Monday, June 16, 2008

Going Neutral

(Image Credit: Where else but Wikipedia?)

Okay, kids, mourning has broken in Roxie’s World. We have fully absorbed Hillary Clinton’s loss in the Democratic primary race and are ready to move forward. Emmeline Grangerford has left the Office of Obits and Eulogies and is taking a well-deserved sabbatical. Flags are back at full-staff, but, as you can see, the flag we’ve run up the pole for the time being is that of Switzerland. Yep, that’s right. We do hereby declare our neutrality in the general election for president.

Permit me to explain. We are yellow-dog Democrats here in Roxie’s World. We will never vote for a Republican for president, no matter how angry we are with our party over
  • its fundamentally flawed and undemocratic nominating process;
  • the irregularities in the closing stages of that process that resulted in delegates being awarded to a candidate whose name did not even appear on the ballot in the state of Michigan;
  • the effort on the part of the party establishment to bring the primary race to a premature close by strong-arming a candidate out of the race when she was still winning by large margins in important states.
We are mad as hell about all of those things. Plus, the disco divas ‘round here are pleased as punch that John McCain is apparently an ABBA fan. Nonetheless, we could never vote for a candidate whose positions on the war and the economy are so dramatically at odds with our own. We have no doubt that McCain will pick up votes from Clinton supporters in the general election, perhaps several from the friends and relations of Roxie’s World, but he won’t get ours.

Having made that (easy) decision, we still find ourselves unable so far to follow Senator Clinton’s lead, hop up on our unity ponies, and install an Obama widget on the sidebar. Moose has spent some time on the Lesser’s web site recently, and she continues to be wigged out by the crypto-messianism of its overall tone and appearance. That whole halo effect thing just is not working for us, dudes, though we can appreciate the temptation presented by the big “O” in “Obama.” Goose insists that since claiming the nomination Obama seems to have shrunk considerably in size. She attributes this miniaturization to a phenomenon Virginia Woolf describes in her perceptive work of feminist criticism, A Room of One’s Own. In patriarchal logics of vision, women function as mirrors for men, fun-house mirrors that serve to make the men look larger and more powerful than they actually are. Remove the woman from the stage, and the man shrinks down to actual size. “Oh, look!” says the viewer. “He really does have funny ears!” Then, put an older white man on the stage beside the younger African-American man, and the dynamics of the situation shift again. It is the latter who fulfills the mirroring function, because patriarchal logic is racialized as well as gendered, and the part of the reflecting other is always played by the non-white or non-male figure. (Don’t get mad at us, kids. We are not endorsing this system of seeing. We are merely describing it.) The Lesser shrinks even more standing next to a guy who looks so much like the Great White Men who have always led the nation. Obama may be more attractive, but McCain offers the powerful comfort of familiarity to voters who crave change a lot less than they think they do.

We made this point in a February post on political marketing and electability when we claimed – quite brilliantly, we thought -- that Obama had been positioned in the primary race as the iPhone while Clinton had somehow been cast as the political equivalent of your grandmother’s rotary dial phone. That’s a distinction that is less likely to be to Obama’s advantage in the general because, as Moose explained to Goose in a bit of dialogue from the earlier post,
McCain can make a contest between him and Obama all about who’s the manliest man, and the old white former prisoner of war is going to win that contest every time. All he has to do is stand there stiff as a board, make a couple of well-timed references to ‘Nam, and suddenly voters remember that grandma’s old rotary phone never dropped a call and didn’t shatter into pieces when it got dropped. Obama looks like a self-involved pretty boy, a puff of smoke. Faced with the two of them, voters realize they don’t want to be cool; they want to be safe.
Now, of course, it’s possible that Obama’s charisma and prodigious political skills will overturn all of these assumptions and power dynamics, especially against a candidate so stiff he can make a victory speech sound like a prayer for a bowel movement. If that is the case, Obama will win with or without the support of this humble dog blog. Nonetheless, so far we’ve only touched on peripheral, subjective issues that go to the question of the Lesser’s electability. That question is in some sense irrelevant to the question of whether we can or should support him. We are members of the Pudd’nhead Party, after all. We have a long, proud tradition of supporting losers in presidential elections. For years, when the self-proclaimed progressives or radicals were righteously sitting out elections or voting for third-party candidates, Moose and Goose stuck loyally by the Democratic nominees – and they’ve got the Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry buttons to prove it. (They’ve got [Bill] Clinton buttons, too, but we’re talking about the Dem losers they have supported over the years.) (Full disclosure: Moose cast her first presidential vote for Barry Commoner, who ran on the Citizens Party ticket in 1980. She attributes that vote to a desire to rebel as thoroughly against her Republican upbringing as she possibly could and to the not insignificant fact that she voted in Indiana that year, a state that would have gone for Ronald Reagan even if Dems had had the original Messiah on the ballot.) Why, then, are they hanging back this time, willing to risk the opprobrium of longtime fellow travelers who have rallied ‘round the party’s presumptive nominee with the enthusiasm of converts to a new religion? It’s complicated.

We acknowledge that part of our hesitation to throw our support to Obama is due to a lingering bitterness over the treatment of Hillary Clinton, her supporters, and some of their issues by the party, the media, the so-called progressive blogosphere, and at times the Obama campaign, which pushed negative stories about Clinton and hyped allegations of racism. We don’t need to re-hash those feelings and their causes here. We hope they will dissipate in time as Senator Obama’s general election campaign unfolds.

Deeper and more troubling to us is that there is in our judgment a taint of illegitimacy surrounding Obama’s nomination. We know that the debacles of Michigan and Florida were not the fault of the Obama campaign. We also know that he benefited significantly from those debacles and refused to support do-over primaries in those states that would have allowed full seating of their delegations to the convention and a far less ambiguous outcome to an exceptionally close race. We cannot shake the sense that Obama 2008 bears an eerie resemblance to Bush 2000, as a candidate claims victory under dubious circumstances and then steamrolls forward as if he had won in a landslide.

As to the substance of Obama's candidacy, we said all along that Dems had a great field of candidates but could nominate poop on toast and probably still beat Republicans campaigning this year with the albatross of George W. Bush around their necks. We basically stand by that point, although, as the primary battle wore on, Clinton truly distinguished herself in our eyes as the most qualified candidate. With Obama, on the other hand, the more we saw, the less we felt we really knew – or the less there was to see. For us, his shrinking began before Clinton left the stage. We continue to have doubts about his experience and qualifications, haven’t seen evidence of the political skill it will take to bring about whatever kinds of change it is he hopes to make, and don’t believe his health-care plan will ever achieve universal coverage. We also think that on the whole his “new” kind of politics is a version of brass-knuckles opportunism that doesn’t feel new at all. His campaign brilliantly gamed the Democrats’ ludicrous nominating process, demonized Clinton for trying to change the rules in the middle of the game, and then happily accepted rule changes that padded his delegate lead in the end. Further, he panders to different audiences as effectively as any politician we have ever seen. Performing on a national stage, he presents himself to majority-white audiences as a trans-racial, post-civil rights politician who doesn’t shush the crowd’s cries of “Race doesn’t matter!” Meantime, back home in Chicago, where cultural blackness pays hefty political dividends, Obama spent twenty years in the pews of a church in which race mattered deeply and in ways that might surprise a lot of voters not versed in the traditions of black liberation theology.

Make no mistake: We cast no judgment on Senator Obama’s (former) church affiliation or his racial cultural politics. Our point is that the senator has played the game of shape-shifting and message adjustment as slickly as any willie in American political history. The problem for him is that he is claiming to do something different. When voters catch him in these kinds of inconsistencies, it matters more, in part because he looks like a hypocrite and in part because they are just getting to know him. Small inconsistencies and dubious associations get magnified, and the next thing you know the internets are on fire with wild speculation about lapel pins and the Pledge of Allegiance. The question, “What else don’t we know about this guy?” may be viciously exploited by racist demagogues bent on destroying his candidacy, but it is one that many voters will raise in all sincerity as they seek to make an informed choice in November. That passionate sincerity should not be doubted or discounted.

Here in Roxie’s World, the question, “What else don’t we know about this guy?” goes to fundamental issues of trust regarding his stance on issues about which we care deeply: foreign policy, reproductive freedom, civil rights for sexual minorities. Since claiming the nomination, he has already – and, indeed, almost instantaneously – shifted his position on Israel and Iran (in his speech to AIPAC the morning after the end of the primaries). Before that, in our judgment, he occasionally voted “present” in the Illinois state legislature to avoid taking a stand on politically sensitive issues, including reproductive freedom. He supports a separate-but-equal solution to the challenge of same-sex marriage and believes it is a compliment to a gay person to say that “He wasn’t proselytizing all the time.” (Just some of the time? And always in an exceptionally witty way?) These are valid concerns about issues of serious import, and “McCain would be worse” is not a sufficient response to them – at least not to us, at least not yet.

It is never inappropriate to be skeptical about someone aspiring to hold the highest office in the land, particularly when that individual has spent so little time in the harsh glare of the national spotlight. To a large degree, voters are being asked to take a leap of faith in supporting Senator Obama. Some of us are still not prepared to make that leap, proud though we may be that our party can claim the historical first of nominating an African-American for the presidency and aware as we are that four more years of a Republican in the White House would be fraught with risk, not just for this country but for the world. Loyalty to party cannot trump loyalty to conscience, and conscience requires us to keep thinking, observing, studying, and considering our options. We welcome your input but not your censure of our stance as we make our way through this process.

In declaring our neutrality, we are also for the time being refusing to cast in our lot with those righteous forces currently coalescing under the banner of Just Say No Deal in order to protest Obama’s nomination and what appears to many to be an unseemly takeover of the Democratic National Committee by the Obama campaign. We are following development of this movement closely and encourage our readers to do so by checking in with involved blogs such as the Confluence and the Reclusive Leftist, which recently offered a most compelling argument on the strategic value of Clinton supporters maintaining and exploiting the leverage they accrued through the primary campaign. Could be we’ll join up with these daring dead-enders (a term we use with irony and affection), but for now we remain officially independent of everything but the dedicated pack of readers here in Roxie’s World. In a follow-up post, we will, out of the goodness of our hearts, offer a strategy memo to the Obama campaign on how to earn – or forfeit – our support.

Stay tuned, kids. It’s summertime, and my typist is (mostly) free of meetings and classes and the evils of Learning Outcomes Assessment. You may end up wishing she had a little less time on her hands, but we hope you’ll enjoy traveling with us on the mystery ride of political (in)decision. Peace out.

Oh, and let us know in Comments if you’d like to join the list of endorsers to our statement of neutrality.

Endorsed by:

Roxie Smith Lindemann, Sole Owner and Proprietor, Roxie’s World
Moose, Amanuensis, Roxie’s World
Goose, Freelance and Occasionally Off-the-Reservation Commenter, Roxie’s World
Mark Twain, Director, Office of Persona Management, Roxie’s World

4 comments:

  1. A quick comment, because I'm at work and don't have a whole lot of time here to hash out some ideas worthy of a LGBT Studies Certificate candidate. But in regards to the mantra of change and the "new politics" that Obama has promised to give... I've always thought, even as an Obama supporter, that that was the most complicated part of his campaign message, fraught with inconsistencies and hints of self-aggrandizement.

    But, in a way, I think that Obama's Chicago attitude is one of his most maddeningly unavoidable appeals. The Clintons' approach to hardball politics was so deeply rooted in the culture wars that it became indistinguishable from the obnoxious self-victimization of the far left. It is impossible for me to ignore the fact that Bill "The Other Original Messiah" Clinton played fast and loose with the gay community in the early 90's, courting their support in the 92 election and then turning around and inking his name on two of the most heinous legislative crimes against the gay community ever -- DOMA and Don't Ask Don't Tell.

    Obama's approach, on the other hand, is not rooted in the Mark Penn mold of cynical pandering to an endless array of micro-demographics ("soccer moms," "office-park dads," et al) but in the blunt, extremely transparent strong-arming mold of Axelrod and the Daly family. It's no small matter that Chicago was the home of ballbusters like Eliot Ness and Jim Malone, who may or may not have actually uttered the line made famous by Sean Connery: "They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way!"

    My point is, you point to the long list of Dem losers, and they're a truly embarrassing bunch. You look at what they did wrong, and what it comes down to is the toughness and resourcefulness of their staffs. John Kerry could have been Rambo himself and he still would have lost to W, because he had a staff that couldn't throw a punch.

    So yes, any intelligent person can see that Obama is not a shepherd of a new era in campaign politics. But I do believe that he's ethical, I do believe that he's honest, and I do believe that he represents a transformational moment in our nation's history. The way he's going to beat John McCain is not by relying on timid east coast micromanagers like Bob Shrum, but by relying on some dirty Chicago political muscle like Axelrod. You get the sense that Obama's whole team is cool as a cucumber, and that they barely broke a sweat during the entire primary campaign. That attitude is going to help in November.

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  2. Let the record show that Roxie's World officially agrees with 99% of what Eitan says in the previous comment. ;-) We might quibble over your characterization of the Clintons' version of hardball politics, but we appreciate your candor about Obama's campaign tactics and share your admiration for "dirty Chicago political muscle." Rest assured if we ever come around to endorsing Obama, we will be grateful to have a shrewd, tough guy like Axelrod in his corner. He seems to know how to win, and that's clearly something Dems have needed for a long, long time.

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  3. Eitan,

    I appreciate your beliefs, but there are just too many close associates surrounding Obama who are far from ethical for me to think that he is as honest as you say. Time and again he has said, "that's not the man/woman I know" when one of those associates with whom he has worked for years is revealed to be ethically compromised.

    And do you really think that Obama's "whole team is cool as a cucumber"? I'm curious about that because they sure have seemed hysterical over the past several months, as soon as his winning streak slowed dramatically and Clinton started to pick up so many votes. They stoked negative stories about her, adamantly refused to allow revotes in Michigan or Florida (when private funds had been raised to do both), encouraged the media to try to hound her out of the race, bullied the DNC into giving Obama votes they *say* he didn't need, and have cried foul at even the slightest hint of a criticism of Obama. That sure seems far from cool to me, and they've very nearly seemed to be in something of a lather for the last few months, really since Feb 19.

    The following set of facts continues to bother me, and perhaps explains why they have been so hysterical, and have felt the need to proclaim so loudly that he is the "winner":

    http://www.talkleft.com/media/caucusjune2rev.pdf

    In their yelling and in their insistence they remind me very much of Bush Team 2000. That the fear of counting the votes is still so very much with us is very sad to me, and shows just how broken our system is. A video about the above can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmikfM4TqAM

    So maybe some day I'll see the cool you do, but they seem very, very nervous to me, and very insistent on trying to say things in order to make them happen or make them so. That can work, but only to a certain extent.

    Neutral me,
    Goose

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  4. historiann7:37 PM EDT

    Thanks, Roxie, for this excellent overview. If I had the time, this is what I would write!

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