Bird that Sings

March 6, 2008

The Conventional Wisdom

Filed under: Politics — admin @ 10:18 pm

The Clinton’s are like vampires, they’re hard to kill.

Nonetheless, after the dust from Tuesday primaries settles, one thing will be clear; Hillary probably can’t win the nomination herself but she can stop Obama from winning. Obama has now twice failed to drive the stake through Hillary’s undead heart and I’m not sure he’ll get another chance.

Having stopped the inevitability of an Obama victory, Hillary will now be able to leverage a win in Pennsylvania, where she has the natural electoral advantage, into several other wins down the road. Looking at the primary calendar, it’s not particularly farfetched to see Hillary winning Pennsylvania, and then Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico among others. If Florida actually has a re-election, she might almost be able to catch up to Obama in raw delegate count by the convention, and that doesn’t take into account her natural affinity with the majority of Super Delegates representing the Party establishment.

Whatever the case, she would certainly have the momentum going into the Convention, even though I can’t foresee a scenario in which the super delegates will have the gall to give her the nomination if she comes in behind.

But all of this begs the question; what exactly is the point of this half a billion dollar exercise?

The Democrats, having abandoned the issues of “the change election” for the rhetoric of “change” and the cheap champagne of the race itself, are now in danger running the party off the rails.

There is no obvious institutional answer to the macabre Hillary-Obama electoral dance of death—just don’t look at it directly without protective glasses.

Nonetheless, there is always . . . hope. If the Democrats return to a debate about the structural problems underlying the triple crises of governmental dysfunction, incipient economic and ecological collapse that are afflicting the nation—and much of the world—there is a chance they can get their electoral train back on track.

In terms of the Conventional Wisdom, there are two routes for the Democrats to get to Denver with the party intact.

The first would be a move of uncommitted super delegates to the undeclared candidacy of the implicit third force in the race, Al Gore. Under normal circumstances one could not imagine any situation in which Hillary would allow this nomination to be pried from her cold, dead fingers, but these are not normal circumstances and Gore is no longer a normal politician.

America may not owe you or me, but America owes Al Gore. To borrow from Isaac Deutscher’s description of Trotsky, Gore is now “the Prophet Armed.” After winning the 2000 election and then having it stolen from him, the old stodgy Al Gore was somehow transformed into Al, the oracle wonk.

Gore was not only one of the first establishment figures to attack Bush and Cheney’s motives for going to War, he was among the first to call Bush and Cheney what they were, and remain, shameless shills for the corporate interests.

However the most compelling reason for a Gore candidacy is his leadership in the struggle against ecological catastrophe and his insistence that the fight against climate change be seen as part of a systemic crisis, requiring a systemic solution.

A Gore candidacy would be the best solution to the Democrats current conundrum. Gore would not only win the election overwhelmingly, his win would stand to advance the cause of suffering humanity. However getting Gore to the nomination is extremely problematic.

Certainly neither Obama nor Hillary is going to drop out in favor of him. The only way Gore becomes the nominee is on the second ballot of the Democratic Convention in the last week of August, which then leaves Gore only ten weeks to campaign before the general election. If Gore were to be a serious candidate, a sort of shadow candidacy would have to be established now and run through an organizational intermediary—perhaps Howard and Jim Dean’s DFA— while super delegate support was rounded up.

In the meantime, this shadow candidacy would no doubt earn Gore the kind of enmity among Democratic partisans currently reserved for Ralph Nader, and might have the effect of scuttling the candidacy before it even got started. These are all big problems, however the biggest thing standing in the way of a Gore candidacy is probably Gore himself.

I’m not sure if Gore has the fire in the belly to run for President—and forgive me for saying, that’s sure a mighty big belly of late. To get the nomination, Gore would have to want to run.

This leaves the second route for the Democrats to pull out of the Hillary-Obama blind in time. The idea is courtesy of a friend of mine—a Republican nurse, whose union is currently locked in a death struggle, mostly over understaffing, with the big corporate health care conglomerate that owns the hospital where she works. For her, the collapse of the health care system is a daily reality and it’s the main thing she’s concerned with.

Last week, when it looked like Obama was going to be the inevitable Democratic nominee, her idea was that Obama make Edwards his Vice Presidential running mate. Obama would then adopt Edwards Universal Health care plan—which as we all know is better than Obama’s—and have Edwards serve as a sort of Health Care Marshall, in charge of getting Universal Health Care and taking down the Insurance companies standing in the way.

I was prepared to laugh off her idea, but the more I thought about it, the more it worked on a number of levels.

To begin with, it works practically. I don’t think Edwards is going want to be anybody’s Vice Presidential candidate this time around unless it’s a means to a bigger end than getting Obama elected President. Ironically, after all the crap that Edwards has taken about his lean and hungry look, my guess is that five years of non stop campaigning have left him most interested now in actually getting something done for his country, something big. The chance to achieve Universal Health Care qualifies.

It also gives Obama a graceful way out of his current health care proposal, which is an even worse starting point to achieve Universal Health Care than was the Clinton’s proposal fifteen years ago. The chance to harmonize the Edwards and Obama proposals awakens the possibility of coming up with something that works better than either plan on its own.

Edwards himself, pointed the way towards this, in the latter days of his campaign. When asked about the merits of a Single Payer health plan, Edwards admitted the attractiveness of the idea but thought it difficult to achieve politically. He said that with his own plan though, he saw the possibility that setting up a competition between a Medicare-for-All plan and the existing private plans, could lead to the victory of Medicare, which would ultimately become, Single Payer.

This is the idea that appealed to my friend, the Republican nurse. She knows the current system is a disaster, that the Insurance companies are the root of the problem, but she hates what she calls “Socialized Medicine.”

What she likes is the idea of public-private competition in an environment where everyone is covered. And it is here where the practical policy implications of an Obama-Edwards partnership are symbolic of the possibility of a broader social-political agenda.

With the non-candidacy of Gore and the knocking off of Edwards, the two remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination have fallen back onto an older style of electoral politics: pandering.

This pandering was especially evident in Ohio over the past couple weeks and with her primary victory on Tuesday, the verdict is in: Hillary is the Pander Queen. Perhaps someday she can rule with her consort Mitt Romney, the Pander King.

In Ohio, Hillary campaigned against NAFTA which her current husband pushed through and signed into law, all the while assuring Ohioans that she was somehow going to get those lost factory jobs back with her hard work and experience. Obama meanwhile was also making reassuring protectionist noises, even while his chief economist was apparently privately assuring foreign governments that he didn’t really mean it.

John “Hundred Years War” McCain for his part, let it be known that he thinks NAFTA is a good thing, free trade is a good thing, and that he’s the only one still running honest enough to say it.

McCain is, in fact, only voicing the Conventional Wisdom. You can read and hear the same arguments from ex officio Hillary economic advisers. They say that Globalization is here to stay and that in Globalization “there are winners and losers”; losers like the people of Ohio.

The problem for the Democrats is one, many of them believe this, and two, these so-called losers are their electoral base. The truth is that in this country and in the world as a whole, the vast majority of people are either working class or poor.

“Globalization,” as currently constituted, works against the interests of working class and poor people and advantages the interests of mobile Capital. The truth is that the only places in the world where globalization has been successfully managed to any extent are places where the state—no matter its politics— maintains a mediating, ameliorative and/or a competitive role in the economy. These are places like China, Putin’s Russia, Korea, some of the OPEC states, Venezuela, and increasingly, Argentina, Chile and Brazil.The truth about Globalization is that, while it may seem inevitable, the losers far outnumber the winners, not just in Ohio, but everywhere in the world.

The free market ideology that has dominated economic debate and economic life in this country since 1980 is now as discredited and dysfunctional as was the ideology of the Command economies of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in the last years of the Soviet Empire. It only remains for the media and majority of our fellow citizens to figure this out.

Beyond that, as Al Gore has, no doubt reluctantly, been pointing out, Globalization is no longer ecologically feasible. It simply costs “too much carbon” to be shipping food and raw materials from one end of the planet to the other. If we’re going to save this particular planet, the real social and environmental cost of this carbon is going to have be factored into the cost of most products. Stuff is either going to become prohibitively expensive, or local, regional and national economies are going to have become more self-sufficient.

These of course are the kinds of things that should be debated in this election, at least on the Democratic side, but for obvious reasons, no one—with the exception of Ralph Nader, God bless him—is going to endanger their political career talking about them. This though, is where the symbolism of the Edwards Public-Private Health Care Plan is so powerful. It provides a model for what needs to be done throughout the economy to create new industry and new jobs for real people.

That’s pretty catchy, maybe Obama will buy it.

An Obama-Edwards partnership dedicated to giving hope and voice to working class and poor people in the country would steamroller Hillary on its way to the nomination.

In my opinion, it’s Obama’s 3rd and final chance to get it done.

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