Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Random Thoughts Hours Before the New Hampshire Primary

We have officially reached the low point of the presidential campaign.

It's been bad enough that under seven years of Bush and Cheney, we've had the president and vice president intentionally manipulate the fear of another 9-11 within America. The White House has cynically ratcheted up dire warnings and tweaked the color coded terrorism alert status to coincide with Republican political needs.

In the last week, as her poll numbers slid, we saw Hillary Clinton, aided and abetted by the media, resort to fear-mongering as well. It started with this weekend's Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire hosted by ABC television. "Good Morning America" anchor Charlie Gibson didn't want to open with a question about the subprime lending crisis, or the continued deterioration of middle class living standards, or the number of Americans without health insurance, or global warming. Gibson went apocalyptic from the get-go.

"[T]he central [question] in my mind is nuclear terrorism," Gibson grimly announced. "The next president of the United States may have to deal with a nuclear attack on an American city. I've read a lot about this in recent days. The best nuclear experts in the world say there's a 30 percent chance in the next 10 years. Some estimates are higher. Graham Allison, at Harvard, says it's over 50 percent."

Whenever experts give odds like this, I always ask what are the numbers are based on. The CIA clearly has been clueless about the activities of Al Queda, in part because we have few or no "human assets" within that loosely organized network. Putting together a nuclear bomb requires expertise, an infrastructure, access to materials, and discreet locations for testing. Once the device is tested, we would know a blast had gone off. It is hard to imagine that any terrorist group can, in the next 10 years, pull together all the prerequisites needed for constructing a bomb, sneaking it into the United States without detection, and successfully setting it off, when sovereign nations like Iran and North Korea have been unable to develop nuclear arms, even without the difficulties faced by Al Queda. Statements like Gibson's sound authoritative, but he owes an explanation for the methodology behind the question's premise.

A few days later, Hillary herself invoked fear of a nuclear attack in order to resuscitate her failing presidential bid. During a campaign stop, she observed that the day after Gordon Brown assumed the post of British prime minister, terrorists were foiled in an attempted double bombing in London and Glasgow.

“I don’t think it was by accident that Al Qaeda decided to test the new prime minister,” Clinton said. “They watch our elections as closely as we do, maybe more closely than some of our fellows citizens do…. Let’s not forget you’re hiring a president not just to do what a candidate says during the election, you want a president to be there when the chips are down.” In other words, don't be surprised if there's a mushroom cloud over an American city if an inexperienced Barack Obama gets sworn in as Commander-in-Chief.

It gets worse. Hillary compared herself to Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama to Martin Luther King in a way that demeaned both the senator from Illinois and the slain civil rights leader. "False Hopes," Hillary said. "Dr King standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking out over the magnificent crowd, the reflecting pool, the Washington Monument, sorry guys, false hopes, the dream will die, it can't be done, false hope, we don't need leaders who tell us what we can't do, we need leaders to tell us what we can do and inspire us."

"I would, and I would point to the fact that that Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the President before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became a real in peoples lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it, and actually got it accomplished."

Senator Clinton suggests that King's agenda depended mostly on the patronage of a powerful white politician. Granted, Lyndon Johnson overcame his Texas upbringing and showed ac remarkable commitment to equal opportunity for all even as a school teacher and a New Deal aparatchnik in Texas. Johnson does not get nearly the credit than he deserves for advancing the civil rights cause and accepting the political penalty that came with that advocacy. Nevertheless, it was men like Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, and A. Philip Randolph who made black civil rights the foremost issue in American domestic politics in the 1950s and 1960s. To portray King as an impractical dreamer who would have failed unless some benevolent Caucasian rescued him simply echoes a racist tradition of seeing whites as the sole important actors in history.

The last week before the New Hampshire primary ended with Bill Clinton, stumping for his wife in a continuing act of penance, delivering this angry shot across the bow regarding Obama's position on the Iraq War vs. Hillary's.

"It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years, and never got asked one time, not once, 'Well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution? You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war," Clinton said during a campaign speech in Hanover.. "And you took that speech you're now running on off your Web site in 2004. And there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since."

First of all, it is funny, in a sad and pathetic way, to hear the former president criticize Obama for being inconsistent. Back in late November, Clinton made this claim:

"Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers," Clinton said. He said he "should not have gotten" the tax cuts he received as a wealthy earner.

The former president chose an unusual way to oppose the war: by backing it. "I supported the president when he asked for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," Clinton said on May 18, 2003, during a commencement address at Tougaloo College in Mississippi.

Clintonian hypocrisy is hardly new, but his charge regarding Obama's stand on the Iraq War doesn't hold up. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who lined up behind Bush from the very beginning and only started to criticize the war when public support began to wane, Obama stated his opposition from the outset. Obama spoke out against the proposed resolution giving Bush a green light to invade Iraq in 2002 when he was a little-known state senator taking what was then an unpopular position. Obama's support forthe stand taken by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who voted against the resolution, was loud and clear.

Obama also has not had an identical voting record as Clinton on issues of war and peace. While he did, like Hillary, cave in the to phony Bush "vote for more spending on Iraq or you'll endanger the troops" ploy, he refused to play along with the latest case of Bush warmongering, this time against Iran. Sen. Clinton seems to have learned nothing from the Iraq debacle. She voted for a Joe Leiberman-sponsored resolution declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist organization" and authorizing the trigger-happy administration to take "appropriate" action.

When the National Intelligence Estimate declared that Iran had given up its nuclear weapons program, she laughably claimed credit for it, saying the Revolutionary Guard resolution persuaded Tehran to change course, even though the NIE clearly said Iran had dropped its weapons program in 2003 and the resolution was approved by the Senate four years later. Obama can be faulted for not being present to oppose the resolution - he was out running for president - but nevertheless his opposition to it was clear and forceful.

Meanwhile, this week, the Bush administration has attempted to pull off its own Gulf of Tonkin incident between American and Iranian naval vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. Bush wants to run the table on the Axis of Evil, even though he's losing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the once principled but now thoroughly opportunistic hack from New York, Hillary Clinton, will be on hand to plunge us into one more futile war.

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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