Get This Party Started

After a year and a half of hard campaigning, and $212 million down the drain, it’s hard to pivot and embrace the rival who dashed your ambitions. But Hillary Clinton made that pivot on June 7 with her gracious concession and endorsement of Barack Obama. She cleared the way for his inevitable nomination. If some diehard Hillary supporters were still booing Obama during her concession speech, those hard feelings should loosen up in time for the general election in November.

Hillary’s campaign drew 18 million voters, many of them women inspired by her historic attempt to become the first female candidate to crack the ceiling of a major party. For months she appeared to be the odds-on favorite to roll to the nomination until Obama shocked the pundits Jan. 3 with his victory in the Iowa caucuses.

Hillary fought back but Obama kept coming and he won the nomination fair and square—Clinton partisans’ complaints notwithstanding. He has reached out to Clinton and her supporters since he claimed the magic number of delegates June 3.

Democrats cannot afford to nurse grudges over the defeat of Hillary Clinton—or any of the other Democratic candidates who were overcome by Obama’s juggernaut in the past six months. The most important consideration is that Obama’s positions track Hillary’s pretty closely on most issues. Both want to get us out of Iraq and both support the concept of universal health coverage. Neither one goes far enough on calling for a single-payer national health program, but our bet is that, unlike the Current Occupant or John McCain, Obama would not veto Rep. John Conyers’ bill expanding Medicare to cover everyone, if the Michigan Dem’s bill got it through the House and Senate.

A CBS poll released June 4 showed Obama held a six-point lead over McCain but that included 22% of Clinton supporters who said they were switching to McCain. Some of them may have been Republicans who voted for Clinton as part of Rush Limbaugh’s plan to sow chaos in the Democratic primary. The rest should consider the similarity of Obama’s positions to Clinton’s on many issues, and the wide gap between Clinton and McCain, who voted with President Bush 100% of the time in 2008 and 95% in 2007. McCain also has a decidedly un-feminist record—he has scored 0% in voting on women’s health issues tracked by NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC since 1999. He voted against birth control, sex education, family planning, emergency contraception and health care for low-income families as well as abortion, while Obama, like Clinton, scores 100% on those issues. So those genuine Clinton supporters who say they would vote for McCain instead of Obama need to examine their reasoning.

During the campaign, Clinton claimed that she and McCain had more “experience” than Obama. But judgment is more valuable than experience and Obama showed better judgment—starting with his opposition in 2002 to the invasion of Iraq when Clinton was lining up to authorize Bush to go to war on a flimsy pretext. Clinton didn’t help herself when she refused to admit in February 2007 that she had made a mistake, even if she did say she wouldn’t vote again to give Bush the authority, given what she knows now. (But she did vote in September 2007 to declare Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, an elite corps of the Iranian military, a terrorist organization. Bush might use that vote as an excuse to bomb Iran before he leaves office.) McCain also defended his 2002 vote and thinks it’s OK if we stay in Iraq 100 years.

Obama also has shown better managerial skills. The former Southside Chicago community organizer put together a team that relied more on grassroots organizing than on high-priced Washington consultants.

Clinton spent $10 million on Mark Penn, who drafted the plan to blow out the other Democrats by Feb. 5 and apparently failed to plan beyond that. California was supposed to be Clinton’s ace in the hole on Super Tuesday, but Penn reportedly did not realize that the state’s 370 delegates were awarded proportionally, not winner-take-all. Clinton ended up winning 203 delegates in California while Obama took 167, but Obama won the next 10 states.

Obama’s victory also vindicated Democratic Chairman Howard Dean’s strategy of rebuilding the Democratic Party in all 50 states—a strategy that was ridiculed by Clintonites in 2005. The Obama campaign put resources in every state, helped by a phenomenal Internet-driven volunteer base. Much of that organization remains in place to help Obama challenge McCain in the fall, even in GOP-leaning “red states.”

Some states might ultimately be too red to turn blue, but keeping McCain and the Republicans on the defensive in those red states might keep the GOP from using resources in swing states. If Obama holds onto every state won by John Kerry in 2004, which would give him 252 electoral votes, he needs 18 more electoral votes from a target list that includes Colorado (with 9), Florida (27), Iowa (7), Missouri (11), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), North Carolina (15), Ohio (20) and Virginia (13).

Obama is beefing up his staff, sending organizers into swing states and preparing an advertising campaign to introduce himself to the millions of Americans who managed to ignore the primary campaigns until now.

His first campaign trip after securing the nomination was to Virginia, which hasn’t voted Democratic in a presidential race since 1964 but has been trending Democratic in recent years. Obama went to North Carolina June 9 to start a two-week tour of speeches and town-hall forums to highlight his differences with McCain and Bush on economic policies, including health care, jobs, energy prices, education and taxes.

Obama is hardly a Trotskyite with his plan to end the war in Iraq and divert the $12 billion we spend every month in Iraq to rebuild roads, schools, bridges and other infrastructure in the United States. He also proposes to reform free-trade agreements to protect workers’ interests and he would make the tax code simpler and more progressive by shutting down corporate loopholes and tax havens. He would use the money to pay for a middle-class tax cut for working families. He would levy a windfall profits tax on oil companies and use that revenue to help families pay for higher energy costs. He would eliminate income taxes for any senior making less than $50,000 a year and he’d oppose Republican plans to raise the Social Security retirement age.

Obama is no Franklin D. Roosevelt. He isn’t even John Edwards when it comes to offering populist proposals to help working people. But Roosevelt wasn’t the FDR we remember, either, back when he was running for election in 1932. When he accepted the Democratic nomination, Roosevelt pledged a “new deal for the American people,” 25% of whom were unemployed. During the campaign he argued that big business should be accountable to society (“an economic constitutional order,” as he put it). He spoke in favor of conservation, relief, social insurance and cheaper electricity, but he didn’t go into specifics such as plans for Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority or the Works Progress Administration. Roosevelt even attacked Herbert Hoover for the incumbent’s alleged determination to expand the federal government and become “the greatest spending administration in peace times in all our history.”

The Washington pundits of the day had little use for Rooseveltin 1932. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called him a man of “second-class intellect but a first-class temperament,” but FDR emerged as the greatest president of the 20th century, who first saved capitalism and then saved democracy.

From all available evidence, Obama is a first-class intellect with a first-class temperament to match. He is superior to McCain in both respects. But George W. Bush has set the bar so low that if Obama just gets us out of Iraq and doesn’t start another war, that would be enough reason to vote for him. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2008

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