Saturday, May 31, 2008

Media Collaboration and the war

McClellan and His Media Collaborators

By Jeff Cohen
May 30th, 2008

No sooner had Bush's ex-press secretary (now author)
Scott McClellan accused President Bush and his former
collaborators of misleading our country into Iraq than
the squeals of protest turned into a mighty roar.

I'm not talking about the vitriol directed at him by
former White House colleagues like Karl Rove and Ari
Fleischer. I'm talking about McClellan's other war
collaborators: the movers and shakers in corporate
media. The people McClellan refers to in his book as
"deferential, complicit enablers" of Bush administration
war propaganda.

One after another, news stars defended themselves with
the tired old myth that no one doubted the Iraq WMD
claims at the time. The yarn about hindsight being 20/20
was served up more times than a Rev. Wright clip on Fox

Katie Couric, whose coverage on CBS of the Iraq troop
surge has been almost fawning, was one of the few stars
to be candid about pre-invasion coverage, saying days
ago, "I think it's one of the most embarrassing chapters
in American journalism." She spoke of "pressure" from
corporate management, not just Team Bush, to "really
squash any dissent." Then a co-host of NBC Today, she
says network brass criticized her for challenging the

NBC execs apparently didn't complain when - two weeks
into the invasion - Couric thanked a Navy commander for
coming on the show, adding, "And I just want you to
know, I think Navy SEALs rock!"

This is a glorious moment for the American public. We
can finally see those who abandoned reporting for
cheerleading and flag-waving and cheap ratings having to
squirm over their role in sending other parents' kids
into Iraq. I say "other parents' kids" because I never
met any bigwig among those I worked with in TV news who
had kids in the armed forces.

Given how TV networks danced to the White House tune
sung by the Roves and Fleischers and McClellans in the
first years of W's reign, it's fitting that it took the
words of a longtime Bush insider to force their self-
examination over Iraq. Top media figures had shunned
years of well-documented criticism of their Iraq failure
as religiously as they shunned war critics in 2003.

Speaking of religious, it wasn't until two days ago that
retired NBC warhorse Tom Brokaw was able to admit on-air
that Bush's push toward invasion was "more theology than
anything else." On day one of the war, it was anchor
Brokaw who turned to an Admiral and declared, "One of
the things that we don't want to do is destroy the
infrastructure of Iraq, because in a few days we're
going to own that country."

Asked this week about the charge that media transmitted
war propaganda, Brokaw blamed the White House and its
"unbelievable ability to control the flow of information
at any time, but especially during the time that they're
preparing to go to war." This is an old canard: The
worst censors pre-war were not governments, but major
outlets that chose to exclude and smear dissenting

Wolf Blitzer, whose persona on CNN is that of a carnival
barker, defended his network's coverage: "I think we
were pretty strong. But certainly, with hindsight, we
could have done an even better job."

Coverage might have been better if CNN news chief Eason
Jordan hadn't gotten a Pentagon "thumbs-up" on the
retired generals they featured. Or if Jordan hadn't gone
on the air to dismiss a dissenting WMD expert: "Scott
Ritter's chameleon-like behavior has really bewildered a
lot of people. . . . U.S. officials no longer give Scott
Ritter much credibility."

ABC anchor Charlie Gibson, the closest thing to a Fox
News anchor at a big three network, took offense at
McClellan: "I think the media did a pretty good job." He
claimed "there was a lot of skepticism raised" about
Colin Powell's pre-war U.N. speech. Media critic Glenn
Greenwald called Gibson's claim "one of the falsest
statements ever uttered on TV" - and made his point
using Gibson's unskeptical Powell coverage at the time.

In February 2003, there was huge mainstream media
skepticism about Powell's U.N. speech . . . overseas.
But U.S. TV networks banished antiwar perspectives in
the crucial two weeks surrounding that error-filled
speech. FAIR studied all on-camera sources on the
nightly ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS newscasts: Less than 1
percent - three out of 393 sources - were antiwar. Only
6 percent were skeptical sources. This at a time when 60
percent of Americans in polls wanted more time for
diplomacy and inspections.

I worked 10-hour days inside MSNBC's newsroom during
this period as senior producer of Phil Donahue's
primetime show (canceled three weeks before the war
while the network's most-watched program). Trust me: Too
much skepticism over war claims was a punishable
offense. I and all other Donahue producers were
repeatedly ordered by top management to book panels that
favored the pro-invasion side. I watched a fellow
producer get chewed out for booking a 50-50 show.

At MSNBC, I heard Scott Ritter smeared - on-air and off
- as a paid mouthpiece of Saddam Hussein. After we had
war skeptic and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey
Clark on the show, we learned he was on some sort of
network blacklist.

When MSNBC terminated Donahue, it was expected that we'd
be replaced by a nightly show hosted by Jesse Ventura.
But that show never really launched. Ventura says it was
because he, like Donahue, opposed the Iraq invasion; he
was paid millions for not appearing. Another MSNBC star,
Ashleigh Banfield, was demoted and then lost her job
after criticizing the first weeks of "very sanitized"
war coverage. With every muzzling, self-censorship
tended to proliferate.

I'm no defender of Scott McClellan. Some may say he has
blood on his hands - and that he hasn't earned any kind
of redemption.

But as someone who still burns with anger over what I
witnessed inside TV news during that crucial historical
moment, I'm trying my best to enjoy this falling out
among thieves and liars.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

What to do

By Carl Davidson
'Progressives for Obama'

Start where you are.

I’m assuming a neighborhood-based group. In you are not in a neighborhood based group, then join one or start one, around peace and justice issues.

Most of the people in your group will have little or no experience working an election. That’s OK, they’re going to use this election to train themselves. Also, the people in you group will know bits and pieces about the neighborhood, but not systematically, and most of the neighborhood won’t know them, either. That’s OK too, because you’ll use this election to gain more systematic knowledge, and get yourselves known, too.

Hold a meeting and make a plan. Assign someone to get precinct maps and registered voter lists. Assign someone else to find out how to become a deputy voter registrar, and then have a bunch do it. Have someone become a notary public, if no one is. Have someone else see what it takes to be a pollwatcher and election judge. Assign some people to volunteer for these posts and get trained for them. Have someone else find out who else is doing voter registration in the neighborhood. Check the churches and union halls, and introduce yourselves.

Next, divide up the precincts, and prepare for step one, ‘IDTV,’ identify the vote. You want to find out, on every block, who’s registered and who’s not, who’s against the war and who’s not, and who’s for Obama and who’s not. You make up some flyers with your take on things to take with you. The you TALK TO PEOPLE, call it the ‘mass line’ or whatever, but get outside your comfort zone. In addition to finding like-minded souls to join you, your goal is to divide the people on every block into three–those with you (pluses), those against you (minuses) and those in between (zeros).

Next step, RTV, register the vote. You don’t register everyone this time, but focus on registering the pluses and zeros who are not registered. Never tell anyone you won’t register them, though. Pay attention to younger voters especially. Do this door to door, set up tables, whatever.

Next step, ETV, voter education. Hold a public meeting, invite the new contacts, have speakers run out your view of things, and well as some with other views. Have friendly debates. Sell literature. Recruit to study groups.

Next step, close to election day, GOTV, get out the vote. By now the size of your group should be double or triple in its core. Make calls to all your pluses, then all your zeros, telling them where and when to vote. Make an election day team with ‘watchers,’ ‘runners’ and ‘passers.’ Watchers’ are in the polling place with a list of all your pluses, minuses, and zeros, and check them off as they come in. ‘Runners’ get on the phone or go to the doors on those who haven’t shown up yet, ‘passers’ stand outside the poll with little reminder cards, but mainly to make sure the other side doesn’t intimidate anyone into not voting. ‘Watchers’ are also trained in what to watch for to make sure no one is rigging the count.

Next, PTV, protect the vote. This is for pollwatchers and judges, of which you should have several. They stay with the count to make sure it’s reported properly.

Finally, CTV, consolidate the vote. Have a victory party, bring speakers, literature, get new tasks to new members, preparing them for mass action to make sure whoever gets elected stops the war, and so on.

Here’s the point.

Your local group is now much larger. It’s more experienced. The neighborhood knows you. You have new allies in other groups you’ve worked with. You now not only know how to hold demos in the streets, you know how to work elections. Your knowledge of 'the masses' is several levels higher than anything you’ve done before. You’ve created a building block of what could become a component of a mass party of the people. You now don’t just talk about politics, you have something to do politics WITH. And you haven’t even had to have anything to do with local Democrats unless you chose to, and every gain you’ve made belongs to you, not to them.

In brief, you’re far more empowered than before you started–and that’s the whole point. Naturally, this isn’t the only way. Some people may just want to jump into whatever Obama group is at their school, whatever their union is doing, or whatever the local Dems are doing. Those all have something to be said for them, but that’s not the main thing those of us with a more strategic view are advocating.

In any case, doing something is better than doing nothing. At least you’ll have some practice to bring to the table when it comes to summing up experience.

Keith Olberman on Hillary's Assassination Comments

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Obama reaches delegate strength

No Democrat has achieved a majority of white voters since 1972.

May 21, 2008
Obama Says Delegate Threshold Reached

DES MOINES — Senator Barack Obama took a big step toward becoming the Democratic presidential nominee on Tuesday, amassing enough additional delegates to claim a nearly insurmountable advantage in his race against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

While Mrs. Clinton’s campaign continued to make a case that she could prevail, Mr. Obama was poised to use the results from Democratic contests in Kentucky and Oregon to move into a new phase of the campaign in which he will face different challenges. Those include bringing Mrs. Clinton’s supporters into his camp; winning over elements of the Democratic coalition like working-class whites, Hispanics and Jews; and fending off attacks from Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, especially on national security.

Mr. Obama’s obstacles were underlined by what was a lopsided defeat in Kentucky, where just half of the Democratic voters said in exit polls that they would back Mr. Obama in the general election this fall.

But under the rules used by Democrats, Mr. Obama picked up additional delegates even in defeat, moving him closer to securing a majority of the delegates up for grabs in primaries and caucuses. Mr. Obama’s campaign expected to exceed that threshold, which it has portrayed as the proper yardstick for judging the will of Democratic voters, by the time the results are in from Oregon, where the polls close at 11 p.m. Eastern time.

Indeed, Mr. Obama was eager to claim that majority. “It’s clear that tonight we have reached a major milestone on this journey,” he said in an e-mail to supporters. “We have won an absolute majority of all the delegates chosen by the people in this Democratic primary process.”

Even as Mr. Obama moved closer to making history as the first black presidential nominee, his aides said he would stop short of declaring victory in the Democratic race, part of a carefully calibrated effort in the remaining weeks of the contest to avoid appearing disrespectful to Mrs. Clinton and alienating her supporters.

Mrs. Clinton, declaring victory in Kentucky, made clear that she had no intention of stepping aside before the Democratic voting ends on June 3. “This is one of the closest races for a party’s nomination in modern history,” she said. “We are winning the popular vote, and I am more determined than ever to see that every vote is cast and every ballot is counted.”

Going into Tuesday, Mr. Obama’s had 1,915 of the 2,026 pledged delegates and superdelegates needed to claim the nomination, according to a count and projection by The New York Times. His campaign estimated that if he simply held his own in the remaining contests, he would need only 25 more votes from superdelegates, the elected Democrats and party leaders who are delegates without having to be selected in a primary. There are 221 undeclared superdelegates left; Mr. Obama has been rolling out endorsements on a daily basis.

Mr. Obama marked the moment with a highly symbolic return to Iowa, the state that launched his campaign with a big win on Jan. 3. Mr. Obama’s aides said they were increasingly concerned that the long fight with Mrs. Clinton had given Mr. McCain a free ride in critical general election states.

His appearance in Iowa, which looms as a battleground state in the fall election, also suggested a new focus on the coming fight against Mr. McCain.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to spend Wednesday through Friday in Florida, focusing specifically on the corridor between Tampa and Orlando, a region bustling with swing voters. In the next month, Mr. Obama will head to Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio, even as he continues to spend time where the remaining three contests will be held..

But even as he moved closer to winning the intensely fought nominating contest with Mrs. Clinton — a battle suffused with history and the tension inherent in a campaign defined in part by race and gender — Mr. Obama was preparing to deal with a series of challenges in the weeks ahead.

“We know we have our work cut our for us,” said Steve Hildebrand, a deputy campaign manager for Mr. Obama. “But we are up to the task.”

A rally in downtown Des Moines on Tuesday evening, where thousands gathered against the backdrop of the State Capitol building, offered evidence of steps Mr. Obama was taking to try to unite the party. Thousands of telephone and e-mail invitations went out across Iowa, where Mr. McCain is already running television commercials, to party activists and independent voters. Those targeted were not only existing supporters of Mr. Obama, but also voters who backed other candidates earlier this year and will soon be asked to join the fight against Mr. McCain.

Beyond that, the results in Kentucky again suggested Mr. Obama’s general weakness with white blue-collar voters. They supported Mrs. Clinton by big margins in Kentucky, as they did in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio, with many saying they would not vote for Mr. Obama in the general election.

Mr. Obama’s aides disputed the significance of the findings, pointing to national polls that show him running strongly against Mr. McCain with those voters and arguing that Democrats would return to the fold as the contest between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain took shape.

“You can’t look at it that way,” said David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager. “There’s enough evidence now in public polls that in a general election against McCain, in the states that will determine the presidency, her supporters are coming our way. I think this is an issue that in 30 or 60 days we will not be talking about.”

Since 1972, when exit polls first began, no Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of white voters. The closest division was in 1992, a three-way contest when 39 percent of whites voted for Bill Clinton and 40 percent voted for the first President Bush. In 2004, President Bush defeated John Kerry among whites by 58 percent to 41 percent.

David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Mr. Obama, said he was not worried about the significant share of Clinton supporters who said they would be disappointed if Mr. Obama became the nominee. He predicted a “natural coalescence” among Democrats after the nominating battle concludes because of a concern over the war, the economy and the direction of the country.

Mr. Obama’s strengths in the race were underlined Tuesday night when his campaign reported that he had raised $31.3 million in April, compared with $22 million raised by Mrs. Clinton and $18.5 million raised by Mr. McCain. Mr. Obama, who continued to take in most of his money in small donations, also ended the month with more cash on hand than either of his rivals. Over all, he has taken in more than $158 million this year.

Mr. Obama’s advisers acknowledged that the campaign would need to deal with a perception of weakness, at least among critical party members. In particular, contributors and supporters of Mrs. Clinton worried that Mr. Obama was suffering because of attacks on his relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., as well as his patriotism.

Adam Nagourney reported from New York, and Jeff Zeleny from Des Moines. Megan Thee and Dalia Sussman contributed reporting.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Race to the Bottom

[Dear Friends,

This is the most sophisticated analysis of the Presidential campaign that I've read in a long time. Enjoy. -- Paul B]

By Betsy Reed
This article appeared in the May 19, 2008 edition of The Nation.
May 1, 2008

In the course of Hillary Clinton's historic run for the White House--in which she became the first woman ever to prevail in a state-level presidential primary contest--she has been likened to Lorena Bobbitt (by Tucker Carlson); a "hellish housewife" (Leon Wieseltier); and described as "witchy," a "she-devil," "anti-male" and "a stripteaser" (Chris Matthews). Her loud and hearty laugh has been labeled "the cackle," her voice compared to "fingernails on a blackboard" and her posture said to look "like everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court." As one Fox News commentator put it, "When Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, Take out the garbage." Rush Limbaugh, who has no qualms about subjecting audiences to the spectacle of his own bloated physique, asked his listeners, "Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?" Perhaps most damaging of all to her electoral prospects, very early on Clinton was deemed "unlikable." Although other factors also account for that dislike, much of the venom she elicits ("Iron my shirt," "How do we beat the bitch?") is clearly gender-specific.

Watching the brass ring of the presidency slip out of Clinton's grasp as she is buffeted by this torrent of misogyny, women--white women, that is, and mainstream feminists especially--have rallied to her defense. On January 8, after Barack Obama beat Clinton in the Iowa caucuses, Gloria Steinem published a New York Times op-ed titled "Women Are Never Front-Runners." "Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House," Steinem wrote. Next came Clinton's famous "misting-over moment" in New Hampshire in response to a question from a woman about the stress of modern campaigning. For that display of emotion, Clinton was derided, on the one hand, as calculating and chameleonlike--"It could be that big girls don't cry...but it could be that if they do they win," said Chris Matthews--and, on the other, as lacking "strength and resolve," as her Democratic rival John Edwards put it, in a jab at the perennial Achilles' heel of women candidates. Riding a wave of female sympathy, Clinton won New Hampshire in what was dubbed an "anti-Chris Matthews vote."

Thus, feminist opposition to the sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton has morphed into support for the candidate herself. In February Robin Morgan published a reprise of her famous 1970 essay "Goodbye to All That," exhorting women to embrace Clinton as a protest against "sociopathic woman-hating." In the Los Angeles Times, Leslie Bennetts, author of The Feminine Mistake, wrote of older female voters fed up with the media's dismissive treatment of Clinton: "There are signs the slumbering beast may be waking up--and she's not in a happy mood." A recent New York magazine article titled "The Feminist Reawakening: Hillary Clinton and the Fourth Wave" described how "it isn't just the 'hot flash cohort'...that broke for Clinton. Women in their thirties and forties--at once discomfited and galvanized by the sexist tenor of the media coverage, by the nastiness of the watercooler talk in the office, by the realization that the once-foregone conclusion of Clinton-as-president might never come to be--did too."

The sexist attacks on Clinton are outrageous and deplorable, but there's reason to be concerned about her becoming the vehicle for a feminist reawakening. For one thing, feminist sympathy for her has begotten an "oppression sweepstakes" in which a number of her prominent supporters, dismayed at her upstaging by Obama, have declared a contest between racial and gender bias and named sexism the greater scourge. This maneuver is not only unhelpful for coalition-building but obstructs understanding of how sexism and racism have played out in this election in different (and interrelated) ways.

Yet what is most troubling--and what has the most serious implications for the feminist movement--is that the Clinton campaign has used her rival's race against him. In the name of demonstrating her superior "electability," she and her surrogates have invoked the racist and sexist playbook of the right--in which swaggering macho cowboys are entrusted to defend the country--seeking to define Obama as too black, too foreign, too different to be President at a moment of high anxiety about national security. This subtly but distinctly racialized political strategy did not create the media feeding frenzy around the Rev. Jeremiah Wright that is now weighing Obama down, but it has positioned Clinton to take advantage of the opportunities the controversy has presented. And the Clinton campaign's use of this strategy has many nonwhite and nonmainstream feminists crying foul.

While 2008 was never going to be a "postracial" campaign, the early racially tinged skirmishes between the Clinton and Obama camps seemed containable. There were references by Clinton campaign officials to Obama's admission of past drug use; the tit-for-tat over Clinton's tone-deaf but historically accurate statement that Martin Luther King needed Lyndon Johnson for his civil rights dreams to be realized; and insinuations that Obama is a token, unqualified, overreaching--that he's all pretty words, "fairy tales" and no action.

From the point of view of Obama's supporters, the edge was taken off some of these conflicts by the mere fact of his stunning electoral success, built as it was on significant white support. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton and an Obama volunteer, recalls that for black Americans "Iowa was an astonishing moment--watching Barack win the caucus felt like Reconstruction. There was something powerful about feeling as though you were a full citizen." In democracy, Harris-Lacewell explains, "the ruled and rulers are supposed to be the same people. The idea that black folks could be engaged in the process of being rulers over not just black folks but over the nation as a whole struck me as very powerful."

Soon enough, however, that powerful idea came under attack.

"More than any single thing, that moment with Bill Clinton in South Carolina represents the rupture that was coming," says Harris-Lacewell. The moment occurred in late January, when the former President compared Obama's landslide win, in which he received a major boost from African-American voters, to Jesse Jackson's victories there in 1984 and 1988. Because the former President offered the comparison unprompted, in response to a question that had nothing to do with Jackson or race, the statement was widely read as chalking up Obama's win to his blackness alone and thus attempting to marginalize him as a doomed minority candidate with limited appeal. Obama was now "the black candidate," in the words of one Clinton strategist quoted by the AP.

By March, multiple videos of Wright, Obama's former pastor, had popped up on YouTube and had begun to play on an endless loop in the right-wing media. "God damn America for treating your citizens as less than human," Wright inveighed, reciting a litany of racial complaints. And he said in his sermon immediately following 9/11, "America's chickens are coming home to roost."
According to Smith College professor Paula Giddings, author of a new biography of Ida B. Wells, Ida: A Sword Among Lions and the Campaign Against Lynching, Wright's angry invocation of race and nation tapped into a reservoir of doubt about the very Americanness of African-Americans. "American citizenship has always been racialized as white. Who is a true American? Are African-Americans true Americans? That has been the question," she says.

In Obama's case--given his mixed-race lineage, his Kenyan father, his experiences growing up in Indonesia, his middle name (Hussein)--questions about his devotion to America carry a special potency, as xenophobia mingles with racism to create a poisonous brew. The toxicity is further heightened in this post-9/11 atmosphere, in which an image of Obama in Somali dress is understood as a slur and e-mails claiming that he is a "secret Muslim" schooled in a madrassa spread virally, along with rumors that he took the oath of office on a Koran. The madrassa and Koran canards have been thoroughly debunked, but still they persist--and few have been willing to stand up and say, So what if he was a Muslim? For her part, Clinton, asked on 60 Minutes whether Obama was a Muslim, said, "There is nothing to base that on, as far as I know."
Giddings calls the Wright association a "litmus test" that Obama must pass, saying, "It will be interesting to see if a man of color, a man who's cosmopolitan, can be the quintessential symbol of America" as its President.

Obama initially responded to that challenge with his speech in Philadelphia on March 18. While condemning Wright's words, he placed them in a historical context of racial oppression and said, "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community." (More recently, of course, Obama did renounce him.) But in the Philadelphia speech, called "A More Perfect Union," Obama also outlined a racially universal definition of American citizenship and affirmed his commitment to represent all Americans as President. "I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together--unless we perfect our union by understanding that we have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction."

A mere three days after Obama spoke those words, Bill Clinton made this statement in North Carolina about a potential Clinton-McCain general election matchup: "I think it'd be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country. And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics." Whether or not this statement constituted McCarthyism, as one Obama surrogate alleged and as Clinton supporters vigorously denied, the timing of the remark made its meaning quite clear: controversies relating to Obama's race render him less fit than either Hillary or McCain to run for president as a patriotic American. A couple of weeks later, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen went so far as to call on Obama to make another speech, modeled after John F. Kennedy's declaration in 1960 that, despite his Catholicism, he would respect the separation of church and state as President--as though Obama's blackness were a sign of allegiance to some entity, like the Vatican, other than the United States of America.

In the Democratic debates, enabled by the moderators, Hillary Clinton has increasingly deployed issues of race and patriotism as a wedge strategy against her opponent. First, in the debate in Cleveland on February 26, she pressed Obama not only to denounce but to reject Louis Farrakhan--to whom he was spuriously linked through Reverend Wright, who had taken a trip with the black nationalist leader in the 1980s. In style as well as content, that attack was a harbinger of things to come. In the most recent debate, ABC's George Stephanopolous and Charles Gibson peppered Obama with questions such as, "Do you believe [Wright] is as patriotic as you are?" and, regarding former Weatherman Bill Ayers, a Chicago neighbor and Obama supporter, "Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?" Time after time, Clinton picked up the line and ran with it. "You know, these are problems, and they raise questions in people's minds. And so this is a legitimate area...for people to be exploring and trying to find answers," she said, seeming to abandon her argument that these issues are fair game now only because they will be raised by Republicans later and thus are relevant to an evaluation of Obama's electability.

The Wright, Farrakhan and Ayers controversies have been fueled by a craven media, and ABC's performance in the debate has rightly been condemned. But given that Clinton is the one who is running for President and who purports to represent liberal ideals, her complicity in such attempts to establish guilt by association is far more troubling. While she has dealt gingerly with the matter of Wright in the wake of his recent appearance at the National Press Club--accusing Republicans of politicizing the issue--she also took pains to remind reporters that she "would not have stayed in that church under those circumstances."

It's disappointing, to say the least, to see the first viable female contender for the presidency participate in attacks on her black opponent's patriotism, which exploit an anxious climate around national security that gives white men an edge both over women and people of color--who tend to be viewed, respectively, as weak and potentially traitorous. Says Paula Giddings, "This idea of nationalism and patriotism pulling at everyone has demanded hypermasculine men, more like McCain than the feline Obama, and demanded women whose role is to be maternal more than anything else."

For Hillary Clinton, the gendered terrain of post-9/11 national security politics has been treacherous indeed. As Elizabeth Drew observed in The New York Review of Books, Clinton took steps in the Senate, like joining the Armed Services Committee, "to protect herself from the sexist notion that a woman might be soft on national security." As a 2002 study by the White House Project, a women's leadership group, found, "Women candidates start out with a serious disadvantage--voters tend to view women as less effective and tough. Recent events of war, terrorism, and recession have only...increased the salience of these dimensions." Clinton has been quite successful in allaying these concerns, although she faces a Catch-22: her reputed toughness and ruthlessness have helped ratchet up her high negatives. The White House Project study found that a woman candidate faces a unique tension between the need to show herself "in a light that is personally appealing, while also showing that she has the kind of strength needed for the job she is seeking."

Of course, Clinton's decision to play the hawk may have had other motivations. Perhaps she really believed that voting to authorize the war in Iraq was the right thing to do (which is, arguably, even more worrying). But her posture in this campaign--threatening to "totally obliterate" Iran after being asked how she would respond in the highly improbable event of an Iranian nuclear strike against Israel, for example--has at least something to do with a desire to compete on a macho foreign policy playing field. It's the woman in this Democratic primary race who has the cowboy swagger: the nationalist and militaristic rhetoric, the whiskey-swilling photo-ops, the gotcha attacks for perceived insults to a working-class electorate (as in "Bittergate") that is usually depicted as white and male.

Clinton has, to be sure, faced a raw misogyny that has been more out in the open than the racial attacks on Obama have been. But while sexism may be more casually accepted, racism, which is often coded, is more insidious and trickier to confront. Clinton's response to "Iron my shirt" was immediate and straightforward: "Oh, the remnants of sexism, alive and well." Says Kimberlé Crenshaw, law professor at Columbia and UCLA and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, "While sexism can be denounced more directly, that doesn't mean it's worse. Things that are racist have yet to be labeled and understood as such."

While on occasion Obama's campaign has complained of racial slights, Obama himself has avoided raising the charge directly. Even so, Clinton supporters make the twisted claim that it is Obama who has racialized the campaign. "While promoting Obama as a 'post-racial' figure, his campaign has purposefully polluted the contest with a new strain of what historically has been the most toxic poison in American politics," wrote Sean Wilentz in The New Republic in an article titled "Race Man." Bill Clinton recently groused that the Obama camp, in the controversy over his Jackson remark, "played the race card on me."

As for the way the Clinton campaign has dealt with race, Crenshaw says, "It started with a small drumbeat, but as the campaign has proceeded, as Hillary has taken part in things, more people are really seeing this as a 'line in the sand' kind of moment."

Among the black feminists interviewed for this article, reactions to the declarations of sexism's greater toll by Clinton supporters--and their demand that all women back their candidate out of gender solidarity, regardless of the broader politics of the campaign--ran the gamut from astonishment to dismay to fury. Patricia Hill Collins, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and author of Black Feminist Thought, recalls how, before they were reduced to their race or gender, the candidates were not seen solely through the prism of identity, and many Democrats were thrilled with the choices before them. But of the present, she says, "It is such a distressing, ugly period. Clinton has manipulated ideas about race, but Obama has not manipulated similar ideas about gender." This has exacerbated longstanding racial tensions within the women's movement, Collins notes, and is likely to alienate young black women who might otherwise have been receptive to feminism. "We had made progress in getting younger black women to see that gender does matter in their lives. Now they are going to ask, What kind of white woman is Hillary Clinton?"

The sense of progress unraveling is profound. "What happened to the perspective that the failures of feminism lay in pandering to racism, to everyone nodding that these were fatal mistakes--how is it that all that could be jettisoned?" asks Crenshaw, who co-wrote a piece with Eve Ensler on the Huffington Post called "Feminist Ultimatums: Not in Our Name." Crenshaw says that, appalled as she is by the sexism toward Clinton, she found herself stunned by some of the arguments pro-Hillary feminists were making. "There is a myopic focus on the aspiration of having a woman in the White House--perhaps not any woman, but it seems to be pretty much enough that she be a Democratic woman." This stance, says Crenshaw, "is really a betrayal."
Frances Kissling, the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, attributes this go-for-broke attitude to the mindset of corporate feminism. "There's a way in which feminists who have been seriously engaged in electoral politics for a long time, the institutional DC feminist leadership, they are just with Hillary Clinton come hell or high water. I think they have accepted, as she has accepted, a similar career trajectory. They are not uncomfortable with what has gone on in the campaign, because they see electoral campaigns as mere instruments for getting elected. This is just the way it is. We have to get elected."

The implications of all this for the future of feminism depend significantly on the outcome of the primary, says Kissling. "If Clinton wins, the older-line women's movement will continue; it will be a continuation of power for them. If she doesn't win, it will be a death knell for those people. And that may be a good thing--that a younger generation will start to take over."

Many younger women, indeed, have responded to the admonishments of their pro-Hillary second-wave elders by articulating a sophisticated political orientation that includes feminism but is not confined to it. They may support Obama, but they still abhor the sexism Clinton has faced. And they detect--and reject--a tinge of sexism among male peers who have developed man-crushes on the dashing senator from Illinois. "Even while they voice dismay over the retro tone of the pro-Clinton feminist whine, a growing number of young women are struggling to describe a gut conviction that there is something dark and funky, and probably not so female-friendly, running below the frantic fanaticism of their Obama-loving compatriots," wrote Rebecca Traister in Salon.

It's not just young feminists who have taken such a nuanced view. Calling themselves Feminists for Peace and Obama, 1,500 prominent progressive feminists--including Kissling, Barbara Ehrenreich and this magazine's Katha Pollitt--signed on to a statement endorsing him and disavowing Clinton's militaristic politics. "Issues of war and peace are also part of a feminist agenda," they declared.

In some sense, this is a clarifying moment as well as a wrenching one. For so many years, feminists have been engaged in a pushback against the right that has obscured some of the real and important differences among them. "Today you see things you might not have seen. It's clearer now about where the lines are between corporate feminism and more grassroots, global feminism," says Crenshaw. Women who identify with the latter movement are saying, as she puts it, "'Wait a minute, that's not the banner we are marching under!'"

Feminist Obama supporters of all ages and hues, meanwhile, are hoping that he comes out of this bruising primary with his style of politics intact. While he calls it "a new kind of politics," Clinton and Obama are actually very similar in their records and agendas (which is perhaps why this contest has fixated so obsessively on their gender and race). But in his rhetoric and his stance toward the world outside our borders, Obama does appear to offer a way out of the testosterone-addled GOP framework. As he said after losing Pennsylvania, "We can be a party that thinks the only way to look tough on national security is to talk, and act, and vote like George Bush and John McCain. We can use fear as a tactic and the threat of terrorism to scare up votes. Or we can decide that real strength is asking the tough questions before we send our troops to fight."

As comedian Chris Rock quipped, Bush "fucked up so bad that he's made it hard for a white man to run for President." Rock spoke too soon: many are hungry for a shift, but the country needs the right push to get there. Unfortunately, from Hillary Clinton, it's getting a shove in the wrong direction.

About Betsy Reed
Betsy Reed is the executive editor of The Nation. She is the editor of Unnatural Disaster: The Nation on Hurricane Katrina, a collection of the magazine's coverage of the storm and its aftermath published by Nation Books on the hurricane's one-year anniversary.
She also edited the anthology
Nothing Sacred: Women Respond to Religious Fundamentalism and Terror, published by Nation Books in 2003.

How Does Hillary Clinton Feel About the White Racist Vote?

The Nation
posted by Richard Kim on 05/05/2008 @ 7:07pm
May 5, 2008

If you haven't already, check out my colleague Betsy Reed's compelling account of how Hillary Clinton's campaign has deployed the racist playbook of the right against Barack Obama. As Betsy argues, Clinton has positioned herself to take advantage of the feeding frenzy around Rev. Wright, and her surrogates have portrayed "the black candidate" as less American, less patriotic and most importantly in what is now a race for superdelegates, less electable.

It's that last word--electable--that really rankles me because it imputes "electability" to the candidates themselves. It's as if "electability" were a personal quality--like integrity, compassion or in more biologized accounts, say, blonde hair--that candidates possess in varying degrees. All of this is absurd since "electability" is wholly determined by the voters, usually. (In 2000, George W. Bush didn't possess "electability" so much as he was gifted it by the Supreme Court.)

Now, in order to convince superdelegates to buck the will of the majority of Democratic primary voters, Hillary Clinton is arguing that she's the more "electable" candidate, and some of her surrogates are suggesting that Obama is not "electable" against John McCain. But just what is it about Hillary that makes her more "electable" than Barack? From reading the Clinton campaign's material, you'd never know it has anything to do with her race. Instead, they talk in euphemisms and codes. In a memo titled "HRC Strongest Against McCain," Clinton strategist Harold Ickes points to her superior polling in "swing states" and among "swing voting blocs" like "Catholics," as well as Obama's rising "unfavorables." Departed advisor Mark Penn has said that the working class is "a critical vote" that superdelegates should consider because "these are voters who in the past have gone either way in the general election."

Give me a break. We're not talking about swing voters, Catholics or the working class en masse. We're talking about the white, working class. As Mark Penn surely knows, it's not black working-class voters who "swing" the other way.

If you've cracked a newspaper once in the past few months, you already know this. Every pollster and pundit has overheated their logic boards trying to predict how the white working class--that ever elusive, ever mythic bloc--will vote. But the Clinton camp continues to play coy. They talk about bowling scores, shooting ranges and whiskey shots--as if these new-found hobbies account for Clinton's "electability." Even as they leak statistics like--HRC has beaten Obama among white, non-college-educated voters in 26 out of 29 states--they carefully avoid putting the words--"white voters" or heaven forbid "uneducated white voters"!--anywhere near her talking points.

So, in the name of another personal quality--honesty--I'd like Hillary Clinton to make the following statement: "Though my opponent has run a terrific campaign, in primary after primary, I have proven that I am the more electable candidate. I am more electable because I am white. Barack Obama--Wow!--he's certainly inspired a lot of hope, but as voters in Indiana and North Carolina make up their minds, as the superdelegates make up their minds, they should remember that Barack Obama is black. They should also remember that a whole lot of white working-class Americans are racists. White racists are an important part of the Democratic Party, and time and time again, they've supported me because I am white. I am ready on day one to govern as your white American president."

If this sounds--excuse the pun--beyond the pale, it's because it is. Or at least, it should be. But the alleged racism of white working-class voters has become, through her campaign's own actions, the last remaining rationale for Clinton's candidacy.

Are white working-class voters really racist? How many and where? If a significant number of them are, should Democrats really court them on the terms of their racism? These are questions worth asking since, apparently, a lot of Democrats think they're valid. But as long as the Clinton campaign continues to code the fact that it is counting on a base of white racist support, we'll never have this conversation. And as long as the mainstream media indulges the euphemism of "electability"--one that makes white racism seem like a personal deficiency of Barack Obama's--we'll be stuck mucking around in diffuse fears and anxieties that nobody, least of all Hillary Clinton, wants to name.

So here's my final suggestion: as long as Barack Obama is called upon to explain, denounce and reject black racism, let's have it both ways. Let's have George Stephanopoulos ask Hillary Clinton how she feels about the white racist vote?