We must live in current times with two contradictory realities. The first is that the state of our democracy is dire. And the second is that we have only what is left of our democracy to get us out of the bind that we are in. The first reality is enough to make one despair, and the second demands that we not shrink from the challenge. Democracy is not a self-righting enterprise. It demands our active involvement. Voting for the right person or party is not enough. The alternative is to have tyranny close in on us even more.
One of the most exciting things I see coming out of the Obama campaign is that the center of gravity of Barack's conversation with us is out here with all of us, and not up there with him. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, refers to herself a great deal in her speeches. Give me the charge to lead the country, she seems to be saying, and I will bear that burden competently. And indeed she would. Barack, on the other hand, is mobilizing a force that is much bigger than he himself. If Barack wins, he will have wind in his sails as he enters the White House.
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It cannot be otherwise. The opposition has no intention of playing fair. The reaction by the opposition to the most incisive, most heartfelt, most intelligent, and most moving political speech I have heard in my lifetime was one of panic to get this guy knocked off his pedestal by any means available, fair or foul. Barack may need to stay above the fray, but we don't. These guys are not democrats (small d). They don't regard the Democratic Party as legitimate opposition. We need to call them out on their foul schemes.
It has been that way for some while, but it took some time for me to notice that the rules were changing. What first struck me in this regard was the accusation of lying against Al Gore. There was the matter of his advocacy for the Internet within Congress, of his early concern about the Love Canal scandal, and of his having played a role in Eric Segal's writing of the book Love Story. He was accused of lying about each of these. The stories were canards, but they kept popping up (See, for example, http://www.dailyhowler.com/h052500_1.shtml
). Eventually one realizes that truth has ceased to matter here. The opposition had pushed this to the point where the stories had become self-propagating.
There was also the way Clinton was treated by the Republicans. Now some of this was payback for Nixon, and there is indeed a parallelism here. Nixon had been a Republican president in a liberal age. He had in fact been as liberal a president (domestically) as a Republican president could be at the time, but he got no thanks for it. Similarly, Clinton was a Democratic President in a conservative age, and he governed as conservatively as permissible while remaining a Democrat. He nearly completed the Reagan agenda, after all: welfare reform without heart; NAFTA without environmental and labor protections; the demise of Glass-Steagall; the stiffing of labor. What Lewinsky did for him, he did for Wall Street. Yet he got no thanks for it. In fact, he was as passionately loathed in the outback as Nixon ever was, Watergate and all. Something was certainly out of balance here. There had been a major loss of perspective. His real impeachable offense was that of being a Democrat.
Then came the theft of the 2000 election, an eye opener. And by 2002, it dawned on me that the elite intended never to lose another election. By 2004, we had the proof in Ohio. Another election bald-facedly stolen. My library shelf groans under the books that document this theft. Too bad the press is otherwise engaged. It is not our press anymore, simple as that. It has become the mouthpiece for interests not our own.
In this fragile state of our democracy, it is not enough for us to shove Barack out front as our gladiator against the forces of evil. It is not enough to mobilize for the election and then retire to the sidelines. Obama's presidency will only be as strong as we who collectively stand with him. That's the demand that Barack is making of us, and I believe that our democracy is at stake in our response. The groundswell must be enough that the presence or the absence of any one man no longer matters.
This is important. We saw the politics of this country radically altered by the assassinations of four people in close succession: John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. The nascent political movement must be in our bones; it must be massive; it must have its own autonomy; it cannot be embodied in a single person or that person is perpetually at risk.
Hillary would bring to the presidency a tactical astuteness, wiliness, and determination that would allow her to give us the Bill Clinton presidency again, only better. This is what her experience prepared her for. But the prevailing hegemony of the elite would not be at risk in her presidency. She and Bill have both made their peace with the prevailing order.
It is Barack's campaign that has a whiff of insurgency about it. No wonder Wall Street firms are throwing more money his way. He has not yet been domesticated. Therein lies our hope, because the elite is snuffing out our democracy, leaving only our comforting rituals. We are being smothered in irrelevancies, distractions, and entertainments. The real issues fall by the wayside.
When was the last time Bush's proposed nuclear deal with India was discussed in a public forum? Only the entire nuclear non-proliferation regime hinges on it. This is from the President whose contempt for international agreements is well known. Why is no one alarmed?
The restoration of a progressive majority can come in three ways. The first is a repetition of the 2006 election experience. The Democratic Party skinnies by in the face of Republican vote-suppression and vote-stealing schemes. Things then go on much as they are now, in virtual stalemate. The second possibility is a multi-faceted political realignment as the conservative coalition fragments and the independents shift ground. The third possibility is a slide into an economic morass. That would certainly set the tombstone on Alan Greenspan's Randian fantasies, on Milton Friedman's pieties, and on Grover Norquist's pipedreams. It would also set the stage for a resurgence of popular democracy. Nevertheless, much as Wall Street deserves its comeuppance, and one way or other the rot needs to be cleaned out, the eventuality of a financial cataclysm is too dreadful to contemplate. We must now wish Bernanke every success. It's just that I don't ever want to hear Republicans complain about the nanny state ever again.
It is not a stretch to presume that Clinton's campaign, if successful, will effect only incremental change. It is the Obama campaign that virtually depends on option two, a political realignment that promises to enlarge the Democratic electorate for years to come. Such a realignment will then open up a larger scope for policy upon election. Barack Obama, having had the vision to discern this opportunity for political realignment, is the right man for our time.