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Obama, Clinton (and Bob Kinsey): Some Thoughts

June 4, 2008


Although Hillary Clinton has not yet conceded defeat, her run for the presidency is all but over. Now all she is able to do is threaten to be an Obama spoiler – a role which she seems bent on pursuing. What concessions at this point does she hope to gain from her continued refusal to face the facts: that she lost, that her bid for the presidency was soundly rejected by Democratic voters nationwide.

I have two vivid memories from this campaign.

1. The first was the February caucuses, which i wrote about in an earlier entry. Four years ago less than a dozen – I believe the actual number was eight – showed up to nominate John Kerry. It was a lackluster meeting livened up only by a little spat about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This February, moved by a rather concrete spiritual breakthrough – fear of another four years of a Republican presidency – a whopping 110 people showed up at Skinner Middle School from the same precinct. In other precinct caucuses at Skinner the numbers were just as swollen. They were overwhelmingly against the the war in Iraq, in support of universal health care and when Nancy Fey, sitting next to me, happened to put forth a resolution condemning torture – there was a universal roar of approval in support of her measure – a symbolic protest to the entire fabric of US foreign policy in the Bush years.

Nancy and I did not come to the caucuses as Obama supporters.

Although he mounted a lackluster campaign lacking any seriousness, suggesting that he was running for other undefined reasons, we originally supported Kucinich. But he had already dropped out and our next best bet was Edwards whose class-struggle message we liked. But we hoped to get support for an `uncommitted’ position. Here we enjoyed no support at all in our precinct which was was solidly – no overwhelmingly – behind Obama by a margine of 4 or 5 to 1. After a straw poll revealed the futility of our position, we joined those supporting Obama.

Only what might be referred to as `the political class’ of the state’s Democratic Party (Wellington Webb, Diana De Gette, political operatives like Brownstein and Farber, etc) supported Clinton. Hillary also enjoyed some support from Chicanos and some women. But it wasn’t enough to turn around the mass enthusiasm for Obama and once again, the Democratic Party’s rank and file `stuck it too’ the state leadership, some of whom had visions of jobs in a non existent Clinton administration. But the political class of the state’s Democratic Party – those behind the scenes, the power brokers in the back ground – are a wily group who have nimbly adjusted to other left challenges and will do so now I suspect with the same acumen that they have shown in the past. Call them survivors or whores – I tend to place them in the latter category – they are an experienced politically battle hardened bunch. They’ll adjust.

2. The second memory is of the day that first Obama and then Bill and Chelsea Clinton came to the University of Denver in the early spring. Obama spoke in the morning, Bill and Chelsea in evening. all at the Richie Center. Obama’s talk was especially dramatic. Some 16,000 Coloradoans, many, but not all of them students, started lining up in the snow at 3 and 4 am to hear Obama. The roads leading to D.U. were clogged for hours. Many of the students in my noon class that day came into the room `pumped’ as they say, with the Obama spirit. A little too pumped for my tastes I might add as despite the fact that I supported Obama over Hillary I didn’t see much difference in their programs other than Hillary’s stupid and AIPAC-groveling remark about `obliterating’ Iran and Obama’s refreshing and tempered response to her nuclear weapon rattling.

But before I could open my mouth several students pre-empted me, appropriately I suppose. This is the era of pre-emption isn’t it? We don’t want to hear ANY criticisms from you about Obama, they said, rather assertively, sensing correctly that I had not exactly bought into their recent spiritual transformations. They should have known better than to challenge me in that way, but carried away with the enthusiasm of the moment, didn’t. They didn’t want their old cynical teacher pissing on their hopes (once again). But then what else is there left in life to do at the age of 63 but to piss on the false hopes of others? Isn’t that a genuine public service?

Still I tried not to be too brutal. Really.

I simply reminded them of two points:

a. that the actual positions of Clinton and Obama were not that different on either domestic or foreign policy.

b. that even if Obama won the nomination, without the persistent pressure from below to remind him of his commitment to change, and help him specify what it all meant in a progressive manner, that the hopes he had managed to instill in so many, were based on a rather fragile foundation.

They took this advice, as I expected, rather poorly.

But when hope are not realized, people become bitter. If Obama delivers – even on a part of his vague but still implied progressive agenda – he could become the most significant American president since Roosevelt. And if he does, he’ll consolidate the political base he has started to build. The man is bright enough, that’s clear and he had the politically savvy and toughness to defeat one of the smartest (and nastiest) political teams in recent memory, Clinton, Clinton & Associates.

Obama’s victory could transform not only the nation but something else that has defied transformation – the Democratic Party itself – . If Obama comes through, the Democratic Party could have something of a renaissance not unlike what happened in this nation in the 1930s. But he has to deliver.

But then if he doesn’t deliver, or hardly so, especially on getting the US out of Iraq, well then, this could have serious consequences and the splits from the Democratic Party could grow to sizeable proportions. There is a great impatience, especially here among Colorado Democrats for the party to get off its backside and do something. The gap between the party’s `leadership’ and power brokers and its increasingly radical if not left base – the anti-corporate, populist element is sizeable – continues to widen. How much further can this go on before either the party is genuinely transformed, or sizeable chunks of the base simply leave? I’m convinced these are national trends and not simply local Colorado tendencies.

A hint of these developments: there are a fair number of people in this town and state, who worked hard for Gore, Kerry or both and are now Green Party actiivists. People like Claire Ryder, Bob Kinsey who left the Dems for the Greens are indicative of the trend. I would guess that if Obama fails to deliver – on the war in Iraq, on healthcare, on the environment – ie the big issues of our day – that the Green Party’s ranks will grow even more both here in Colorado and nationwide and other left formations will make their appearance on the scene.

And while it is true that a good share of the nation’s youth was swept up in the Obama phenomenon, a fair share of that youth isn’t swept up in it at all and will be outside both the Democratic and Republican conventions demonstrating, and not all of them – not by a long shot – can be smeared with a `Recreate 68′ brush.

As it is, the Greens are running a candidate for the US Senate race, Bob Kinsey who I believe will give Mark Udall a much harder challenge then perhaps Udall is accustomed to. And when those Democratic Party types cry foul, how could you, etc. etc, let it be recalled ed that Udall voted for EVERY congressional appropriation for the war in Iraq in the completely cynical and heavily warn logic of `supporting our troops’. Nonsense. Not that it means much, but I openly and enthusiastically endorse Kinsey. He is every bit Udall’s match in intelligence and far more politically principled. And he’s tough. Udall will not walk all over his face.

The worst thing that could happen is if the peace movement let up its pressure now. there are no givens that Obama will deliver on his promises. And while in a certain sense the nation should take pride in the fact that it has nominated the first Black major presidential candidate and in so doing has struck yet another blow against racism, that we have had two of the worst – and by worst I mean reactionary and ineffective Secretaries of State who happen to be Black – Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and that Clarence Thomas sits on the Supreme Court. Barak Obama seems cut out of a different mold.

But what that means remains to be seen. I wouldn’t take down our anti-war lawn sign yet not by a long shot.

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