Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hillary wins Pennsylvania - but why?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama by a 10 per cent margin in the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, even though he outspent her massively in the state. Why?

An exit poll conducted at 40 precincts across Pennsylvania for the Associated Press on election day found 16 per cent of white voters said that race mattered in deciding whom they voted for, and just 54 per cent of those voters would support Obama in a general election were he the nominee.

In fact, 27 per cent of them said that in that case they would vote for John McCain, while 16 per cent said they would not vote at all.

It's also interesting to note that barely more than a third of Clinton voters in Pennsylvania said they would be happy with Obama atop the Democratic ticket, whereas more than half of those backing Obama said they would be satisfied with Clinton as the nominee.

This is another sign that racism trumps chauvinism and misogyny in this race. Much of this contest has had nothing to do with "message" or "personality"- it is simply the colour of Obama's skin.

Since almost all African Americans in Pennsylvania voted for Obama - he won black-majority Philadelphia 65-35 per cent - and two-thirds of white women supported Clinton, the 'swing' vote that decided the race came down to white men, who went strongly for Clinton.

Clinton did particularly well among rural whites, traditionally less receptive to black politicians. She also got 70 per cent of whites who never went to college and 72 per cent of Catholics, many of whom are blue-collar workers of Irish, Italian and east European descent.

These are all people who have competed with African-Americans for jobs and housing in the big cities and sometimes see them as rivals.

Of course there are many reasons why all these groups might prefer Clinton to Obama apart from ethnic and gender issues. But in actual fact little separates the two candidates in terms of their overall ideology and platforms.

So if we discount these minute differences, what can we conclude? That many voters were saying, in effect, "better the white woman than the black man."

This is, needless to say, an oversimplification, but it's probably the "Occam's razor" answer. (This is the famous principle that states that the simplest explanation for some phenomenon is more likely to be accurate than more complicated ones, as propounded by the fourteenth century English friar William of Occam.)

And Hillary Clinton, while certainly no racist herself, is nonetheless making sure the super-delegates, who in the end will decide who gets the nomination, are made aware of this. Not above demagoguery, and using code language, she whispers to them that, despite having more delegates and a lead in the popular vote, Obama will be "unelectable" in the general election.

How different is this from a shopkeeper, in the days before there were laws against discrimination in hiring, justifying not employing blacks because "the customers wouldn't come into my store?"

This contest reminds me of those elections that take place in deeply divided societies.

How many Albanians would have voted for Slobodan Milosevic, or Serbs for the Kosovo Liberation Army, in pre-war Kosovo, had such an election been held?

How many Kikuyu in Kenya voted for Raila Odinga, a Luo, in last December's presidential election? And how many Luo voted for Mwai Kibaki, an ethnic Kikuyu?

How many Turks on Cyprus voted for Greek parties, or vice versa, before that island was partitioned in 1974? How many Israeli Arabs vote for far-right Zionist parties, and how many Israeli Jews would vote for Hamas or the PLO (were that an option)?

We know the answer.

In other words, such elections are merely "census counts" - you pretty much know the result in advance simply by looking at the population breakdown. In Pennsylvania, all of Obama's money couldn't change that.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Has Running for the U.S. Presidency Become a Wrestling Match?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal-Pioneer

As we know, Hillary Clinton has done just about everything to Barack Obama but physically assault him. And she’s proud of it. She is gleeful that he apparently can’t take a punch.

Clinton ridiculed Obama for lacking “toughness” as she campaigned in Pennsylvania in the days before that state’s April 22 primary contest. “Who do you think has what it takes?” asked one of her television ads.

Claiming the Obama was not up to the task of adequately protecting America, Clinton quoted the famous line from Harry Truman, “If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Maybe that’s why an MSNBC poll taken a day before the vote showed hunters and gun owners favoring Clinton over Obama.

A few weeks earlier, the New York Times had quoted Bill Clinton telling listeners at a rally in West Virginia that “if a politician doesn’t want to get beat up, he shouldn’t run for office.” He called politics “a contact sport.”

But wouldn’t Obama’s so-called lack of toughness also apply to kids being attacked by bullies in schoolyards? Is this what Senator Clinton meant when she asserted, years ago, that “it takes a village to raise a child?”

Pummeling Obama through innuendo and guilt-by-association – Obama has crossed paths with a Chicago professor who forty years ago was a New Left radical; his former pastor has made controversial statements about America – has become the Clintons’ version of “scrutiny” and “vetting.”

I’d be more inclined to call them the kinds of smears once employed by the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Though it worked in Pennsylvania, where she won the primary, many Democrats can’t stand these scorched-earth tactics anymore. Obama has now been endorsed by Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s first Secretary of Labour. Reich became the fifth former Clinton cabinet member to endorse the Illinois senator.

“I did not plan to endorse. But my conscience wouldn’t let me stay silent after this latest round of mudslinging,” Reich told the Los Angeles Times on April 18.

“The negative ads coming out of the Clinton camp were just appalling at a time when our nation is facing such huge challenges,” he said. “Those ads are nothing but Republicanism. It’s old politics at its worst -- and old Republican politics, not even old Democratic politics. It’s just so deeply cynical.”

Anyhow, why has running for office become like boxing or wrestling? Do we really want politicians to be street-hardened thugs, or people with inspiring ideas and well-crafted political programs?

And shouldn’t feminists, who have long argued against such a macho approach to politics, be the first to criticize Clinton’s approach? Should a woman – any woman – be supported, no matter what she says and does? Why aren’t people like Gloria Steinem, who earlier this year came out in support of Clinton, speaking up?

The next major contests are in Indiana and North Carolina on May 6. They should post a “mud alert” in both states.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Democratic Party Race: The Beat Goes On...and On...and On

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal-Pioneer

The next big primary in the ongoing Democratic Party race is on April 22. The Pennsylvania contest will apportion 158 delegates and is the biggest single state left in the fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Though Obama has won the endorsement of Bob Casey, one of the state’s senators, Clinton has the support of Governor Ed Rendell and most of the party establishment there. She leads Obama in the polls and is predicted to win.

Despite that, many pundits and politicians think that Clinton’s fight to gain the Democratic Party nomination is all but hopeless. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said in an interview carried by National Public Radio March 27 that Clinton should quit the race because she has hurt Obama “more than anything John McCain has said.”

Of course this assumes she feels bound to play by the rules. But what if her sense of entitlement is so strong that she is willing to break them if necessary? In an e-mail she sent out at the end of March, and quoted by the Washington Post, Clinton declared she would not be “bullied out” of the race by the “big boys.”

In an interview with the same paper during a campaign stop in India on March 29, she declared that “I have no intention of stopping until we finish what we started and until we see what happens in the next 10 contests.”

In fact, she went further. Clinton told Time magazine that even pledged delegates are not legally bound to support the candidate to whom they are pledged: “Every delegate is expected to exercise independent judgment.” Which translates as, my delegates are mine, but his are mine to poach.

As well, 20 well-heeled backers of Clinton’s have sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, chastising Pelosi for declaring that the super-delegates should support the winner of the pledged delegate count. Clinton’s backers went so far as to threaten to cut off their financial contributions to the party.

Many of the extremely wealthy people who signed the letter benefitted from legislation passed during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and are happy in return to scratch the Clintons’ backs.

The Clintons’ 28 year old daughter Chelsea, for example, in 2006 took a job analyzing investments at Avenue Capital Group, a hedge fund run by banker Marc Lasry, a loyal donor to Clinton-related Democratic causes. Her salary is in the high six figure range. Lasry was one of the 20 signatories to the letter.

When another prominent Democrat, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, endorsed Obama, he was denounced as a “Judas” by one of Clinton’s political operatives, James Carville.

Carville told the New York Times on Good Friday that the endorsement was an “act of betrayal” that “came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out (Jesus) for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic.”

Carville seems to regard the Democratic Party as a Clinton family enterprise, much as the Pakistan Peoples Party belongs to the Bhuttos. No doubt he’ll be expecting loyalists to support Chelsea Clinton when she seeks office in the future.

If you compare Obama’s endorsements with Clinton’s, one thing becomes evident: one side consists primarily of people with integrity, while the other side is dominated by ethics-challenged hacks.

As she grows ever more frenzied in her pursuit of the nomination, Hillary Clinton is fast becoming the Mwai Kibaki of American politics. (Kibaki is the Kenyan leader who stole the presidential election from a rival last December.)

What’s next, a coup d’├ętat if Barack Obama wins the nomination?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Carville and the J-Word

Henry Srebrnik, [Toronto] Jewish Tribune

Jewish defense organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the United States, and the Canadian Jewish Congress and the League for Human Rights here in Canada, are always on the alert for even the slightest whiff of anti-Semitism. And rightly so.

To pick a somewhat minor example recently in the news, Congress wrote to the Kirkland Lake, Ontario, town council, inquiring as to why a street in the town was named Swastika Ave. It turns out this name dates back to 1911 and long predated Nazism -- the swastika was, after all, a Hindu symbol that Hitler appropriated as an “Aryan” emblem.

Frankly, I’d feel better were the street given some other name; after the Holocaust, the swastika, I’m afraid, can never lose its sinister connotations. Still, it turns out to have been an innocent misunderstanding.

We know that Jewish groups will sometimes censure people or groups for remarks that seem only tangentially to have anti-Jewish implications. So why has there been relative silence from American Jewish organizations when political operative and Hillary Clinton supporter James Carville called New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, once a member of President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet, a “Judas”?

Carville made the remark after Richardson endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic Party’s nomination in the U.S. presidential race. Carville called it an “act of betrayal” that “came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out (Jesus) for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic.”

In much of western culture, Judas became the stereotype of the greedy, traitorous Jew, the man responsible for deicide. His very name and image has been used to incite violence against Jews over the centuries. How many of us have been murdered in pogroms due to this libel?

Hitler, among many others, certainly knew the power of the “J-word.”

No doubt Carville did not intend to malign Jews – but could he not have used a different example, one less offensive to Jewish ears? The traitor Benedict Arnold, the American general who switched sides and sold out to the British during the American Revolution, comes to mind.

Were an evangelical Protestant to have made a similar statement – say, while accusing some Republican of turning against John McCain – my guess is we’d have heard more of an outcry.

But most American Jews are fairly secular and a majority support the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton is a U.S. senator from New York state and has many Jewish supporters.

So is there a double standard at work here? Judge for yourself.