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McCain vs. Clinton?

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

and JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Before his handlers told the press Bill Clinton wouldn’t be taking any more questions, the former president gave it as his considered opinion that his wife and John McCain are a lot alike, and that assuming the two become their parties’ nominees, the fall campaign would be “the most cordial in history.” Setting aside such well-known traits as ill-temper towards subordinates, what Mrs Clinton and McCain certainly do have in common is a readiness to hang their own party out to dry when it’s a matter of personal advancement.

McCain has steadily amassed political capital by promoting himself as the Republicans’ maverick, on campaign reform, pork barreling, immigration. He lashes the Christian right. He voted against the Bush tax cuts and denounced Don Rumsfeld early on for his management of the war.

Hillary’s been a career triangulator and indeed introduced her husband to the dark art, by recruiting Jesse Helms’ pollster, Dickie Morris, when Bill was trying to come back from defeat after one term as the governor of Arkansas. It was Hillary who told Bill firmly in the summer of 1996 that he should sign the Republicans’ bill destroying welfare. The chilling aspect to this counsel was that it came at a moment when it was clear Bill was going to hammer Bob Dole in the presidential contest. Hillary’s view was that it would be better for them to be seen as running athwart the old liberal lions, like Ted Kennedy who waited twelve long years for his revenge, in the form of his endorsement on Monday of Obama.

McCain’s victory in Florida on Tuesday is a measure of the terrible shape the Republican Party now finds itself in. They now have a front-runner that no faction in the party really likes. He’s old, short, bald, with a history of serious skin cancer and a record of psychological instability. He is favor of a war deeply disliked by about 70 per cent of all Americans and has publicly proclaimed that the U.S. may well be in Iraq for a hundred years. With the country is poised on the lip of recession he calls for budget cuts. In Michigan he told distraught auto workers, –many of them “Reagan Democrats”, that their jobs were never coming back. In Florida he said he didn’t know much about economics but that Social Security would have to be fixed –i.e. privatized. Over half the people voting in Florida’s Republican primary were over 60 and the Arizona senator’s blithe endorsement of privatization would have scarcely been encouraging as they read the slumping bottom lines on their private 401K retirement accounts.

Small wonder the Clintons are licking their lips at the likelihood, deemed inconceivable only a few short weeks ago, that McCain will be the Republican nominee in the fall. The Republican right may well be making the calculation that it would no bad thing to have Hillary Clinton in the White House for four years, encumbered with the mess in Iraq and an economy in recession.

Just as she did in Michigan Hillary flouted a pledge to shun Florida’s Democratic primary and then went on the networks to tout a glorious victory. Obama was nowhere to be seen, showing once again that he’s no rough and tumble campaigner, preferring to maintain a lofty posture at all times, reminiscent of Gene McCarthy trying to vie with Bobby Kennedy back in 1968. (Whereas Ted and Caroline came out for Obama, Bobby’s children have endorsed Hillary.)

Looking at Super Tuesday, on February 5, it’s hard to see how Obama can overcome the Clintons’ back-alley political methods and their institutional advantage in holding the party levers. The day of the Florida primary Hillary won the endorsement of the black Los Angeles congresswoman Maxine Waters, to whom the Clintons should be anathema on drug policy, on mandatory sentencing, on welfare.

Obama also faces formidable obstacles in trying to win over Hispanic voters, whose loyalty to Hillary certainly cost him the Nevada caucuses. As Sergio Bendixen, a pollster working for Hillary, put it in the New Yorker, “The Hispanic voters ­- and I want to say this very carefully –have not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.” So much for the Rainbow Coalition.

There is a way Obama could make an impact on these millions of Hispanics he has thus far failed to set on fire. It would ratchet up the animus between the Obama and Clinton campaigns, but he needs to do this.

Across the next crucial days he could declare bluntly that while Mrs Clinton may profess profound sympathy for the concerns of Hispanics, the substantive record of the Clinton presidency was terrible.

The Free Trade bill ratified by Bill Clinton in 1994 sent hundreds of thousands of Mexicans north across the border out of Mexico’s reeling economy, there to be met by criminal sanctions – aimed at the poor generally – harsher on Clinton’s watch than on Bush’s. It was Senator Obama, not Senator Clinton, who was a co-sponsor of the Immigrant Reform Bill, a major issue of 2007 for the Latino population.

To stay in the game with the Clintons Obama has to play it rougher. He has very little time to escape from the box into which Hillary and Bill have been trying to trap him as the black candidate Hispanics should not trust.

The campaign does offer some pleasures. There was the rout of the Clintons in South Carolina and now the humiliation of Rudy Giuliani in Florida. He spent $60 million and, in the entire campaign until his withdrawal, won precisely one delegate. In September he had a favorability rating of 55 per cent. In January it was down to 20 per cent. People just couldn’t stand him.

It’s really too bad one can’t throw Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee into some kind of blender. Huckabee has a great sense of humor, and has been the only candidate to evince a spontaneous sense of class politics. In Florida he denounced the stimulus package as a trickle-down tactic that wouldn’t any kind of long-term solution for people in need. He called for a huge public works program, adding a couple of lanes to 1nterstate 95. It’s true he wants to substitute the Ten Commandment for the Bill of Rights, but the US Supreme Court would no doubt stop him in his tracks.

Among both Republicans and Democrats Ron Paul is the only one who talks with any passion about defending the Constitution and ending the war. It’s true he should have been more vocal, denouncing those racist newsletters that went out over his letterhead, but one the other hand there’s his forthright statement to Wolf Blitzer on CNN on January 10:

I attack two wars that blacks are suffering from. One, the war overseas. In all wars minorities suffer the most. So they join me in this position I have against the war in Iraq. And what about the war on drugs? What other candidate will stand up and say I will pardon all blacks, all whites, everybody who were convicted for non-violent drug acts and drug crimes. And this is where the real discrimination is. if you want to look for discrimination, it’s the judicial system. So I am the antiracist because I am the only candidate, Republican or Democrat, who [wants to] protect the minority against these vicious drug laws.

Did anyone on the left, flailing away Paul, ever hold Dennis Kucinich’s feet to the fire for all those years attacking choice, before his presidential ambitions prompted to jump the fence and change his views? Not for Kucinich the rigorous adherence to principle that prompted Paul to launch a nutty attack on social security to a mostly elderly audience in Florida. Small wonder he ended up arm wrestling Fred Thompson for fifth place. Still, even Giuliani, in his strange farewell address, confessed that “Ron Paul won every debate.”

So we advise Paul to quit wasting his money in the Republican money and instead to launch off as an independent or libertarian, denouncing the war and going to the inner cities on a redemption tour to talk about racism and the judicial process –which got significantly worse in Clinton time. The left keeps laboring the obvious, that Paul is not a leftist and has some bad positions. His posture on immigration is awful. But the Clinton record is substantively far, far worse, in terms of the terrible harvest reaped by NAFTA and the WTO and by Bill Clinton’s own record on immigration and the treatment of Hispanics in the drug war.

John Edwards has now announced that it’s all over for his campaign, conclusively derailed by his lame showing in South Carolina, which was his native state and the scene of his victory in 2004. Despite being the only white male in a state that seemed primed for his populist message, he finished a distant third, with 17 per cent. The conventional wisdom among the pundits is that Edwards’ supporters will now transfer their loyalties to Barack Obama who, probably with an eye to this possibility, has been injecting some Edwardsian themes into his airy Aeolian homilies. However, the supersensitive antennae of Dickie Morris twitched alertly on Tuesday night on the Fox Channel as he pored over exit polls in Florida and declared that (a) he could detect signs that the Republican Party was lurching to the left because of the economy and (b) that such votes as Edwards was getting in Florida came from people who could not bring themselves to vote for a woman or a black. Maybe that type of voter will switch allegiance to Ron Paul on Super Tuesday.

Edwards out means Nader in. In the same hour as news of Edwards’ withdrawal, CounterPunch received an alert from Nader’s camp, which had tactfully waited 30 seconds after Edwards’s exit, to announce the formation of “the Nader 2008 presidential exploratory committee”. Yes, there’s already a website, www.naderexplore08.org.

 

 

 

 

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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