It has been awhile, but having now finished a big project, I’m back to regular blogging. And what better topic for getting back into it than the current election stuff. I do have a lot to say. In particular, about this strange ascension of Hillary Clinton and the genuinely baffling coverage of the “race.” OK, that’s a cheap pun, but I had to. I’ll pass over the saucier stuff on, say, Vincent Foster, whose case would send lefties over the edge (rightly) if the name had been Bush or Cheney, not Clinton. There are other things to discuss.I don’t think it matters who you support or do not support in this primary season. The Clinton campaign has some grotesque stuff at play and it hardly gets attention. Obliquely, maybe, but never really sustained. To begin, I just sat down and counted years.
So, my first thought:
1. I’m turning 40 this year, before the general election. That’s a big year. Sure, a lot of people are older, 40 is the new 30, or whatever, but what that year marks (let’s be real) is this: do you have your shit together or are you lost? Turning 40 makes that not only a fair question, but one you ought to ask yourself. Not quite mid-life crisis age, though you can see it on the horizon if you’re susceptible. So, here’s the deal: the last time there was not a Bush or Clinton in the White House, I was in high school. High school. I’m now old enough to have a kid in high school. I don’t, but that’s not the point. If Clinton gets the nomination this time around, and it seems sure that she will, I’ll be in my mid-40s (late-40s, if she’s re-elected) and know that high school John was the last John to know a non-Bush/Clinton.
I don’t get this. I don’t understand how this is not an entry-level question and hesitation. We have a few hundred million people in this country. Plenty of them are well-connected, super-experienced, sold-out to corporate interests, visionary and ambitious, or whatever you think it means to be qualified for President of the United States. Yet, here we are. Two families. Mediocre families, too. Let’s be honest about that. This is not a matter of the gods gifting us with brilliance. Outside of running the country, only the first George Bush has much of a resume (war hero, CIA man, vice-president, president). How has this not been a bigger issue?
The easy answer is that we love dynasties or familiar faces. I hate to concede to something so simple, but maybe that’s just it. Maybe we’re just that uninteresting as a nation.
So, my second thought:
2. I read a lot about the Obama-Clinton conflict and the question of race. We know the drill by now: was Hillary Clinton degrading MLK, Jr. when she said this and that about LBJ? (Sidenote: let’s bring back political figures known by initials alone. I love that.) Etc.
But what doesn’t get the attention I’d like to see is this: the consistent “mis-statement” about race and racial stereotyping (Obama was a drug dealer or is the “magic negro,” nothing more) or religious xenophobia (Obama’s famous “madrasah”), which then turns into an apology and maybe a resignation (or retreat from the public eye). Except in the case of Bill Clinton, who seems immune to criticism after all these years. This is a constant with the Clinton campaign. How this is much different than the much (and rightly) maligned “whispering campaign” Bush watched happen in 2000, South Carolina, I’m not sure. Sure, Clinton is kept at a distance. What a false distance, though, and we all know it. Such an old technique and we should know better. Aren’t we all responsible for the company we keep? This sort of stuff would make and break friendships. If we hold friends so responsible, we should also hold our political figures so responsible. Hardly a remarkable proposal.
What we seem to forget, I think, is that the Clintons are a particular category of politician: white Southern Democrats. And not some fancy young progressive version (does one exist?). Just the standard version. At the center of this standard version is an old cliche about the difference between Southern and Northern racism. In the South, whites hate the race, but love the individual (and the North reverses that). I see that in all of this Clinton stuff. Sure, Hilary and especially Bill are famous for “getting along with” or “being comfortable with” black people. I get that, or at least I’ve heard it enough to believe it. Yet, the comfort with people who pander to religious and racial hatred (Obama is a Taliban plant, Obama was a drug dealer destroying his neighborhood) is a comfort with hating the race, then redeeming oneself with loving the individual. Standard narrative of white Southern redemption. Over and over, ’cause of course we’re all sinful and fallible, thus in need of constant redemption. Its the politics of personal destruction, with a smile to make it all better.
The signature (to my mind) moment of Bill Clinton’s presidency was the stuff on welfare “reform.” It was hateful legislation. It pandered to anti-black, anti-latino racism, and above all it was anti-woman. Neither Clinton spoke against it. No harsh words. No principled stands. No hesitations. But he is just so comfortable with black people…comfortable enough to pose for redemption, all the while benefiting so much from the very hatred from which he’s allegedly redeemed.
I know Hillary was not the president, but, if you want the “experience” credit, you gotta take this one on.
And you see it even in Hillary Clinton’s allegedly “pro-mother, pro-woman” book about the village raising a child. Let’s be honest, here: this means private, not governmental means. It is a secondary signature on welfare “reform,” so comfortable with all of the racism and anti-woman shit. Sure, villages (neighborhoods around here, I suspect) do a lot, but sometimes – more times that I care to consider in free-market capitalism – it takes a government to feed and house a child.
All that said, I’ve also wondered how it is that racism no longer sinks candidates or campaigns. Maybe it never did just that easily, but I swear it wasn’t always so tolerable. I’m thinking about the various things Ron Paul has said, which the New Republic has noted, and how he was happy to consign black Americans to another generation or two of slavery because the institution “would have just gone away eventually.” Or Huckabee’s hateful act over the Confederate flag; Hitchens basically says what I would say about that (can’t stand Hitchens, generally, but he’s right on with this and his other stuff on Hillary Clinton). My point is simple, really: we’ve gotten really comfortable, again, with casual or just-in-passing anti-black racism. It’s all over this campaign. Both Republicans and Clinton (though I’m taking a pass on Elizabeth Edwards’ comment on how a white guy just can’t get by these days).
I credit three words for this new comfort: “the race card.” That phrase, a variant of “politically correct,” is one that has a magical effect. Say it and the issue is dead. If it is a card, then it is obviously a game and not about the real substance of a person or their worldview. My problem: it is in fact about both of those things. If we don’t care about the substance or worldview of our president, then whose do we care about?
It ain’t about hope. It’s really just about caring, even just a little bit. Or having some sustained, decisive outrage about our nation’s deepest wound: racism.