Apr 28, 2008

April 27, 2008: Mischief of the Gods, Squaring the Circle, Postript from Manila

“He’s never going to shake her off”, wrote Maureen Dowd in last Wednesday’s New York Times, “not all by himself…She’s been running ads about it, suggesting he doesn’t have ‘what it takes’ to run the country. Her message is unapologetically emasculating: If he does not have the gumption to put me in my place…how can he be trusted to totally obliterate Iran or stop Osama?”(1). Chris Matthews on his nightly “Hardball” program has likened this contest to a boxing match between two featherweights with neither contender possessing a knock-out punch. The implication, by extension, is that perhaps neither Democratic rival is truly presidential timber.

While Democrats “watch in horror as Hillary continues to scratch up the once silvery sheen on Obama” (1) and while John McCain consolidates his base it is perhaps too easy to dismiss this contest as one between political lightweights. What we may be witnessing instead is a struggle between two of the largest and most loyal constituent blocs within the Democratic coalition, each with clear and compelling claims to the party’s loyalty, and each strong enough to check-mate the other, in a titanic struggle to determine which social and political barrier will be broken first.

For some perverse reason, perhaps the simple caprice or the mendacity of mischievous deities, the Democratic Party has chosen this moment in history to square the circle of social injustice. In any case the traditional mold of the standard-bearer has been shattered opening the door to those who have loyally supported through thick and thin every Democratic nominee be he FDR or Walter Mondale. The party, and its faithful, cannot turn its back on the aspirations of such groups without appearing to be devouring its own—or, in Obama’s case, devouring its young. And so the party stands transfixed as this drama is played out on the national and international stage from one dreary primary to another, each contestant exhausted, each laying against the ropes, in the hope that the contest will play itself out and one or the other will win on points.

To win on points….that is the crux of the matter. The Matthew’s and the Dowd’s would love to see a knock-out. We have long been accustomed to such contests ending this way, but this year it was not to be.

In one corner is the heir to the champion; in many ways Hillary was Bill’s sparring partner, like Jimmy Ellis and Larry Holmes both sparring partners of Muhammad Ali and both later champions in their own right. In the other corner is the “Louisville Lip” himself reincarnated into the inscrutable Barack Obama, a political force capable of inspiring the crowd by transforming what is a very brutal “contact” sport into an act of poetic grace. Their fighting styles are markedly different, Hillary a tough scrappy fighter who needs to get in close and deliver body blows, Barach, like Ali, dances and moves, floating like a butterfly delivering his punches from long range. Each has demonstrated enormous strength in the primary campaign. Each has raised well over 150 million dollars and won over 15 million votes. Each representing major power blocs within the party is capable of knocking the other out. The question is why hasn’t it happened? As Ms. Dowd put it, “why can’t he close the deal?” (1).

Perhaps the first question is “why didn’t she close the deal?” It has become standard fodder on the talk circuit in recent weeks for the chattering class to ask rhetorically “he could have finished her in New Hampshire but couldn’t close the deal, he could have finished her on super Tuesday but couldn’t put her away, he could have finished her in Ohio but didn’t, and now Pennsylvania. Why can’t he seal the deal?” The problem with this critique is that it assumes that he has been the front-runner all this time. In fact he was not. She was still the odd-on-favorite through New Hampshire and everyone—including the Clinton camp—had assumed that Barack would meet his Waterloo on Super Tuesday. The more compelling question was—and still is—why didn’t she put him away? Why couldn’t Hillary seal the deal?

To answer that question one must go back once again to the Michigan results. Uncontested Hillary got only 55% of the vote. Obama, by becoming the voice of the other half of the party, quickly reached parity and so began a long struggle between two almost evenly matched forces within the party over who will be its champion.

Perhaps the best boxing metaphor is the Ali-Frazier trilogy. Here were two of the greatest heavyweight champions in the history of the sport, each possessing extraordinary power and boxing skill who were, nevertheless, locked in long and brutal contests to decide who would be champion. “The closest I’ve ever come to death”, said Ali after the “Thrilla in Manila”. So it was. Finally, at the end of this rubber-match to decide for all-time who was best, it came down to Joe Frazier finally not answering the bell and Ali collapsing on the ring floor. This is what we are witnessing, in my view, two very formidable political figures, each representing powerful constituencies, each equally matched and neither quite ready yet to throw in the towel. But the classic fight in Manila may be instructive in yet another way: both fighters left too much of themselves in the ring and were never thereafter the same. That is what worries the Democratic faithful at a time when neither the party nor the country can afford to lose.



April 23, 2008: Take the Low Road Home, Voting Its Tribe, Clawing Her Way Back Into Contention

“Oh! Ye’ll take the high road
I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in the White House afore ye”

--Variation of “Bonnie Banks O’loch Lomond” (You Take the High Road) (1)

The New York Times, in an editorial today entitled The Low Road to Victory, had this to say about Hillary’s performance in Pennsylvania. “The Pennsylvania campaign, which produced yet another inconclusive result on Tuesday, was even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it.” Pointing out that she did not win by margins necessary to materially alter the “calculus of the Democratic Race”, the editors of the Times concluded that “it is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election” (2) This is from a publication that endorsed her over rival Obama during the New York primary.

It was, by all accounts, an ugly victory. Obama, outspending her 2-to-1, and out organizing her was fast closing the gap when she seized upon his unfortunate remarks in San Francisco and raised a hue and cry in defense of the much maligned blue collar Democrat. Dodging questions about her role defending unions while on the board of Wal-Mart, she was instead filmed somewhere outside Indianapolis playing the barfly. But it got uglier. According to the Times “on the eve of this crucial primary, Mrs. Clinton became the first Democratic candidate to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11. A Clinton television ad—torn right from Karl Rove’s playbook—evoked the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, the Cuban missile crisis, the cold war and the 9/11 attacks, complete with video of Osama bin Laden. ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” the narrator intoned” (2) The Times then proceeded to criticize both candidates for failing to elevate the tone and substance of the debate calling Obama to task for his Annie Oakley references and imploring each to give American voters a nuanced discussion about how each would deal with terrorism, the economy, the wars and civil liberties.

It is unlikely this is going to happen any time soon. The Times opined that the “voters are getting tired of it; it is demeaning the political process; and it does not work.”(2) The editors got it right on the first two points but were clearly wrong in concluding that it does not work. One can complain about the politics of Karl Rove, one can deplore the impact such corrosive tactics have on the electorate, but to conclude that such tactics do not work is to materially misunderstand the politics of the Generation of Swine. Turning off the electorate, you see, is precisely the point. By reducing the campaign to a miserable mud-slinging, hog-calling, trash-talking contest it is guaranteed to render the process intolerably repulsive. This means that the election will then be decided by only the most deranged political junkie or single issue fanatic who is either an incorrigible masochist or hopelessly venal. The name of the game is to drive down voter participation to such levels that the process is reduced to a simple contest between your base of support and mine. Elections are then not decided by issues and qualifications but by GOTV or get-out-the-vote efforts in which each party will try to gin up its political base and get more of that base to the polls. It is a miserable calculus, one in which old battles are continually re-fought, is devoid of meaning and incapable of inspiration. It is, by such calculations, that John Kerry felt compelled in 2004 to re-fight the Vietnam war.

It also means, under such conditions, that the country is more likely to vote its tribe. So after presenting us, as the New York Times so eloquently put it, “a meaner, more vacuous, more desperate” campaign, America voted once again its tribe. Pennsylvania is the second oldest state in the Union. This favored the champion of the “Boomers” Hillary Clinton. Accordingly she captured “six in 10 senior voters” and a majority of all voters over 40. In addition the election broke once again along racial lines with Clinton winning 65 percent of white women and 55 percent of white men, less than in Ohio, but a marked reversal from Wisconsin. Obama, likewise carried over 90 percent of black support. (3)

By using such tactics Hillary Clinton has managed to scratch and claw her way back into contention slicing and dicing Obama until she has, at last, assassinated hope itself.



April 19,2008: Annie Get Your Gun, Scorched Earth, Shades of Mike Dukakis

At a fundraiser on April 6th in San Francisco, Barack Obama reportedly told a crowd of supporters “that economic problems led voters in small towns to become ‘bitter’ and to ‘cling to guns or religion’” (1). In an attempt to explain his difficulty in successfully wooing white middle and lower class voters the junior Senator from Illinois inadvertently created a firestorm of protest. The story broke later in the week and by the weekend had replaced the Reverend Wright flap on the cable news spin-cycles. “’I am the first to admit that some of the words I chose, I chose badly” Obama told steel workers in Pennsylvania. “They were subject to misinterpretation. They were subject to be twisted. And I regret that. I regret that deeply.”’ (1). He had been closing the 20 point gap that had separated him from Hillary and now he had stumbled badly. This faux pas was not helped when he was shown bowling a 37 at a photo-op in some small Pennsylvania hamlet. Charges were immediately made by both the Clinton and the McCain campaigns that the Senator’s words betrayed a thinly veiled ‘elitism’, and that he was wholly out of touch with working men and women. The flap made for some sharp remarks between the warring camps with charges of “shame on you” being bandied back and forth. Obama retaliated by mocking Hillary’s account of a duck-hunting expedition she undertook in the swamps of Arkansas many years ago, saying that “she’s talking like she’s Annie Oakley”. (1). Of course Barack did not mean that people cling to religion or their guns solely because of economic circumstance. What he meant was they find comfort in their religion, as we all do, in hard times. But a growing campaign fatigue has exacerbated his inexperience on the national stage in an era that has become increasingly unforgiving. How much long term damage this will do is hard to predict.

The hiatus between the Texas and Ohio primaries and the upcoming contest in Pennsylvania has proved to have given the campaigns time to ratchet up political attacks seeking whatever marginal advantages one can in this sand-box struggle to the death. Instead of Clinton and Obama taking time to spell out in further detail how each would address our monumental problems, this six-week spell between elections—an eternity in politics—has been used instead to simply demean the whole process. This is almost entirely the Clinton’s fault, Bill and Hillary—Billary if you will—had long since decided on reducing this contest to the lowest intellectual, cultural, and political common denominator. Here, for the first time, one witnesses the toll it has taken on Obama.

The ‘elitist’ charge is on its face bogus. Here are the Clinton’s, graduates of Georgetown, Wellesley and Yale, Corporate attorneys, members of long standing in the political elite. Here is the good Marshall, son and grandson of navy admirals, graduate of the naval academy, husband of a woman whose estimated wealth is over 100 million dollars, and long a fixture in high Republican circles accusing the new kid on the block of elitism. Of course he is one of the elite. They are all of the elite. So were the Roosevelt’s, and the Kennedy’s. So were the Taft’s and the Bushes. It isn’t a question of whether one belongs to the elites, it is a question of whether the particular elite understand what the hell is happening to main street America. But instead of speaking to the country in ways that reflect a genuine understanding of our collective anguish, Hillary was shown in a seedy Indiana bar belting down shots and chasing them with beer, while Barack could only muster a miserable 37 in a blue-collar bowling alley. Hillary came off looking like the Gipper in an Irish Bar is South Boston, while Barack looked like Dukakis driving a tank.

The fallout of this knife fight in the sandbox, this tempest in a teapot has served only to raise the negatives of both candidates. Those who view Obama as “not at all honest…jumped from 18 percent last fall to 27 percent in April.” These numbers came in the wake of the Reverend Wright fiasco. Furthermore, “in January, 30 percent of Republicans rated Obama unfavorably. That grew to 43 percent in April”. Among independents his unfavorable rating jumped from 12 percent in January to 23 percent in April.(2). But Hillary has conducted this “scorched earth” campaign against her adversary at high personal cost. Beginning the campaign with the highest personal negatives of any national figure in memory she has managed, by reducing political discourse to these levels, to diminish her own stature in the eyes of the electorate. When asked last November “who has the best chance of becoming president?” Hillary led Barack by a 63-14% margin. By April Obama had overtaken her by a margin of 56-43. In addition, while trailing in Pennsylvania, he holds an 8-10 point lead nationally over Hillary in the daily tracking polls. In the meantime there is growing concern among Democrats everywhere that this nonsense cannot continue.



April 18, 2008: Robbing the Gipper’s Grave, Progressive Posturing, Feeding the Horse Enough Oats

“We can safely abandon the doctrine of the eighties, namely that the rich were not working because they had too little money, the poor because they had too much.”
---John Kenneth Galbraith

In response to the growing economic crisis, the good Marshall of Tombstone robbed the now cold grave of the ‘Old Gipper’ and paraded out yet another in a long list of Republican tax cut schemes. Once Reagan gained solid majorities on the platform of cutting taxes the political pachyderms have since been unable to think of anything else. Ask any Republican—especially one in a ‘leadership’ position—to give you an answer to any economic problem and they will immediately inundate you with a long list of long-sought-after tax cuts. Oh these proposals will have the taint of the progressive, small bones to be sure, but enough scraps from the tables of the wealthy to give lie to the real agenda lurking not so far beneath the surface. One recalls ‘Ol Pappy back in the days when he served his single term. When asked about any economic remedy his ready
--and only—response was to cut the capital gains tax in half. This bromide was his solution to everything. Need to reduce the deficit? Cut the capital gains tax. Need to stimulate the economy and create jobs? Cut the capital gains tax. Need to address urban poverty? Cut the capital gains tax. Need to improve education? Cut the capital gains tax…And so it was, ad nauseum. It was like Chinese water torture…you knew what the reflexive knee-jerk answer was to every question: simply cut the capital gains tax. It was the old man’s only policy initiative. It wasn’t simply a major initiative of his presidency, it was his presidency. For George H.W. Bush cutting the capital gains tax wasn’t the most important thing—it was the only thing. One could easily reduce the entire domestic agenda of the first Bush Administration to four simple words: cut capital gains taxes. So frequently was this mantra repeated, and so often was it applied to every domestic problem that the country fell mesmerized to its twisted logic. I spent many a sleepless night praying that Bill Clinton would look old Pappy in the eye and say to him “look George, since you present us with no other solutions than cutting this tax, will you agree that if we join you in cutting this onerous burden on your rich friends that you will disband that wretched political party of yours, a party that has done so much material damage to this country, and which appears to stand for nothing else? Of course, it was deemed best not to pose such questions. Young Bubba was likewise merely posturing as a progressive.

‘Ol Two-Cows picked up where Pappy left off with a vengeance. Those around the new President realized that Pappy was relieved of command not because he had gone back on his “no new taxes” pledge, but because he had failed to put a proper progressive veneer on palpable greed. It is, after all, not easy to get your working stiff to immediately recognize the ‘fairness’ of cutting the taxes of the investor class by 50%, especially since the economy was fast going into the tank. So this time around they would do things differently. Tearing a page from the Gipper’s playbook they proceeded to introduce a round of tax cuts within months of taking office. These cuts were targeted at the top 10% with most of the benefits going to the top 5% of the income bracket. How do you sell this to the other 90% in a system requiring more than tacit approval? You do it the way the Gipper did it. You put a populist veneer on it. You give rebates of several hundred dollars to the middle and lower classes and obfuscate who the real beneficiaries are. Blue smoke and mirrors.

The straight-talking Marshall of Tombstone, back in those days when he was still smarting from the wounds received from the shoot-out at the South Carolina Corral, knew a shell game when he saw one. Declaring that the Bush tax cuts “offended his conscience” McCain twice voted against this welfare for the rich scheme. But then that was when the presidential bee had temporarily flown the Senators political bonnet and the Potomac Fever had momentarily subsided.

Today the good Marshall, about to ascend Mount Olympus, is consumed by the fever. Accordingly he has issued the all-too-predictable Republican solution to the current economic mess. Eschewing such obvious remedies as re-regulating the investment industry, establishing controls over markets, vigorous anti-trust action to break up the energy oligopolies, McCain instead gives us yet another tired version of the same ol’ same ol’. On the 16th he announced his plan. Assuring us that he can cut 100 billion from the budget by eliminating federal earmarks and instituting ‘other reforms’ the Marshall then gives us the old two-step. He would freeze discretionary spending and cut both corporate taxes and taxes for the wealthy by making ‘Ol Two-Cows tax cuts permanent. (1) He would make this gift basket to Corporate America palatable by tossing a few crumbs from the table. He would temporarily suspend the 18.4 cent a gallon federal tax on gasoline between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It is not clear if there would then be any abatement in prices, since the good Marshall has not said that the oil companies would be compelled to pass this tax savings on to the public. But in any case let me be clear about this: as the middle and lower classes writhe in economic pain, the good Marshall offers only temporary relief, while the rich walk away from the table permanently.

The Obama camp was quick to pounce on McCain’s dog eared proposals and shopworn consistency. Obama spokesman Bill Burton responded by saying: “Senator McCain’s economic plan offers no change from George Bush’s failed policies of going full speed ahead with fiscally irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that John McCain himself once said ‘offended his conscience.’ He also proposes a gift basket of new tax cuts for Corporate America at a time ‘s when some C.E.O.’s are making more in a day than some workers make in a year. John McCain’s plan is one that could have been written by the corporate lobbyists who run his campaign, and probably was.” (1) Meanwhile the Clinton campaign chimed in, with ExxonMobil set to get a 1.4 billion dollar tax cut under the McCain plan, “Neera Tanden, the Clinton campaign’s policy director called the McCain plan ‘a corporate lobbyists dream’”. (1) No one, however, has suggested that perhaps one way to help ease the present energy crisis is not through tax cuts but by creating more competition in the market place. Neither of the Democratic contenders has suggested that perhaps it is time to make Exxon and Mobil once again two separate companies. But then, again, this was McCain’s day to shine. Instead of presenting us with imaginative new solutions to difficult and intractable problems the good Marshall gave us the same old haggard nonsense. Aspiring to resurrect the bright and cheerful face of Ronald Reagan, he produced instead merely a pale imitation of Herbert Hoover; his bright new ideas being merely more of the same trickle-down economics; an economic theory best described by professor Galbraith as “the less than elegant metaphor that if one feeds the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.”



Apr 23, 2008

April 17, 2008: March Madness, Reaping the Whirlwind, Teaching Americans Economics

"Depressions are what God uses to teach economics to Americans"
--From the "Quotations of Chairman Joe"

David Leonardt, writing in the April 9th New York Times, told us what we have all known all along: that the economic party thrown by the Bushes was a strictly Wall Street affair. In a column entitled “For Many, a Boom That Wasn’t”, Leonhardt said that “the now-finished boom was, for most Americans, nothing of the sort.” Citing the Census Bureau’s inflation-adjusted numbers the median American family made about $500.00 less in 2007 than in 2001. “Real median family income more than doubled from the late 1940’s to the late ‘70s. It has risen less than 25% in the three decades since”, Leonardt writes, “but the larger point is still crucial: the modern American economy distributes the fruits of its growth to a relatively narrow slice of the population”, adding “We don’t need another decade of evidence to feel confident about that conclusion.” (1)

The latest economic reports are not comforting. March, it seems, did not turn in a stellar economic performance. The Labor Department reported that “consumer prices rose 0.3 percent in March”, that is prices rose at an annual rate of 3.6%. “Over the past 12 months, inflation is up by 4%, reflecting relentless gains in energy costs, which are up 17 percent over that period, and food prices which are up 4.4 percent.” The ravages of inflation are exasperated by the astronomical increases in the prices of basic commodities. “The price of bread (is) up 14.7 percent over the past year, milk prices up 13.3 percent.” Additionally, new home construction plunged to the lowest levels in 17 years, dropping by 11.9 percent, while “the weak economy is causing rising job layoffs and an unemployment rate that jumped to 5.1 percent in March”. (2) Meanwhile the retail price of gasoline has pushed past a record high of $3.40 a gallon as crude oil prices have also reached record highs with crude futures trading at a record of $115.54 a barrel. (3)

Economic problems are now becoming acute. Reports from a score of journals paint much the same bleak picture. An article in this week’s BusinessWeek by Pallavi Gogoi highlighted the interrelationship of high energy cost and related inflation in food prices. In an article entitled “Squeezed by Rising Food Costs”, Gogoi quotes the “latest American Farm Bureau market survey of 16 basic groceries was $45.03 in the first quarter, up 9% from the same period last year. Many of the price increases are eye-popping—a five pound bag of flour cost $2.69, 26% more than last year. Volunteers in 32 states participated in the survey, with the 76 shoppers paying 23% more for fryer chicken at $1.37 per pound, while the average price for a gallon of whole milk was $3.31, up 10% from last year…” (4) In all, according to AP Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger, “food costs rose by 1.2 percent in March”, “energy prices jumped 2.9 percent” with gasoline increasing 1.3 percent and natural gas was up 4.2 percent. Home heating oil “shot up by 13.1 percent and diesel fuel used to power the nation’s trucking fleet” rose 15.3 percent. (5)

And then, of course, there are the numbers recording the continuing collapse of the housing industry. It was reported on MSNBC as well as by Reuters that “home foreclosure filings surged 57 percent in the 12 months ended in March and bank repossessions soared 129 percent from a year ago.” Nor is it likely to get any better any time soon. Lynn Adler writing for Yahoo News quoted Rick Sharga, vice president of RealtyTrac that “we’re going to see quite possibly a record amount of foreclosure in the third quarter”. Adler reported that “one in every 538 U.S. households living in single-family dwellings received a foreclosure notice in March”. Auction notices are up 32 percent, suggesting “more defaulting homeowners are simply walking away and deeding their properties back to the foreclosing lender”, according to the article. (6)

Because the new order has done such a great job of spreading risk, the housing crisis continues to wreak havoc on a much greater part of the economy than would have otherwise been possible, now threatening not only commercial lending institutions but world-wide financial markets. Added to this are the skyrocketing costs of raw materials creating a “cost-push” inflationary pressure not only threatening the return of the ‘Stagflation’ era, first introduced by Richard Nixon, but also threatening to drive up food prices to such an extent as to now threaten governments around the world. The April 11 edition of TIME featured an article by Tony Karon entitled “How Hunger Could Topple Regimes”. There are major food riots in Haiti, threatening the very existence of the fascist dictatorship installed by ‘Ol Two-Cows a few years ago. Karon reports that such countries as Egypt, Cameroon, Mozambique, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Yemen are immediately at risk, quoting World Bank president Robert Zoellick that “world food prices have risen 80% over the last three years,” warning “that at least 33 countries face social unrest…” Karon cites the growing industrialization of China and India and the demands these economies are now placing on energy resources as one of the culprits. Also to blame is the increase use of bio fuels which diverts ever scarce farmland from growing crops used for food to crops converted into fuel. (7)

It seems that the vultures are coming home to roost. The ‘New World Order’, proclaimed by George H.W. “Pappy” Bush, that “Brave New World” of Neo-Con imagination is about to unravel. By attempting to export Capitalism abroad and make it ‘universal’ we have succeeded in inspiring and jump-starting the Russian, Chinese, and Indian experiments. This in turn has led to massive competition for basic industrial commodities putting enormous pressure on quickly dwindling resources. The consequences are at once severe and of long duration. We are now beginning to reap the whirlwind as prices begin to spiral out of control. Additionally the idiotic conservative mantra that “no regulation is good regulation” has led to a speculative ‘bubble’ in which the Market has distorted real value-- in this case housing-- threatening a collapse of the housing market sending reverberations throughout the economy. With layoffs in construction, loss of home equity, diminished borrowing capacity, diminishing strength of consumer spending, and a nasty undercurrent of inflationary pressure brought on by a combination of inspiringly stupid public policy and an overtaxed supply, we are now faced with a set of economic problems not seen since the ’30s.

“Fortunately, there is an obvious model waiting to be dusted off”, wrote David Leonhardt, in the New York times, “the income gains of the postwar period didn’t just happen. They were the product of a deliberate program to build up the middle class, through the Interstate highway system, the G.I. Bill, and other measures.” (1) Leonhardt is quite right. The New Deal brought us the minimum wage, federal laws to enable workers to unionize; a government that was interested in fostering and protecting organized labor; the Farm Home Bill which helped millions move into middle class housing; the National Defense Student Loan and Grant Programs which helped millions gain a college education at little cost; price supports and subsidies for agriculture to keep food prices low and affordable, and so forth. These were, it should be noted, nearly entirely Democratic programs, opposed tooth and nail by the Republican minority. It should also be noted, for the record, that the reason this middle class is now in such distress has been nearly 40 years of Republican mendacity. This is what happens when you let these people into the corridors of power for any extended period of time. But fear not for unbeknownst to the Republicans, they have been unwittingly about the business of teaching Americans economics and, in so doing, making good Democrats of all of us.




Apr 17, 2008

April 11, 2008: A Sunny Afternoon at Campau Square, "There aren't any Republicans Here, Are There?", Great Leaders Don't Grow On Trees

Robert F. Kennedy at Campau Square

On this day 40 years ago, Robert F. Kennedy spoke at Campau Square in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. I had received a call from a classmate several days earlier asking if I wanted to help organize a rally for the Senator. I went to Grand Rapids and was introduced to two of his advance men, Madison Avenue types dressed in expensive suits, who were holed up at the old Pantlind Hotel adjacent to the square. I spent several days working with them, arriving early each morning, passing as I did long lines of emptied bottles of scotch and bourbon, joining them for breakfast before hitting the streets. I put in several such days in the warm spring sun. This Thursday proved no exception and the event was held in what became a bright and sunny afternoon for so early in the year. The press reported the crowd to be around ten thousand, as I remember it, numbers not seen again until John Kerry made an appearance in the city 36 years later.

I fully understand the excitement of the Obama campaign. Reports of those that have attended Obama’s recent campaign rallies talk about the electricity that he generates. I know, forty years ago, I was there too. The crowd had been gathering for well over an hour first in small knots, then over time forming itself into a large mass in front of the podium. As the bus arrived there was a roar as the crowd, almost as one, surged forward. What struck me, as the Senator took the platform, was how old and frail he looked. He was thin and wan, as if he could easily have been blown away by a strong breeze. He looked much older than he appeared in pictures, much older than his 42 years. Worry lines were deeply etched into his tanned face; his hair was speckled in grey. After being introduced, Kennedy immediately established a rapport with the crowd. Knowing this was Jerry Ford’s district he asked rather impishly “I've been told this is Republican country, is that right?” to which the crowd shouted a resounding "NO!" “I didn’t think so,” replied the Senator with a toothy grin. “There aren't any Republicans here, are there?”, he asked again, and the crowd thundered “NO!” Of course everyone knew better and we all had a great laugh. Then the Senator began talking in earnest about the problems facing the country. He talked of his concern that the President had just called up more troops to be sent into the maw of war. The crowd stood in rapt attention and as he spoke a small group of protesters made a bit of noise on the periphery. He spoke for about twenty minutes about the urgent need to find a just solution to the conflict in Vietnam and the necessity to create a more equitable society. Then he stopped and leaned down to touch the crowd. Outstretched hands reached for him, relieving him of his cufflinks, a practice that was then fast becoming a ritual at each campaign stop. All too soon he stepped off the platform and disappeared into his bus and was gone. I was struck by the rapport he established with the crowd, as well as his unease at the podium. He was not a natural speaker, and was not comfortable before crowds. His voice carried an undercurrent of unease and nervousness, trembling a bit yet expressing a depth of commitment and sincerity that was palpable. His hands shook as he spoke. Here standing before us, the heir of Camelot, was a man who reached out to embrace what appeared to be at times polar opposites, and implicit contradictions. Here was a man who understood the use and misuse of power; a man with a reputation for ruthlessness, but also the tribune of the dispossessed; a man who possessed uncommon courage and was known to take great risk, but conveyed through body language a deep personal vulnerability.

I remember looking around at the crowd before and during the speech. The event was held at the center of the old town. Flanked by the Pantlind Hotel, the old Woolworth’s Building, and several high-rise office buildings that dwarfed the proceedings, his high reedy voice reverberated down the brick and concrete canyon as it passed over the crowd. Standing at the heart of town, amidst the bustle and smell of the city, Bobby conveyed nothing if not a sense of vulnerability and it was this vulnerability that, I believe, was at the heart of the deeply unspoken connections that he made with those in the crowd.

If you were black you understood vulnerability. It was said at the time that if you were black you were the last to be hired and the first to be fired if the economy went sour; you knew the scourge of injustice and daily experienced both the visible and invisible hands of cruel fate. If you were white, especially a recent refugee who had moved from southern fields into the northern factories, you also understood vulnerability. Stints at the factory interrupted by occasional layoffs, in which one had to hustle up whatever work one could find, and feed your family on government surplus rations. Periods of precarious good times interrupted by the near terror of unemployment in which palpable fear was felt at the kitchen table as parents openly worried about where they would find the next meal. There were millions in America who knew such anxiety and vulnerability. In Bobby, despite his origins, they sensed after Dallas a kindred soul, one which the Fates had also treated cruelly. They saw in Bobby a vulnerability with different causes to be sure, but a vulnerability they immediately recognized as one with their own. This, it appeared to me, was the glue that bound together blacks and poor whites—groups living precariously and normally seen as bitter rivals for the crumbs that have dropped from the tables of the established order—behind the candidacy of Robert Kennedy. Bobby was able to convey not simply in speech but, much more importantly it seemed to me as I watched him that afternoon, through body language a sense of loss and struggle to those who found both a daily companion. To stand before us and give testimony to great loss and yet raise hope is what made him such an anomaly in American politics. This is what lent such gravitas to his call to ‘seek a newer world’ by creating a more just society. As Roosevelt’s battle with polio had humanized him, the tragedy at Dallas had transformed this son of privilege into a tribune of the people. Mother used to remind me when I was, in her estimation, too stridently critical of Lyndon Johnson that great political leaders don’t grow on trees. What she meant, of course, is that they don’t come along every day.

Apr 14, 2008

April 7, 2008: No LAFTA in the Clinton Campaign, Friday Night Dump, Hillary 'Gored'

The last few days have not been good for the Clintons. Mark Penn, chief strategist for the Clinton campaign, abruptly resigned his post after it was revealed that he was lobbying the Columbian government on behalf of a free-trade agreement that Hillary adamantly opposes.

In addition the Clintons did a “Friday night dump” a strategy in which bad news is released on Friday so as to take advantage of the fact that the public is not paying as much attention on pay day and the following weekend. In this case the Clintons, who had been pressured to release their income tax statements, finally released the documents in which it was revealed that they had made over 108 million dollars between the two of them since they left the White House. Most of this money comes from book deals and royalties, and some of it from congressional salaries and pensions, but there are sure to be some questionable dealing when it comes to Bill’s income over the last few years. Better to give it as low a profile as possible, so late on Friday the Clinton’s walked out of the house, looked both ways down the street to see if no one was looking, and left the documents on a park bench hoping they would be blown away before anyone got to them. In any case it will now be harder to pass themselves as ‘regular folk’ when word gets out of their good fortune.

Right in the middle of all this chaos, it was reported that Hillary had been relating a story on the campaign trail in which a pregnant woman was refused admission into a hospital because she had no health insurance. According to Clinton’s account the woman suffered complications and died. The hospital in question issued a terse statement in which it said that the woman did indeed have health insurance and was treated. The Clintons were forced once again to retreat, as in the Bosnian episode, this time issuing a statement that the hospital’s version of the facts was accurate. In this age of 24/7 news coverage, camera phones, and instant communication, it is wise for a campaign to check the facts before it’s candidate goes out on the stump and repeats such tales. This is, in and of itself, not a bad thing. Imagine we might have been spared the consequences of errant conservatism had such technologies been available when the old Gipper was spouting similar nonsense on the rubber-chicken circuit. In any case Hillary has once again had her credibility called into question in what is fast becoming an altogether too common pattern risking the likelihood that she will become “Gored”—that is transformed into a boviating buffoon by the media pack-hounds. In the meantime Barack has closed the gap in Pennsylvania to 8 points.

April 4, 2008: Voice of Hope, Blessed to Have Known You, Only Darkness Since You've Gone

“Early morning April 4th
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride” ---U2 “In the Name of Love” (1)

On this day, long ago, a voice of hope calling for America to fulfill its promises; a voice for justice in a country where justice has been long overdue, was silenced. Today marks the beginning of that long journey into night, the years of darkness into which we have now been wandering for two score years. The violence that was 1968 abruptly extinguished the greatest hopes of a generation to unite black and white in an effort to address the pressing problems of racial and economic injustice in the United States. The ensuing backlash shifted the country markedly to the ‘right’, making possible a return to power of conservative America. In time, the heirs of Hoover and Eisenhower and Taft would give way to the acolytes of Goldwater, who would destroy the national consensus that was the New Deal and wage relentless war on the middle class.

From this perspective, we cannot underestimate the loss of Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of his death, King was planning a "poor people’s" march on Washington in which his critique of America would expand from civil rights to include the disproportionate burden the poor were carrying in fighting the war in Vietnam, and shifting greater emphasis in his definition of social injustice to economics. His plan was to pressure America to address the inequality of incomes and employment, taking to heart the criticism of Malcolm X that it didn’t cost anything to integrate lunch counters, the real challenge was to get the greater society to share the fruits of labor. It was at this juncture — at the very point where the movement would share goals with a larger and more Caucasian agenda and demand that justice be served by creating an even larger and more inclusive middle class - that the flame that was Martin Luther King, Jr. was extinguished. After his death, there were marches in Memphis and elsewhere, and there was a big march on Washington later in the summer in which the poor took up residence in makeshift housing on the Capitol Mall, naming it “Resurrection City”, but the movement failed in its efforts to broaden itself, in large part because the voice that had given so much life was no more.

We miss you, Martin. Oh, how you would have stood up to Nixon and Reagan. How you would have castigated ‘Ol Two-Cows, and ridiculed with a moral voice that only you could have brought to the arena, the oxymoron that is “Compassionate Conservatism.” You taught us that what happens to the least of us threatens all of us, and that we are each others keeper. We were blessed to have known you, and have known only darkness since you’ve gone.


http://www.MetroLyrics.com/in-the-name-of-love-lyrics-u2.html. Copyright 2004-2008

April 1, 2008: April Fools, Hey Joe!, You’ll Have to Decide

Forty years ago today I remember waking on a clear sunny morning to the sounds of birds at my window. I had gone to bed the night before after watching President Johnson’s speech on Vietnam which ended in his startling announcement that he would not seek another term as President. I was elated. I hated to see Johnson leave the national scene because he had done so much for civil rights and for the poor in this country. We have not seen his like since. But the specter of Vietnam hung over the upcoming election like the grim reaper. I had long since joined the ranks of the dissenters and had been voicing opposition to the war since late in 1965 so the candidacies of first Eugene McCarthy and then Robert Kennedy held out great hope that we would begin to change our tragic course in Southeast Asia. On this day it looked as if all things were to come to pass. It felt as if there was a new dawn in America. I remember grabbing a quick breakfast and then heading out the door unto Sixth Street toward my car heading off for classes in Allendale. I got about half way across the street when I encountered my old friend John Hierholzer. “Hey Joe!” he shouted, “What do you make of Johnson’s speech last night”? I stopped in the middle of the street as he drove his car up to me, “It looks like Bobby’s got it now!” I shouted back in glee. “There’s no one but Humphrey standing between him and the nomination, he should be able to beat Hubert”, I said. “Remember what day it is”, John admonished. “What day is it?” I asked. “April Fool’s Day” was his response. So it was.

I had first met John at St.John’s Lutheran when I was in second grade. I still remember it. I was assigned my seat and behind me was seated the new kid in school who was full of questions about what to do and where to go. He kind of latched on to me and we became fast friends. I lived in the country then so we saw each other only during school, but later that year we moved into the city down by the river near the old factories and he brought me home with him a few times and introduced me to his parents. In due course we moved into the same block, our house being just around the corner. John and I went through the rest of grade school, junior high school and high school together. Upon graduation we applied to the same college so again we were classmates. On this morning we ran into each other as each of us was about to drive the thirty miles to the Allendale campus. His welcome and familiar voice always carried a note of caution, a trait he picked up from his stern German father. John was the kind of friend every mom wanted their son to be around, whenever we had the urge to do something rash or stupid one could always depend on John to point out the folly of it and make us stop and think. So when he told me it was April Fool’s Day a chill shot through me; a certain indescribable foreboding. I quickly shrugged it off marking it down as one of my friends odd remarks for which he was so well known, hoping there could not possibly be any significance. I was wrong.

Forty years ago was another time when the country was deeply anguished over questions of war and peace. For a few brief weeks McCarthy and Kennedy canvassed the country gathering support for their positions on the war. Later in April Hubert Humphrey announced that he would seek the Presidency representing the Administration’s war record, but for now the dissenter’s held the field. McCarthy, a deeply introspective professorial type, held out at length about how Vietnam compared to the Carthaginian wars of ancient Rome, arguing that the waste of blood and treasure would sap the country and warning of the folly that was Vietnam. Rarely has America been blessed with such thoughtfulness and wisdom. Fast forward 40 years. Today, in the midst of a conflict that some say will last a hundred years, and other say will cost three trillion dollars, the campaign for the highest office in the land is being dominated by pseudo-issues. To Wit: on March 21, Bill Richardson, former Secretary in Bill Clinton’s cabinet and Clinton appointee as Ambassador to the United Nations, switched allegiances and endorsed Obama for the Presidency calling Barack “the Candidate of a lifetime”. This set off a howl from the Clinton campaign with 1992 campaign manager James Carville openly comparing Richardson to Judas Iscariot, saying that it was no coincidence that at about this time of the year (Easter) “Judas betrayed his lord for thirty pieces of silver”. On March 29, Carville reiterated his comments saying that he is proud of what he said. Now exactly when, Mr. Carville, did Bill Clinton become Lord? Have you forgotten that you live in a republic? But such is the fever of this campaign and such are the issues around which it is being waged that one as bright and savvy as Carville could openly claim that the Lord has now assumed the earthly form of none other than Slick Willy himself. Jesus Christ.

This brings to mind the lines of Bob Dylan:

“But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.”—Bob Dylan (1)


(1) Dylan, Bob. “Lyrics, 1962-85 by Bob Dylan.” 1973,1985 Alfred A Knopf, Inc., New York, New York. Pg. 93

March 31, 2008: Three Stooges in Baghdad, Tragical History Tour, The Limits of Power

“War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography”
--Ambrose Bierce

This week saw John McCain, with Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) and Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) in tow, in downtown Baghdad proclaiming the recent military ‘surge’ in Iraq a success. It is true that violence has subsided in the nation’s capitol but violence has erupted “in other parts of the country, including Diyala Province and Mosul, al-Qaeda’s last urban stronghold”. In a March 15 report for the Associated Press, Ryan Lenz quoted the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq saying that “the government of Iraq continued to face enormous challenges in its efforts to bring sectarian violence and other criminal activity under control against a backdrop of political instability” (1). The report further cautioned “against hasty conclusions because ‘the extent to which the decrease in violence was sustainable remained unclear’”. (1)
According to Lenz, “Violence in the capital has fallen considerably thanks to a maze of walls and barriers that divide Shiite from Sunni neighborhoods” as well as the cease fire agreement reached with al-Sadr’s Mahdi army, and the emergence of so-called “Awakening Councils”, “groups composed of former Sunni Tribes who have accepted U.S. funding to switch allegiances and fight al-Qaeda. It is a tenuous peace at best, whose initial goal was to gain some time and clear some space for the emerging government of Iraq to work out its political future. By all accounts progress on political reconciliation has been tortuous and results meager. In the meantime the presence of 20,000 additional U.S. troops in and around the capitol has had a measure of success in lowering the level of violence.

So in an impromptu rendition of what would be a splendid Three Stooges skit, the three Senators toured Baghdad and pronounced our military campaign a success. The Iraqis celebrated their arrival by shelling the green zone and as the Stooges were leaving the Maliki government launched an all-out assault on al-Sadr’s forces in Basra touching off a series of bloody skirmishes. In due course the central government was forced to retreat saying that they are giving the militiamen time to “repent and surrender”. Undeterred the good Marshall of Tombstone continued his ‘tragical history tour’ by leading the press around by the nose revisiting the highlights of his military career.

The tragedy that is the McCain candidacy is that John is both the son and the grand-son of U.S. Navy admirals. John’s military career never quite reached those lofty heights. He is, therefore, compensating for it—albeit at a late date—by striving to outdo his ancestor’s achievement by becoming commander-in-chief. Not, it seems, your run-of-the-mill commander-in-chief, but a war president. It is for this reason that he has so readily subscribed to the folly and the tragedy that is the mess the neo-cons have created in the Middle East. As John takes us on this Magical Military Tour and speaks of wars won and wars yet to be won let us not forget that America lost the only war in which he fought. Perhaps that is the score that needs to be settled. Perhaps the ultimate historical tragedy is that those who have died and those who are about to die in this modern ‘hundred years war’ are simply the latest casualties of Vietnam.

“War is diplomacy by other means”
--Carl Von Clausewitz

Von Clauswitz understood the complex interrelation between war and politics. War is a consequence of political conflict, and an end to war can only be reached by some kind of political settlement. The ends of war cannot be achieved by military means alone. Even unconditional surrender requires the tacit acceptance of the population so as to prevent an insurrection. The Allies in Europe came to term with the old Nazi regime, prosecuting a relative handful, and employing the rest to keep order. Likewise in Japan where MacArthur kept the Emperor and much of the old regime in order to maintain continuity and stability.

Forty years ago tonight, President Lyndon Johnson spoke those memorable words “accordingly I shall not seek, nor will I accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” This bombshell, so unexpected, came after a short discussion about the stalemate in Vietnam and about the need to negotiate a peace. Saying that the demands of peace meant that negotiations could not become part of a partisan political campaign, Johnson told the nation that he would step down. Here the President came face-to-face with the limits of power. American military might, as awesome as it was, could not impose a political settlement in Indochina. No matter how long the war would drag on, some kind of political accommodation would have to take place. So on that fateful night the President announced the end of the quest to impose a political solution by military force and told the nation that we would sit down at the table with Ho Chi Minh. John McCain never forgave Lyndon Johnson. But Johnson by degrees came to understand, as our future president will also have to come to understand, that for peace to return to this troubled region negotiations will have to take place with our adversaries. Without negotiations there will be no peace. How long it will take the good Marshall to learn the limits of power remains in the telling. In any case it will be a hell of an expensive geography lesson.



March 26, 2008: Audacity of Hopelessness, Every Rock Becomes a Boomerang, Staring into the Abyss

At a news conference yesterday in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, Senator Clinton tried to stoke the dying embers surrounding the Reverend Wright into once again a burning controversy in the belief that gender will always trump race in this winner-take-all high stakes game of political poker. Accordingly as the controversy was subsiding into an obscure historical footnote Senator Clinton once again raised the issue saying that “given all that we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor,” adding “while we don’t have a choice when it comes to our relatives, we do have a choice when it comes to our pastors or our church” (1). Here the senior Senator from New York appears to question Obama’s judgment claiming higher moral ground in that she would not tolerate such outrageous behavior. Then she attempted to seal the argument by saying that “while we don’t have a choice of when it comes to our relatives….” Hum, husbands? Didn’t she have a choice there? And what a choice it was all things considered. Didn’t she exercise a certain lack of judgment on that one? And didn’t she nevertheless stand behind hubby Bill through all the philandering, and the national scandals that they entailed? The problem with the Clinton candidacy is that every rock she throws becomes a boomerang.

The Clinton campaign is getting desperate demonstrating what David Brooks has called the “Audacity of Hopelessness”. In their attacks on Obama the Clintons have resorted to savaging not simply the messenger but the message itself, openly mocking the very idea of creating a new national consensus. In their efforts to denigrate the young Jedi, the Clintons have drawn distinctions between themselves, John McCain and Barack accusing Obama of failing to measure up to the ‘commander-in-chief’ standard. In that vein Hillary has been canvassing the country talking up her experience participating in deliberations at the highest levels of government and coming under fire as she landed in Bosnia to negotiate peace. After much pressure, White House papers—including her schedules and appointments—were released which put to lie these bogus claims. It appears, beyond her failed attempt at health care reform, that the former First Lady did what all former First Ladies have done; keep to social events, ceremonial dinners, and a few private causes. In Bosnia, it transpires, the former First Lady did not negotiate for peace nor did she come under fire while at the airport. It seems Hillary has been engaging in a bit of hyperbole, embellishing her resume in the hopes that perhaps she can slip into the officer’s club.

The knife-fight in the sandbox that is the Democratic campaign has degenerated into a contest fought over pseudo-issues while the country teeters on the edge of financial collapse. While Barack is forced to clarify his relationship with his pastor and Hillary is forced to clarify her role as First Lady, the widely watched Standard and Poor’s/Case-Shiller index revealed that “U.S. home prices fell 11.4% in January the steepest drop since data for the indicator was first collected in 1987” (2). A “broader 20-city composite index also fell dropping 10.7 percent in January from a year ago. That makes it the first time both indexes dropped by double digit percentages” (2). The report also said that the “declines are growing in severity”, with 13 of the 20 cities reporting their biggest single monthly decline in January” (2). As noted earlier this crisis has devastated not only the construction industry but is threatening the lending institutions and the financial markets. The Clinton’s have reduced this campaign to a miserable exercise in trench warfare in which the combatants struggle to the death over issues of little importance while the nation, and perhaps the entire world, stares into the abyss.



March 23, 2008: Damned if We Aren’t, A More Perfect Union, Like a Needle Needs a Vein

We have witnessed, over the last week, seismic shifts along both the racial and economic fault lines of the American Political landscape. The Federal Reserve Board held its scheduled meeting on Tuesday, the 18th, after having already lowered interest rates a quarter of a point in an unusual move on Sunday, and further reduced the prime rate by an additional three quarters of a point. This made two reductions in the prime lending rate in three days. By taking these actions the Federal Reserve, in addition to putting another two hundred billion dollars into the money supply, hopes to stabilize jittery markets by making more money available at lower interest. The stock market, which has been bouncing around like a pogo stick dropped from an office building, immediately rallied, but the jury is still out. Whether this will be enough to stop the free-fall of housing prices, or ease the credit crunch is as yet undetermined. Ol’ Two-Cows, however, demonstrating his deep understanding of the crisis, implored the Federal Reserve to not go too far. We cannot, under the firm but blissfully ignorant hand of the ‘great decider’, let the course of events stampede the ideological imperative. We will stand by our so called ‘free-market’ ideology or be damned—and damned if we aren’t.

While the ground trembles beneath the economy the racial question continues to boil. “Of course it’s all about race”, shouted Rusty Limbaugh-- the corpulent bullet-headed Saxon mother’s son—into his megaphone as the Reverend Wright’s tirades were played in an endless loop by Limbaugh and Seen Hannity. With mendacity having altogether too much free time the Idiot Right has been in full throated howl in an effort to marginalize the Jedi. But America seems not to be listening, or is getting its news from somewhere else. The latest national polls have Barack back ahead of both Hillary and John McCain.

There has been some back peddling of sorts. Speaking before the National Newspaper Publishers Association, “a group of more than 200 black community newspapers across the country” (1) , Hillary apologized to black voters for the tone of her campaign saying “I want to put that (remarks made by husband Bill after the South Carolina primary) in context. You know I am sorry if anyone was offended…we can be proud of both Jesse Jackson and Senator Obama”. (1) She also repudiated Geraldine Ferraro’s comment saying that “obviously she doesn’t speak for the campaign.”(1) Ferraro had resigned from her position writing Hillary that “I am stepping down from your finance committee so I can speak for myself and you can continue to speak for yourself about what’s at stake in this campaign. The Obama campaign is attacking me to hurt you. I won’t let that happen”. (2) Such is the nature of apology coming from the Clinton camp. When all else fails—an all else has failed—blame the victim.

The Clinton camp, caught as it was in the crosshairs, tried to shift ground. With a little help from her friends, the McCain campaign came charging to the rescue by releasing the thirty second tape of the Reverend Wright compelling Obama to confront the racial divide. What has followed was a 10 day flap in which the Clinton’s took a back seat and watched as the idiot right launched its assault. The tape made its way from the McCain camp to You Tube to Hannity and Limbaugh and then out into the networks producing the desired effect. But the Jedi rose to the occasion speaking to the nation by delivering a 40 minute primer on race relations that moved Andrew Young to the ‘edge of tears.’ Many said that such words have not been spoken since Martin Luther King. By taking the crisis in hand and using it as an opportunity to speak honestly about black anger and white resentments, Obama spoke hopefully about our ability as a nation to overcome our past and about the pressing need for this nation to be about the business of honoring our ancestors by “creating a more perfect union”.

Out of this act of wisdom, out of this act of courage, Barack not only stopped the hemmorage of his campaign but demonstrated his ability to stand at the vortex of a firestorm and calmly manage the crisis. Once again the Clintons’ albeit with a little help from their friends, had come up empty and the nation has been better for it.

Because playing the race card did not produce the much-needed immediate effect, the Clinton campaign was forced to shift ground once more. Speaking in North Carolina, hubby Bill said “I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people (here openly referring to Hillary and McCain) 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 the all the other stuff that seems to intrude itself on our politics” (3). Here is the former president once again drawing distinctions between his wife, Senator McCain and Barack Obama in which the junior Senator from Illinois is unfavorably compared to both Hillary and her Republican counterpart. Last week Bill had said that only Hillary and John McCain had crossed the threshold to be ‘commander-in-chief’. Now, after expressing how much respect Hillary and John have for each other and how well they have worked together, he is here caught implying that only these two of the three remaining candidates love this country and are devoted to its interests. By having Hillary as the nominee, he held, we won’t have “all the other stuff that seems to intrude itself on our politics”.

One cannot listen to these words by the former president without drawing two painfully obvious conclusions. First he is here openly questioning the patriotism and love of country of the man who will likely be the nominee of the Democratic Party for president. Secondly by questioning, in the heat of the Reverend Wright controversy, Barrack’s love of country and by obliquely referring to “the other stuff that seems to intrude itself on our politics”, the former president has once again chosen to make yet another attempt to wrap the Reverend Wright about the neck of the young Jedi and throw him off the ship of state. Here is Bill Clinton, once again, dealing from his cufflinks the race card. Everyone understands what was meant by “all the other stuff”, just like we understood what Richard Nixon meant by ‘law and order’ and the ‘Silent (white) Majority’. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus; and yes, Rusty it is all about race—just ask your friend Bill Clinton without whom you would never have become a star in the long Republican night.
The truth is, Rusty Limbaugh and the Idiot Right need the Clinton’s like a needle needs a vein; and for all those fellow-travelers there is but one card left to play.