Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Clinton's crushingly incredible dishonesty over Florida and Michigan

Better bloggers than Balter long ago pointed out the desperate hypocrisy of Clinton's insistence that the Florida and Michigan delegations be seated. Indeed, Clinton's position on this is so blatantly opportunistic and dishonest that it is in large part responsible for the contempt in which she is now held not only by Obama supporters, but by many who formerly either supported Clinton or at least thought her a worthy adversary in the fight for the Democratic nomination. I was reminded of this today when I read a piece by Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson, which I am reproducing entirely below in addition to linking to it so I can be sure that readers of this blog who have not signed up on the Post site will have access to it.

Very simply, Meyerson goes over the basic facts of the history of this issue and demonstrates the hypocritical turnabout of Clinton and her supporters on the original decision by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to disqualify the two states' delegations--a decision that was fully supported by Clinton's people at the time.

My purpose for this is to make a point about the way the news media has handled this issue. Rarely have any news accounts about this controversy given this kind of background, necessary for understanding the issues involved. Rather, the media normally state both sides of the story as if each side had equivalently valid arguments, without questioning, probing, or providing the reader with the important information he or she needs to evaluate them. In the journalism class I recently taught at Boston University, we included a segment on "journalistic objectivity" which covered how journalists should handle controversies of this sort. The students agreed with me that being "fair and balanced" does not mean simply reciting a "he says, she says" balance sheet of quotations from each side and then leaving it at that. On the contrary, an honest and competent journalist has an obligation to probe and poke at the arguments, and, if those of one side have a tendency to deflate rapidly when pricked by the pin of factual inquiry, to make sure the reader knows it.

Since this was a science journalism class, we talked mostly about examples such as Darwinian evolution vs. creationism, or the evidence for global warming vs. climate change skepticism. But the same principles should apply to all journalism, even if most of the mainstream media is slow and reluctant to apply them. A more important and now obvious example is skepticism about the Iraq war, where the media not only probes Bush adminstration statements but now produces reams of investigative journalism about how badly things are going (in the case of the New York Times, for example, which was a major sucker for adminstration claims, such skeptical probing has almost become a way of seeking redemption for its serious journalistic sins of the past.)

Here then is Meyerson's column, which includes a few simple facts that I rarely see in news reports about the Florida/Michigan controversy. In addition, Meyerson underscores how many feminists have allowed their important movement to be cheapened by an appeal to dishonest, situational ethics:

Clinton's Two-State Two-Step

By Harold Meyerson
Wednesday, May 28, 2008; A13

On Saturday, when the Rules Committee of the Democratic National Committee meets to determine the fate of Florida and Michigan's delegations to this summer's convention, it will have some company. A group of Hillary Clinton supporters has announced it will demonstrate outside.

That Clinton has impassioned supporters, many of whom link her candidacy to the feminist cause, hardly qualifies as news. And it's certainly true that along the campaign trail Clinton has encountered some outrageously sexist treatment, just as Barack Obama has been on the receiving end of bigoted treatment. (Obama has even been subjected to anti-Muslim bigotry despite the fact that he's not Muslim.) But somehow, a number of Clinton supporters have come to identify the seating of Michigan and Florida not merely with Clinton's prospects but with the causes of democracy and feminism -- an equation that makes a mockery of democracy and feminism.

Clinton herself is largely responsible for this absurdity. Over the past couple of weeks, she has equated the seating of the two delegations with African Americans' struggle for suffrage in the Jim Crow South, and with the efforts of the democratic forces in Zimbabwe to get a fair count of the votes in their presidential election.

Somehow, I doubt that the activists opposing Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe would appreciate this equation.

But the Clintonistas who have called Saturday's demonstration make it sound as if they'll be marching in Selma in support of a universal right to vote. The DNC, says one of their Web sites, "must honor our core democratic principles and enfranchise the people of Michigan and Florida."

Had Florida and Michigan conducted their primaries the way the other 48 states conducted their own primaries and caucuses -- that is, in accord with the very clear calendar laid down by the DNC well before the primaries began -- then Clinton's marchers would be utterly justified in their claims. But when the two states flouted those rules by moving their primaries outside the prescribed time frame, the DNC, which gave neither state a waiver to do so, decreed that their primaries would not count and enjoined all presidential candidates from campaigning in those states. Obama and John Edwards complied with the DNC's dictates by removing their names from the Michigan ballot. Clinton did not.

Seating Michigan in full would mean the party validates the kind of one-candidate election (well, 1.03, to give Dennis Kucinich, Chris Dodd and Mike Gravel, who also remained on the ballot, their due) that is more common in autocracies than democracies. It would mean rewarding the one serious candidate who didn't remove her name from the ballot when all her rivals, in deference to the national party rules, did just that.

What's particularly outrageous is that the Clinton campaign supported the calendar, and the sanctions against Michigan and Florida, until Clinton won those states and needed to have their delegations seated.

Last August, when the DNC Rules Committee voted to strip Florida (and Michigan, if it persisted in clinging to its date) of its delegates, the Clinton delegates on the committee backed those sanctions. All 12 Clinton supporters on the committee supported the penalties. (The only member of the committee to vote against them was an Obama supporter from Florida.) Harold Ickes, a committee member, leading Clinton strategist and acknowledged master of the political game, said, "This committee feels very strongly that the rules ought to be enforced." Patty Solis Doyle, then Clinton's campaign manager, further affirmed the decision. "We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process," she said, referring to the four states that the committee authorized to hold the first contests. "And we believe the DNC's rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role. Thus, we will be signing the pledge to adhere to the DNC-approved nominating calendar."

Not a single Clinton campaign official or DNC Rules Committee member, much less the candidate herself, said at the time that the sanctions imposed on Florida or Michigan were in any way a patriarchal plot or an affront to democratic values. The threat that these rules posed to our fundamental beliefs was discovered only ex post facto -- the facto in question being Clinton's current need to seat the delegations whose seatings she had opposed when she thought she'd cruise to the nomination.

Clinton's supporters have every right to demonstrate on Saturday, of course. But their larger cause is neither democracy nor feminism; it's situational ethics. To insist otherwise is to degrade democracy and turn feminism into the last refuge of scoundrels.

Afterthoughts: Hi, it's Balter's Blog again. I would guess that the Clintons, and many of their supporters, are surprised that their bag of dirty campaign tricks has provoked such a hostile response from so many people. After all, it's "just politics," and we all know the game. As a dyed-in-the-wool leftwinger, I have often felt that the more cynicism and disillusionment about the American political system, the better; ie, the more likely that people would turn to more radical solutions to the ills of capitalism, including a dramatic reorganization of American society. And at times, for example during the 1930s and again during the 1960s, this formula seemed to work, as these two epochs in American history ushered in dramatic social and political changes--even if many of these changes did not stick in the end.

But while I still harbor few illusions in what some on the far left still call "bourgeois democracy," the Obama candidacy has brought hope to many that a more principled, honest politics is possible in the United States. (By the way, the term "bourgeois democracy," which appears to have been coined by Lenin or at least was often used by him, is open to interpretation: Some leftists take it to mean that the very notion of democracy is bourgeois, while others, including myself, reserve the term for democracies that are really run by the rich and the social class to which they belong--like most Western countries, including the United States.)

It may turn out that Obama, if and when he is elected president, will turn out to be just another bourgeois democrat. But as I have said many times before, an Obama victory--even just in the Democratic primary race--would be a blow against the incredible cynicism and opportunism that Clintonism has come to represent. If the winds kicked up by the Obama campaign achieve nothing more than blowing open the windows of hope, that would be a first and very necessary step towards meaningful change.

Update I: Bad news for Clinton: The New York Times reports that Democratic Party lawyers say only half of the delegates from Florida and Michigan can be seated, or each can be given half a vote, but no more. This in a 38 page memo to the DNC.

Update II: Democratic Party pollster Mark Mellman, in an opinion piece in the Times today, argues that Obama is doing better with white, non college-educated voters than either Al Gore or John Kerry did in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Interesting reading.

Update III: 111 countries, but not the United States, have voted for a cluster bomb ban, and some reports stress the change of heart by the British government which has now dropped its opposition to a ban. As I noted in an earlier post, Hillary Clinton's atrocious position on this issue, identical to that of the Bush administration, is yet another reason to reject her candidacy.


GM Roper said...

Michael. Most of us knuckle dragging neandertholic conservs knew how dishonest this woman (and her husband) was back in 93-94. What took you good folk so long to figure this out? ;-)

Michael Balter said...

GM, not to one-up you, but I had them nailed back in 1991--because I am a leftist and not one of the liberals you are referring to. This is the superficial resemblance between the far left and far right many have noted. Only superficial, though!

GM Roper said...

Michael, Touche! I deserved that!