End of the Beginning

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been fighting tooth and nail for the Democratic nomination, as Democrats are wont to do, and they have left some hard feelings along the way. A substantial percentage of Clinton supporters have told pollsters they would not vote for Obama in the general election—and vice-versa for Obama supporters who balk at switching to Clinton. This is ironic, to say the least, since Obama and Clinton have similar positions on many issues, including health care, taxes, trade, energy, the environment and extracting US troops from the disastrous misadventure in Iraq. Both have progressive voting records in the Senate. Clinton has aimed some low blows at Obama, but at least she has given Obama the opportunity to show he can take a punch.

Eventually one side must be magnanimous in victory as the other will have to be gracious in defeat. As Obama maintains his lead in the delegate count, Clinton should moderate her tone. She can finish the primary schedule and let South Dakota and Montana have their say on June 3 but after that it’s time to close ranks for the general election.

Clinton supporters who complain about our cheerleading for the Illinois senator should remember that he is our third choice, after more populist Democrats Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards fell by the wayside. But Obama has shown progressive and occasionally populist instincts and, despite doubts the Clinton campaign has raised about the electability of a black candidate, we think Obama is the better choice at this point and this is as good a year as any to try to elect a black man as president.

We’re under no illusions that Obama would win the general election in a walk, but he stands at least as good a chance as Clinton does. We think his charismatic appeal to young and independent voters has the potential to blow the race open in a way that Clinton could not.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released May 12 showed Obama beating John McCain 51% to 44% while Clinton beats McCain 49% to 44%. Obama is stronger in some different states than Clinton is, but both Democrats are capable of winning the election as things stand now, and voters still don’t have a good definition of what John McCain stands for (a third Bush administration). As organized labor and other progressive groups deploy their voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts, they will try to bring working-class white voters home to the Democrats as the election approaches.

Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com noted that while 12% of respondents to the ABC poll said they’d be uncomfortable with a black president and 16% said they’d be uncomfortable with a female president, 39% of Americans are uncomfortable with a president taking office at age 72—and seniors have more reservations about someone McCain’s age entering the White House than younger voters do.

It would be a mistake to add Clinton to the ticket as Obama’s running mate, even though a recent Gallup Poll found that 55% of Dems and three out of four Clinton supporters would like to see her on Obama’s ticket. After the questions Hillary has raised about Obama’s qualifications, we don’t need to see them replayed by the Republicans in the context of her being his running mate. A better choice would be someone like Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Clinton supporter in a key swing state.

We are confident that, despite the tough talk by Clinton supporters, Democrats will close ranks around Obama. A CNN poll (May 1) found 71% of Americans disapprove of the job Bush is doing, the first time that any president’s disapproval rating has cracked the 70% mark. Support for the Iraq war is down to 30%. McCain still thinks Bush is doing a good job on the economy and he’s said we could be occupying Iraq for 100 years or more.

Republicans will try to depict Obama as another Angry Black Man. His former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, didn’t do Obama any favors by playing to that stereotype in recent appearances, but Obama has made it clear that he rejects the traditional view of black victimhood and white guilt as he has called for a new dialogue on race and class.

A recent Rasmussen poll found that Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans on eight of 10 key issues, from Iraq to the economy to health care to education to abortion. Republicans lead on only two issues, national security and taxes. But McCain outperforms both the GOP and Obama on key issues such as the economy and national security.

Obama must hang the collapse of Reagan/Bush neocon ideology around the neck of Old Man McCain.

Significantly, Democrats have the largest partisan advantage over Republicans since Rasmussen began tracking this data six years ago. During April, 41.4% of Americans considered themselves Dems, while 31.4% said they were Republicans and 27.2% were unaffiliated. That’s a good start.

McCain’s Ethanol Problem

The Farm Bill has emerged from conference committee after tough negotiations and got a mixed reception. It provides funding for beginning farmers, money for a rural microenterprise program and money for conservation. It failed to make livestock markets fairer and competitive. It also did not set up a biomass feedstock reserve policy to help control price spikes and market volatility, Randy Joseph of Baker City, Ore., chair of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, noted. But he concluded, “On balance, we believe America’s family farmers and ranchers, and the consumers of food and renewable fuel, are better off if this bill is enacted into law.”

National Farmers Union President Tom Buis called it “a good, fully paid-for bill that will benefit all Americans.” He likes a permanent disaster assistance program, as well as investments in nutrition, conservation, specialty crops, renewable energy and rural development programs. The bill also includes mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL), interstate shipment of state inspected meat and improvements to the dairy safety net.

The bill also reduces the federal tax credit for ethanol producers from 51 cents per gallon to 45 cents, but some, including John McCain, would like to wipe out the subsidies entirely. Ethanol is viewed as a threat by the petroleum industry because it is used not only as an alternate fuel source but also to replace petroleum-based MTBE as an additive to burn gasoline cleaner. Demand for ethanol has made corn farmers prosper, but it’s hard to see the link between ethanol and high rice prices in Egypt, Haiti and Vietnam. It’s easier to spot the link to $120-a-barrel oil, bad weather that cut overseas grain harvests and surging demand for better food in places like China and India.

McCain opposes ethanol and other subsidies in the farm bill, although he expressed support for ethanol as a renewable fuel in 2006 as he ramped up his campaign in Iowa. But he got back on the ethanol skeptics’ bandwagon on May 5, joining other Republicans in urging environmental regulators to ease ethanol blending requirements that were part of the 2007 energy bill. Obama, coming from a corn-producing state, supports the ethanol subsidy and increased use of renewable fuels (as does Clinton). If McCain wants to make war on ethanol, it could undercut his rural support in key corn-growing states such as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin—perhaps even Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. The agricultural economy had languished since the mid-1980s until ethanol made corn crops profitable. Even the conservative Farm Bureau might have second thoughts about supporting a Republican who wants to pull the plug on ethanol. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2008

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