Feb 4th, 2008 by ravi
History vs Hope

The Democrats finally have their “Mission Accomplished” moment and boy is it good to get all that guilt off your back! In a piece that is embarrassing for not just the lack of content but also the adolescent gushing, Andrew Rosenthal writes in the New York Times:

Michelle, Maria, Caroline and Oprah on the Hustings in California – New York Times

[…]

Ms. Winfrey — finally — spoke to the most emotionally fraught aspect of this contest. “Now look at this campaign: the two front-runners are a black man and a woman,” she said. “What that says to me is we have won the struggle and we have the right to compete.”

Instead of seeing a painful choice, voters, Ms. Winfrey urged, should see a moment when they “are free from the constraints of gender and race.”

After watching the candidates struggle with the issue, painfully and awkwardly, in the past month, it was a relief to hear someone finally frame it in a way that celebrated what the Democratic Party has achieved — and then move beyond it.

[…]

And that ladies and germs, is the promise of Obama (and Hillary too, if you believe Oprah). His candidacy assuages the soft leftist’s guilt about the disparities and discrimination that surround us, offering him the opportunity to cast one small vote for himself but achieve a giant leap for humankind. Vote for Obama and you can keep your SUV and iPod and save the environment too! Vote for Obama and you can move beyond all pain and awkwardness! Free of the constraints of gender and race! This is a competition between unbounded hope and inescapable history. Is it a matter of surprise that older people, women, and those with lesser formal education, choose Clinton over Obama (though they may prefer neither)?

Note that that is the explicit core of the Obama campaign which started out frugally short on detail and gained steam while staying light on substance. As Obama and his wife point out, his campaign is not about him (a messianic Christ-like figure who thunders about “his God”) but about “you”. And if by voting for him and electing him, you have not managed to move beyond the constraints of gender and race, it cannot be your class (which we eliminated from consideration via John Edwards) or the environment you are thrown into, but as Reagan would say, perhaps its your lack of responsibility? (Obama identifies the success of Reagan with dissatisfaction with large government growth and excesses, without accountability).

If there is any further doubt that Obama’s rhetorical dictionary is an approximate facsimile of the Republican one (he has consciously but barely stopped short of calling himself the “uniter”), you can consult Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who points out repeatedly that not only is Obama’s healthcare plan to the right of Hillary, but that his tactic of criticising Hillary’s plan echoes that of conservative and insurance industry operatives in 1992.

Recently, there have been a spate of pro-Obama editorials and opinions on the online pages of the New York Times. One among the many was poignant — it quoted the words of a younger feminist parting ways with her feminist mother on the issue of Obama vs Clinton. The young feminist offered that “her [Clinton’s and by extension her mother’s] issues are not my issues”. In keeping with Oprah’s proclamation, I guess she felt that she was free from the constraints of gender. But her characterisation is inaccurate. Her mother’s issues will always be her issues (at least so long as she considers herself a feminist), especially if she is unaware of that!

As Gloria Steinem writes writes in the same rag, under the apt title “Women Are Never Front-Runners“:

But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex.

What worries me is that she is accused of “playing the gender card” when citing the old boys’ club, while he is seen as unifying by citing civil rights confrontations.

What worries me is that male Iowa voters were seen as gender-free when supporting their own, while female voters were seen as biased if they did and disloyal if they didn’t.

What worries me is that reporters ignore Mr. Obama’s dependence on the old — for instance, the frequent campaign comparisons to John F. Kennedy — while not challenging the slander that her progressive policies are part of the Washington status quo.

What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age.

This country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees. It’s time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers. We have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.”

(I would ignore the part about Clinton’s “progressive policies”)

Some very intelligent people whose opinions I respect greatly are supporting Obama today. I do not believe that they are misled by the baseless hope that Obama represents. I do not even think that they are weary of struggle and want for once to taste some victory (even at some cost). Nonetheless, I think they are on the wrong track.

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