Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Midterms

I haven't been down with the blogging so much lately, due to a combination of too much theater and just not feeling like it. I'll be back, since I still have a whole lotta pieces unfinished. But I wanted to take a brief peek at thoughts on midterm elections. Connor and Milligan have been doing an excellent job with organizing midterm thoughts, and Tom is printing some fascinating letters and thoughts about the proposed constitutional anti-gay marriage amendment (it took me a long time to figure out in what order those words should go) in Wisconsin.

As for myself, I still need to check out Vote for Judges to figure out the more minor-league, less publicized, in many salient ways more important issues. Jahred and I might go around knocking on doors on the afternoon of Election Day, assuming I vote before I go teach (vote on the North Side, teach on the South, the latter being where Jahred lives). I've never done that, and it sounds like it could be fun; I had my head too far up my ass and was too ambivalent about our Mr. Kerry to do it in '04. The whole Kerry joke debacle, by the by, is rather hilarious in some ways and poignantly sad in others. If he has this in him, maybe he could actually have been a good president. If he'd showed some of this side in, say, 2003, I might have genuinely wanted to support him, rather than voting ABB. I like the vicious, I like the direct, and I like the articulate. There's actually some spirit behind the words, some real thought and no dodging. But it's just—I mean, not all of it, but the lack of dodging part of it—because it's trendy, because one can now attack Bush without the press backlash there would have been in '03. The prepackaged response of John McCain, lapsed iconoclast, is also amusing to me. I kind of long for the days when I could respect McCain, believing he really voted his views, allowing me to maintain more ambivalence about party lines. These days, while it's the rare Democrat I'm wild about, I can muster up no respect for any Republican except Lincoln Chafee, R-RI, about whom I know nothing except that he was the sole Republican to vote against the Military Commissions Act.

Overall, I want the Democrats to take back Congress in a lesser-of-two-evils fashion. There's an episode of The Simpsons where Maggie, Bart and Lisa pursue a pink elephant balloon through the Democratic and Republican National Conventions: among the signs in the former are "We Can't Govern" and among the signs in the latter "We're Just Plain Evil." But I do have a concern, namely, that the next president is absolutely, inevitably fucked. He/she will have no choice but to spend his/her entire term attempting to undo what the Bush Administration has done, making him/her inevitably a one-term president. (I've an urge to use the transgender pronouns, ze and hir, here, since it would be way easier, but it would be misleading. We've a ways to go before a transperson, at least an out transperson, takes office. But please, let's all take a moment to imagine what would happen if a respected senator's or president's transsexuality was revealed after ze was elected. Fascinating as a case study, rough in every way on the politician.) In all likelihood, the party tied to that president in Congress is equally fucked. Therefore, I'd just as soon the fucked party be the one that's just plain evil (but makes for better television). However, if the Democrats take the majority, they might not automatically lead to a Democratic president.

I also really, really do not want Barack Obama to run in '08. For several reasons. One is the obvious: he's not ready, his lack of public political record would make the holes in his campaign glaringly obvious, and the Democrats will have played their best hand too soon. Second is that we'll need him more when he can actually do something in office besides clean up the Bush administration's messes. Third is that, because the next president is so inevitably one-term and so inevitably fucked, I want to discourage symbolic victories. I know that sounds awful, but I think it's worth it to avoid long-term harm. The next president will not have a decent legacy, because Americans have no perspective (the irony is that had W. been a one-term president, he probably would have gone down in history as a good leader, with Kerry blamed for the mess he left behind). And it's an unfortunate truth that we're so controlled by white male normativity that in the public eye one famous white woman is Women (not even White Women, so entrenched is said normativity), one black man Black Men. If Barack Obama, in 2008, as the first black president, has a miserable single term, it will take a long time for it to stop reflecting on Black Men who run in the future. The same goes for Hillary Clinton, methinks.

Our normativity amazes me. I was in Ireland when the water-bottle terrorist threat went down, and therefore watched its aftermath on the BBC. And on the BBC, several Muslim MPs were interviewed for perspective on the threat and the Raed-Jarrar-esque incidents that people were confident would ensue. All I could think was, "Muslim MP? Muslim MPs, plural?" Britain, a nation whose history is at least as racially fraught as that of the United States, maintains a diversity in its representitve government that the United States, in its "representative" government, can barely hope to reach. While I recognize that racial and gender diversity does not necessarily constitute diversity of thought, and that my knowledge of contemporary British politics is limited at best, the fact is that diversity of background does matter, and symbol does matter to a distanced national audience, all the more so in a nation as large and sprawling as the United States. The government represents Us; that any number of communities and populations in the United States cannot see themselves represented in that Us, or that normative (normativized?) populations don't see their neighbors represented as part of Us would reasonably lead to a more segregated nation. And it is this segregated, normative nation that would see one failed female or black president as a failure for the race or gender, if not entirely consciously.

Can we fight that, and should we fight that upfront? Yes, and yes. Would/will Barack Obama's presidency itself, whatever the quality or reception of his term(s) in office, make a difference for black Americans, for Americans of color in general? I don't know. I hope so. But there is a lot to fight, thousands of routes we need to pursue, and Barack Obama is capable of remaining a superstar whether he runs in 2008 or not; to put it off for four years will not do harm to his political career, at least not the inevitable harm that a presidential run and even a presidential win would, in my view, do. I want him in office in 2012 (or 2016 at the latest), and think he's capable of making it happen. But he's good enough that we as liberals, we as a nation, bloody well ought to milk him for all he's worth.

I'm worried that the way I'm thinking is caving, and that I as an entitled white woman have no place deciding whether someone's run is worth it or not. But Hillary Clinton's an entitled white woman too, and I'm equally worried about her possible campaign for the same reasons as I am about Obama's, I just think Obama's overall a better candidate in that he'd make a better president. Is it okay for me to speak about one and not the other? Well, that conversation is a separate post. Taking as a given, for the time, that my line of thought is racially acceptable, is it caving? A revolutionary would think so, but I long ago accepted that I am not a revolutionary. My goal as a political thinker is to merge radicalism with pragmatism, acknowledging that the two are contradictory (shout-out to Tyromaven). I want a president who could radicalize the office, and of the candidates mentioned above Barack Obama is far and away the most likely to have that ability. But I don't think anyone could overcome the obstacles left for the president arriving in '08, hence the pragmatism. Deploying bombs at random, however many people they kill, is not revolutionary in itself. Strategy matters. (And what do we have here, ladies and gentlemen? FORM AND CONTENT!) Electing the right president at the wrong time is not itself a good political move, because it would make him/her inevitably the wrong president.

And the characters in Urinetown sing back and forth: "But what of tomorrow?" "But what of today?"

The caveat, of course, is that my thinking here would as likely as not saddle us with four years of John McCain. And yes-man that he has become, our dear Mr. McCain might well continue down some of Bush's darker alleys. I've been saying the Republicans, for themselves, would be wisest to run a straw man in '08, but saying that operates on the assumption that they don't want to continue the policies of the Bush administration. And in all likelihood they do; they just wouldn't want them approached in quite the same way. McCain could handle that. And for that reason I would want a Democrat in '08. But Hillary as a one-termer would do a lot of harm to female politicians, particularly presidential hopefuls, and no one else has the star power to combat McCain. Except perhaps Barack Obama.

Well, damn.

Vote on November 7. That is all.

4 Comments:

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Connor said...

I agree with you re: Obama and Hillary, and generally disagree with you elsewhere. A lot can happen in four years. In 1993 we were talking about Universal Health Care and 4 years later, Monica Lewinsky. That was afterthe Democrats lost control of congress after 40 years.

Likewise, ideal circumstances that might materialize for the right candidate have a way of never coming around. I think that Obama shouldn't run because he's too inexperienced as you said, and Hillary, because she's polarizing, though I think this is a to a large degree the result of the blatantly sexist way she was pigeonholed to begin with.

To play the other side of the court, the Bush administration has demonstrated how rapidly a unified government can fuck things up; if the Democrats win congress in 06 and the presidency in 08, wouldn't that provide a 2-year window for real progress? And wouldn't progress, even left incomplete, be a better case for a second-term presidency than the nasty legacy of an awful predecessor? Because that was what Reagan won on in 80 and 84, dramatically.

I don't know yet who the ideal candidate it. But I'm going to try to keep pessimism distinct from speculation. Better to be gloomy about the torture. The torture, we know about. Future history is up in the air.

 
At 12:43 PM, Blogger Connor said...

(Not that I really think Carter was awful; but they sure worked the idea...)

 
At 1:24 PM, Blogger Ammegg said...

Fair and fair. I'm not entirely sure I agree with me, but I wanted to try it out. In support of what I posted, though, I was kind of basing things on Bush the First coming after Reagan and not being able to win a second term even with a relatively compact, relatively successful (yes, recognizing exactly how loaded that term is) war. Not that I support Bush the First's rise to office in the first place, and they were of the same party, but a major part of Bush's challenge was that he was saddled with a gruesome domestic policy morass.

The ideal circumstances indeed won't materialize for Hillary, and on that front she's a better gamble, though I agree about the sexist pigeonholing, and remain frustrated with the fact that a white man can be himself without having to contend with representing all men. Better circumstances, however, will materialize for Obama in that he will gain experience and once he does he'll be airtight—although, as you said, a lot can happen in four years. But he's as charismatic as B. Clinton, and with a stronger base and fewer sex scandals. The right time for Obama is absolutely, in my view, 2012 or 2016.

I don't think Hillary's quite as polarizing as everybody says, in that it's hard to do worse to her than has already been done.

And I'm okay with being pessimistic, speculative, and wrong. :>)

 
At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Milligan said...

The way I see it, the biggest problem with Hillary is that she'd almost certainly lose. The Right's been expecting her to run for so long, they have an enormous head start in defining her as a fire-breathing liberal, but the liberal base won't turn out in droves because, going by her actual behavior in office, she isn't. Personally, I'm rooting for something like a Gore-Clark or Gore-Feingold ticket, but first someone has to convince the guy to run.

Chafee only voted against the Military Comissions Act in a desperate bid to save his seat. He's become a perfectly cowed tool of the Republican machine in Congress over the last few years, and all the senators in unsafe northeastern seats are allowed the occasional symbolic break from the party line. Probably doesn't matter now, as Whitehouse has a very good shot at beating him next week.

More generally, though, work for the progressive candidates a bit and you'll find there's quite a few of them that are easy to get genuinely excited about. My district is about to send Congress its first Muslim Representative, and he's a solid progressive. Same goes for a couple of dozen candidates nationwide I've been supporting. A good number of the Democratic pickups this year are going to be energetic liberals because those are the candidates who had the guts to speak out early and loudly against the administration, and have thus been ideally positioned to ride the Democratic wave that's building this year.

 

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