Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pulling a Nader

One of the more troubling debates I’ve had in the past eight years has been over whether Ralph Nader should have run for president. On principle, the answer is, “Of course, he should.” Particularly if you agree that he is a voice of sanity in a political system that is corrupt, dirty and dysfunctional.

It makes it harder to sleep at night, but I have come down on the other side. I think we have no choice but to accept politics as dirty and get real about how elections are won, and do the best we can with the imperfect instrument. When you consider the very strong likelihood that we would never have attacked Iraq if Gore had won, and if you think the argument holds water that Nader greased the skids on which Bush rode into office, well…

If you do buy that argument, I think you have to see Hillary Clinton in the same light. Watching her totin’ guns (metaphorically) and tossing back a whisky and a beer (in fact) to impress Pennsylvania voters she’s one of them and not a champagne-and-brie elitist San Franciscan (why does that always translate into fag?) is enough to make you want to dump your cookies onto the sidewalk.

I hope and pray this is just another media jackoff and it will all pass and Obama will not be hurt. As E. J. Dionne says in this morning’s paper, it was a bad slip to use the words bitter and cling to refer to the bitter folk of the rust belt who cling to traditional verities like religion and the fear of outsiders instead of kissing ass and telling them as politicians are supposed to do that he likes to kill deer as much as Hillary does and tie one on afterwards.

What did he do that was so wrong? He told the damned truth yet again. Brought out into the open the fact that America’s industry has been hollowed out and the working folk of Pennsylvania (and Michigan and Indiana and all kinds of other poor-and-getting-poorer places) are stuck in a downward spiral and ignored by both the Bushes and the Clintons and their globalized economy reasoning. The man was trying to outline the problem. E. J. Dionne put his finger on it. He was too much social analyst, too little politico.

OK, so I’m a champagne-and-brie fag from San Francisco, so I’m mouthing off, you might say with considerable justification, from the wrong side of the tracks here. But what’s giving me serious heartburn these days is the verve with which Hillary is providing Republicans with what they will need to win the election. She’s pulling a Nader.

Nader, at least, had his heart in the right place. Like Obama, too much good guy, too little politician, he at least had principles. Hillary, it seems, in her damn the torpedos desperation, has none other than a faith that a pyrrhic victory is better than none. If she doesn’t win the nomination, she seems to be saying, it might as well go to McCain.

I know she’s caught between a rock and a hard place. I know she has to fight hard and maybe dirty to win. But hard and dirty should not have to amount to stupid. It should not mean destroy the democratic party and its very likely presidential candidate in the process.

As all sorts of people have pointed out in the past couple days, for any Clinton, especially a Wellesley/Yale Clinton with an income of over $100 million in the past seven years, to call the son of a single mother who made his start in the streets of South Chicago an elitist, makes her look wildly hypocritical. Pretending to be happy with guns after her husband worked so hard to control them shows that she actually is hypocritical.

She claims that Obama is looking down his nose at the poor rural sods of Pennsylvania. He should not do that, she says. He should embrace them as equals and not suggest he is any better than they are. And she, in her Annie Oakley persona and her whiskey with a beer chaser doesn’t appear to understand that she’s right about these deerhunters. They aren’t stupid. They can see through her act. And which democratic presidential candidate, I wonder, will they see as the greater condescender?

And all McCain has to do is sit there and watch her do his job for him. “Like she says.” “I’m with that lady.” Right. The Republican, whose party has just had eight years widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots of America, will now be able to say, “Don’t argue with me – my information comes from your own Hillary Clinton!”

And we’ll have four more years of Republican administration. More conservatives in the courts. More religion in the schools. More bailing out of corporate America. More long-as-it-takes troops in Iraq. More tax policies like Alabama’s, where the poorest 1% pay 11% of their income on taxes on things like milk and groceries and the richest 1% pay 4%. More tree chopping in the national parks and oil drilling off the coast. More, more, more of the same.

Of course, she could pull it off. She could win the nomination with these tactics. And the election.

For me that feels an awful lot like putting your entire retirement income up against a toss of the dice.

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