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Frank Dwyer Headshot

Say It Ain't So, Paul: Even the Great Krugman Is Lying about Florida

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Dear Paul Krugman,

I have long been a great admirer of your passionate, thoughtful, persuasive, illuminating columns, but now you are breaking my heart.

Why do you keep saying that the voters of Florida should have their votes counted because they voted "in good faith"? What does that mean? What are you trying -- Humpty-Dumpty style -- to make it mean? Most people in politics lie: what else does such a greedy, selfish, easily manipulated, and ill-informed country deserve? And who in the media doesn't lie? But not you! For you to keep saying that the voters of Florida voted "in good faith" is a lie, and I think you know it is a lie. Were those poor little paragons of democracy not informed that the Democratic Party, having warned them not to move their primary up, was not going to count their votes? Were they not told that all the candidates had agreed with that decision and, as a result, were not campaigning in the state? If they knew all that -- and they did -- then they did not vote "in good faith." Oh, maybe some of the really stupid ones, the ones who don't read newspapers or watch television news or have any news sources but Leno and Letterman, may have voted in more or less "good faith," I suppose, but I expect a good many of the smart ones may not have wasted their time. Of course your candidate doesn't have bragging rights to the smart ones, does she? She and her spinmeisters must instead make a virtue of her superior appeal to the uneducated. Hooray for the high school drop-outs! (Shades of the immortal Roman Hruska.)

Surely one can make an argument about counting votes in Florida without telling any lies -- i.e., so many did cast their votes, in whatever faith, and they are good Democrats, and good Americans, and they care so much, and if we don't count them they'll vote for the devil, and we need them in November, and so we really should count their votes, even if it isn't, strictly speaking, honest or fair. Something like that, right? I think this argument is feeble, unworthy of you, but it is not, on the face of it, a lie. Please tell me how I'm wrong, how your "good faith" claim is not a lie, or correct your own lazy sniper-fire misspeak and move on. I expect so much more of you than this.

The answer to any argument about counting the votes in Florida is also simple, honest, decent, and completely confounding to the Clinton liars. We live in a celebrity culture: George Stephanopoulos famously called President Clinton our "Celebrity-in-Chief". In such a People Magazine, Show Business Tonight world, the candidate with greater name recognition will generally outpoll a little-known candidate by a significant margin. This is the built-in anti-democracy bias of incumbency. Hillary Clinton is a celebrity. In the years when she had no truly impressive accomplishments of her own, she was voted Most Admired Woman of the Year because she was the First Lady. (She was, of course, a really bright, attractive, dedicated, and impressive First Lady, and she has impressive accomplishments of her own since then.) But when she and Obama began this wretched Abu Ghraib of a campaign, Obama was a little-known black man with a Muslim name. As he campaigned, in state after state, as people got to hear him and see him and know him, he closed huge gaps in the polls, often passing the celebrity whose nomination had long been seen as inevitable, securing the majority of pledged delegates, a lead in superdelegates, and a lead in the popular vote (even though so many of his wins included caucus states), not counting, of course, the two states which, according to the Democratic Party rules that he and Hillary agreed to, would not count.

There are other good reasons for Hillary's celebrity, of course: she's a very smart, quick, tremendously hardworking, caring, accomplished, witty, good-humored woman, an apparently terrific mother. But you know as well as I do that what shot her into the real Supercelebrity stratosphere was that she stood by her man after he got a chubby intern to suck his penis in the Oval Office and then got caught. If Hillary Clinton gets to be the nominee because she won a Most Admired Person election (not a Democratic primary) in Florida, Monica Lewinsky will have done her best, again, this time bringing joy to the wife. And Paul Krugman -- Paul Krugman! -- says those Most Admired votes should count because the voters voted "in good faith."

Good faith! Patriotism! Disenfranchisement! The underground railroad! The suffragettes! Clinton and her relentless hypocritical fantasizing flacks should truly be ashamed of themselves -- for their Florida and Michigan lies, if for nothing else. (Look at Terry McAuliffe's position on pushing up primaries when he was the head of the DNC. Such positively Cheney-like lying!) I can't tell you how sad it makes me, Paul, to see you swelling the numbers of this embarrassing but evidently unembarrassable club.

I admired and liked the Clintons during his terms as President, and I supported and defended them both. I particularly liked and admired her.

Her vote against the Levin Amendment and for the Iraq War Authorization made it impossible for me to support her in her run for the nomination. I understood why such a famous and impressive policy wonk hadn't even read the NIE before the vote: she knew how she had to vote, to achieve her political ambitions. She knew that vote was the greatest opportunity to show, once and for all, that either she had or she didn't have the balls of Margaret Thatcher, that she would invade the Falklands on Day One if the press and people and the Party demanded such a silly thing. I understood, but I, who wanted so much to vote for a woman (I've been arguing for years that men have run the country so badly they should voluntarily give up their votes for a hundred years and let women show how much better they would do), I could not vote for a candidate whose most important positions had anything to do with proving something about his/her balls. I waited in vain for her to apologize, but instead her subsequent behavior -- the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, the hideously pandering threat to "obliterate" Iran -- only confirmed my fear of her, of her play-acted bully-boy swagger, of what she would actually say if she answered the White House phone at 3 AM on Day One.

I still admired her spirit, courage, and resourcefulness; she was impressive in the debates. But she wouldn't apologize for her war vote. More than that, I thought I was seeing her try to trick me and all of us: throwing enough bones, winks, nods to the left to keep us in line as she ran firmly to the right to outflank the hapless, laughable pro-Bush, pro-rich, pro-war, creationist, halfwit Republicans.

The day that Hillary said that she and John McCain had the experience that put them across the "commander-in-chief" threshold but Obama didn't was the day I felt myself change irrevocably toward her. (I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post at the time asking her if she thought George W. Bush had even more of that precious Commander-in-Chief "experience" than any of them, since he'd actually been doing the job for the last seven years. Now that's "experience"!

What was that threshold? What does McCain's "experience" amount to? Nothing, of course, since his policy decisions are at least as profoundly ignorant and destructive as those of the admitted war-criminal he yearns so pathetically, nakedly -- Romneylike -- to replace. The day Hillary touted herself and McCain as superior candidates to her rival for the Democratic Party nomination should have been her last day in the campaign: party leaders should have urged her, privately, to drop out, and when she didn't, all the superdelegates should, en masse, have pledged their votes to Obama. It marked the last day, anyway, that this particular Democrat would ever consider voting for her on either end of a Democratic ticket.

The Democrat leaders didn't take any such principled action to defend Democratic Party values and "electability" because they are, basically, spineless centrists, unwilling to take any strong action of any kind that might jeopardize their increasing access to the troughs of power. They are not progressives. Worse, they have betrayed their voters and their country by not even being an Opposition Party to the administration that has, in all our history, most required opposing. I have come to believe that these Democrats, not the greedy, corrupt, criminal Republicans, are the greatest obstacles to the election of a progressive government. You don't agree? Tell us, then, who has damaged us more? Bush, by nominating Mukasey, or Democratic Senators Schumer and Feinstein, who alone made it possible for him to be confirmed? The Democrats we elected and gave a majority could easily have let the nomination of a fascist Attorney General die in their committee; instead, they gave him to us. Schumer and Feinstein, of course, are pillars of the Clinton community.

You say Obama should offer Hillary the vice-presidency because "he needs to do everything he can to make sure" the Democrats don't lose in November. Everything? Isn't there anything more important than winning? Doesn't what you stand for, what you have done and said, what you promise you will do and not do if you are elected, all have value and gravity quite distinct from - sometimes even in opposition to -- what may seem to be your "electability."

In the election of 1912, superbly chronicled by James Chace in 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft, and Debs -- the Election That Changed the Country, Woodrow Wilson became our 28th President. Long before and long after this seminal election, this United States was permanently stained and disfigured by the most virulent Jim Crow racism and violence. All over the South black men were regularly accused of crimes, hunted down by vigilante mobs, tortured (castrated, their eyes gouged out), and lynched. Festive crowds celebrated the rough "justice" meted out by the flower of Southern chivalry. (Overstated? Take a look at D. W. Griffith's masterpiece, Birth of a Nation: by some accounts, Woodrow Wilson was its biggest fan.) Not even the patriotic participation of black soldiers in World War I mitigated the horror of this violence. "Between 1914 and 1920," according to Appiah and Gates's magisterial Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, "a total of 382 African Americans were lynched -- in some cases . . . newly-discharged soldiers still wearing their uniforms."

Theodore Roosevelt, the former Republican president running on the Progressive Party ticket, would not speak out against lynching, even though he was "privately against it." Why? If he made lynching a campaign issue, he knew he wouldn't be "electable." (This is one of the things I think about when I hear somebody saying one candidate is more "electable" in November. Is there a parallel? What do you think?) In 1912 even Debs, the Socialist candidate, couldn't speak out from the hustings about the segregation and systematic disenfranchisement of black voters shaming and blighting our country: most of the workers his party hoped to see running the country didn't even want black workers in their unions.

Roosevelt and Debs weren't "electable," anyway, of course. Wilson was. Why? Wilson was a white supremacist and counted on the support of his base: the white Southern Jim Crow Democrats of the vicious, shameful, lynching, solid South. When elected, he stocked his Cabinet with these heroes. One of them, his publicity chief, North Carolina publisher Josephus Daniels, who became his Secretary of the Navy, spoke for all when he wrote, just before the election, that "the subjection of the negro politically, and the separation of the negro socially, are paramount to all other considerations in the South short of the preservation of the Republic itself." At the urging of these influential and highly respectable racists, Wilson allowed federal agencies and restrooms to be segregated. Imagine having wooden partitions put up in your office so, if you're white, you don't even have to look at a black person; and if you're black, well, you don't have to inflict your presence on a superior white. (This is what I think of when I hear the Clinton team maundering on, especially after her huge wins in West Virginia and Kentucky, about how "electable" she is.)

Wilson, of course, as some of the merry pundits told us a few weeks ago (they're having such a good time -- Chris Matthews is actually drooling -- as if there really were two sides to all issues and none of this mattered except in terms of controversy and sound bite and spin and viewer titillation and ratings) -- Woodrow Wilson was the last Democrat to carry West Virginia. 1916. Well, of course. West Virginia voters back then preferred a good tall handsome bookish white supremacist to a hated party-of-Lincoln Republican. (Professor Wilson wasn't actually bookish, by the way. He once told a reporter that he hadn't read "a serious book through" in the decade plus since he'd been named President of Princeton, thereby establishing the useful precedent that you don't have to be much of a reader to lead a non-reading nation into war.)

The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those Jim Crow West Virginians and Kentuckians are the voters who just cast so many of their sacred Democratic primary votes not, funnily enough, for the sort of fellow whom some of their progenitors had lynched, but for Hillary. You tell me what you think Hillary is bragging about when she tells us, again and again, how many of those "white blue collar working men" prefer her, and about how much more "electable" she is than Obama. How much better Roosevelt would look now if he'd thought more about good and evil, about justice and decency, about America's broken promise, than about whether or not he would be "electable." (And can somebody please explain to Pat Buchanan, before his righteous indignation gives him a stroke, how a black person voting FOR a black person is not at all the same thing as a white person voting AGAINST a black person.)

Who knows what the future will bring? Obama may not be the answer. He may not be able to arrest our plunge into fascism and reverse it; restore our democracy; keep us safe; bring peace to the world; save the planet; put the malefactors in jail. (He doesn't even seem much interested -- nobody is -- in that last one, which is my favorite.) Those are all pretty big jobs and my guess is it's too late now, in the repugnant twilight of the neocons, to accomplish any of them. But he seems honest and caring and decent. He's eloquent, inspiring, a strong force for grass-roots hope and commitment, a voice in the wilderness calling all of us, before it is absolutely and positively too late, to be our best selves. He apparently values the Constitution. He's apparently a progressive. Krugman thinks he must do "everything he can" to make sure the Democrats don't lose. Lesser Krugmans told Roosevelt the same thing. Good advice if you want to get elected. But "everything," Paul?

Barack Obama seems to be different, a different sort of man. Not a man like vile Wilson or fatally compromised Roosevelt or the general run of politicians since then or the glib and oily people who come on television to explain the world to us in between the news about murdered blondes and errant starlets, the news they know we prefer. Obama gives his supporters a very rare, strong sense that he's a true straight-talk express that won't ever turn into a crooked-talk local, that there are lines he won't cross and things he will not do or say merely to get himself elected. Let's take a chance on him. He's the only choice we've got, anyway, if we've made up our minds to reject not just the metastasizing lies of the Republicans who have damaged our country and the world so much, but all lies, even the contemptuous, clever, spinning of our own Democratic corporatists. Let's nominate and elect a non-liar. And, while we're at it, let's all of us stop lying, even if we're good at it, even if it is in a cause that we think is good. Let's discuss, disagree, persuade, compromise, or remain implacably opposed, but let's do it without any more lying. The voters of Florida did not vote "in good faith." Let's stop saying "good faith" in such bad faith.