After the fire - the fire still burns
The heart grows older but never ever learns
The memories smoulder and the soul always yearns
After the fire - the fire still burns...
-- Pete Townshend - 1985
1) I carry no torch for either Obama or Clinton. My torch is solely for the Democratic Party.
(So please do not waste your time flaming me as a supporter of one candidate over the other. Argue the points I raise by all means - but not your interpretation of who you think I wish to see win.)
2) All I ultimately care about is the election of a Democratic President in 2008. A presidency that has the best chance of re-election in 2012. And that has the best chance of delivering a Democratic successor in 2016. (These are not inconsiderable factors to take into consideration.)
3) I also want a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate (ie 60 senators) that will prevail for 8 years. And a House majority strong enough to withstand the inevitable pendulum swings of mid-term elections.
So I don't want much you see...
Only everything we NEED to ensure that we do not win the next battle (in November 2008) only to lose the bigger war that conservatives have been waging against America since the 1960s.
In other words -- we MUST think long-term. Not just New Hampshire. And not just November 2008.
4) So at this critical moment for Democrats - we need to be sure. Really really sure. We should no more coronate Barack Obama now than it seemed as if we were being stampeded to coronate Hillary Clinton for most of last year.
5) If it was wrong for us to be asked to rubber-stamp Hillary -- and it surely was -- it is equally important that we make sure that we are not giddily swept along by Iowa into doing the same for Barack Obama. And there are forces (many of them media people and below-radar Republicans) who are urging us to do exactly that. Not all of them with the good of the Democratic Party first in their hearts...
6) I must state upfront that as a child of the glorious 1960s -- I am at heart a creature of optimism. I always want to believe in what MIGHT happen. The improbable successes we secured in civil rights and our culture in the 1960s happened because we DID dare to believe.
7) On the other hand -- as an ADULT of the late 1960s and the 1970s -- I am also seasoned and tempered by prudence. I remember our failures and defeats as a generation. How optimism alone could be crushed. And how some of our victories -- viewed with hindsight -- needed more than just the hope and inspiration of JFK and MLK. They also needed the muscle and fights (often literally) of LBJ and SDS.
NOT because the hope and inspiration of JFK, MLK and others was lacking.
But because the forces that OPPOSED us were SO entrenched and SO resistant to the changes we sought.
8) And so they are today. Not just the vast legions of social conservatives who delivered the White House to the GOP in 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000 and 2004. (That's SEVEN out of ten elections if you're keeping count.)
But also the entrenched interests of Big Business. Capitalism is a seductive flower. But it comes with some venal weeds that are tightly inter-woven in its roots.
9) The positive aspects of Barack Obama and his message are inspiring and uplifting to everyone in the Democratic Party. Especially to those of us who remember the 1960s. His appeal to the young is reminiscent of MLK, RFK and Gene McCarthy.
10) But if we dare to hope -- and surely we must still dare to hope -- we must also remember to reason. Temper our hopes with the realities we have faced. And THEN decide based on that. The young -- bless them -- have not yet had their hopes crushed by realities. They (like we at their age) are invincible. They see only the hope. It is up to us to share our experiences.
NOT to throw cold water on the hope. But to prevent us being carried away on ONLY hope.
11) If we are ruled solely by our hearts and souls -- without paying heed to our minds -- then the eventual pain to our hearts and souls will be that much the greater.
12) So with that in mind -- let's take a look.
13) Obama has a resonant message right now. "Change" That is an especially appealing concept in the abstract after 7 long years of regression. But it is not a platform alone. "Change" means different things to everyone. And talking of change and actually achieving it have ALWAYS been two very different things.
14) Do we think that major political and social change can come about in 2009-2013 with the willing acquiescence or cooperation of conservatives who regard many of those changes as MORALLY wrong?
Do we think that multi-national corporations with decades of entrenched interests and gargantuan profits at stake will simply surrender their positions because a president claims a mandate of 51% or above?
Or do we think that forces that regard their position as entitlement may regard a Democratic president as simply a passing fancy they have to endure for 4 years -- to be stalled until voted out of office? (With their financial muscle putting in the boot).
In other words - will hope and inspiration cause entrenched Big Business to accede to changes that affect their profits? Or is it likely that to achieve REAL change - there will have to be brutal horse-trading and maybe some knock-down fights?
I revile LBJ for what he did in Vietnam. But I cannot and do not deny the import of the vast social changes he brought about.
Had he lived -- would JFK's hope and inspiration have been sufficient to get the Civil Rights Act through? Would the best aspects of the Great Society have become law under Kennedy?
Or did LBJ's experience at real Washington politics (a deeply unfashionable credit these days) and his 36 years in the House and Senate (prior to becoming President) give him the know-how and skills with which to muscle through REAL change against entrenched interests?
15) It was thrilling that Obama attracted so many young and first-time voters in Iowa. The history since 1972 (when 18-year-olds first got the vote) is that the young voters always PROMISE to come out and "Rock The Vote" at the General Election. But they never do in sufficient numbers. Will it be any different this year? If so -- that is a huge plus for Obama. But if the pattern of the last 36 years is anything to go by -- they may not.
16) Democratic voters have been warned heavily in the last two General Elections that if they DIDN'T have a Democratic president to appoint Supreme Court justices -- that we might lose a woman's right to abortion. Even with those entreaties -- it has never appeared a serious enough imminent threat to have a real electoral impact. Democratic voters won't believe that until we DO lose it. (Perish the thought.)
Yet the opposite is the case with social conservatives. They KNOW that -- however disappointed they have become with Bush over Iraq, spending, Katrina etc etc -- just one more Republican president for 4 years could be enough to overcome Roe versus Wade.
So we count on the conservative vote being depressed in November at our peril.
There will be a MASSIVE concerted effort by the religious right (sic) to ensure a Republican victory - for just that one issue alone.
17) How sure are we about the PRIVATE racial prejudices of White Conservative America. Not the answers that those people give opinion pollers. ("No I hate all N$@%&! - and I would never vote for one!" is not the socially acceptable answer. Even rednecks know that).
No I'm talking about in the privacy of the voting booth. In a place where Angry White Men who have been sore since the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s still dwell. Is America the land we hope it to be? Or are there still tracts of White Americans who in the privacy of that booth can find an outlet for their resentments?
18) We must beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Chris Matthews -- whose venal hatred of the Clintons is beyond pathological -- and which he makes no effort to disguise -- is affecting warm and fuzzy about Obama at the moment. Is that genuine appreciation? Or is that because it is just another stick with which to beat Hillary? Should Democratic voters be impressed by that?
It is to be recalled that Matthews wet himself repeatedly over Bush's macho image in 2000 and 2004 (and while he was covering Bush's Mission Accomplished "Top Gun" charade he actually came in his pants). But he continually lambasted Vietnam veteran Gore and war hero Kerry as wimps next to what he characterized as the REAL MAN Bush. Just as he drools like a 13-year-old schoolgirl over Giuliani.
If Obama was our candidate -- and the deadly "Terror" threats come up again (as we all know they will) -- what then of the gushing from Matthews and his media cronies. Will Obama suddenly be a "nice guy" - but if only we were in calmer waters?
In other words -- would the fickle chattering classes turn Obama into another Adlai Stevenson? A fundamentally decent intellectual -- but not a comparison in times of strife (eg Cold War or War On Terror) for a proven soldier/leader.
If there was 9 months of relentless media characterizing of Obama as a "nice decent guy with Utopian ideals" - what then of his chances against an older real Tough Guy in a time of war...?
19) What happens if Obama is our candidate -- and despite all the worst that the GOP can throw at him and the ravenous hunger of the social conservatives to get a Republican in to overthrow Roe vs Wade -- he wins. Praise be. That would be glorious.
But what then if he finds how hard it is to deliver the "Change" he has promised. He encounters inevitable resistance in Congress and massive fight back from Big Business.
And of course there will be a deeply resentful Republican Party and conservative media immediately spending every ounce of its effort and vast vast sums of money to reverse the Democratic tide at the 2010 mid-terms and to defeat Obama in 2012.
Now -- think of the young people who may have played a big part in that Obama election victory. Swept along on the tides of hope for "Change"
But we all know that "Change" is never instant.
And in this regrettably Instant Gratification society - that leads to frustration. Especially among the young and impatient.
If the promised changes are not that dramatic -- will those new young voters flock to the election booth at the 2010 mid-terms to preserve the Democratic congress that will be needed to enact those changes? Will they flock to vote for Obama with the same intensity in 2012 if they feel that the "changes" haven't happened as expected?
Or is there a danger that the high tide of hope that would sweep him to victory in 2008 might ebb in the face of the harsh realities of effecting any significant changes in our brutal world.
20) None of these questions are reasons to vote for or against Obama. Or for or against Hillary.
But they are questions that we ignore at our peril.
Especially in this compressed primary season where voters can become more like sheep than thinkers.
And especially when there are siren voices who do NOT have the Democratic Party's interests at heart -- adding to the frenzy.
As Pete Townshend so eloquently wrote - "the soul always yearns". My soul certainly yearns. Which is why my soul finds Obama so attractive as a candidate.
And I am also mindful of Townshend's warning that "the heart grows older but never ever learns" Which is why my head cautions me to think about the full longterm consequences of an Obama candidacy. And to not rule out the merits of Hillary as a candidate.
What I want is for us to choose the candidate who can beat the Republicans in 2008. AND AGAIN IN 2010 and 2012. And set us up for victory in 2016.
Let us all think of that big picture as we urge our fellow Democrats to decide.
After the fire...