Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Meet the new boss

Democrats make as much ado as they can about the diversity of their party being represented by the diversity of their presidential candidates. This is nominally true insofar as Barack, Hillary and Gov. Bill Richardson are respectively the first African American, female and Hispanic candidates with a credible shot at winning their party's nomination. But up until fairly recently, there has been little to show by way of diversity of thought in each campaign.

My how things have changed!

The donkey punch contest that is going on presently between Barack and Hillary reflects as much of their need to occupy the same space on the electoral spectrum - and affect the same persona - as it does anything else. As it is, Sen. Obama's candidacy puts Ms. Clinton in an awkward position. She has to tack far enough right to distinguish herself from his netroots-fueled bid, while staying far enough left to appeal to more mainstream Democrat primary voters. (Her past contortions regarding her vote in support of the Iraq War reflect the tensions straining at her campaign.)

So far, she has done well enough at this to lead Obama in most recent polls. But it is evident that she has done so only by playing a sort of John Wayne with
cleavage (perhaps reprising the Duke as J.B. Books in The Shootist.) Her attempts to out-butch Barack and the rest of the field are of a piece with her need more generally to appease concerns that originate outside of her party. By way of her need to counteract gender-based stereotypes, Hillary is forced to sound like a Dick Cheney.

For his part, it is Obama who as of late must do his best John Rambo-cum-George W. Bush imitation vis-a-vis Pakistan, lest Hillary continue to outflank him from the hawkish right. Moreover, Obama is doubly cursed, as he must not only suppress his dovish instincts, but he must also stifle his essential blackness as Clarence Page recently observed.

That's Obama's dilemma. The Illinois senator needs to excite black voters enough to lure them away from Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose husband was The Great Connector with black folks.

Yet he can't risk turning off other voters by sounding too much like the two reverends, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who preceded him on the presidential stump.

With that in mind, I am hardly the only observer to notice that Obama seemed to be containing himself as an orator during the recent Democratic candidates' forum at historically black Howard University. He seemed deliberately avoiding the soaring oratory, rhythmic cadence or targeted appeals to black grievance that would spark applause from the mostly black audience.
Page noted that it was Hillary "who showed the most freedom to give voice to black grievances" as she cited the disproportionately high rates of HIV/AIDS in the black community, while Obama was largely mute on the topic.

So we bear witness to the bizarre spectacle of two ostensibly "minority" candidates doing their level best to downplay the very traits that make them special. Both are endeavoring to sound and behave like the hackneyed image of a white male (when Hillary is not acting like a black female.) But if Hillary is Dick Cheney in a pantsuit and Barack is President Bush with a dictionary and a tan, what is the material difference between the Democrat front-runners and the Republican administration they so abhor?

Simply put, it was always obvious that Bush and Cheney meant what they said about proactively defending America. While the dueling Senators take their Fight Club on the road, Bush and Cheney continue to take the fight to the enemy. We have absolutely no reason to believe that either Clinton or Obama will do likewise.

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