Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is Hillary Clinton a Democrat?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

You're the person who deserves - indeed, is absolutely entitled - to be the Democratic Party's nominee for president of the United States.

You've worked for decades to reach this point, kept your eyes on the prize, suffered through the travails of being married to a philanderer, and taken abuse from misogynists and "the great right-wing conspiracy."

Most importantly, America needs you to clean up the mess following eight years of George W. Bush!

Then along comes this young, charismatic African American, seemingly out of nowhere, and you're in danger of seeing it all slip away. You have run a rather uninspiring campaign and have now lost eight contests in a row. You are behind in both the popular vote and the pledged delegate count.

You've already forfeited the black vote, thanks in part to the rants of your husband, the ex-president, whom you've allowed to campaign on your behalf. And now even core support groups such as Latinos, working-class whites, and women are beginning to desert you.

What to do? Well, if you're Hillary Clinton, it's simple: just circumvent the democratic process.

It requires a total of 2,025 delegates out of 4,049 to win the nomination. But almost one-fifth of the delegates, 796 people, are "unpledged" so-called "superdelegates," ex officio Democrats who hold various elected offices or other positions within the party. They are not bound by any rules and can back whomever they choose.

Clinton has made it clear that, even if Barack Obama ends up with more pledged delegates going into the Denver convention in August, she sees nothing wrong with having this "back-room nomenklatura" make up the difference and crown her the victor.

Not everyone is happy with her tactics. Donna Brazile, a commentator and superdelegate herself, told CNN that "if 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I will quit the Democratic Party."

As well, Clinton is now shamelessly demanding that the results of the Michigan and Florida primaries, which were held in January in defiance of the party's rule, be counted and their delegates seated at the convention.

The Democratic National Committee stripped the two states of their delegates - 156 for Michigan and 210 for Florida - because they held their primaries prior to the "Super Tuesday" Feb. 5 schedule.

All of the candidates agreed to this and none of them campaigned in these two primaries. In the case of Michigan, Clinton's chief rivals, Obama and Jonathan Edwards, even removed their names from the ballot.

As the only major candidate on the Michigan ballot, she got 55 per cent of the vote. She also won in Florida, and thus would gain the lion's share of the delegates from these two states. In other words, Clinton is demanding that the party treat as legitimate, elections in which she had virtually no opposition.

The prospect of a fight over seating the two delegations will gravely wound the party. As the Rev. Al Sharpton, a prominent black activist, pointed out, this is like trying to change the rules of a football game when you're behind in the third quarter.

He also said that many people in those two states did not go the polls because they assumed their votes would not count.

Clinton's role models seem to be the old party bosses who used to run the big-city Democratic Party machines, dispensing favours and patronage.

They became known collectively as "Tammany Hall" politicians, named for the building in Manhattan out of which the New York politicos operated.

Hillary Clinton may be a Democrat, but it's clear she's no democrat.

Should she get away with these shenanigans, the party's left wing will argue that the nomination was "stolen from a black," many African Americans and other progressives will sit out the general election in November, and the nearly impossible may happen: the Republicans under John McCain might actually win the presidency.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

“Banal” Nationalism: America, Canada and Quebec

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Why has the United States been able to inculcate a sense of nationhood in its citizenry in ways that Canadians can only envy?

I’d like to address this by comparing two songs, written at about the same time: “The City of
New Orleans,” by Steve Goodman, and “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” by Gordon Lightfoot. Both deal with the important role railways have played in shaping the two countries.

The American song, composed in 1972, is about “the train they call The City of New Orleans,” as it travels down through the heart of the country from
Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico.

It is rather sad, because it laments the passing of passenger rail travel: “This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.” But this somewhat melancholy and nostalgic song resonates with Americans and reminds them of their history.

Lightfoot’s song, by contrast, is upbeat: written for
Canada’s centennial in 1967, it describes the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th century.

“For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run,” sings Lightfoot. But those who would build “this mighty land” were not daunted: “For they looked in the future and what did they see. They saw an iron road running from sea to the sea.”

So why do Lightfoot’s lyrics not have the same ability as do Goodman’s to inculcate a spirit of nationhood? They are certainly just as well written, the melody just as beautiful.

The answer is simple. The song speaks only to English Canada, and might as well be a foreign tune to most francophone Québécois. And therein lies the problem.

Quebec nationalism: I drove from Charlottetown to Montreal and then on to Toronto last spring, taking the route through New Brunswick and then along the Saint Lawrence River.

Quebec is truly its own nation. Most highway numbers are distinct to the province. For example, the main east-west artery, route 20, becomes the 401 as it enters Ontario. (American interstates retain the same number from one end to the other.) As one nears Quebec City, one is informed that this is the “national capital region.”

Also interesting are the weather maps in many of the smaller provincial French-language newspapers: they show only
Quebec, rather than Canada. In the rest of Canada, the illustrations are of the entire country, at the very least, and sometimes even all of North America.

Another thing that struck me: on downtown office buildings, hotels, and other major sites in Montreal, there are usually three flags flying side by side, with the Quebec one in the middle, and the Canadian and American ones on either side of it -- even though protocol dictates that a national flag, not that of a sub-jurisdiction, should be placed in the centre.

Also, by having the Canadian and American flags on each side of the fleur-de-lis,
Quebec announces, in a subtle way, that these are two friendly (but equally foreign?) neighbours.

You would never see an
Ontario flag on the middle pole, with a Canadian maple leaf and an American stars and stripes on either side, in Toronto.

Also, since to name is to claim, many streets that once honoured British officials now pay tribute to francophone politicians – for example, Dorchester Blvd., a main downtown artery, was renamed Blvd. René-Lévesque.

All of these things may seem unimportant on the surface, but they are “signifiers,” elements of what the British social psychologist Michael Billig refers to as “everyday” nationalism.

The thesis of his 1995 study “Banal Nationalism” is that there is a continual “flagging” of nationhood all around us that helps “locate” us politically. This is “so familiar, so continual,” he asserts, “that it is not consciously registered as reminding” and so often goes unnoticed.

The image of banal nationalism “is not a flag which is being consciously waved with fervent passion; it is the flag hanging unnoticed on the public building.”

It is such everyday symbols that socially construct a sense of collective identity – and in
Quebec, they are mostly those of the Québécois “homeland,” rather than of the larger federation.

I drove back to
Prince Edward Island via Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine – and of course the little towns along the way in most cases flew only the U.S. flag. If a state flag was present, it was on the same flagpole, but smaller and below the American one. The national flag always had pride of place.

No issues of nationhood there!