politics is to want something

fredag, januar 04, 2008

the people have spoken (goddamn them)

Well, I'll save you the spin-doctoring or the sour grapes. Barack Obama won a decisive victory last night, aided in large part by record turn-out and a strong showing among independents and young, first-time caucus goers. These were the constituencies that were supposed to help Howard Dean in 2004. It seems that Team Obama got it right this time. Good for them.

This historic win by an African American candidate in an almost completely white state is reason to celebrate, even though I am not looking forward to the struggle of explaining to my students that Obama's rise does not signify the end of racism in America. Nonetheless, the Iowa Caucus victory should eliminate all of the grumbling about Obama not being a "serious" or "viable" candidate. He could win. The Presidency.

While all hope is not lost for John Edwards (union-heavy Nevada is just weeks away), things are exceedingly grim for his campaign. The media, as predicted, have almost completely written him off. A win in Iowa, the focus of his strategy for more than a calendar year, was seen as a make-or-break for his Presidential aspirations. As the only major candidate accepting public financing for his campaign, he's limited to spending less than 50 million dollars throughout the Primary campaign. Obama and Clinton have each raised more than 100 million. New Hampshire will be a Clinton-Obama slugfest, and after that the pundits and media will officially declare Edwards over and done with.

While my friends in the Obama camp, good progressives all, savor this big win, I'd advise them to think soberly about what an Edwards exit will mean. Barack Obama is charting a new "third way": this time not just between conservatism and American social liberalism, but between conservatism and the old 1990's Clinton/Blair third way. He's shrewd and creative enough to use that narrow space in important and beneficial ways, but at the end of the day that's a dangerous geography. The major talking points by mainstream pundits is that Obama did well by bucking the party line, being independent of "traditional" Democratic constituencies (particularly labor) and attracting independent minded young voters who fetishize the "new". He'll have to deliver on that promise, and I predict it will come in ways that anyone interested in the redistribution of political and economic power will find incredibly painful. You'll miss Edwards sooner rather than later.

That's why I don't take huge pleasure in the third place finish by Clinton. She's not going anywhere, and anything but a win by Edwards meant a winnowing down to Clinton and Obama, who has been as likely to attack her from the right as from the left. "Anti-establishment" is not enough to excite me.

But, as Howard Dean put it, it's on to New Hampshire, and Nevada, and South Carolina, and California and Kentucky and New York and Texas, and Alabama and Michigan (oh, wait, not Michigan). Come what may, I look forward to bringing the fight to the other team.

Etiketter: ,


Anonymous Anonym said...

Slightly off-topic, but what do you make of the argument made by some kindred Edwards supporters (such as Erik L.) that caucuses are inherently undemocratic, as compared to primaries?

Seems to me a strong progressive argument could be made that they are *more* democratic that primaries. Political participation at its best is not, after all, a private, individualized act...

Wot says you?

mandag, januar 07, 2008 10:08:00 a.m.

Blogger fredrik said...

I think that the caucus process has some democratic flaws. Especially when it comes to some of modern democracy's central ideas as the secret ballot.

But at the same time, as an Edwards supporter, it's pretty exciting that about 65 000 people (30% out of 220 000 Democratic caucus participants) actually stood up in front of their families, friends, neighbours and colleagues on a Thursday night and manifested their support for a more just and equal society. In Iowa! That's something that gives the caucus process a dimension that an ordinary election just doesn't have. 330 000 people spent a Thursday night to manifest their beliefs in public. That's also democracy!

tirsdag, januar 08, 2008 1:39:00 a.m.

Anonymous Anonym said...


These last two posts were simply excellent. I have printed them out and shared them with various officials in my union here in Ohio.

I'm preaching to the converted, of course, since these folks are some of the labor leaders involved in the independent campaign that came under fire from Obama's campaign manager.

Your point about the progressive narrative is of central importance. I believe that Obama is a progressive politician but one who has chosen to campaign in a non-prpgressive, non-ideological, even anti-ideological way. What this means for his future as an effective mobilizer of civil society around enacting the kind of legislation that we need is troubling. Even in our wildest dreams, if he wins big in November, he won't have a landslide for social justice but rather a landslide for unity and positive thinking. This is not the stuff that historic social coalitions are built upon!

Yet I remain hopeful, which is my duty as a democratic socialist, I suppose, and share your eagerness to close with our adversaries and beat them even if I'm marching beneath a pale pink banner emblazoned only with the word "change".

Yours in Solidarity,

PS - As for the title of this entry, it seems to recall a famous quote from a lapsed Mormon candidate for President, Moe Udall, upon receiving election results that put him out of the race: "The people have spoken. The bastards." I love that. Romney might be doing better on the Republican side if he had a touch of the Udall sense of humor.

tirsdag, januar 08, 2008 8:21:00 a.m.

Blogger Erik said...

Don't look now -- it's only getting stupider.

Kucinich is backing the "count the votes!" conspiracy theorists.

As for the caucus question, I think it's painfully obvious that any system which systematically prevents people who work the night shift or who otherwise can't attend a 1-2 hour session has democratic problems. Furthermore, no one said that voting in a booth is ever a "private, individualized act." The fact that you're forced to vote in a room with other people doesn't make the Iowa caucus system better or more democratic than voting in a booth. I think it's pretty clear that Iowa is not only given far too much clout in the nomination process, but their system has serious flaws. I guess we can imagine a caucus system that somehow overcomes the problems that seen in Iowa's incarnation, but I'm skeptical that it would be practical or deserving of the "first vote" status Iowa somehow enjoys.

fredag, januar 11, 2008 7:38:00 a.m.


Legg inn en kommentar

<< Home