Political time zones
DENVER -- When Hillary Clinton wholeheartedly tried to endorse Barack Obama, she did her job, told a compelling story about Harriet Tubman, and still, perhaps instinctively, laid the groundwork for praising herself. Tubman, legendary African-American abolitionist and Union spy during the Civil War, served as apostle for Clinton's motto"Don't ever stop. Keep going." There is a difference though, of being chased by vicious slave owners and being driven by ambition and purpose. What was meant to bridge the gap between the struggle of women and the equality of Blacks could be read, in between the lines, as expression of self-indulgence. Of course, Hillary Clinton had a point. During the campaign it proved to be easier for Barack Obama not to be seen as"black" than for her not to be seen as"woman." She had to prove her equality by being tougher than tough and meet higher standards. Ironically, in this sense Hillary Clinton fought the old fight of emancipation, the black struggle. That did not resonate with what she later termed as hard-working white Americans. This tension between black and white within Hillary Clinton might be one explanation for her shift toward openly populist positions during the last part of her campaign. If nominated, she might have won the majority of white, working-class votes for the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Not even Bill Clinton could do that. But winning the majority of the white, working-class vote is not an indication of future-oriented politics. Also, the Democratic party has moved on in the meantime. The never-ending campaign of 2007 and 2008 has shown very few policy differences between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and even John Edwards. The reason: Many trench-warfare battles were fought in the 1990's and have been settled. What might look like the lack of ideas and consistency in message at first glance mirrors a process of comprehensive consolidation within the Democratic Party that started during the Nixon era. The final realignment took place during the eight Clinton years and his politics of the Third Way. It served as door-opener to modernize a party that was still clinging to the politics of the New Deal era, the anti-war protest and the civil rights movement. Hillary's problem: The times of LBJ and FDR are over, irretrievably so. Today, electoral success is more often than not bound to an oratory that alerts the most basic feelings of hope or fear. It requires mind-numbing consistency and recurring expressions of disrespect for the"broken system" in Washington as important pillars. When Hillary Clinton started winning the last primaries it was not because she had"found her voice," as was often said; rather, she had found their voice. Interestingly, the most contentious and appealing discussion about these implicit conditions of political success took place at the Hispanic Institute, which hosted a debate on"Culture Wars", discussing how race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and values are impacting the presidential campaign this fall. At last, a discussion with strong disagreements took place in Denver--and in public. Most Democrats on the podium argued that the way toward American unity lay in Barack Obama's additive personality. The"multi-currents of ethnicity within him will overcome any resentment when people vote," New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said. His candidacy had moved the conversation forward, and Americans were"engaged in a progression that addresses racial tension" observed former White House Press Secretary DeeDee Myers."We will age our way through some of these issues" because young people are different, she continued. The statistics seem to strengthen her case. In less than a year, surveys showed a 20% increase in the number of Americans who would be comfortable with a black President. The previous 20% increase in that number took decades to happen. The only FDR-style universalist on the stage at the Colorado History Museum was conservative MSNBC commentator Tucker Carlson. He declared that the U.S. indeed is a"less a racist country than we imagine" and that Obama's election"would be a watershed moment in American history." For that reason, Carlson called upon Obama to end affirmative action as we know it, because it was based upon ethnic particularities and thus unfair. Carlson did not realize that he was addressing Barack Obama from the standpoint of one of these hard-working white Americans. The Senator from Illinois might not even defend affirmative action, but Hillary Clinton would, because her struggle of adding to the"18 million cracks in the glass ceiling" is closer to the Civil Rights movement than Obama's rhetoric of change. The two former contenders operate in different political time zones. That's why the convention has had such a hard time to get going.
(Note: The views expressed are the author's alone.)
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.