Hate is a very destructive emotion. Just ask any person with high blood pressure, or ulcers because their rage gets the better of them. Or ask the victims of hate. All those black men who were lynched in the early twentieth century. All the European Jews who were burned to cinders in the Holocaust. All the victims of all the wars ever fought. Hatred is not a sound foundation for anyone to build their identities upon, or fashion their political careers around, or make the center point of their everyday existence. Sooner or later it brings destruction and devastation to all in its path, both haters and hated alike. For a historical example, just look at Nazi Germany. Or, for a more current one, look at our country today, brought to its knees, economically, militarily, spiritually and morally by the constant hate fed to our body politic by the Republicans and their right wing allies over the last 30 years.
For some time now, I’ve witnessed an unparalleled explosion of hatred within the Democratic party. This presidential primary campaign has been one in which Democrats of all stripes have engaged in the rawest displays of anger and venom toward one candidate or another. Hate that has been fostered and manipulated primarily by the campaign of one candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton. A campaign which demonized Barack Obama as incompetent, corrupt, an elitist, and out of touch with white working class voters. And even worse, one which demonized and demeaned the supporters of Senator Obama and those who voted for him. Obama supporters have been marginalized by the Clintons as effete liberal professionals, left wing semi-Marxist political activists, small state voters who didn’t count as much as large state voters, and, as repugnant as this is to type, as “Jesse Jackson” type African Americans, inconsequential and unimportant. People who didn’t really matter. People who could not form the basis for a Democratic victory against John McCain in the Fall. People who weren’t “real Americans.” People whose issues and desires were of little if any consequence.
Republicans occasionally like to refer to their party as a “Big Tent” which accepts anyone and everyone, but we all know that is a pernicious canard. Since the 1960’s, if not before, the Republicans have long been a coalition of rich people (primarily whites), religious fundamentalist conservative Christians (also primarily whites) and white racists. That was the entire point of their “Southern strategy” and their appeal to “Reagan Democrats;” i.e., we of the GOP are the party of white people first. In short, Republicans have been the party of hatred, bigotry and hostility toward anyone who didn’t fit their carefully constructed mold. A mold which excluded millions of Americans. Indeed, a mold which didn’t even consider many Americans to have a valid claim to citizenship or the prosperity, rights and liberties which Republicans assumed they alone were entitled to enjoy.
In fact, it has been the Democratic party that is the true big tent, embracing African Americans, Gays and Lesbians, Women, Pro-choice Americans, Civil libertarians, Liberals, Environmentalists, Poor people, and people of all colors, ethnicities and faiths, even those unfairly hated and feared Muslim Americans.
Now a coalition as broad as the one contained in the Democratic Party is bound to be a bit untidy at times, with competing interests vying with one another for the attention of Democratic officials, and vigorously promoting action on behalf their own agendas and issues. Often, presidential election contests have been very combative as different groups supported different candidates. Yet, until this year, I’ve have never seen the level of sheer vindictiveness and venom on display among supporters of the principle competitors for the democratic presidential nomination. Never has there existed such bitterness and divisiveness among the party faithful. Not since the era of the “Dixiecrats” have so many Democrats claimed they will refuse to vote for the the party’s nominee if their preferred candidate is the loser.
This is a direct result of two things in my opinion. One, is the fact that never before has the choice for any party been between candidates who represent the two most prominent groups in our country who have never had one of their own elected President: Women and African Americans. For the first time ever, a white man was not guaranteed to be the nominee of a major party. Both Senators Clinton and Obama represent communities for whom the Presidency had always been merely an aspiration, never a realistic possibility. Yet this year, amazingly, the two strongest candidates, and the two most electable candidates, were a women and a black man. This was historic, but it was also a recipe for major disappointment for the supporters of the losing candidate. Inevitably, many people were bound to be angry and disillusioned by the outcome of this race because of their strong gender or racial identification with Clinton or Obama, respectively. Still, that alone would not have resulted in the truly appalling level of vitriol which we have experienced during the course of this campaign.
For that we have Senator Clinton’s campaign to blame. They could have chosen to play this campaign rough, attacking Obama for his policy positions, or his voting record, or for his ties to various interest groups and that would have been understandable. That would have simply been politics as usual, hardball, but not gutter ball. And indeed, that was the campaign they ran against him until he won Iowa. Then he became a threat. After that, they chose to play the race card, first in South Carolina in an attempt to blunt the extent of his anticipated victory. Still, they did not go completely negative, they did not adopt their full bore scorched earth campaign until after “Super Tuesday” when Obama not only survived, he actually won more contests than Senator Clinton, and was poised to win many more thereafter.
At this point, as the Clinton camp watched Obama’s organization beat them in state after state, and witnessed his online financing machine generate a level of campaign contributions they could not hope to match, they became desperate. They had pinned all their hopes on an early knockout blow on Super Tuesday. Hillary was supposed to be the “inevitable candidate” after all, the one with the most big money contributors, the most establishment support and the most name recognition. They never imagined that a black man, a Junior Senator from Illinois with the funny sounding “Muslim” name of Barack Obama, would even be in the race after the first week in February. It was all supposed to be wrapped up by then. She and her advisers literally had no plan, no strategy in place, for any campaign that might last beyond February 5, 2008.
So, the Clinton campaign adopted the tactics which had been used against them by the Republicans all through the 1990’s. They played to the lowest denominator. They questioned Obama’s patriotism. They questioned his character. They tried to make him, the poorest candidate in the race, the one who had the most obstacles to overcome in his life in order to reach the position he now held, as the candidate of privilege and elitism. They tried to make him appear incompetent, the not ready for prime time, candidate, the one who hadn’t passed some as yet unspecified commander in chief test. They dogged him about his faith, his pastor, even the fact that he was by far the best political orator in a generation. They called him the leader of a cult and mocked the thousands of people who attended his campaign rallies as mindless, brainwashed Obamabots.
And, most outrageously, they continually, relentlessly played up his race. He wasn’t electable, they said. whites would never vote for him they said, he was a “Jesse Jackson” race hustler, they said. They destroyed all the good will with the African American community which they had built up over eight years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the man who had been anointed America’s first “black president,” and they threw that good will on the trash heap in their relentless attempt to win white voters to vote for the white woman over the black man, even though no Democrat has won the Presidency without the support of the African American community, since the days of Woodrow Wilson.
Even worse, they pandered to their most vicious enemies from the “vast right wing conspiracy,” granting interviews with Richard Mellon Scaife, Bill O’Reilly and the Rush Limbaugh show. They spread lies to their supporters and the media with each new day’s talking points in a smear campaign that seemed to have come straight out of the play book of Karl Rove, rather than from a distinguished Senator and former First Lady of the most popular Democratic President since JFK. They called party leaders who, disgusted with their tactics, had chosen to endorse Obama, traitors, or in the case of Bill Richardson a “Judas” literally on the eve of Easter. They even endorsed outright blackmail by their biggest contributors against Nancy Pelosi, in an attempt to intimidate her from speaking out against the Clinton’s tactics and the tone of their campaign. It was a no holds barred, scorched earth, kitchen sink attack with no class, no ethics and no remorse.
Thus, it was not surprising that Hillary’s most fanatical online supporters fanned this hate against the candidate who has been, and is now, the most likely person to win the Democratic nomination at the convention in Denver. The more Hillary fell behind, the more her candidacy became nothing more than a Quixotic quest to wrest the nomination away from Obama by any means necessary, the more bile they spewed at him and at everyone who simply wanted this bloodbath to end. They painted Obama as the villain in their little melodrama, the man in the black hat (pardon the pun) who was “unfairly” depriving Hillary (and “the voters”) of her rightful place at the top of the ticket, despite the fact that he leads in pledged delegates, states won, the popular vote, and will, I believe, also lead her in super delegate endorsements in the near future.
Well, in my humble opinion, it is time for the hate fest to end. Obama has maintained, for the most part, the high road in this campaign, despite the vicious and unwarranted personal attacks on his person, his race, his political skills, his character, his life and his accomplishments. He has not descended into the sewer where the Clinton campaign was so eager to play, but has remained focused on the issues. His attacks against her have been, for the most part, centered on her record (e.g., her vote for the Iraq War) and her policy proposals (e.g., her “gas tax holiday” which she borrowed from Senator McCain). He didn’t challenge her religious affiliations or her faith, though he certainly could have had he wanted to do so. He didn’t harp on the well known Clinton scandals or ask his surrogates to quote hit pieces from right wing rags to question her fitness for the Presidency in their emails to media figures. Under one of the most maddening and vile assaults that any Democratic candidate has ever endured at the hands of a fellow Democrat, he showed his character.
Now it is time for the Clinton supporters to put down their hatchets and accept Obama as the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party. There is nothing more to be gained from attacking him at this point. It won’t resurrect Senator Clinton’s political chances, or her reputation, for that is already irrevocably ruined. All it will do is help John McCain in the general election.
And I ask you, after eight years of the lies and misdeeds and corruption of President Bush and his cabal of warmongering neocons, do we really want to help a man like McCain, who by all accounts is even more dedicated to endless wars in the Middle East than Bus? Do we really want to assist McCain into the oval office, a conservative who promises to continue the same domestic policies of the Bushies which led to the rapid demise of our economy, increased carbon emissions, the continued deregulation of big business that have made all of us less safe at home, at school and at work? In the face of massive debts, trade imbalances, a falling dollar, millions of foreclosures and bankruptcies, do we really want to encourage people to vote for a man who thinks the answer to all our problems is to cut taxes for the benefit of the richest Americans and big corporations even more than Bush did?
I hope not. I hope the Clinton supporters finally get their “come to Jesus” moment, and sooner rather than later. Because this country cannot endure another four years of a Republican in the White House. The way to prevent that is to start to bind up the wounds that divide Democrats, one from another, as soon as possible. We can’t wait until June, or July or August to begin this process. This year’s election is too critical, and the potential damage to our country too great, to continue this internecine warfare one more day, one more hour, or one more minute.
McCain will be a formidable candidate if only because he is a media darling who will be given him every break by the Beltway punditocracy. The last thing any of us need, regardless of who you supported in the primary season, is a continuing divide within our party. All our hands will be needed this Fall pulling in the same direction, if we are to have any chance of reversing the downward spiral into which the Bush and Cheney Gang have led our beleaguered country. To the extent that anyone believes or acts otherwise, they are doing not only the Democratic party a disservice, but America as well.