Thursday, June 05, 2008

How right-wing crap polluted Democrats' political waters

-- by Dave

Both the Hillary Clinton and the Barack Obama camps emerged from this bruising primary flinging potent, and somewhat mirrored accusations at each other: that the Clinton camp had indulged in racism and racist appeals, and conversely that the Obama camp was rife with sexism. I wonder if, when they step back from the outcome and think about what's happened, they'll be able to recognize where these lines of thought originated -- and why it's a bad idea to continue indulging them.

Both charges, as it happens, actually arise out of what I think were core beliefs held by people in the competing camps. In the Clinton camp it was widely believed that a black man, especially one with as little experience as Obama, could not win the general election. Among Obama's supporters, it was widely held that Hillary similarly couldn't win -- not because she was a woman, but because she was that kind of woman: an unpleasant, grasping, overly ambitious bitch who turned people off. These beliefs in turned spawned the very real behavior within those camps that produced the competing charges against the other.

Both of these beliefs, as it happens, were originally right-wing talking points spouted by the Limbaughs and Goldbergs of the right, regurgitated by supposedly mainstream pundits like Chris Matthews and Maureen Dowd, and gradually spread throughout our political discourse.

They were convenient talking points for partisans to absorb, ways to differentiate people's choices between two politicians who in reality are so close politically as to be nearly twins policy-wise. And they have damned near poisoned the waters for Democrats within their own party.

This struck me awhile back. Just as an example: I was talking to one of my oldest friends, a smart and politically involved woman who makes her living as a jewelrymaker in Missoula, Montana, back in early February, shortly after the Washington State caucuses, when I had largely been won over to the Obama camp. She was already ardently pro-Obama, but when the subject of Hillary came up, I was a bit taken aback by how viscerally she disliked the woman: she was cold, calculating, unsympathetic, too ambitious ... a bitch.

I'm sure she was as taken aback by the forcefulness of my reply: She sounded, I told her, like the women I used to meet when I went to militia meetings, the ones who sold books like Big Sister Is Watching You (all about the secret coven of witches operating out of the White House then); or for that matter, like the average Rush Limbaugh listener. The women who absorbed and internalized all that right-misogyny rampant in those worlds. And they all used the same kind of visceral I-can't-explain-it-I-just-hate-her rationale.

Well, she replied, I don't listen to Limbaugh or right-wing talk radio or watch Fox, but I still feel that way about her.

Of course not, I replied. But you live in Montana. And my friend was far from the only person I knew from various parts of the rural West who had voiced their feelings about Hillary similarly (nor was she the last). It's like something in the water; the right-wing gasbags had enjoyed so many years of spewing undiluted crap into the public discourse about Hillary -- a lot of it with origins on the far far right -- that it had just become pervasive. It is almost "common sense" to scowl at the sound of Hillary's name. Besides, she might not listen to Limbaugh, but I bet her brothers or their friends did, or her husband's right-wing family, or some of the people she did business with. When it's something spewed that long enough and without any effort to stanch it or stand up to it, it becomes almost ambient.

That's how right-wing crap works. It's not meant to advance or even partake of discourse; it's meant to end it. One can argue the worth of Hillary's policies or her voting record or her position on the war till the cows come home; but when she's reduced to being a bitch, that pretty much ends the discussion. And when it's as pervasive as it's become in the past decade, its effects are paralyzingly toxic.

And it's important to remember that the same holds true regarding right-wing attitudes about a black man like Obama winning the White House. The most polite versions of right-wing cant hold that Obama's not experienced enough to be president, but the underlying drumbeat of this meme has been all about his foreign-sounding name or his supposed Muslim ties or his "weakness" on national security ... about his being a black man.

The impolite version -- expressed only in certain quarters -- is that his being a black man disqualifies him from the presidency; the filtered Pat Buchanan version of this is that "white working class voters" will never vote for a black man. I hear that Limbaugh is updating a prior race-baiting schtick by calling him the "Donovan McNabb of politics."

So when you hear Hillary's supporters argue that American voters will not elect a black man president in 2008 -- and use that as a major reason to support their candidate instead -- they're just regurgitating old right-wing crap. Toxic right-wing crap.

Progressives need to wake up and realize they're being played and refuse to buy into toxic crap that they should not, must not, be about. At some point we need to stand back and take stock and realize that damage has been done and it needs repairing, both for the short and the long term.

Jack Turner the other day had a terrific, must-read post reflecting on this:

Last week, after talking with several Hillary Clinton supporters, I had an epiphany: that which I most dislike about the darker sides of her and her campaign is just what some people see in me. It's the worst feeling, to end up displaying traits you deplore, and I'd like to explore it a bit as we move to the general election.

Let's all acknowledge some realities here that fly in the face of right-wing bullshit. Hillary is a superb politician and a fighter, a master of policy whose competence and qualifications are unquestionable -- and she is far from the cold, ugly human being the right and now her left-wing critics wish to paint her as. Obama, likewise, is a supremely gifted politician and a natural leader capable of convention-shattering feats, whose qualities in those regards progressives should never underestimate -- though of course, it's our hope that the right will.

The sooner both sides -- not just the leaders at the top, but the rank and file troops -- acknowledge these realities, and reject the right's pervasive and toxic crap, the better off we will all be.

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

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