Saturday, February 16, 2008

Election Iconography 2

The day Hillary Clinton lost eight primaries in a row I suffered acute distress – which was really insane. I can’t vote. I’m one of the million backlogged at the INS; it’s likely I will be forever backlogged and will have to retire in Antarctica, since I take democracy seriously and practice it whenever I can – something power structures don’t like. I watch U.S. elections as intensely as any citizen nevertheless, because I have to live under the term of office of the successful, as much affected as any citizen. Once in a while, I think of the Boston Tea Partygoers who dumped tea leaves into the harbor, with the battle cry “no taxation without representation.” This election, with the opportunity to have either the first African-American or female president, my interest is ten fold. Hillary losing despite the great wave of female pride that greeted her candidacy was a bad nightmare. Has The Cause died, who/what did it in? The last two weeks I’ve kept eye and ear on her, fascinated by the on-going malversation of a huge political capital. She was, after all, the double-digit lead; unstoppable, possessing a war chest of $100 million and anointed by the party hierarchy when the primaries started.

The more I watch and listen, the more I am at a loss to get a handle on her. Her speeches are thematically all over the place, without structure (writers know how important structure is to message), though full of specificities; her replies to critical questions fudging and verbose. The contrast was vivid when she and Obama were asked whether undocumented aliens should be allowed to have driver’s licenses. She took what seemed a minute to reply and I still don’t know what her position is. Obama said one word: “Yes.” On the Iraq issue, there she went again, round and round the mulberry tree. “If I had known then what I know now” doesn’t wash – because you are supposed to know, then and now. Hey, the vote for war was wrong; say it, say it, say it.

What happened to the feisty woman who took on, during her husband’s first term of office, the health care behemoth of an industry? Was she pummeled too much, did the scaffolding of risk-taking and derring-do give way? Or did she, after such a brutal treatment, submit to have her personality calibrated, to avoid the accusation of being divisive, to get the approval of those in the party hierarchy? Oh hey, I could’ve told her that no matter what, strong, intelligent women with ideas of their own will always be called divisive. The whole women’s liberation movement has been called divisive time and again.

The first part of this blog (see below) brought me responses, which can be grouped into a) you gender traitor; b) it’s not the candidates, it’s the issues; and c) it doesn’t matter because what’s needed is radical change.

When the candidates’ positions regarding issues are not too far apart (or as they say, not much daylight in between), one is forced to look at other reasons for choosing: what they represent and their style. Choosing between the first African-American and the first female candidate for the presidency is difficult, since both belong to the same class stratum. One is left with style. Hillary speaks in specifics but her message isn’t consolidated; I get the impression she’s making it up as she goes along. Obama speaks in general phrases, some resonating strongly (“We are who we have been waiting for!”). In the matter of organization, Olivia of GABNet NY, told me of this guy who went to volunteer at the Obama campaign center. He could write, he said, and could issue an endorsement. No, he was told; he should visit every building in his neighborhood and find one person within who would endorse Obama. And he did, door to door, turning his neighborhood into a virtual Obama campaign center. For Hillary, I get an emailed letter from probably the richest Filipina around.

So, the first African-American president or the first woman president? Is it fair to use candidates as objective correlatives? I have no idea and am thankful I will not have to resolve this quandary, which drives some of my friends into a tizzy. Truth to tell, what fascinates me with the primaries is how Obama grows, how Clinton becomes more elegiac, and how, as Obama gains delegates, I feel like a character in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, specifically Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I am poised between the certainty of the story’s ending and the unfolding of that end, and yet hoping that there will an intervention somewhere, so it doesn't end the way one suspects it will end. Now I read that the Nobel Prize laureate Doris Lessing has reached the same conclusion, which probably underscores the depth of cynicism this culture has bred in those of us who are not of it. -- #

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. -- ###