All across America you can hear a high-pitched whining sound. It’s the progressives again. The 2008 presidential election was supposed to be the return of the Authentic Left, the revitalization of a slumbering progressive majority that would transform the United States into an Aquarian paragon. One by one, the progressive candidates, the liberals, the lefties, all dropped out, ignored by the press. The last to go was John Edwards, who is about as liberal as the bowler hat-but at least he’s not a Stetson. The poor fellow found himself unable to get a moment’s media time, than which nothing else matters. So he folded up his platform and went home. Who is left to vote for? Who shall we choose to lead our metamorphosis from 19th century feudal empire throwback into golden land of love and renewal? Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. We know far too much about the former, and nothing about the latter, except he intends to govern by not doing anything to offend anybody. As far as I can tell, the stealth terrorist Muslim, Mr. Obama, intends to stand very still and holler for help until his time is up. Mrs. Clinton, the radical lesbian man-killer, on the other hand, will certainly polarize the nation by doing everything the Republicans want, thus enraging both Democrats and Republicans. The choice of candidates can therefore be characterized as a man with his finger in the crack of the dyke, and the opposite.
As a progressive myself I am dismayed. But I choose not to whine or whinge. This year, the whining is of the keening, plaintive type, like a puppy locked out of the house. Please love me, the wining seems to say. Please let me love you. We’re seeing left-wing articles with headlines like “Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama: Who is Better at “Framing” Progressive Issues?” (Buzzflash) and “The Choice” (The Nation). Both articles can be summarized briefly as follows: neither, and none of the above. There is nothing whatsoever for a real, transformation-seeking liberal to respond to. What do the candidates advocate? “Change” and “Improvement” seem to be their suggestions, although no genuine changes or improvements have been mentioned that even approach the scale of the problems before us as a nation. As always, liberals are doing their level best to put a smiley face on the doings of the Democrats, the closest thing in establishment politics to a left-wing party (just as the right wing is the closest thing to the left wing on a duck). Unfortunately it was Mrs. Clinton’s late husband, President Bill Clinton, that permanently locked the Left out of Washington. There’s precious little likelihood that she will show the winkiest flash of progressive sentiment during her 18 months in office before she’s impeached by her own party. It might possibly be worse with Obama, because even if he’s not assassinated in the first six minutes of his presidency, he certainly won’t be allowed to govern. In fact they’ll be counting the White House spoons every night.
Don’t get me wrong. I would be delighted to see a woman or a person of color in the Oval Office. Progressive, remember? But America needs to move well beyond the knee-jerk pocket liberalism that says any young black man is superior to an old white one, and any woman superior to both of them, or we’re doomed. England elected Margaret Thatcher to the role of Prime Minister in 1979, and that was a ghastly mistake. Kenya has apparently elected numerous black presidents, and it’s not in very good shape at the moment. It turns out, if you really study the matter, that people must be judged upon their merits alone, with no points awarded for gender or race. This is, after all, the leadership of the world’s most heavily armed nation we’re talking about, not admission to Harvard. I’m all for quotas in higher education. Otherwise we have fewer candidates that aren’t old white men. But after that, qualification is everything. I know Hillary isn’t qualified, even if she was the first man to scale Everest, and I don’t know a goddamn thing about Obama, except he admires Ronald Reagan, a gentleman of the old school that would have called Mr. Obama “boy” and rubbed his head for luck on the golf course.
Still I hear that whining, some of it now directed at me. Why be such a downer? Can’t I see the good in anybody? Immediately the arguments begin that a President Hillary would wait until she was in office and then suddenly throw off the cloak and nationalize healthcare and give everybody a year’s paid maternity leave. Rubbish. She means as little as she says. Hillary Clinton is as progressive in her plans as Reagan himself, and even those will be too close to communism for the regressive corporate-feudalist troglodytes currently calling the tune in Washington. Maybe Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will nudge her to the left. Jazz hands! If you like the comedy, you’ll love the veal-don’t forget to tip your waitress, you’ve been a wonderful audience. The odds of a single progressive gesture from this Democratic field are similar to the odds of an aphid winning the Kentucky Derby. And yet, as ever, the True Left will convince itself that maybe this time somebody will remember the Rest Of Us, if we just vote and vote and vote for them. This is pinheaded nonsense. The mid-term election of 2006 ought to have taught us that. You can’t even get to Washington unless you’re entirely ruled by greed and reptile instinct.
Do I advocate throwing away the left-wing vote on some write-in candidate or fringe party? No. Go ahead and vote for Hillary or Obama, as it’s unlikely your vote will be counted anyway. Nader is talking about a run. You could vote for him and piss everybody off. But vote. I do not advocate staying home. We participate in national democracy only once every four years, for about an hour. So it’s important to do it, if only as a kind of offering to posterity. I will be voting, for example, although I couldn’t be more disenfranchised if I lived in Florida. It’s the act of voting that matters, the cleansing sense of absolution despite the context, like confessing one’s sins to a pederast priest. And of course you can get out there now and advocate for an improvement to the candidate’s positions. Agitate for healthcare reform and a withdrawal from Iraq. Campaign for organic food and equal rights. Better schools, less spending on war machinery, corporate accountability, name your issue and go out there and advocate. The candidates may hear you. They may mention your cause in a speech. But in four years’ time there won’t be any national healthcare, we’ll still be ignoring global warming, and I’m guessing New Orleans won’t be rebuilt. If only because the country is bankrupt. As for Iraq, as soon as it ceases to be profitable, we’ll leave. That’s unlikely to be soon.
So that’s it, just vote, even though there’s nobody worth voting for and your vote won’t count? Everybody knows you don’t end a piece like this on a down-note. It’s not the done thing. You have to offer a promise of hope and suggest something people can do to make a difference, otherwise it’s all just complaints and impotent ranting. So here’s my sage advice as a devoted liberal progressive type. Given that the race is down to a bunch of Mussolini impersonators on the Republican side and Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democratic side, realistically, what can we as progressives do besides whine? Rub mustard into our hair. It’s as likely to make a difference as anything else.