Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Everything I need to know about politics I learned from George Bush and John McCain

Why are these men hugging?

I mean it is rumored that President George Bush and John McCain loathe each other. Despite McCain's recent pandering to conservatives, he was a vocal critic of many of Bush's policies. And then, there is South Carolina. In an article in The Boston Globe, Richard H. Davis, McCain's 2000 campaign manager explains:
In South Carolina, Bush Republicans were facing an opponent who was popular for his straight talk and Vietnam war record. They knew that if McCain won in South Carolina, he would likely win the nomination. With few substantive differences between Bush and McCain, the campaign was bound to turn personal. The situation was ripe for a smear.

It didn't take much research to turn up a seemingly innocuous fact about the McCains: John and his wife, Cindy, have an adopted daughter named Bridget. Cindy found Bridget at Mother Theresa's orphanage in Bangladesh, brought her to the United States for medical treatment, and the family ultimately adopted her. Bridget has dark skin.

Anonymous opponents used "push polling" to suggest that McCain's Bangladeshi born daughter was his own, illegitimate black child. In push polling, a voter gets a call, ostensibly from a polling company, asking which candidate the voter supports. In this case, if the "pollster" determined that the person was a McCain supporter, he made statements designed to create doubt about the senator.

Thus, the "pollsters" asked McCain supporters if they would be more or less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate child who was black. In the conservative, race-conscious South, that's not a minor charge. We had no idea who made the phone calls, who paid for them, or how many calls were made. Effective and anonymous: the perfect smear campaign.

Some aspects of this smear were hardly so subtle. Bob Jones University professor Richard Hand sent an e-mail to "fellow South Carolinians" stating that McCain had "chosen to sire children without marriage." It didn't take long for mainstream media to carry the charge. CNN interviewed Hand and put him on the spot: "Professor, you say that this man had children out of wedlock. He did not have children out of wedlock." Hand replied, "Wait a minute, that's a universal negative. Can you prove that there aren't any?" SOURCE
I understand party unity and all. But how can you forgive someone who has attacked one of your own (in this case, a child)? How do you get past a person who is willing to leverage racist sentiment to get what they want?

I've been asking myself those questions a lot lately. I am increasingly disenchanted with Hillary Clinton and her campaign. In short, I am offended by the negative turn of the Clinton campaign and its reliance on the racist "southern strategy" to battle Barack Obama. It is still very much a possibility that Clinton could win the Democratic nomination. If she does, how can I as a black woman vote for a candidate, indeed a presumably liberal one, who is willing to slyly trade on racist and xenophobic fears to win the Democratic nomination? (Ex. Having surrogates use code words like "shucking and jiving," Bill Clinton comparing Obama to bogeyman Jesse Jackson, releasing a photo of Obama in Muslim dress, tepidly denying Obama is a Muslim in a way that leaves doubt) But then, how can I as a liberal cast a vote that ensures four more years of Republican rule and the continuation and creation of policies that could damage black Americans, women, the middle class, the poor, children and other groups that I care about for years to come?

The more I cruised my favorite political blogs yesterday, with their recapping of Clinton's race-baiting and her negative turn over the last few weeks, the angrier I became. "I CANNOT vote for her if she is the nominee," I vowed. What am I feeling so guilty about? I've heard Clinton supporters say the same thing for their own reasons.

Then I listened to activist Mark Thompson's (Matsemela Mapfumo) show "Make it Plain" on Sirius Talk Left. This smart brother explained how McCain can throw his arms around George Bush and why his first job after winning the Republican nomination was kissing Bush's ring at the White House. You wanna know?

McCain can cozy up to Bush because that's how politics works. That's how power works. Bush and McCain, both more powerful and privileged than either Clinton or Obama, have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The status quo keeps men like them in power and folks like me, and likely you, fighting for scraps. So, John McCain will grit his teeth, and swallow his pride and integrity (Wonder how he explains this to his daughter?), because as long as power is united and the oppressed are squabbling, nothing will change.

So, in November I could cast a vote for Nader or even McCain, instead of Hillary. Or maybe it will be the Clintonistas who will vote out of revenge. And I'm sure the schadenfreude will feel oh so sweet. But what will we have accomplished? Maybe we will have proven some point, but in the end we will be right back where we began before all this talk of making history. People of color, women, the middle class, the poor--We will be right back where "they" want us.
Oh, I know the Democrats are establishment, too. They are no radical, populist group. But they are the group that is working toward healthcare for all. They are the group that is working toward ending the war and restoring our reputation abroad (and thus increasing our safety). They are the party that wants to reform education and end No Child Left Behind. They are the party that is working to give work-a-day people a break. They work more for what I think this country needs than the party of 100 more years of war--a war where thousands more average men and women, and people of color will die, while the heirs of power stay home and companies like Haliburton line their pockets.
I cannot opt out of the political process. My foremothers and forefathers died for me to have a place at the table. So, I have a choice to make. I know which party I choose.
UPDATE: But on the other hand...Jack and Jill Politics makes a compelling case for doing the radical thing. Read the latest post here. The blog has several passionate posts on this subject. Check them out.
I am torn.

Women's History Month blog carnival

Working Together While Apart
by Jennifer of Mixed Race America

Conventional wisdom often says that people get more conservative as they get older. But as I find myself in my late 30s, I have to say that I have moved more and more to the left of center, or perhaps more towards a liberal-progressive politics than I had started with in high school or college.

In fact, it was graduate school in Boston that seemed to reallly help me turn the corner. For the first time I found myself away from the West Coast of sunny California and in an urban metropolis where showing up to a graduate seminar in shorts and a t-shirt with white keds marked one as very "unhip, uncool, not-from-here."

Two experiences in graduate school have shaped my desire to work with all women (all people really, because lets face it, we need male allies too), but especially women of color, towards social justice issues. The first was my first day in a mixed undergraduate/grad seminar on Feminist Theory. I had taken Women's Studies and Gender Studies courses at my undergraduate alma mater, and was eager to plunge into a "theory" course. The first day was spent having us go around the room and describe what feminism mean to us and whether we considered ourselves feminists. One by one, the young women in the room (predominantly undergraduates) of various racial/ethnic backgrounds, explained that they were "feminist but" as in "I'm a feminist but I shave my legs" or "I'm a feminist but I date men" or "I'm a feminist but I'm not angry."

When it was my turn, I said, "I'm a feminist because I believe in equality between men and women." There was no qualification. And that's when I realized that I really meant it--I was proud to claim the identity of feminist, and I really believe that it is about equality. I know feminism is more complicated than that, and as I started to learn about the relationship of "traditional" feminism to women of color, especially African American women, I understood the appeal of a term like "womanist" and learned to think carefully about the intersections of class, race, and gender when thinking or theorizing about identity categories, especially the category of "women."

The second experience I had was at a talk that bell hooks gave when she was on a book tour promoting KILLING RAGE. Ms. hooks was so powerful that night--really voicing her frustration and concern over the racism she saw and documented in her writing. She largely framed her talk around black-white issues of racism and anti-racism, and during the Q&A I got up the nerve to ask a question (I was still a first year graduate student and very much in awe of a living, breathing writer and feminist icon). I queried Ms. hooks as to the place of Asian Americans and other non-black racial minorities in advocating for change and working towards anti-racism in our society. Ms. hooks, asked my name, and then said, "Isn't that an interesting question that Jennifer just asked. How about if we turned it around and instead of asking what she, as an Asian American woman can do to end racism--that she should take on an African American identity in solidarity with anti-racist work and try to work with African Americans to end racism."

I am paraphrasing from memory, but the gist of Ms. hooks response to my query was to basically tell me that what I could do to help work towards ending racism was to take on a black identity in solidarity with African Americans in their struggle against racism.

I was, of course, puzzled and also troubled by her response. On the one hand, I understood or thought I understood her annoyance at my question. She had just spoken for 40 minutes about the history of racism and the survival, emotional, mental as well as literal, of African Americans in this country and had advocated for white Americans to try to understand that history and to work towards change. I was, potentially, co-opting her conversation--asking "What's in it for me?" even though I thought what I was asking is, "Where is the place of Asian Americans in this discourse and how can I be part of this change?"

For obvious reasons, I felt and still feel, that it's not practical or necessary for me to embrace an African American identity in order to work towards an anti-racist agenda and practice. But what I took from Ms. hooks response was the difficulty of trying to have conversations with women or even just people across racial boundaries (and we can add a host of other categories here--like religious and sexual orientation and class and region). I don't know if she mis-interpreted my question--if she was tired of the way that Asian Americans had been used as a "wedge" in issues of Affirmative Action and other discourses where African Americans were disenfranchised (and the model minority myth and achievement gap seem to be other such issues in which Asian Americans are, indeed, used as the "good" minority group" against other "browner and blacker" racialized groups) or if she simply wanted to concentrate her Q&A and talk about black-white racism.

But the truth is, racism isn't a black-white issue--it never was and it still isn't. And for those of us who do want to work to end oppression, we need to see that we are all in it together. Not in a simplistic "It's-a-small-world-after-all" leveling of differences or a ranking of racism and oppression (as in which was worse, the transatlantic slave trade or American Indian genocide)--I mean that we're all in it together because racism is bad for everyone and people of color may experience different forms of racism depending on whether they are African American or Asian American, but they do experience forms of oppression none the less. And racism is bad for white Americans, in the same way that sexism affects men as well as women. Sexism is also intimately linked to racism--and understanding that link will help women of color to be united with white women in working to end both sexism and racism and their intertwined oppresions (and I'd add sexuality as well since along with class oppression, those also impact our "identities" and the ways in which power has been used to marginalize and dehumanize certain groups).

As an educator commited to working to end various forms of oppression (gender, but also racial, sexual, class), I understand that I need to find a way to have dialogues and discussions with others, especially other women of color--to figure out a way to work together while apart. Because we all have our own particular set of experiences and expertise. But for those of us who see an end to oppression and the opening of equality to be a greater social good that we want to work towards, well then, we have got to find a way to work together, because only together will we be able to accomplish this huge task in front of us.

Jennifer is a 30-something professor who teaches and researches in the field of Asian American studies. And she does, indeed, identify as an Asian American woman. She blogs at

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Wednesday morning (election) hangover

Some folks say this marathon of a primary season is good for democracy; I say it is bad for my nerves. I stayed up last last night, glued to CNN, watching the nail biting results in Ohio and Texas. My thoughts:

Hillary Clinton won Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island, making her the night's comeback kid. I have said many times before that I think Clinton is a smart and capable politician. I think Barack Obama would make a better president, but when this election season began I could have been just as happy with Clinton as the Democratic choice. I don't feel that way anymore. I don't respect the Clinton campaign.

I don't respect the sly race-baiting. I don't respect the way the campaign has painted Obama as the unqualified, free-ride having, "affirmative action" candidate. I don't respect the leaking of that photo of Obama in Somali dress, nor do I respect Clinton's mealy-mouthed response to 60 Minutes's question about whether her opponent is indeed a Muslim. I don't respect Clinton's use of black surrogates, including the reprehensible Bob Johnson, who is no friend to women or black people, to do her dirty work in the black community. I worry that Clinton's tactics will become part of the playbook on how to defeat a candidate of color.

I don't respect the way Hillary Clinton has leveraged the absolutely despicable sexism that has occurred during this election to paint herself as an underdog. And I resent the media for furthering this narrative. Yes, Chris Matthews is a loud-talking asshole. And Tim Russert can barely contain his hatred of Hillary Clinton. But this is the candidate who was called inevitable two months ago. This was the candidate who stood center stage at every early debate, was allowed to talk the most and was praised heartily afterwards. Other candidates got their hands slapped for "piling on" and "attacking the woman." While the media justifiably pound Obama about Tony Rezkco, where is the loud call for Clinton's tax returns? And what I find curious is this glaring fact: Clinton can be the "woman candidate" and be empowered; Obama becomes "the black candidate" at his own peril. I worry that the rifts this election is creating between women and between races are ones that will be long to heal.

Lastly, I don't respect the damage Clinton's tactics over the last two weeks have inflicted on the Democratic Party. If Obama wins the nomination or if Clinton wins and needs to offer a VP position to Obama, how will she ever stand beside him as a fellow Democrat? How, after standing on stage and mimicking and mocking him...after saying to the cameras on March 3:
"I think that I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002."
As Rachel Maddow said on Keith Olbermann: "This is what you say if you want to be McCain's choice for Vice President. It is not what you say if you are running for the Democratic nomination." And it is not what you say when you know damned well that you are facing a worthy opponent who has more experience as an elected official than you do. It appears to me that Clinton is willing to win at all costs. And that is not a trait I admire.

Look, I believe in progressive principles, so I could never vote for John McCain. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, I will vote for her, but I won't like it. And it will be disappointing to face four more years of a American leadership that I cannot respect.

And about those Republicans...

I find most of Mike Huckabee's beliefs frightening, but he is a most gracious (if long-winded) loser. John McCain and his wife have crazy eyes. And the Republican nominee is not just all-wrong about the war, NAFTA and the economy, he is also duller than a dust bunny. Jeezaloo! I thought he was going to fall asleep during that speech last night.


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