As the Dems go into the final dogfight…

And so it’s back to Yankeeland, and the ongoing quest to see which millionaire attorney gets to be the Democrats’ standard-bearer in November. Which, as things stand, looks like being Irish-American candidate Barack O’Bama, who is anxious to emulate the success of fellow Offaly man Brian Cowen.

But isn’t it amazing the easy ride O’Bama has been getting in the media? Contrast this with, for example, the extraordinary level of misogyny implicit in much of the coverage of Hillary Clinton. Now I don’t especially like Hillary – I don’t have much time for her at all – but even I am surprised by the tenor of many of the debates.

Anchor: Senator Clinton, why does everyone hate you?
Clinton: You know, Jim, that hurts my feelings. And I’d really rather talk about policy.
Anchor: Thank you for that hysterical female response. Senator O’Bama, are you sure you’re comfortable? Would you like another cushion?
O’Bama: When the roots are strong, there will be growth.

I think I’m uncomfortable with the worship of O’Bama because it reminds me so much of the cult of Blair back in the day, and the current feting of Rankin’ Dave Cameron. There’s the neophiliac element in that Clinton is seen to represent old Washington, while O’Bama is new new new! Also, O’Bama has only been in DC four years, unlike, say, John Kerry, who has been in the Senate for decades and has left behind him all sorts of hostages to fortune. This means O’Bama can take on the qualities of a blank slate, and people can project their hopes onto him, on the flimsiest of grounds. Not least because of his habit of speaking in vacuous Bonoisms.

It’s true, of course, that Clinton personifies the old Democratic establishment. But it’s a major error to conclude from that that O’Bama is an outsider leading an insurgency against the establishment. In the same way, O’Bama supporters cite the war and racism as their main concerns. Yet O’Bama has been spotty on the war – his big idea seems to be getting troops out of Iraq and sending them into Afghanistan, and possibly Iran – while he’s said as little on race as he can get away with.

It helps, of course, that O’Bama’s family background – that part of it that isn’t Irish – is not African-American but African. Our friend doesn’t have a ghetto background, and the accompanying anger that tends to scare suburban whites. He isn’t entitled to forty acres and a mule. His general demeanour, apart from the odd Dr King rhetorical flourish, doesn’t partake much of classical American negritude. It isn’t as if Democrats in Vermont or Oregon were voting for Mr T.

But there’s a point that was made very well by WorldbyStorm a little while back, apropos of the West Virginia primary, when the hillbillies conspicuously failed to fall for our friend’s charm. Which is that, while O’Bama has an admirable ability to appeal to the black electorate, and he’s energised a constituency of well-heeled trendies, he continues to have a problem dealing with the white working class. I’m not sure that this can be simply put down to racism, although racism there surely is. What hurts the candidate more, in places like Pennsylvania or West Virginia, is the impression that he feels contempt for this layer. Sounding off about bitter folks clinging to guns and God doesn’t help, and that will surely come back to haunt him in November.

It certainly doesn’t help that the people who O’Bama seems to be failing to connect with are the portion of the Dems’ base most likely to switch to a Republican candidate, especially one with a gift for folksy populism, while the black community will vote Democrat no matter what. The latest spin is that O’Bama’s standing with the proletariat will be boosted by the endorsement of millionaire attorney John Edwards. Hmm…

Again, this isn’t to say there isn’t an issue of racial bias. One of the things that struck me from Mitt Romney’s run at the Republican nomination was the polling that suggested 30% or thereabouts of the American electorate would refuse to vote for a Mormon candidate. Back in the 1960s, there would have been similar numbers refusing to vote for a Catholic or Jewish candidate. Just because people are savvy enough not to own up to being prejudiced, that doesn’t mean they aren’t.

And, of course, there is only one winner in this situation. I suspect that O’Bama is actually less electable than Clinton, but either one of them will have a hard time getting past McCain. Remember, too, that a mere couple of months back, a parrot on a stick could have beaten McCain. Yet again, it really does beggar belief how useless the Democrats are.

29 Comments

  1. Anon said,

    May 19, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Though I think that America sees blacks as more of a threat than women, I think she views women as more ‘evil’.

    I’ve always considered that a black man had more chance of winning the Democratic Party election, or indeed a Presidential election, than a woman. Not that I wish to rush to Clinton’s defence – I think she’s an abominable human being and would truly like to see her fail and possibly die – though some kind of embarrassingly public breakdown would be enough to saciate my taste for triangulated blood. However, point still stands…

  2. jim jay said,

    May 19, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I suspect Clinton is more electable – but either one of them should be able to beat McCain hands down and I’m still hoping for an Obama win.

    I suspect he’ll choose a female running mate anyway (not Hillary) so I think we’ll be seeing more than one boundary broken in November.

    To be honest the very reason that Obama’s less electable is the very reason he should be elected – it’s time some parts of white America didn’t get pandered to – mind you when he’s assassinated there will be all hell to pay.

  3. ejh said,

    May 19, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Matt Taibbi doesn’t like her much either.

  4. WorldbyStorm said,

    May 19, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Scots-Irish, those Virginians, no less… 🙂

  5. May 19, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    The reality is that when the Democrats hand the nomination to Obama, a lot of them will do so in spite of an awareness that he is unlikely to beat John McCain. While Hillary is personally unpopular with perhaps the majority in the States, she can credibly argue she has more experience than Obama, and has met 80 foreign leaders in her capacity as First Lady. She is also a former director of Wallmart. The Gallup and Rasmussen polls tend to show her faring better against McCain than Obama, largely a function of the Reverend Wright, Bittergate and Bill Ayers affairs. I often feel that in our socially-liberal and increasingly secular societies in Europe including Ireland, that we are so out of touch with the kind of political-culture that exists in the United States, and which has handed the Republicans 7 out of the last 10 presidential elections. In 2004, many over here expected Bush to go down to defeat, and were palpably disappointed when it didn’t come to pass. I was less surprised. Having observed the US electorate and researched electoral trends in American politics, a number of things come to mind, that differentiate their political-culture from that of ours. In particular:

    A: Religion is a huge issue over there, and by extension so are issues like gay rights, gay marriage, evolution vs Darwinism, and basically ‘moral values’ of the De Valeran kind.

    B: Since 1968, the former Confederate (in the Civil War) region known as the South (Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and sometimes West Virginia (which seceded from the Confederacy in the war) too have nearly always uniformly voted for the Republicans. This reflects the lasting segregationist-backlash against the Democrats in the region after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act enfranchising the Blacks who were oppressed by ‘Jim Crow Laws’ in this region. It also reflects the fact that this is the most religious part of the country and as such is alienated from the increasingly liberal national party. 75% of elected officials in state politics in this region are still Democrats, but that reflects the fact that Southern Democrats tend to much more conservative than the national party – a fact highlighted by the successful House elections of Travis Childers and Don Casayoux in Mississippi and Louisiana in recent weeks. Historically, no Democrat has won the White House without winning at least one Southern state, and Obama is behind in every single one of them vs McCain in polls, while Clinton – partly because her husband and former president was governor of Arkansas – leads in most polls in that state as well as Florida and West Virginia. She also leads in Ohio, which nearly always votes for the winning candidate. Obama is also behind there. The omens do not look good in that context for Obama – whom the National Review calls America’s most liberal senator.

    C: A lot of us forget its not the popular vote that chooses the US president. It’s the Electoral College, a body in which each state has a number of members called “Electors”. Whoever wins the state wins the Electors, and the Electoral College then meets and chooses a president. This means – as in 2000 – that you can win the popular vote and lose the election. In that context the important thing is winning key swing states in order to reach the magic number of 270 needed to win. If its a tie of 269 each, then the House of Representatives divides into state delegations and each delegation votes for a candidate for president, with what the majority of House state delegates wants being the outcome of the contest. At present, the Democrats have 26 of the delegations, so in a tie, the Democrat would become president, especially as the new Congress doesn’t meet until inauguration day. Obama is behind in all the big swing states that have gone Republican since 2000 like Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky and Nevada. He is also behind in New Hampshire, which even Kerry won in 2004. Clinton leads in all but Missouri, Kentucky and Nevada, but she is much closer in the polls to McCain in those states that he is.

    Dick Morris, a Republican who was an advisor to Bill Clinton as president and later to Republican Senator Trent Lott, has said that following recent controversies, Hillary is now the strongest candidate. I concur.

  6. ejh said,

    May 20, 2008 at 9:22 am

    Yes, that posting was just as uninteresting when you made it on Cedar Lounge.

  7. Ed Hayes said,

    May 20, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Mi-fucking ow, ejh. I thought the future Taoiseach (is it you Mary Coughlan?) made a few good points.
    However my gripe is with our esteemed host. Once upon a time, as a young SWM recruit I read what SW said about the tweedle-tum, tweedle-dee nature of US politics, two bosses’s parties etc and swallowed it whole. Then I went to live there. There is a chasm between those who support the Democrats and the Republicans. Every decent trade unionist I knew, every one who had a cynical attitude towards US foreign policy, every African-American; all voted Democrat.
    Edwards may be a millionare; he is also a mill workers son who used language not heard since the 1930s in his election campaign about the corporate elites etc. Obama did not look down his Ivy League nose at the poor whites of rural Pennsylvania; he said that if you have been losing jobs and standard of living for 30 years, under both Bush and Clinton, then you may seek solace in guns and religion. The right wing and the Clinton camp spun this into contempt for ordinary white Americans. Simiarly Obama and his wife are simply not born and bred members of the American elite.
    In terms of foreign policy proably no change but in terms of the US itself and the way its society works, then an Obama victory would be hugely significant.

  8. ejh said,

    May 20, 2008 at 10:59 am

    There is a chasm between those who support the Democrats and the Republicans.

    For sure: but that’s not to say there’s a chasm between the parties, or at least their candidates.

    That’s not to say there’s nothing to choose betwen them, it just means you’re in the normal leftist position of deciding how much of distance you want before you think it’s a choice you ought to make, or how little before you think it’s a choice you shouldn’t. I don’t think there’s a formula for working this stuff out, it’s just one of those discussions that people need to have with one another and with themselves.

  9. yourcousin said,

    May 20, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Was it really necessary to bring “Being There” into this?

  10. Cian said,

    May 20, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    I’m married to an American and so I’ve spent some time in America. I wouldn’t say I understand the place, but I probably understand better than the average person over here what I don’t understand if that makes sense. It is a complicated and big place with huge cultural variations – but one served by a media that tries to homogenise everything and which is heavily upper middle class (and tends to despise the lower social groups). Consequently there is a huge gulf between what the media claims about what Americans are doing/thinking and the reality. Given that we’re all seeing the US election through that media, we’re basically watching a giant hall of mirrors.

    When you add to this that American is going through a pretty big demographic, cultural, economic and geographic shift at the moment, I think it is impossible to use the past effectively to predict the future.

    There are a few tendencies though. Clinton seems to have effectively alienated the black vote, which is pretty impressive as blacks loved Bill Clinton. If she did win the nomination there would probably be a pretty depressed black turnout, unless McCain did something stupid (which he may – I don’t think he’s very bright). She’s also largely won in states that the Democrats would win with almost anyone as a candidate – like in the UK its the swing voters that count. I think the idea that her supporters wouldn’t turn out for Obama is not only unlikely, but even if true would be irrelivant. Also, McCain is quite a weak Republican candidate in that Republicans are quite suspicious of him for being centrist. Consequently he may have to continue his pandering to the extremes of his party (witness his bonkers stance on tax, for example), which may well draw more candidates towards the Democrat candidate.
    Obama’s real weaknesses are likely to be that he’s black (the US is a very racist and polarised country – amazingly so actually) and that its easy for the Republicans to portray him as unpatriotic (US patriotism is unhinged, but very powerful).
    On the other hand, Clinton’s main weaknesses are that a considerable chunk of the US hates her guts and while that’s largely wingnuts, not all of them are. If you combine this with her fairly unlikable public persona and she has a problem. And while Obama may be an elitist, Hilary seems to share John Kerry’s propensity to patronise an audience. And while the mysogyny is there, she hasn’t exactly helped things by pretending to be Cathy (from the newspaper strip) on daytime TV/talkshows.

  11. Cian said,

    May 20, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    There is a slight difference between Obama and Hilary. It may make no difference, but there’s the glimmer of possibility. Obviously the candidates are pretty similar, unprincipled, politicians – though Obama seems a more competent administrator. However, Hilary is a machine politicians, whereas Obama is effectively building a grassroots organisation for his campaign. Now obviously if he wins he’ll want to minimise the power of that organisation, but he may not be able to. So, unlike Hilary, there is a base that could (but probably won’t) exert progressive pressures on him.

  12. Cian said,

    May 20, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    FutureTaoiseach – you really swallowed the koolaid didn’t you.

    “she can credibly argue she has more experience than Obama, and has met 80 foreign leaders in her capacity as First Lady.”

    Yeah she met them along with her daughter. She probably saw more ethnic dancing/singing than is good for any human being. Other than that she’s mildly more experienced in the Senate (but still a neophyte), and her experience prior to that was to completely fuck up health care reform (and alienate most of her allies into the process). Its not the most impressive of resumes. Obama could credibly claim that having lived abroad outside the presidential bubble (and having relatives who still do), he has some experience of how the rest of the world thinks/feels.

    She is also a former director of Wallmart.
    So she’s connected to a union busting and extremely right wing company. Or are you claiming that she actually did something as a non-executive…

    A: Religion is a huge issue over there, and by extension so are issues like gay rights, gay marriage, evolution vs Darwinism, and basically ‘moral values’ of the De Valeran kind.

    It is a huge issue where its an issue, a non-issue where it isn’t, and a moderate issue in other places. The US is a big place. The Democrats are unlikely to win states where these things are huge issues.

    the former Confederate region too have nearly always uniformly voted for the Republicans.

    Missippi is going Democrat, and my brother in law worked for a powerful democrat in the south. It ain’t that uniform, and things are changing demographically and also due to a disillusionment in the south.

    And religion is an issue in Southern politics, but not necessarily one that divides down party lines. These things are more complicated than your rather simplistic civics lesson would suggest.

    The omens do not look good in that context for Obama – whom the National Review calls America’s most liberal senator.

    Good lord. Obama isn’t the senate’s most liberal senator by any means – like Clinton he’s on the right of the party. And the National Review? Are you serious? You’re claiming to be an authority and your citing the National Review. Any other far right US publications you feel like citing? Washington Times perhaps?

    Dick Morris, a Republican who was an advisor to Bill Clinton as president and later to Republican Senator Trent Lott, has said that following recent controversies, Hillary is now the strongest candidate. I concur.

    Right. So we have a right wing scumbag, who used to work for Bill Clinton, who claims that Hilary is the stronger candidate. And this is proof of what exactly?

  13. May 20, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    interesting article on Obama and “his reverend”: http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/1469

  14. ejh said,

    May 20, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Obama could credibly claim that having lived abroad outside the presidential bubble (and having relatives who still do), he has some experience of how the rest of the world thinks/feels.

    This is true, but one suspects it would be an electoral liability to say so…

  15. Andy newman said,

    May 20, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Off topic, but when are we going to get a local angle on this Unite hunger strike?

  16. splinteredsunrise said,

    May 20, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    I noticed there was a demo outside Transport House yesterday, but didn’t manage to get along to it. You can get updates here.

  17. Phil said,

    May 20, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    Religion is a huge issue over there, and by extension so are issues like
    famine relief, punitive taxation for the rich, pacifism, rehabiilitation of offenders…

    Sorry, I just wish some of the people who bang on about religious values would actually read the sodding book.

  18. Cian said,

    May 20, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    “This is true, but one suspects it would be an electoral liability to say so…”

    Oh totally. But FutureTaoisch’s argument was that Hillary can credibly argue that she has more foreign policy experience is ludicrous. She was a first lady. She saw charming ethnic dances. She exchanged pleasantries with foreign leaders at tedious state dinners. That is her experience, and her experience of the world is pretty much limited to that. I think a backpacking student can claim more than Hillary. And Barack has slightly more experience than the average backpacker. Its not a lot, but its more than Hillary.

    As to what the electorate will do/think. Well I’ve misplaced my tealeaves unfortunately.

  19. Binh said,

    May 20, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    Clinton got more than a free pass when she implied that Obama had the lazy black vote locked up. See: http://socialistworker.org/2008/05/20/clinton-premortem

    I’m surprised to see so many intelligent people here worried about Obama not being able to beat McCain. Unless he picks Osama bin Laden as a running mate or the U.S. achieves victory in Iraq, I think he will beat McCain 60-40. Forgive the shameless plug, but people should check out what I wrote on that score:
    http://prisonerofstarvation.blogspot.com/2008/05/why-obama-will-beat-mccain.html

    Oh and by the way, I’m an American living in the belly of the beast, if that makes a difference. It can be hard for people outside the country (and the working class) to really grasp how dramatic the impending GOP defeat will be in November.

  20. WorldbyStorm said,

    May 20, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Cian, nice deconstruction there. A lot of convincing points you raise IMO, particularly re the recent victory for the Dems in Mississippi. That may be a conservative Dem, although not entirely, but it does signal a considerable shift away from the Republican establishment as a vote gaining machine (not unlike perhaps the dynamic we see vis ‘nu’ Labour in the UK at the moment). FT, meant to reply on CLR, but I really think you’re generalising considerably, still can’t help wondering since when was De Valera or anyone ever caught between Darwinism and … er… evolution?

    And even if we amend it I can’t seem to recall Dev being upset at the idea of evolution one bit…

  21. D.J.P. O'Kane said,

    May 21, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Dev knew his cosmology, that’s for sure. I know someone who once witnessed the Long Fellow blow Fred Hoyle out of the water with a few well aimed post-seminar questions.

  22. ejh said,

    May 21, 2008 at 8:34 am

    The thing about Clinton is, that although of course there’s misogyny in the way she’s viewed by some people, it’s also true that she’s absolutely the personification of the greedy, corrupt and cynical Democrat-insider politics which may well be liberal enough in its social views – as long as it costs little in money and less in votes – but will drop no principle and forego no no smear in order to achieve and retain office. People defined by ambition and arrogance. Absolutely horrible people who will scream to high heaven if their people are victims of Karl Rove, but who will play exactly the same games themselves without any scruple, since scruples are what they do not have.

    That’s what Clinton is and why people prefer Obama, who may well end up the same way, but does at least have some way to go before he does.

  23. Cian said,

    May 21, 2008 at 11:27 am

    What I’ve always found bizarre about the Clintons is that people hate them for the wrong reasons. At Christmas my inlaws (and admittedly my father in law is very right wing) condemned her with some passion for the whole Ken Starr/suicide/White Rock stuff, which is just bonkers. But there are all kinds of other crimes, corruptions and the like which can be pinned on them. Its like those criminals that the police fitted up in the 70s – they couldn’t possibly have done that particular job, as they were robbing a bank in South London at the time. Thinking about it, that’s about the point that Hitchens started to lose the plot, when he wrote that book condemning them – which was like firing a shotgun at an elephant from 1 metre away and still missing the damn thing.

    I think the portrayal of Hillary in the media may have less to do with misogyny and more to do with media folks disliking her “aw shucks” girlfriend act.

  24. ejh said,

    May 21, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    What I’ve always found bizarre about the Clintons is that people hate them for the wrong reasons.

    Well, a lot of people do. But a lot of people don’t. I think people like them are always widely hated within their own party, because they think they own it. Also see “Millbank”.

  25. Binh said,

    May 21, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Looks like Obama is already developing a healthy lead against McCain:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080521/pl_nm/usa_poll_politics_dc

  26. Cian said,

    May 21, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    i think you’re underestimating the number of Americans who hate/despise her and her husband (its at least a quarter). I hate and despise her also, but for possibly saner reasons. I’m sure she’s loathed for the usual reasons inside the Democratic party, but that’s a rounding error in comparison.

    It will be interesting to see what she does over the next few months. I can’t see any way that she can win without bitterly polarising the Democrat party, and handing the presidential election to McCain. I suspect she’s to arrogant to realise that, though. There is the small possibility that if she pushes it too hard, she may destroy her own political career. If reports are to be believed she’s alienated many of her donors – alienating the mass of the Democrat party (particularly if Obama lost) might make her vulnerable at the next Senate primary. Which would be fun.

  27. ejh said,

    May 21, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    i think you’re underestimating the number of Americans who hate/despise her and her husband

    Oh not at all. I assume Hilary-hatred is normal among Republicans, but I also assume that Republicans are malign or stupid or both. As I would not say if I were running for President.

  28. dave said,

    May 27, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Barack Obama’s “anti-war” message: Redeploy from Iraq (at some point in the undisclosed future) so a redeployment can be accomplished in Pakistan and Afganistan. In the meantime, keep the war credits coming. With “friends” like this, you don’t need enemies, which just goes to show you how far capitalist politics has shifted to the right since the 1970’s.

  29. Binh said,

    May 29, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Even Rupert Murdoch knows Obama is going to landslide old man McCain:
    http://finance.yahoo.com/tech-ticker/article/20951/Barak-Obama%E2%80%99s-Unlikely-Supporter-Rupert-'Fox-News'-Murdoch?tickers=nws,msft,yhoo,nyt

    He is even thinking of voting for him! The NY Post for Obama? Now I’ve seen it all…


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