Wednesday, February 06, 2008

a letter to SNCC...

It is my honor to participate in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) email listserv. SNCC was the vanguard of the civil rights movement. Recently, a minor fracas broke out over on that list between Hillary supporters and Obama supporters. A few Hillary supporters took what I thought was a very hard charge at some of the Obama folks and seemed to suggest that if you supported Obama you weren't a feminist. There was a hostility in the messages that was notable and I've felt that coming from other corners, as well. For instance note the recent screed by the head of NY NOW. After several rounds of back-and-forth, I wrote a response and sent it into the SNCC list. A number of folks asked me to post it over here, too, so I've done that below. I've edited it a bit, and added a thought or two, but it is mainly how I posted it on the SNCC list.

Hi everyone,

I am a bit hesitant to wade into this discussion, and I am not meaning to pick any fights or ignite any hostility.

But I am curious about the strong negative energy I sense to Obama and his supporters (of which I am one; and I consider myself a feminist) in reading some of the pro-Hillary responses. I am curious because Obama has received the highest ratings from women's groups based on his work as a legislator. He has a fine record of supporting women's rights, including reproductive rights, despite a purposeful misrepresentation of that record by the Clinton campaign in New Hampshire. He also has an excellent record on GLBT issues. So, why tear the guy (and his supporters) down when he seems to model a positive alternative masculine identity, as well as a positive alternative racial identity.

Moreover, for those supporting Hillary, how do you reconcile the following:

- she and her husband have always been in the moderate-conservative wing of the party, the DLC crowd. Not exactly progressives and not exactly in the SNCC mold, it seems to me. The Clintons were at the center of the fight to position the Democratic Party as Republican-lite in the 1990s. That is how Bill won the presidency.

- she has been consistently one of the most hawkish members in the Senate, regardless of party, until she jumped in the presidential race and suddenly found the light against militarism. And, during Bill's administration, apparently she was consistently more hawkish than he was and encouraged much more military action than he actually went forward with. Oh, yeah, and she had it completely and totally wrong on Iraq from the get-go.

- Since she is claiming Bill's mantle, it seems legitimate to remind ourselves that many of the Clinton policies were destructive to black communities and poor communities, in general: welfare deform, expansion of the prison-industrial system, expansion of the War on Drugs, NAFTA/GATT, etc.

- Also, the Clintons have a history of exploiting race as a divisive issue in campaigns. Note Ricky Ray Rector in 1992, as well as the silly fights Bill picked with Jesse and Sister Souljah to prove he was "tough on crime" and "those people." Remember, the early 1990s was an orgy of anti-black hysteria over urban crime, which was presented in the form of "super-predator" black males and "welfare queens." This year, well, we've all witnessed the various attempts to "blackenize" Obama by the Clinton camp. I am not aware of a similar sexist politic coming from the Obama campaign. Certainly, the media has shown itself poorly on this score, but I don't see the Obama camp suggesting Hillary is a lesbian, for instance.

- And, in assessing Hillary's legislative record, I don't see much evidence that she has been some sort of aggressive, progressive fighter for the poor, for people of color, or even women? These are issues that require bold vision, but I don't see any real vision or risk taking on these issues. Other than technocratic tinkering, what visionary policy has she put forth?

- And, what about the fact that Hillary claims to run on her experience, yet, in fact, she did not even have the highest security clearance so could not sit in on most of the important policy meetings in Bill's White House? And, the one major policy initiative she was given control over - health care - was a major disaster. Why should she get a do-over on this crucial issue?

- And, finally, Hillary and Bill have always been Establishment politicians with massive ties to corporate America. Remember the selling of the Lincoln bedroom? While on the board of Walmart for 6 years, Hillary sat silently as they went on their anti-union crusade. Walmart is also one of the most sexist corporations in America, the subject of one of the largest class action lawsuit in American history... because of gender bias.

I could go on and on and on... but I think you catch my drift here. Again, I am not trying to flame throw or anything. I am serious in these queries and perplexed that any progressive would embrace Hillary as one of their own. This has nothing to do with her gender and everything to do with her "35 years of experience."

I suspect everyone on this list would like either/both a female or African American president, so it seems tragic to me that we might name call on that score. I also suspect everyone here likes to think of themselves as feminists and anti-racist activists. Given that, again, I guess I have trouble understanding why Hillary is anyone's first choice, given what I have listed above (and a number of other positions and policies that place Hillary squarely in the moderate to conservative wing of the party). So, perhaps one of the strong Hillary supporters on the list could please explain to me exactly what it is about Hillary that draws you so forcefully to her? I certainly understand the attraction of our first female president, in the same way I understand the attraction of our first African American president. It seems like a wash on that "historic first" point. So, beyond that, what makes you think her administration will break with all of the established moderate/conservative Democratic record she has built and now will magically be some kind of progressive president... particularly given the fact that she is likely to have a very divided congress and a massively divided public, given the love/hate relationship most Americans have with the Clintons. It will be very, very hard to be "progressive" with such a division in the nation and it is clear all signs point to more division and partisan rancor under a Clinton II administration. That may be unjust, but I think it is pretty clear that that will be the case. She mobilizes the currently demoralized conservative base. She will breath new wind into the sails of the lagging conservative talk radio-sphere. She will bring millions to right-wing groups who have made a cottage industry off of anti-Clinton fund-raising over the last 15 years. And, she demoralizes a certain percentage of her own party/base. Again, this all might be unfair, but I think the evidence clearly shows it to be true.

Finally, as an example, from out here in Nebraska where, like so many midwestern and western states, the Democratic Party is the minority party, but showing some signs that it is growing. In 2006, Jim Esch made a strong run at long-time Republican Lee Terry, Jr. It would have been an epic upset, but Esch did surprisingly well. Most were confident Esch would run again in '08 and might just win. Yet, in the Fall, when it appeared Hillary was a shoe-in for the nomination, Esch announced he would not run, referencing among other reasons, the prospect of Hillary at the top of the ticket. He suggested the obvious for Dems in states like Nebraska: Hillary hurts Democrats down the ticket because she animates the conservative base to come out big. Looking at this reality, Esch calculated that it was a no-win race for him and opted out. There went one potential pick-up for the Dems in Congress. See what I am getting at here? Hillary might very well win, but she won't grow the party... and right now in midwestern and western states there is a real shot to build the party. This is why so many western states Dems, many of whom are prominent women politicians, have endorsed Obama over Hillary. Obama brings the possibility of growing the party and expanding the base/coalition.

Again, I am open to a counter-argument for Hillary, but have yet, in my mind, to hear a compelling one.


Well, there you have it. If anyone would like to respond, please drop something in the comments!


  1. You were right on all counts. Your commentary needs to be widely disseminated. I have sent it to a lot of folks.

  2. Nebraska's Second District Congressman beat Jim Esch by 10 points. I don't know what you're smoking, but that's not a close race at all... especially since Jim Esch made up a fake Pro-Life organization and claimed to have their endorsement... oh, and that Congressman terry didn't even run a race against Esch. For your own good, wake up dude.

  3. In 2006 Lee Terry defeated Jim Esch 55% to 45% in NE's 2nd congressional district. This is red state America and Esch's campaign represented a "surge" in support for the Democrats not only in this district, but more broadly in the state (note Scott Kleeb's campaign). The reality is that Esch generated a lot of energy, mounted a spirited campaign, and did surprisingly well And, yes, there were many local political folks that thought, given the broader strength of Dems in the '08 contest, that he had a real shot at winning this time around. And, the broader point about Hillary not helping down-ticket is true.

  4. I don't know anything about Nebraska politics, but I was curious what could be found for historic data. In 2004 Terry maintained his seat with 61% of the vote to 36% for the Democratic candidate. In 2002 he took 63% of the vote.