With the California primary ten days away, it’s time to decide. And for me, it’s not been easy.
My paramount concern is to prevent a Republican victory in November. Even though it seems to be a Democratic year, no one can say which Democratic can defeat, say, John McCain, the full-throated advocate of “winning” the Iraq war. At stake are many issues beyond Iraq, not least is the appointment of the next generation of federal judges.
I will vote without hesitation for the Democratic nominee, if only to stop to the neoconservative usurpation of power that began in Florida in 2000.
One must choose a candidate based on the issues for which they stand, the spirit they invoke and the people they are able to mobilize.
As for issues, the differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on Iraq are difficult to pin down. Obama was against the Iraq war five years ago, and favors a more rapid pullout of combat troops than Clinton. But both would replace combat troops with an American counterinsurgency force of tens of thousands, potentially turning Iraq into Central America in the 1970s. Obama seems more supportive of diplomacy than Clinton, but he supports military intervention in Pakistan’s tribal areas. John Edwards favors a more rapid pullout from Iraq, but is unlikely to prevail.
On Iraq, the antiwar movement has helped turn a public majority against the war, a historic achievement. But the movement alone lacks much capacity to forge anything beyond the slogan of “bring the troops home.” Our most achievable goal is a strong voter mandate for peace in November, the election of more Congressional Democrats and spreading public awareness of the dangers of counterinsurgency. The election of a Democratic President is a necessary condition for ending the war, but sadly not a sufficient one.
So the choice remains.
I do not like the Hillary-haters in our midst. As President, her court appointees alone would represent a relief from the present rigging of the courts and marginal improvements for working people. On Iraq, I believe she could be pushed to withdraw. She is a centrist, and it will be up to social movements to alter the center.
Nor do I like the role being played by President Bill Clinton, who is telling lies about Iraq and about Obama that are unbecoming to a former President.
Neither do I agree with Gloria Steinem’s divisive claim that the gender barrier is greater than the racial one. Who wants to measure slavery against the Inquisition? In the case at hand, who among us would argue that the barriers against Hillary Clinton are greater than those facing Barack Obama? What is compelling is that most black women support Obama.
I respect John Edwards’ campaign and the role he has played in driving the Democratic Party towards a progressive agenda. At this point, however, I cannot foresee a primary he will win.
That leaves Barack Obama. I have been devastated by too many tragedies and betrayals over the past forty years to ever again deposit so much hope in any single individual, no matter how charismatic or brilliant. But today I see across the generational divide the spirit, excitement, energy and creativity of a new generation bidding to displace the old ways. Obama’s moment is their moment, and I pray that they succeed without the sufferings and betrayals my generation went through. There really is no comparison between the Obama generation and those who would come to power with Hillary Clinton, and I suspect she knows it. The people she would take into her administration may have been reformers and idealists in their youth, but they seem to seek now a return to their establishment positions of power. They are the sorts of people young Hillary Clinton herself would have scorned at Wellesley. If history is any guide, the new “best and brightest” of the Obama generation will unleash a new cycle of activism, reform and fresh thinking before they follow pragmatism to its dead end.
Many ordinary Americans will take a transformative step down the long road to the Rainbow Covenant if Obama wins. For at least a brief moment, people around the world–from the shantytowns to the sweatshops, even to the restless rich of the sixties generation–will look up from the treadmills of their shrunken lives to the possibilities of what life still might be. Environmental justice and global economic hope would dawn as possibilities.
Is Barack the one we have been waiting for? Or is it the other way around? Are we the people we have been waiting for? Barack Obama is giving voice and space to an awakening beyond his wildest expectations, a social force that may lead him far beyond his modest policy agenda. Such movements in the past led the Kennedys and Franklin Roosevelt to achievements they never contemplated. (As Gandhi once said of India’s liberation movement, “There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”)
We are in a precious moment where caution must yield to courage. It is better to fail at the quest for greatness than to accept our planet’s future as only a reliving of the past.
So I endorse the movement that Barack Obama has inspired and will support his candidacy in the inevitable storms ahead.