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Works and Days

Therapeutics 101—the Race, Class, and Gender Campaign Trail

February 3rd, 2008 - 11:30 pm

Reflections on Today’s Campaign Speeches

Bill Clinton as Jimmy Swaggert

Bill can’t stop campaigning if he wanted to. He can’t cease talking about himself if he was paid a billion dollars. He can’t stop lusting after the limelight of the White House at any price.

But he can change his approach after almost losing the nomination for his wife and himself. So today’s appearance at a Los Angeles African-American Church saw a reconstituted Bill Clinton as the Reverend Swaggert begging for forgiveness after one of his assorted sins.

Yes, he still talked about his brilliant administration as the chief reason to have his wife continue it. In praising Al Gore he talked of “we”. But now there was no more finger pointing, no more red-faced, cheek-swelling outbursts, and no more flashing eyes and thundering voice.

Instead, we got the swollen, teary-eyed reminiscences about his impoverished parent. His voice was at times barely audible. His pauses went on for a few seconds, as he carefully drew his breath and like Ajax in his soliloquy solemnly went on. He bit his lip enough no doubt to require minor surgery. He paused and then went on in sad mournful tones. He often let out a self-effacing, heartfelt muffled laugh.

If Bill before slandered, accused and lectured at poor us who did not appreciate his genius, he now evoked Jesus, as his prophet to politely beg us to vote for him and her. “We all want to be in a gang,” he tearfully stammered to his African-American audience, as he reminded his listeners that he learned about gangs from none other than Maxine Waters—the most prominent Californian African-American to endorse his wife.

One final note. Bill kept talking of “Our government doesn’t————”. Fill in the blanks how we shortchange veterans, blacks, students, the poor, the indebted, the homeowner, and the sick. Aside from whether his accusations are true (most are not), one wonders, are not these so-called pathologies of longer standing than the past seven years? Were there no foreclosures, none without health insurance, no homeless, no racism, no evil whatsoever during his own tenure? Did George Bush alone undo all that Bill Clinton had bequeathed?

McCain’s Case rested

I’m neither a political scientist nor working for any particular candidate. Instead, as a historian I simply look at the Republican race empirically, as an observer who came to an understandable conclusion that (1) McCain is not that much more liberal than his Republican rivals or the actual record of recent Republican presidents such as Gerald Ford, the two Bushes, and Ronald Reagan. Note that if one uses conservative indices like the American Conservative Union’s, or those of the liberal counterparts like the Americans for Democratic Action, McCain scores in the 80s on the conservative side, Obama and Clinton below 10; on liberal scorecards the reverse is true. (2) Given the recent drift leftward, and the opening given by the Clinton drive-by attack on Obama, McCain has some chance to capture enough independents and moderates turned off by the Clinton roguery to squeak by.

That said, the race is not over, and Romney supporters should continue to promote his cause until the delegate count is decided. I understand that the base is angry not just because of McCain’s immigration or tax cut heresies, but mostly one of attitude and past pride in opposing conservatives. The complaint then is often that ‘McCain snubbed us once in an unnecessary condescending manner, but kisses up now since he can’t win without us” . Perhaps all that is true. But I would prefer to look to conservatives’ own self-interest—and it is not with Hillary or Barack.

My interest is not antipathy to Mitt Romney. I met and liked him. I have no grudge against Mike Huckabee. But I fear, I confess, another eight years of Bill Clinton—never brought home more than by his recent multimillion-dollar glad-handing trip to Kazakhstan to cement a uranium deal for Frank Giustra, who then donated generously to his various foundations.

Ms. Obama

I have now seen her speak three times on television on C-Span. She is attractive, bright, and educated, an effective communicator (though verbose and prone to go on too long), and the most impressive of the potential first wives still in the race. But she seems right on the edge. As she goes on and on without a scripted text, she starts to tense up and gets a little angry and then makes the implicit case that a vote for her husband is a sort of redemption for the entire country. Again, there is no argument on specifics. Never does she say: vote for Barack because of the a-z platform. Instead, the appeal is that we all will be morally better; she and Barack have suffered more than the rest of us, but can offer us still a sort of redemption.

A common target is once again “they” and “the government”— those nameless faceless people that have done everything wrong and bad and stupid to hurt folks like Ms. Obama and her husband, who went to Harvard law school and became professionals and live well, but have suffered since, she insists, because they only recently paid off their student loans (going to Harvard Law School is not a birthright, but for most quite expensive). No mention is made that this is the world’s wealthiest country, the destination of the worlds’ immigrants, or an amazingly humane and creative place– only that “it hasn’t gotten better.”

Ms. Schwarzenegger

Maria Shriver spoke as well on behalf of Sen. Obama today, even as her husband endorsed Sen. McCain. Rather than try to convince strangers to vote for Obama, she should try to convince the governor to endorse him. But her endorsement was once again framed in religious tones—we find salvation by “going beyond the labels” and voting for a self-labeled black candidate? It also again reminds me of Clinton today singing Hillary’s multifaceted strengths that he apparently in the most gratuitous fashion in the past had serially disdained. (e.g., if Obama is so great and we strangers are to be swayed by her endorsement, why not first sway the Governator?)

Oprah as Jesse?

One wonders whether Oprah has overdone it a bit for Obama. She was not reflective like Bill at today’s UCLA rally in her usual talk-how therapeutic host mode, but angry, fiery, fully in campaign form, with full black intonation and a hint of the Southern preaching style, as much evident on the stump as she eschews it in her syrupy talk show. Ms. Winfrey should learn from Bill; he squandered his faux-statesman persona by campaigning crassly; she may lose her Dr. Phil trust-me endearment by morphing into a female nice version of a partisan Jesse Jackson.

A final note. After Winfrey talks about gender and race ad nauseam, she quickly notes that race and gender have nothing to with the election. The effect on the casual listener who is not hypnotized is surreal. Barack Obama is considered the “black” candidate; his white mother and the complete outsourcing of his formative years and education to his mother and her parents go unspoken. And this is to bring us together?

The subtexts of today’s speeches by the Obama and Clinton supporters are that the perennial culpable white male has finally met his nemesis. He can pay penance for past sins by voting for either a woman or someone of mixed racial heritage. We can unite the nation only by endorsing candidates whose first identification is apparently to their race or gender—something that would be considered abominable for the white male.

But when I think of white male, I don’t evoke a billionaire John Kerry or Ted Kennedy, but thousands of poorer, blue collar whites here in southern Fresno County, who live a world apart from Ms. Obama, or Ms. Winfrey or Ms. Schwarzenegger, and are hardly a “they” or “them.” In this regard, Mike Huckabee’s Lava Soap speech today almost matched Ms. Obama’s pain for pain, hunger for hunger—but praised the past generations rather than blamed them.

The final irony? The way the election is going, the Obama and Clinton obsession on race and gender will ultimately so alienate the demonized white (but middle and lower class) male that he might really vote, in sheer contrarian fashion, with some consideration of race and gender in a way that he would not have before.

As my old Swedish cowboy grandfather used to say as he lumbered around his barnyard, trotting a wild horse in a vast circle tied to a stake and gasping from his gassed lungs at the daily idiocy— Iyiyi!

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