillary's attention much earlier than she stated it would absolve Obama's campaign. No it doesn't.):



"... Drawing contrasts in this campaign, I think that's imporant for voters so that they would know where we stand, what our records are, what it is we will do as President. Today in the crowd I was given two mailings that Senator Obama's campaign is sending out.

And I have to express my deep disappointment, that he is continuing to send false and discredited mailings, with information that is not true to the voters of Ohio. He says one thing in speeches, and then he turns around and does this [holding up the packaged mailings from Obama's camp in her hand].

And we have consistently called him on it, it has been discredited, it is blatantly false, and yet he continues to spend millions of dollars perpetuating falsehoods. That is not the new politics that the speeches are about. It is not hopeful, it is destructive. Particularly for a Democrat, to be discrediting universal healthcare, by raging a false campaign against my plan. To be talking about NAFTA in a way that tries to make him look like a plan when he does not.

This healthcare mailing, which is very reminiscent of the health insurance industry's attacks on what we tried to do the last time we went after universal healthcare, is the worst kind of politics. Number 1, it is wrong and untrue. And Number 2, it is exactly the talking points, that the health insurance industry, and the Republicans use on a daily basis. Senator Obama knows, that it is not true that my plan forces people to buy insurance even if they can't afford it. My plan has more financial help, my plan has been evaluated by independent experts as actually achieving universal coverage, and providing the financial assistance so everyone can have healthcare. This mailing about NAFTA, saying that I believed NAFTA was quote a "boon", quotes a newspaper that had corrected the record. We have pointed it out. The newspaper has pointed it out.

Time and time again, you hear one thing in speeches, and then you see a campaign that use the worst kind of tactics, reminiscent of the same sort of Republican attacks on Democrats. Well, I am here to say, that it is not only wrong, but it is undermining core democratic principles.

Since when do Democrats attack one another on universal healthcare?

I thought we were trying to realise Harry Truman's dream. I thought this campaign finally gave us an opportunity to put together a coalition to achieve univeral healthcare. That's what Senator Edwards and I fought for and talked about throughout the campaign. Just because Senator Obama chose not to present a universal healthcare plan, does NOT give him the right to attack me because I did.

So let's have a real campaign. Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove's playbook. This is wrong. And every Democrat should be outraged. Because this is the kind of attack that not only undermines core democratic values, but gives aid and comfort to the very special interests and their allies and the Republican Party, who is against doing what we want to do for America.

So shame on you, Barack Obama, it is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. That's what I expect from you. Meet me in Ohio, let's have a debate, about your behaviours and your tactics in this campaign."


Of course, what we actually only heard played back from mainstream media reportage over and over again, was only that Senator Clinton "shrilly" "yelling" "shame on you" to Obama. Hillary's honest challenge to Obama to answer for his campaign's questionable-at-best tactics was twisted by HIS supporters as Clinton "going negative" on Obama. As if calling out an opponent's use of dirty tricks on you with clear evidence is proof positive of you playing a "negative tactic" on said opponent!!! The phrase, "using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove's playbook" actually was used by the Obamatons as a catch-phrase for Obamatons to beat the Clintons' with.

This is the kind of political Swiftboating - attacking an opponent's strongest point using false data and outright slander, in order to neutralise any advantage the opponent may have in objective comparisons with one's own candidate - I thought would never happen in the Democratic primary race, given how Democrats themselves are vowing to watch out for these behaviours in their fight to oust the criminal Repugs this time (they probably didn't expect it to come from within their own). And I certainly did not expect this from the "high-minded", "change-we-can-believe-in", "new-politics" of Barack Obama.

Convenient political point-scoring over your opponents' own missteps and gaffes, yes, by all means, that's just part-and-parcel of realpolitik. I could even try to forgive the reverse race-baiting documented above as just fair political opportunism, taking advantage of the lazy mainstream press who doesn't bother to fact-check and who delights in sound-bite controversy. Outright slanders on the other hand - that are painstakingly printed in meaty glossy magazines, that are financed, produced and distributed by your own campaign direct to voters, and not just a staffer or an associate accidentally-on-purpose spouting off to journalists - against your opponents' stated policy positions, that is just unacceptable. And THEN accusing your opponent of going dirty on you when your despicable practice was called out, that is plain disgraceful.

And given Obama's "good clean politics", we-have-to-clean-up-Washington-corruption rhetoric, it is unconscionable.

What a shock. What a disappointment.

What is clear also then, to me, is that there are indeed very legitimate reasons to not support Obama.

At the start of Barack Obama's candidacy, when he made his first victory speech after his surprise win of Iowa, I was so inspired by all that he represented, and given the powerlessness and disenfranchisement after 7 years of Bush's regime, I was really heartened by the Americans' new-found sense of optimism, and indeed, their "audacity of hope", as a result of Obama's positive, generous-spirited public persona. I read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s autobiography not long ago (I visited his memorial centre in Atlanta a couple of years ago while on a conference trip and brought back several books on him), and I found similar passages of hope and inspiration resonating in many of Obama's stirring speeches. I could fully appreciate why Obama is a candidate one might fall in love with, rather than merely arouse respect. I understood and appreciated what Caroline Kennedy meant when she wrote that she saw qualities of his father in Obama.

From the beginning, I even felt protective of Obama's candidacy. Thinking how his historic candidacy in the States would represent the first minority national leader of any Western country, and how absolutely inspirational that would be, for me personally. After all, the highest gender glass ceiling in our land over this side of the Atlantic has long been shattered by our own very capable female presidents. The only remaining barrier that would be meaningful for me personally is the ethnic one. I personally bristled at the many, many instances of cheap (and real) race-baiting, by right-wing mainstream media talking heads who deliberately try to mispronounce Obama as Osama (there is one such American right-wing commentator, a regular contributor to a popular political radio show here, who tries to slip this in all the time, in a rather transparent and pathetic attempt to subliminally misrepresent Obama, and Irish listeners would ring in and correct him, disallowing such cheap shots to be fired at a minority candidate in the U.S., even though Clintons are generally more favoured here because we know them well and they have done an enormous amount of good for us, not just in Northern Ireland). I too thought initially that those people who would be actively against an Obama candidacy must be, one way or another, racist, even if such racism may only be latent.

Now I think different.

Having observed how his campaign and his supporters behaved over the last eight months, who managed to tar and feather two of the most progressive Democrats in recent history who consistently supported the cause of African Americans in action and not just in words (pouring resources into African American-dominated districts, approving affirmative action legislation), and branded them as "racists", thus discrediting their decades of noble public service in the cause, I no longer buy into the meme that all Obama opposers are racists. Nor indeed, would I any longer buy into the myth that Obama ran an "honest, clean" campaign.

In fact, far from it. Excepting those unreconstructed Appalachian rednecks who are suspicious of anyone foreign and different, some of the Obama opposers may actually be the most racially-progressive Democrats in the Party.

It is such a pity - nay, absolute disgrace - that Hillary and Bill Clinton have been dragged through the mud by the Obama hate machine (if not Obama himself, in whom I continue to retain a measure of hope, how audacious of me?), and being lumped in with the likes of redneck Appalachians, when they are really two of the finest examples of the racially-progressive Democrats. After all, Bill didn't get the label of being called a "Black President" by pretty words alone.

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1 Comments:

At Thu Jun 12, 07:16:00 p.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

This is just part I ... Man oh man.

What are you up to? Sorry the lame comment again....

 

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