Thursday, February 07, 2008

Election Iconography

The temptation is great: put one’s self behind one candidate and explain the choice with a simple but incontrovertible truth: she’s a woman; he’s African-American; I want someone different. That he couldn’t be summed up in a simplistic tag-line made for much, I think, of John Edwards’ difficulties. I was sorry to see him go; he kind of completed the Democratic Party’s election iconography, being the social analyst to Hillary Clinton’s number-crunching intellection and Barack Obama’s visionary approach. Edwards evoked this desire in me to mount the ramparts; Clinton, to mount the Library of Congress and dive into facts and figures; Obama, to mount the mount in search of enlightenment.

Perfect if all three could’ve been rolled up into one.

The Republicans, with their cookie-cutter candidates (all hair-sprayed straight white males in dark blue suits, you gotta be kidding, in this day and age!), simply put me to sleep, from which I occasionally awoke laughing to ask of Ron Paul, “dude, you sure you’re in the right party?” or screaming at the words “I have always been for the rights of the unborn,” “the Constitution must conform to the laws of God.” You gotta be kidding, in this day and age! That what you learned from 9/11?

Curious as to how an anointed star would spin defeat, I started watching the night Barack Obama lost the New Hampshire primary on the heels of an Iowa victory. I haven’t stopped. Work pile up on my desk; the computer turns cold. I swear he can hold the attention of even the worst ADD-afflicted. The hand of fate was palpable on his forehead; karma-marked, like Achilles, for a life exceptionally triumphant or tragic or both. Destiny, he clearly had.

The adjectives applied to him by commentators are rarely applied to politicians: transcendental, luminous, memorable, a phenomenon. A CNN “expert” said the Dems should enjoy him, as what Obama had was something one couldn’t buy at a store. Clearly, from the great enthusiasm of his meetings and the amount of money rolling in, considering he’s really a neophyte, everyone feels it. I am beginning to wonder if, in the 21st Century, this would be our archetypal dramatic figure: tall, lean, lanky young man embarking on a quest. Who does that evoke in your mind? Under the Bo tree, on the shores of Galilee, on the rocks of Aghanistan, Shiva dancing creation and destruction.

Dems and Reps agree on a narrative for this election: that somewhere along the way, governance has taken a wrong turn and needs to be restored to its proper place, in defense, as it were, of that amorphous group called “the middle class.” The Dems call for change; the Reps chant about a broken government. But what’s wrong exactly remained unspecified; perhaps, it is too frightening. Edwards was the most forthcoming: corporate power, which had secured too strong a foothold in Washington, had to be reined in. He was both right and wrong; corporate power had become too overt, true, but it has always held Washington in its grip. Remember Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex.

The candidates also seem to have agreed on a laundry list of “major concerns”: border security, immigration, health care, tax cuts, Iraq occupation – pieces and patches on which one can articulate an equally patchwork. Yeah, we don’t like the war but I’d like to know what a democratic foreign policy is and the role of war, invasion and occupation in that policy. Sure, deprive the undocumented of a way to legalize their stay in this country but what do the Reps plan to do with the 12 million undocumented? Deport them all? Impossible. Let them remain undocumented, so they can be paid wages below the minimum? I’d like clear policies on phone taps, mail and email security, and the right to travel. Of course, I am pro-choice but I’d also like to see the buying and selling of women, in whatever form, eradicated. The candidates’ answers leave me with many more unanswered questions.

One day at a Staples branch, I asked an African-American woman for whom she was batting and she said, “Hillary.” I said I thought Barack seemed preferable and she said it was a conundrum. She liked Obama but her experience as a woman, especially in the workplace, made her decide that it was time for a woman to be chief executive. “Otherwise, we’ll never make that breakthrough.”

I then asked a Caucasian woman who was supporting and she said “Obama.” That surprised me as well but she explained that Hillary was too embedded in the established system and she wanted an outsider. In this day and age, she said, ethnic minorities seemed the only viable outsiders to everything. She added wryly that had Hillary been of mixed bloodlines or Obama female…

Having seen elections galore which produced little change (I tend to look at them as huge manipulative ordered chaos that delude everyone into thinking they matter), I am tempted to be cynical and ask, does it really matter who wins? That being a dialectical question, the answer is both yes and no. Consider the proliferating checkpoints, the ever stringent rules on travel, the phone taps, the email taps, the growing acuteness of xenophobia and I realize that, to some extent, who will wield White House power will affect the amount of democratic space we will have. That space is important, in the coming recession, as the unemployment rate climbs to the 13% that is the hallmark of a stagnant economy, as multinational corporations siphon wealth from the ordinary folks through such schemes as the mortgage and credit bubbles now threatening to blow up, as states lose their tax base and cut government jobs, social welfare and public projects… We will need that space to make known, through mass action, how the steadily worsening economic crisis affects us on a day-to-day basis… We will need it, now that all mass communications are owned and controlled by multinationals.

That said, while I can barely stop watching Barack Obama, the spectacle of male politicians/commentators/pundits ganging up on Hillary Clinton angers and saddens me. That the two are at dead heat in this contest attests to how deep and profound and in many ways equal, marginalization is, whether based on gender or based on race. Being ethnic and female, I waver back and forth, forth and back, but realize ultimately that my choice must be made on who will mean a larger and more profound democracy. Do ethnic men oppress/exploit women to a lesser/greater degree? Or do white women, by virtue of their class privilege, oppress/exploit ethnic people to a lesser/greater degree? Send me your answer. -- ###

4 comments:

Kat said...

i'm just not convinced by either...

however, Cynthia McKinney has me re-inspired...

www.runcynthiarun.org

Jollene - GABNet Member said...

I feel same way! Up until the last hour, I was deciding who to vote for. Mainstream women's orgs here were backing Hillary, and after Edwards dropped out, labor was campaigning for Obama. My women-friends were pushing me to vote for Hillary, while union organizers and my other friends of color were pushing me to punch the Obama number. I got caught up in the election fever, but when I took a step back I realized how sad it was that I would be backing either candidate because of his/her symbolism, instead of the issues. Not much difference when it comes down to real meat of their stances and proposals...

Anonymous said...

i think jollene is right. its not about gender or racial origin. its their class, political interests and stand on issues that count. babae naman si gloria pero lalong kawawa ang mga Pilipina sa kanya

Browne said...

Very powerful essay. In regards to who to vote for you just feel like there is no reason to get nasty about it. I mean the Hillary bashing to me is completely insane.

As a woman of color though at times I feel being a woman gives me an advantage in America, if I were a man of color, I think things would be much harder for me, but on the same token I feel men of color do oppress women of color, but the thing is if you're in America and you get educated and money, their oppression isn't that impactful.

It's not institutional, it is, but it's not. In America men of color are not topdog, so the oppression becomes like Irish oppressing the Italians are vice versa in the 1900s. In that struggle who wins really.

Browne