Half a Cheer for Obama

BY DOUG IRELAND | While I must confess I'm less than enthusiastic about the candidacy of Barack Obama, I ardently hope that he will defeat Hillary Clinton. I can't forget Hillary's position in support of the Defense of Marriage Act and her scabrous abstinence-only preachings while first lady, any more than I can erase from my brainpan Obama's using gay-hostile preacher Donnie McClurkin to shill for votes in South Carolina, or his refusal to be photographed with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom because he feared that might be interpreted as support for gay marriage.

But since both candidates have nearly identical positions on LGBT issues, those issues are not much of a factor in shaping my view of the contest for the Democratic nomination.

In fact, there are distressing similarities on many fronts between Clinton and Obama. Neither has advanced any new ideas nor proposed any innovative programs. Neither has any worthwhile, pro-people set of propositions that would end the nation's economic crisis.

While I must confess I'm less than enthusiastic about the candidacy of Barack Obama, I ardently hope that he will defeat Hillary Clinton.

Bill Clinton's paradigmatic triangulation – at the urging of Dick Morris – which destroyed the social welfare programs inherited from Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson was not only supported by Hillary, but according to George Stephanopoulos' memoir, when Bill wavered Hillary insisted that he go through with it. Obama wrote in one of his books that the Clintons' evisceration of social welfare was the right thing to do, and criticized FDR's New Deal.

While Obama did oppose the war in Iraq from its inception, a politically popular thing to do in his Illinois state senate district, which included the University of Chicago's anti-war campus, and Hillary voted for the war, both have voted numerous times to continue fully funding it – and Obama went to Connecticut to campaign for Joe Lieberman against the primary challenge to his re-nomination by anti-war candidate Ned Lamont.

Both Clinton and Obama support the Constitution-shredding Patriot Act, the endlessly wasteful war on drugs, charter schools (which would destroy public control of public education), the dreadful bureaucratic nightmare that is the No Child Left Behind Act, a Real ID national identity card, and the death penalty.

Both oppose single-payer health care, which is the only real way to achieve universal coverage, and instead favor complicated, Rube Goldberg-like, pro-business schemes that genuflect to the insurance companies and HMOs.

The programmatic affinities of the two candidates reflect just how unsettlingly far to the right the Democratic Party's center of gravity has moved in these last decades – with a healthy push in that direction from Billary during their eight years in the White House.

Both Clinton and Obama are, essentially, centrists rather than progressives.

Obama is without doubt a very skilled orator. He can make the most bland notions sound radical. Yet I find the diaphanous bromides of his rhetoric unconvincing. In fact, he reminds me of no one so much as Chance the Gardener, the character in Jerzy Kosinski's 1971 novel “Being There” so brilliantly brought to the screen eight years later by Peter Sellers.

After all, what is more typically Obamaesque than the sort of phrase that, by the end of Kosinski's tale, has politicians proposing to run Chance for president: “In the garden, growth has its seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

If you think that's an exaggeration, consider this from Chance Obama: “If you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking, eventually you'll make progress.”

On the other hand, as a political journalist I have closely observed and frequently written about Hillary and her partner-in-crime Bill since they first emerged in the national spotlight at the start of the first Clinton presidential campaign more than 16 years ago. Obama comes not even close to matching the depth of Hillary's cynicism. She is cold, unprincipled, endlessly mendacious, and corrupt, and at the service of the corporate and financial powers that have bankrolled her campaigns.

To take just one example, Hillary's Senate career has been marked by the successful use of earmarks to specifically benefit 59 corporations to the tune of half a billion taxpayer dollars, and two-thirds of those corporations organized huge donations to her campaigns, as a Los Angeles Times investigation detailed not long ago.

Five of Hillary's top fundraisers have pled either guilty or no contest to various crimes. For just a taste of Hillary's sleazy frequentations, Google the names of Denise Rich, Peter Paul, and Norman Hsu, or examine the public record of her boodling presidential campaign chairman, the notorious bagman Terry McAuliffe.

To understand how deeply rooted is the dark side of Hillary Clinton, read what remains the best single Clinton biography: “Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America” by that noble radical historian Roger Morris.

Nothing epitomizes Hillary's small-minded pettiness and cupidity for me better than this anecdote – when she was first lady of Arkansas and prepared the joint tax return for her and her husband, she would deduct from her taxes one dollar for each pair of used underwear the Clintons donated to the charity Goodwill. Enough said.

But if there is one thing that makes it imperative that Hillary Clinton be defeated, it is the ignoble race-baiting tactics she and her campaign have deployed in this year's primaries and caucuses in order to try to win votes, from false fear-mongering designed to inflame Latinos in Nevada to Bill Clinton's repeated playing of the race card in the run-up to South Carolina.

These incendiary appeals to racial prejudices include her now-famous “red phone” TV ad. As African-American Harvard Professor Orlando Patterson wrote in “The Red Phone in Black and White,” an insightful March 11 New York Times op ed piece: “When I saw the Clinton ad's central image – innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger – it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn't help but think of D. W. Griffith's 'Birth of a Nation,' the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad – as I see it – is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat. The ad could easily have removed its racist sub-message by including images of a black child, mother or father – or by stating that the danger was external terrorism. Instead, the child on whom the camera first focuses is blond. Two other sleeping children, presumably in another bed, are not blond, but they are dimly lighted, leaving them ambiguous. Still it is obvious that they are not black…”

Comes now Geraldine Ferraro, a member of Hillary's finance committee and one of her campaign surrogates, with her animalistic snarl of resentment that, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position… He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” As if her insistence that black men in America are lucky weren't repugnantly absurd enough, when her playing the skin game was universally condemned Ferraro made it worse by insisting, “Any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls this campaign down and says let's address reality and the problems we're facing in this world, you're accused of being racist, so you have to shut up. Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?”

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann properly condemned Ferraro's first statement and her later defense of it as “clearly racist, clearly equal-opportunity-is-a-bad thing” and expressed shock that Hillary neither clearly apologized for Ferraro's comments nor censured her and removed her from her campaign, but instead had her campaign manager defend Ferraro.

But as Newsweek's admirable Howard Fineman put it, “This is the way they [the Clinton campaign] wants it, they don't want to change the tone” because they're trying to win white working class votes in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary.

Such stomach-turning cynicism recalls the worst days of Richard Nixon's race-based “Southern Strategy” and the scarcely-coded panderings to prejudice of George Wallace. It must be repudiated, and decisively.

The only way Hillary can now win the nomination of her party is via an anti-democratic manipulation involving the use of unelected super-delegates to thwart the popular will. There are quite a few LGBT super-delegates who have been supporting the Clinton candidacy.

With the morally tone-deaf defense of Ferraro's racism by the Clinton campaign, those men and women from our LGBT communities have an imperative duty now – to remember that human rights are indivisible, and emphatically reject Clintonian racism by supporting Barack Obama.