It Breaks A Village

Illustration for article titled It Breaks A Village

"You want it to be one way. But it's the other way."


—Hillary Clinton hasn't crossed the Rubicon yet, but let's just say that her advance team is fashioning a drawbridge and the plebes are being told to take shelter behind the city walls. Next week in Denver, Sen. Clinton and former president Bill Clinton will address the Democrats and the country, not to present her as a loyal Democrat or even as an equal partner, but to reinforce the big, lingering "What if?" that will hang in the cool Rocky Mountain air; to dwell on the idea that she came 'sooo' close, but was foiled by an upstart rival.


The brokered (read: "finagled") tandem appearances of the Clintons on the convention stage will be a symbolic cold shower on Obama's debut as the standard-bearer for the Democratic Party. And if this soaking results in the ossification of grievances among a particular bloc of Clinton supporters, it will be a blow not only to Democratic unity in November, but also to contemporary notions of feminism. Apparently, under the current Clinton model, "there is crying in baseball. "

Continued resistance by Clinton supporters to Obama's victory, whether outright or under the guise of some need for " catharsis ," is a meta-textual defeat for feminism. The not-so-behind-the scenes lobbying to formally enter Clinton's name into nomination at the convention stands for the proposition that Clinton's die-hard supporters—presumably a coalition of conservative Democrats and second wave feminists, believe it is more important to have their say than to elect a Democrat in November. They are implicitly conceding that they don't accept the unwritten rules of hardball politics—that come general election time, primary runners-up are expected to bow out gracefully and fall in behind their party's nominee.

Although this has to be a disturbing development for the Obama camp, how to respond is really a no-brainer. If Obama had refused to come to terms with Clinton's team over the placement of "His and Hers" speeches for Bill and Hill at the convention and the ceremonial counting of Clinton's delegates, then Obama would have unwittingly fanned the flames of an insurrection that would not have had enough strength to make its own candidate the nominee, but might have enough force to wreck Obama's present chances.

But beyond the practical matter of not wanting to antagonize voters that he needs to win, Obama's political philosophy demands that he proceed in a conciliatory manner. At all costs. Obama's leadership is staked on the broad idea that it is always incumbent upon the winner to be the bigger person.

What the Clinton hold-outs seem to have overlooked is that if Obama loses in November because of their own recalcitrance, then they will have set the clock back on their own agenda, particularly with regard to issues of reproductive choice: the next president is likely to appoint two Supreme Court Justices, and a President John McCain would undoubtedly appoint anti-choice jurists. It's far from clear, then, how their interests are served by thwarting Obama, maybe on the flimsy assumption that Clinton would be the 2012 nominee. Even if Clinton is the nominee, by then the Supreme Court could have an anti-choice majority.

By contrast, African Americans, the most loyal Democratic Party constituency, aren't going to be hurt by an Obama loss as much as some might think. It would be a missed opportunity to experience the cultural pride that would have gone along with a black man reaching the summit of political leadership, but we'll always have Dennis Haysbert and Morgan Freeman to comfort us. On the other hand, there's nothing all that devastating about the status quo—a year ago, very few would have envisioned a black president.


And depending on how you look at it, Obama isn't going to be hurt personally if he loses the election. He'd still be a relatively young, relatively rich black man, with an adorable family, a clear conscience, a third best seller on the way, and oh, by the way, he'll still be an immensely popular U.S. senator. If McCain is president, and has to sit down one day soon to negotiate with our Middle East foes, who do you think he'll need to call if he's serious about making any real progress—Clinton or Obama?

Clinton really only has herself to blame for the position she's in now. Like the habitual lottery player whose number hits on the one and only time she forgets to buy a ticket, she gambled on supporting the Iraq war as the key to winning the White House. She seems too skilled and too smart to have been misled into thinking that invading and occupying Iraq was a sensible idea. Were it not for this vote, she would almost certainly be the Democratic nominee, and Obama would still be known to most people as "The senator—what's his name again? That black guy…the one who speaks so well."


The Clintons built their political dynasty on African-American votes. For 30 years they campaigned in black churches and courted black leaders. But when faced with an African-American primary opponent in Barack Obama, they went out of their way to dissociate themselves from black voters. It wasn't racism or a renewed passion for feminism, but a cold, pragmatic realization that black voters no longer served their interests and therefore became expendable.

While her candidacy wasn't a traditional "protest" or "cause" campaign in the mold of Congressman Dennis Kucinich or Pat Buchanan, Clinton's candidacy stumbled out of the gate once there was a comparator "breakthrough" in the form of an African-American candidate who represented an ideological and tactical shift rather than a mere changing of the Democratic Party's edificial façade.


Members of Puma PAC might eventually learn what black Americans and Iraq war opponents already have: If she can't use them, she'll lose them. Clinton is, in the end, the woman Jesse Jackson. She blazed a trail that someone else will follow all the way to the end. If their true aim is to see a woman in the Oval Office, Clinton and her supporters should hold their ire until next time around, to support the next woman who contends for the presidency—whoever becomes the woman Barack Obama.

David Swerdlick is a contributor to PopMatters and a former contributor to Creative Loafing. His writing has appeared in EbonyJet, AlterNet and The American Prospect.


David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter