Hillary Clinton famously found her voice in New Hampshire, but it took the senator until West Virginia to relocate her inner child. Yes, she’s once again embraced the Goldwater Girl of her youth.
Once upon a time while she was still the front-runner, Hillary chastised Barack Obama for his naïve pledge to take unilateral action to assassinate by cruise missile Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda leadership if their hideaway in the mountains of Pakistan could ever be located. She said such a strike would be destabilizing and in contravention of international law. Now Mrs. Clinton, following in the footsteps of her hero Goldwater, is vowing to take unilateral nuclear action to obliterate an entire nation: Iran.
In Clinton’s mind, this political regression has been validated by her wins in the Wal-Mart Belt of Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky, states where her terms on the union-busting board of Wal-Mart are viewed as a political asset.
Hillary’s neo-populism seems to have been grafted from the virulent stock of Orval Faubus and George Wallace, which fused anti-bank and anti-corporate oratory with rancid segregationist rants. (For more on the origins of the southern populist Dixiecrats read Robert Sherrill’s The Gothic Politics of the Deep South, one of the most instructive books ever written on American politics.) But whereas Faubus and Wallace actually delivered some economic crumbs to poor southern whites, Hillary offers mainly hollow and strained rhetoric. Clinton is constitutionally wedded to a stern neoliberalism, a disposition she can’t fully camouflage.
Long ago, the states of Kentucky and West Virginia entered into an economic suicide pact with Big Coal. The bill for this grim Faustian bargain has finally come due with chronic unemployment, busted unions, poisoned water, pulverized mountains, rampant environmental illnesses and chronic privation. Yet, all Clinton had to offer this desolate region was a vow to fund clean coal technologies. Clean coal is the biggest con job since energy deregulation, another fraudulent scheme unleashed in Clinton time. Low-sulfur coal isn’t clean and the latest method for extracting those black seams constitutes the most devastating form of mining yet invented: mountaintop removal. Using this barbaric method, Big Coal is steadily decapitating Appalachia and burying its valleys and hollows under mounds of toxic detritus. Communities and watersheds be damned.
Another example. Hillary came to Oregon last week. She didn’t draw 75,000 people for a speech on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland, as Obama did. Instead she headed to Beaverton, the posh suburb of Portland that is home to Nike, where she held a press conference in an empty subdivision of new upscale homes that had sat unsold for the past year. Most of the people who voted for her in West Virginia don’t earn enough in ten years of hard labor to pay for one of these houses. She communed with the developer, commiserating over the hard times of the real estate industry.
In recent weeks, the growing ranks of the homeless had camped out in front of the Portland mayor Tom Potter’s office, demanding more humane treatment. It apparently didn’t occur to Hillary to ask her developer pals to open up those vacant houses to shelter the economic refugees of the Bush era.
With his solid win in Oregon, Obama has now earned a majority of pledged delegates. He has also surpassed Clinton in super delegates. But the finality of this mathematical threshold hasn’t deterred Hillary, who vows to fight on until “we have a nominee–whoever she may be.” Indeed, Clinton is now claiming incredulously that she is the popular vote leader, a number that can only be achieved if ballots cast by blacks only count as half a vote. (Obama currently leads Clinton by nearly 500,000 votes.)
Increasingly, Clinton is operating in a virtual reality programmed by her pollster Mark Penn during his downtime from working for the butchers of Colombia. Adhering to Penn’s fatal calculus, Clinton has endeavored to re-segregate the Democratic Party electorate into demographic segments and then pitted them against each other. The Clinton campaign has intentionally inflamed these simmering antagonisms: black versus Hispanic, black versus white, black versus older women, white collar versus blue collar, young versus old, under-educated versus college grad.
Back in the 1980s, Lee Atwater constructed an illusory Big Tent for Republicans, welcoming inside the Reagan Democrats—if only to soon betray their core interests. This was called the politics of expansion. In contrast, Clinton and Penn are cynically attempting to contract the Democratic base by provoking an internal Hobbesian free-for-all—total warfare of the factions.
What was once coded is now explicit. Clinton openly talks about her appeal among “working, hard working, white voters.” The implication here is that blacks are lazy, shiftless and on the welfare dole and that perhaps only half of their votes should count. But shouldn’t someone remind her that her husband dismantled welfare? Perhaps her former mentor Marian Wright Edelman should make the call.
Coming from a Wellesley grad who just loaned her own campaign nearly $12 million, Hillary’s attempts to peg Obama as an elitist requires a degree of chutzpah that might make Alan Dershowitz tingle with envy. But when the Clintons tag Obama as an elitist, they don’t mean primarily that he is rich (which he is) but that he’s an “uppity nigger.”
The Clinton camp has become so entrenched in their racial rhetoric that I’ve begun to wonder if they begin their morning strategy sessions with a screening of the Rodney King beating tape as a motivational tool.
For the dull-witted, Clinton’s surrogates are sent out spell it out in capital letters. Obama used cocaine (Bob Johnson). Obama’s middle name is “Hussein” (Bob Kerrey). Obama is a master of “shuck and jive” (Andrew Cuomo). Obama is another Jesse Jackson (Bill Clinton). Obama’s story is a fairy tale (ditto). And, most recently, Geraldine Ferraro told the Los Angeles Times that Obama is a “sexist” (most black men are, right?) and she won’t vote for him if he is the nominee.
To sum up: Obama is a drug abuser, a huckster, a secret Muslim, a con artist and a misogynist. And that’s without dragging Jeremiah Wright into the scenario.
Numerically, Obama sewed up the nomination back in March. Since then the Clinton campaign has been running largely on the fumes of her own ego, at a cost of a million dollars a day. How then can she justify persisting, especially with a campiagn freighted with such malignant themes?
Her campaign now resembles a political neutron bomb that wipes out all living contenders and leaves only the super-structure of her own aspiration standing. Apparently, the idea is to crush the interloper Obama, either in Denver, through some deus ex machina of spineless super-delegates stampeding her way, or to have McCain do her work for her so that she can challenge the septuagenarian in 2012. If so, her motto will be the familiar taunt of the schoolhouse tattletale: “I told you so.”
If Obama survives the primaries and falls to McCain in November, Hillary will attempt to remake the Democratic Party in her own image. It will replay of the origin of the conservative DLC, designed by her husband and Lieberman to keep the party from falling into the hands of Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition. This time the C will stand for Clinton.
The Clintons have always been graceless and petulant in defeat. They seek to destroy any defectors from their camp (c.f., Bill “Judas” Richardson). Now that NARAL has jilted Clinton for Obama, Hillary is probably contemplating coming out in favor parental notification for teenage abortions and joining the next senate filibuster against stem cell research.
Meanwhile, Obama is daily being drained of any vestigial progressive instinct. In order to prove he’s not an appeaser of Hezbollah, Obama is pledging to beef up funding of the Lebanese army and paramilitaries, a disastrous scheme that will only exacerbate a fractious situation. If this keeps up, there will soon be demands that Obama annul his marriage to the seditious Michelle, the last affirmative reason to vote for him in my view.
With the walls closing in around her, Hillary unveiled a final argument: Karl Rove, the man John Conyers wants to put in leg-irons in the crypt of the Capitol, says she’s the better candidate against McCain. Rove also swore there were weapons of mass destruction. Clinton fell for that one, too.
JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is just out from AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.