politics is to want something

mandag, februar 04, 2008

a letter (or, how I almost learned to stop worrying and love obama)

In lieu of a nice analytical essay, below is an email I sen to a somewhat random list of people who were having the Obama vs. Clinton debate:

Hey everyone,

This has certainly been an interesting conversation to eavesdrop on, and an interesting campaign season overall.

I just wanted to say that I really, really hope that everyone on this list who is excited about the prospect of an Obama nomination is ready and willing to put in the work that it will take to elect him president. This is no less true of Clinton supporters, of course, but, my experience is that Obama supporters seem to underestimate the amount of work it’s going to take to beat John McCain in November. History is full of candidates who excited generally demobilized parts of the Democratic base (especially young people) who rode a wave of excitement to the nomination but were defeated in the general election. So, Micah and Erik I hope to see your names first on the list for trips to Nevada or Colorado or wherever the polls say is the front line.

I was a strong supporter of John Edwards, both because he is the first serious Democratic candidate in my lifetime to articulate the need for a different kind of economy and because I think he was the strongest candidate for the general election. This is for reasons both good (a populist appeal to Reagan Democrats) and bad (racism, sexism). A central demographic challenge for creating and maintaining a Democratic (and progressive) majority in the United States is winning back white working class men (this is what’s “wrong with Kansas”). We’re not going to do that this year, and so I expect that our majority (Insha'Allah that we have one) will be slim.

With Edwards gone, and after a whole lot of hand-wringing, I’ve decided to vote for Obama. It has been a hard decision. We know that a Clinton presidency will be filled with unnecessary concessions and triangulation. However, I find Obama’s anti-partisan rhetoric extremely dangerous even if it is effective in the short run. Also, I agree with others who have pointed out that policy-wise, Obama is not clearly more progressive than Clinton, and on health care is actually worse. There’s also nuclear power and social security, two issues on which Obama has said strangely conservative things. I also think that there is no small bit of sexism in the fact that so much of this race has been about “likability” and charisma, two aspects that socio-semiotically favor male candidates. It’s hard to imagine a female candidate inspiring the kind of savior-worship that surrounds Obama. A lot of the Hillary-bashing I hear makes my stomach turn, even though her policies and those of her coterie are well worth withering critique.

But make no mistake: it will be hard to win in November. We haven’t seen Obama’s negatives. We all know what the Republicans will do to Clinton. But the same is coming for Obama, and all of the post-partisan rhetoric in the world is not going to inoculate voters against the onslaught. This will be especially true versus McCain, who also rides on a wave of maverick non-partisanship. There is a reason that many voters in New Hampshire were torn between McCain and Obama: they are running very similar campaigns. Don’t get me wrong, I like Obama a lot. I met him as a College student and walked precincts for him when I lived in his State Senate district. He is an impeccably moral and serious person, perhaps the most intelligent individual to seek the office, and would make an amazing president. I just don’t think that he is the messiah. Remember that the brother, talented as he is, has never really run for office against a Republican.

I’ve decided to vote for Obama for one reason- all you folks who seem excited and energized by his campaign. I hope that he wins the nomination so that you and everyone like you across the country will hit the streets and the phonebanks this year and turn people out to beat the Republican. I also hope that those of us who do this all the time will be able to convince a few of you to stick around after November and continue in the struggle for a more just and sustainable future. It’s not going to be over in November. Obama is right- yes, we can. But we have to do it.

Etiketter: ,


Blogger lidija said...

I think you're wrong on many points, except the non-partisanship queasiness... I agree. I think one needn't calculate general electability in their choice to vote. And I think Clinton would get many a good thing done even if we have a Republican Congress. Not so sure about Obama. I'm imagining a worse stalemate than under Bill. And, man, oh man, I cannot get over the health care thing.

But it's been an interesting campaign. Racism may or may not be dead, but sexism still seems strong and alive. And it seems to be a factor in many a "progressive" (male and female) choice these days.

tirsdag, februar 05, 2008 7:11:00 a.m.

Blogger daraka kenric said...


In general, I tend to vote for the most progressive but viable candidate in a primary election, and I agree very much that being overly pundity or cautious in a primary is bad. I do think that chances in the general are a factor however, especially in the larger struggle to re-create a real majority.

And, as an African American, I would say that there is no doubt in my mind that racism is "still" very very much alive and well in the United States and it's politics. I think it has shaped Obama's strategy, and continues to inform voters' choices every bit as much as sexism does.

tirsdag, februar 05, 2008 11:07:00 a.m.

Blogger lidija said...

Sorry for my half-spoken argument. There is plenty of (all white actually) folks saying, - look, Obama, look, racism is dead. Those same folks are not saying that sexism is dead bcs they can't. And you're so right, my friend. And I'm just bitter how sexist the debate about Hillary has been.

tirsdag, februar 05, 2008 12:16:00 p.m.

Blogger Erik said...

Well, here's a discouraging sign from St. Louis.

As we all brace ourselves for the results of Stupendous Tuesday, check out Tom Booth from St. Louis, who says he's voting Republican for the first time in his 52 years.

Yes, we can?

tirsdag, februar 05, 2008 12:44:00 p.m.

Blogger hillary b said...

Obama's giving one of his "victory" speeches after winning a caucus or primary, uses the ol' "yes we can" call and response technique, but the crowd gets so damn inspired and excited that someone starts up a simple translation of "si se puede!" complete w/unity clap.

the rest of the crowd catches on, and Obama joins in so he doesn't turn off the crowd, and yanno, he's an organizer so he knows the words.

so what does the media do?

do they lose their shit and say, "he's pandering to Clinton's latino base" "does he really want to open our borders?" "obama reveals radical liberal side" "obama: fan of aztlan?"

or is it all ignored?

you decide.

fredag, februar 08, 2008 6:32:00 p.m.

Anonymous Anonym said...

Dear Daraka,

On missing John Edwards... I still have great personal affinity for the man. He was a moderately liberal (in US terms) Senator who got radicalized by the Bush years and his work with the organizing unions, like my own SEIU and the hotel workers union UNITE HERE. To use organizer language: we moved him. Obviously he was making a political calculation to gain our support when he offered us his help, but I also think that we swung him to the left. He came out for us again and again, for hotel workers organizing in California, for hospital workers organizing in Ohio. His positions got better and better. But after he came in a weak second in Iowa, his opportunity was gone. Without money and media oxygen and enthusiasm beyond the diminished union base, he was history. So I honor John Edwards. But as I recall my rather ugly but practical words upon hearing of the death of British Labour Leader John Smith: "Who's going to lead the Party?"

Answer: it had better bloody not be Hillary Clinton. I don't hate Hillary, and I agree with you that lots of the anti-Hillary invective recalls the nasty sexist attacks that the right launched in the 90s. If elected President, she would be a competent manager and good maker of incremental deals. This, however, is not the time for a manager and maker of incremental deals. We need an exciting leader who will appeal to all different kinds of Americans, win in November by exciting the Democratic base and carrying independents, and carry some more Senate and House seats into the Democratic camp.

I am interested in Virginia at the moment, and not just the primary results we expect tonight. Consider Mark Warner, the former Democratic Governor hoping to take a Republican seat in the Senate. What will it take for Mark Warner to win? I suspect a winning coalition for him is a big turn-out of liberal white collar professionals and the black working and middle classes. Obama in my view is the candidate who turns out that group, and helps Mark Warner in to a seat in the Senate. A draining rehash of the 90s between Clinton and McCain would not, I suspect, have this impact.

What's more, in each contest we witness Obama making inroads into the Latino electorate and white working class as well. I think he could go all the way and beat McCain.

Having won, we'll need a President who can unblock Senate foot-dragging and appeal directly to the American people.

Hillary Clinton is not this person. Barack Obama is.

Even though Obama uses very vague and ultimately moderate language to describe "sensible" centrist policies, and knowing the disappointment of many former radicals elected into office in various bourgeois democracies, I still think it's better to have him in the White House. Hillary Clinton is a former corporate lawyer and political partner to the architect of the Third Way. Barack Obama organized against apartheid, organized for black working class neighborhoods in Chicago, got his law degree and went back to Chicago where he ended up as a State Senator active on poverty issues. His Senate career (such as it is so far) is not very inspiring, but still I like his sensibility, his connection to working people, people like our SEIU members.

Obama has this appeal to young voters that i find mysterious and occasionally shallow, as you suggest, but I'll take that over the opposite effect. He's is like a Kennedy in this regard, just without the yacht and a father rich enough to pay off the Mineworkers union and by up copies of his memoir. He's our Kennedy, our best chance.

Where have you gone, John Edwards: a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Barack Obama, ask not what the progressives can do for you, but what you can do for the progressives.

Yours in Solidarity,

PS – Fear not, I will do my duty in the trenches as well as joining in your blog discussion. I'm doing my bit to try to get my local union to re-align its endorsement from Edwards to Obama, and also joining in the first city organizing meeting with volunteers meeting the Obama national campaign staff tomorrow night. I live in Columbus, Ohio, after all: once again, I can step out of my front door and be on the front lines.

Hillary and Bill Clinton - non pasaran!

tirsdag, februar 12, 2008 1:39:00 p.m.

Blogger Erik said...

Gabe's endorsement of Obama is nearly pitch-perfect. Only problem I have with it is that it was written in Ohio.

Thanks, Gabe.

mandag, februar 25, 2008 8:28:00 p.m.

Blogger Bob said...

dammit daraka, i just re-added you to my blogroll. more content!

mandag, mars 03, 2008 4:42:00 p.m.


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