Saturday, February 09, 2008

Watching the parade

For a couple weeks now this site has gone into hibernation or, to be more accurate, an attempted sabbatical from politics after months of cerebral overload. The timing, right before super Tuesday, was dismal.

The result on the 5th, for Democrats, seemed to be a draw. But today's three caucuses, swept by Barack Obama, suggest that Hillary Clinton may have only temporarily blunted, rather than stopped, the impressive momentum that he has developed. He now has a small lead in the delegate count (not counting the superdelegates), with primaries in some major states (Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania) rapidly approaching.

My friends (who have mostly joined the Obama parade) have been taking pains to assure me that their candidate is a deeply closeted progressive who has to pass himself off as a moderate in order to get elected. More likely, given the dearth of convincing evidence either way, he's a blank screen on which people can project their own expectations (or wishful thinking) about his politics. His proposal on health care either reveals a deep conservative and corporate streak, or (as I prefer to think) it's an aberration.

For years, Hillary Clinton has been depicted in some circles as yet another closeted progressive (have you read her Wellesley commencement speech?). Even more than Bill. Like so many others in her party, the argument goes, she's had to conceal her true opinions due to the conservative marinade that this country has been steeped in for nearly 30 years.

With her longer public record, we can predict with greater confidence what Hillary is likely to do in the White House. But that's precisely her problem: we know what to expect, and many voters don't necessarily like it. On top of all that, she's been trashed so relentlessly and for so long by the political opposition and the MSM that she she can now be written off as too "divisive."

The brain reels from an overload of irony. The only truly gratifying result so far is the complete voter rejection of movement conservatives like Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney.

So voters demand "change," possibly even for its own sake. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying, the Continuum of Change now reads something like this:
  • John McCain: the illusion of change, or change for the worse (100 more years in Iraq);
  • Hillary Clinton: incremental change, assuming she has 60 votes in the Senate to end filibusters;
  • Barack Obama: fundamental change of some kind of other, assuming he has the support of his party and 60 votes in the Senate to end filibusters
But the numbers, for now, can't be very reassuring for the Democrats despite two shining candidates who should easily trounce the nominee of a failed party. McCain, not exactly an unknown himself, is highly competitive in the current polling despite his close association with the disasters of the last seven years. The latest national poll for TIME:
Obama 48, McCain 41
Clinton 46, McCain 46
For now, McCain can have it both ways (despite some invective from Limbaugh and Hannity): he's still perceived as a maverick despite years of bellicose rhetoric and his shameless identification with Bush's policies on Iraq and the economy. While Obama has been annointed by the MSM, McCain enjoys a daily miracle of redemption.

The more profound question is whether Clinton or Obama can overcome the deep reservoir of sexism and racism that has percolated through U.S. politics for some four centuries. How many white voters, when faced with that blank ballot, will be unable to bring themselves to vote for a woman or an African American? How will the Republicans craft their campaign to exploit this reluctance? Will the Democrats retaliate by offering innuendo about McCain's age?

Sadly, the arch-reactionary poet e.e. cummings was wrong about most things, including this:
Listen; there's a hell of a good universe next door: let's go.
Too bad that's not an option—at least until November 4th.


Full disclosure: This blogger is undecided, and my final decision probably won't mean a damned thing by the time Oregon votes in three month. Lest I sound resentful, extensive reform of the whole ludicrous system of primary elections is long overdue, preferably along the lines recently proposed by the nonpartisan National Association of Secretaries of State.

[A shorter version was cross-posted on Hullabaloo.]

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