Friday, May 30, 2008

He Had an Idea, An Awful Idea

I'm trying to write something for Le Chapeau Haut--you know, the East African edition of that cyber-rag I usually write for--and I have a thought, that I can't use for the 'Chap', but need to get out of my system.

I've had trouble knowing what to say about Obama v. Clinton, partly out of fear of giving offense some way, but probably more out of fear of being flat wrong. The real losers have been been the commentators and analysts, of various stripes: the pollsters whose stats have been wide of the mark, the consultants who cleave to 1996-vintage CW, those in both parties and the media who were hungry to identify frontrunners, who scrutinized the money race as of late 2007 thinking it would be decisive, or who expected some avalanche of post-New Hampshire momentum toward one candidate to wipe the others off the map. So many people have been so wrong so often, including us jackleg bloggers, partly since so few of us have perspectives that reach back before Al Gore invented the Intertubes. Neither the D nor the R race has resembled any other in recent years.

Yet, and I'm thinking now of the D side, as much as the race has defied predictions, and as weary and brittle as we've all become, people nonetheless are hardened in their declarations of What Ought to Happen. No one seems humbled to the point of altering their attitude, to one of openness to new dawns, of surrender, of simply watching what happens with a frank refusal to anticipate the outcome. Hell, many are eager and willing to jigger the rules to bring about the desired outcome, democracy and legitimacy be damned.

Hmm, now I'm bent way over and my bias is showing. How embarrassing. Despite all of the above, I remain hopeful for the future of progressivism, and like a right rank fool I am going to make a prediction: that we will look back on Obama-Clinton 2008 as a turning point, an invigorating tonic in our politics. As long, slow, drawn-out, enervating, and inconclusive as the last few months have been in the Democratic campaign, the storyline has stubbornly refused to be superficial, in spite of the diligent labors of the many highly-paid professionals whose jobs are to keep American politics superficial and dumbed-down. Race, class, gender, and religion have all cropped up, and to a remarkable degree we've discussed them like adults. (Even the arguments about Democratic Party rules and superdelegates and so on, while often self-serving and sometimes infuriating, have not been superficial, I submit; they go to what kind of party we should be.)

And the discussion is going to continue for five more months, and beyond. This election is not going to be Swift Boated, not by some provocateur who tosses a bomb then flees with his motives and bank accounts unexamined. Bushism and its aftermath have made us hungry for a serious campaign.

Political commentators like to use poker as a metaphor, as in "playing the race card." But far from being a game of poker, politics this year has felt like a chess match. No player has been able to lay down a hot-button issue then decisively sweep all the chips off the table. Instead, when issues come up or are deployed, they have lingered on the game board. They interact, they exert their different properties and valences, their actualities and potentialities, and observers get to mull them over at leisure along with the contestants themselves.

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