Monday, August 18, 2008

Democrats Trample the Progressive Banner En Route to Denver

Democratic National Committee Chair, Howard Dean

In the heat of August out here in the Midwest, the mind balks at recalling the frozen terrain of New Hampshire in January. But the compulsion to understand what brought Democrats — just days ahead of their national convention — to a state of affairs in which they willfully trample on the banner of progressivism demands it.

As a Unitarian-Universalist, the significance of that progressive banner was brought home to me by the July shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian-Universalist Church by a crazed intruder motivated by hatred of gays and liberals. Ironically, the liberal or progressive movement as defined in the UU tradition would have embraced the unemployed suspect in compassionate outreach.

The first two of the UU’s seven principles are undeniably at the core of the progressive movement: 1) The inherent worth and dignity of every person; and 2) Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Given half a chance, progressive economic and foreign policies flow naturally from that core.

Politically, progressives most often identify with the Democratic Party, but it was during the run up to the New Hampshire primary that a peculiar aberration from the above principled credo became impossible to ignore. In the 160th year after the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, NY, an extraordinarily well-qualified female presidential candidate could not count on even minimal respect from otherwise progressive party officials, the campaign staffs and backers of her opponents in the Democratic primary, and certainly not from either the old or new media.

On Monday, Jan. 7, I tuned in the PBS News Hour where I’d once taken for granted at least fair-minded news coverage. That evening, Jim Lehrer smirked as he referred to Hillary Clinton’s moment of “weakness” captured in a video clip at a meeting with supporters in a New Hampshire restaurant where Sen. Clinton’s eyes welled up as she spoke these words:

“This is very personal for me. It's not just political; it's not just public. I see what's happening. We have to reverse it.”

The senator continued:

“And some people think elections are a game. They think it's like who's up or who's down. It's about our country; it's about our kids' futures. It's really about all of us together.”

Lehrer’s scornful attitude toward Hillary Clinton on the eve of the New Hampshire primary was not all that remarkable. Week after week during The Analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks, Shields, the progressive counterpart to the conservative Brooks, unabashedly fawned over Barack Obama, while failing to conceal his contempt when forced to speak the name of Hillary Clinton. By then, however, I relished the power of the off button on my remote to cut short offensively biased news broadcasts —whether originating from PBS, network, or cable.

As Tuesday, January 8, dawned on the Granite State’s primary, five days after the Iowa caucus, the polls were nearly unanimous in predicting a double-digit win for Obama, happily exulting to his followers about riding a wave. Even then, talking heads were wondering aloud to one another when “Hillary” would most likely drop out of the race.

Pundits would later manage to avoid giving full credit to Sen. Clinton for her New Hampshire win by calling it “miraculous.” But that very night on the News Hour, Mark Shields predictably agreed with a comment by David Brooks in chalking up Sen. Clinton’s win to gender: “I think David's point about gender is crucial. Gender did not work for Hillary Clinton in Iowa. It worked for her in New Hampshire. We know what happened; we don't know why.”

As pollsters and pundits scrambled to explain the New Hampshire upset, Jesse Jackson, Jr., national co-chair of Barack Obama’s campaign, went on a rampage. The day after the primary, the grim-faced Jackson’s spin on Sen. Clinton’s moment in the New Hampshire restaurant was egregiously sexist; he accused Clinton of melting the Granite State by showing emotion over her appearance that she had failed to show over national catastrophes such as Katrina video and text here.

To my recollection, there was no immediate outcry from Democratic Party leaders, the mainstream media, or the new media over Jackson’s blatant injection of sexism into the campaign.

By then it was clear to any semi-conscious Democrat that Barack Obama owned the party’s left wing, ginned up by the netroots — hundreds of thousands of political junkies swarming Internet message boards 24/7 in aggressive support of their idol.

Having co-opted the label, the netroots, along with various social networking sites, redefined the progressive movement to suit its own purposes: any hint of racism, real or imagined, in the 2008 presidential campaign was taboo, but it was open season for the most obscene expressions of sexism and misogyny.

Whereas, Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s hate-mongering, sexist slur of Hillary Clinton in the aftermath of her upset victory in New Hampshire went largely ignored, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz pointed out in his op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

‘“Obama's backers, including members of his official campaign staff, then played what might be called ‘the race-baiter card.’ Hillary Clinton, in crediting both Lyndon Johnson as well as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the Civil Rights Act in 1964, had supposedly denigrated King, and by extension Obama. Allegedly, Bill Clinton had dismissed Obama's victory in South Carolina by comparing it to those of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the 1980s. (In fact, their electoral totals were comparable — and in the interview at issue, Clinton complimented Obama on his performance ‘everywhere’ — a line the media usually omitted.)”’

When pinned down during the Las Vegas debate, Obama made clear – after most of the damage had been done – that he was well aware the Clintons were not racists.

In the meantime, misogynist attacks against Hillary Clinton continued unabated. In response to MSNBC’s suspension of David Shuster for his on-the-air remark accusing the Clinton campaign of “pimping” their daughter Chelsea, an unbelievable number of Obama’s online supporters jumped to Shuster’s defense while verbally assaulting Sen. Clinton and her family. Here’s a sample:

“Shuster should have given them the middle finger. Pimp is becoming part of the vernacular today. It's one of the slang words that{’}s utterly harmless. And the fact that the Clinton Machine is pimping Chelsea out makes this even more pathetic. People get so pissy and uppity over the stupidest things.

“What they really need to address is how the hell Chelsea became the ugliest child/ person in politics. Or Public office. That poor thing got beat with the ugly stick one too many times.”

Similarly, after Obama aide Samantha Power resigned for publicly calling Hillary Clinton a monster, the following response from the netroots was typical:

“…Powers was 99.99% correct Mrs. Clinton is not only a monster but Lucifer's twin sister.”

By the time Barack Obama claimed the title of presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party on June 3 in St. Paul, he boasted only a narrow lead in delegates; whereas, Clinton led in the popular vote. Nevertheless, the same pundits who had been trying for months to force Clinton out of the race, railed at her for taking the time to thank her supporters for her South Dakota win that night instead of immediately conceding the nomination to Obama.

It took feminist icon Gloria Steinem to point out: “No candidate in history has been asked to step down by the media. She {Clinton} was.”

Steinem added, “The average time it takes for a loser to endorse a winner in this situation is four months. “She {Clinton} did it in four days. And look how she was criticized for not doing it the very same night.”

After Clinton made her concession speech and the dust from the primary had somewhat settled, Melissa McEwan and Maureen McCluskey published their two-part article titled Destroying Hillary Clinton in the Guardian. The article documented how the Left, also known as the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, mined the Right’s smears from the nineties for its prolonged orgy of Hillary-bashing to secure the nomination for the favored Barack Obama.

However, since first declaring himself the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party in early June, Obama has shifted from left to center on almost every major issue that once endeared him to progressives including abortion, public financing, FISA, faith-based initiatives, NAFTA, gun control, the death penalty, tapping the nation’s oil reserves, and offshore drilling. Obama’s sudden shifts drew expressions of disappointment, scoldings, and advice from once unwavering supporters in both the mainstream media and the blogosphere: here, here, and here.

Moreover, Obama has given his opponents the same kind of ammunition they used so successfully against John Kerry in 2004. Here’s how the conservative blog RedState described Obama’s sudden betrayal of his left-wing base: “Once he won the Democratic nomination, though, Obama started moving so quickly to re-brand himself as a 'centrist' that you'd be forgiven getting whiplash watching him move.”

By abandoning his earlier positions – in the spirit of whatever it takes to win - Barrack Obama, the party’s presumptive standard bearer, effectively tossed aside the progressive banner, already desecrated by the unrelenting sexism and misogyny long endured by Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, hopes grow dim for an open convention conducted according to democratic procedures requiring Sen. Clinton’s name on the ballot and a roll call vote. Instead, party leaders have reportedly planned a rigged election to conclude with Sen. Clinton turning over her delegates to Obama.

Thus, Democrats trample the discarded progressive banner on their march to a carefully staged media event in Denver expected to culminate with Obama’s coronation before 75,000 onlookers in the Mile High Stadium at Invesco Field.

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