In the short time since the London Progressive Journal has been publishing, three out of my four articles have been about the primary races for the US presidency. To my knowledge I am the only American writing for the LPJ, and so it seemed only natural that I should focus my attention on the presidential primaries in my land of origin; as the token American this is my de facto area of expertise.
Frankly, however, I’ve begun to find the subject rather tiring. It is everywhere, on the internet and on print media sources here within the UK. It astounds me how much this country seems to care, when most Americans still think your PM is Tony Blair (if they didn’t answer Queen Elizabeth). Not caring about the politics of other countries is something the American people do quite well, followed nearly as closely with not caring about the politics of our own country.
At least this has for a long time been the case. It is no secret to anyone that this has been a particularly exciting primary election season, particularly for the Democratic Party. In the least-populated state of Wyoming, for example, people crammed into a high-school gymnasium that held 500 people, with at least that many waiting in line outside.
In 2004, when the tepid John Kerry was the expected nominee, a mere 675 individuals showed up for the caucuses statewide.
The American left has been, to a greater or lesser degree, split among Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama. It is difficult to gauge the feeling of the people through media sources, but that is the best we ex-patriots and non-Americans must do. The race has become close enough, however, that my interest -and likely yours as well- has been reinvigorated. The time for any form of neutrality has passed.
I do not support the Democratic Party. I find their stance too moderate, I find the two-party system of the United States absurd. But let me say this as bluntly as a possibly can:
Hillary Clinton in no way deserves to be president of the United States, and her nomination would be a disaster for the Democratic Party and the American people at large.
Even just a few short weeks ago the primaries seemed like a remarkably done-deal. We overseas picked up words like “Obamomentum” and other such phrases to indicate the apparent frenzy that has surrounded this particular candidate. By all accounts this momentum, at least at the moment, seems to have faded. What was once a 14-point lead for Obama has diminished to next-to-nothing, with some poles showing Clinton ahead.
In the last few weeks the Clinton campaign has taken to throwing every argument they can at Obama in hopes that something will stick. A notorious flop was the “change you can Xerox” argument, where Clinton derided Obama’s lifting of whole lines from a political allies speech for use in his own. Considering how rarely a politician actually writes the speeches they give, this deceitful claim was met with much deserved booing when used in a televised debate, and was promptly dropped.
Other arguments, however, have withstood the test of public opinion and appear to be having the desired effect. Amazingly, this desperate, derisive “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” approach seems to have worked – and it shouldn’t.
In recent weeks the Obama campaign has been under heavy fire, both from McCain and, more vehemently, the Clinton camp, for his rousing oratory, which they dismiss as empty words. Certainly world history is fraught with inspiring speakers who mobilized their populations, only to lead to ruin and tragedy. It is easy and cheap to dismiss a politician as such, however, simply because much of their support comes from their delivery and their ability to inspire. Politics is anything but a “pure” art (as Senator Clinton knows well), and such seemingly superficial acts as using rhetoric and ideology to enact social change ought never be so readily dismissed. The Clinton campaign has turned Obama’s powerful speaking presence into a disadvantage in a game where simple – if absurd- arguments can win the day.
The most prominent of these, however, is on the subject of “experience”, where the youthful Barak Obama is especially susceptible to criticism. Much -if not most- of Clinton’s supposed foreign-policy experience is said to have come from her activities as First Lady, the wife of the President of the United States. That is to say, she herself was not an elected official but, according to her campaign, she acted like one anyway. This extra-electoral behavior is not itself uncommon among First Ladies, though it is presumably expected to remain within the confines of a symbolic role. The extent to which the Clinton campaign claims her involvement is dubious at best, crooked at worse. The recent release of documents outlining her activities at this time seem to reveal these claims to be grossly exaggerated.
In her own right, her greater experience as a US Senator makes for a weak argument, it being only four years greater than that of Obama’s, with seven years in the US Senate to Obama’s three. Before this, Obama was well established in state-level politics, whereas Clinton had no prior role as an elected official before her election as New York senator in 2001.
Furthermore, her greater experience in itself is not a justifiable reason to support her candidacy. Early in the Democratic primaries, back when there were ten such contenders, every one of them but Obama and Dennis Kucinich had spent more time in the senate than Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden assumed office way back in 1973; his candidacy was quickly reduced to that of an “also-ran”.
John McCain, for his part, has been in the Senate since 1987, a whopping 6 years before either Clinton entered the White House. By her own paradigm, Senator Clinton becomes a grossly unqualified candidate.
Thirdly, and most importantly, “experience” is not a good thing if it has been experience where you’ve shown you’re not very good at what you’re doing. Simply “showing up” shouldn’t count for anything. On the topic of foreign policy, “Hillaryland” (as the Clinton campaign has unofficially dubbed itself) has taken the position of being the Democrat best ready to be Commander-in-Chief, that is, the President best ready to handle our military. Here again we see that Senator Clinton pales in comparison with the war-veteran and former prisoner of war McCain. By its own campaign strategy, Clinton again becomes inferior to John McCain.
More than anything, however, her claims of foreign policy experience ring hollow with her 2003 support of the invasion of Iraq. Supporters claim that Obama, who opposed the war from the outset, was able to do so because he was not in the Senate at the time of this vote, that this gave him the “freedom” to oppose the war that a United States Senator cannot afford. The absurdity of this argument – and its acceptance by otherwise intelligent voters – literally makes me want to cry myself to sleep somewhere deep within Canadian borders.
Of the many follies of the Bush campaign, the invasion of Iraq must rank chiefly among them. Why, then, can the Clinton campaign claim ideological or policy superiority over this bumbling predecessor given that she is just as responsible as he is? As she voted for the war, is she not every bit as responsible as Bush?
One can claim that the greatest folly was not the invasion itself, but a supposed mismanagement after the fact. This is a lie. One can presume that after the invasion, the United States military made its best efforts to make the invasion a successful one, to prevent it from being “our generation’s Vietnam”.
They failed. Now, as a new election looms and a new administration will have the burden of cleaning up the mess, we must come to terms with the fact that the failure of the American military involvement in Iraq was that it began in the first place.
In voting for the war, Hillary Clinton either showed (a) a deficiency of leadership by acquiescing to the jingoistic whims of a misinformed nation, or (b) a bumbling, Bush-esque lack of intelligence and foresight if she believed that the invasion was justified.
In either case, Clinton’s foreign policy experience reveals itself to be a scarlet letter on her ability to be president, rather than as a distinguishing positive attribute as the Clinton campaign would have the American people believe. She, like John Kerry before her, voted for the Iraq War and has as much American and Iraqi blood on her hands as Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld. Her claims of “change” ring empty to anyone who really care to listen. She will fail to inspire the electorate, and will be much more likely to lose to John McCain in the presidential election.
I made this claim four years ago about John Kerry, and I will make it again: if the Democratic Party fails to nominate the candidate most overtly different from the status quo, if they chose safety over bravery, they will alienate the masses that Obama has thus far mobilized, and they will lose the presidential election.
While John McCain is indeed “one of the good ones” as Republicans go, progressives the world over should look to the Democratic Party as America’s best hope for turning around our abysmal international reputation and righting the wrongs of the fading Bush regime. Since September 11th 2001 the Democratic Party has forfeited the indomitable and potentially-beneficial American pride to conservative politics that have lead it to ruin, it has forfeited its idealism for meekness, and the nomination of Hillary Clinton as Democratic candidate for president only prolongs this betrayal of progressive ideals. The Democratic Party needs to grow a backbone, and if there was ever a time it’s now.
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This post was written by Richard Maidu