Friday, February 08, 2008

SPRING FEVER

This week our nation’s eyes turn to the Chesapeake/Potomac region – an area that has given us many of our founding fathers (including Washington, Jefferson and Madison), our national anthem (courtesy of Francis Scott Key), our greatest baseball player (Babe Ruth), and a legendary mayor who has immortalized the words “The bitch set me up” (his honor, Marion Barry). On February 6th, the first day of the buildup to the “Chesapeake Primary,” the temperature in D.C. hit 70 degrees. It felt like spring. And I’m not just talking about the weather.

Never in my lifetime do I recall a Maryland primary mattering as much as the upcoming event on February 12th. We’ll be voting, together with our neighbors from D.C. and Virginia, at a time when the Democratic nomination remains up for grabs. It appears that Obama is favored to prevail in the Chesapeake region, but Hillary has a significant lead in upcoming contests in Texas and Ohio. Her backers have to be absolutely giddy today that she dodged a Super Tuesday bullet. They were hearing about Obama taking a 13 point lead in California in Zogby’s last pre-primary poll. Somehow, once again, the pollsters wildly underestimated her strength. And now, armed with an advantage in super-delegates, she has to be viewed as the front runner, despite the media’s attempts to portray the race as 50/50.

So yes, to the Clintonites, February 6th felt like spring. As long as nothing strange happens from here on out, they can smell the scent of victory. The party apparatchiks should put her over the top even if “the people” should favor Obama ever so slightly. Besides, when it comes to big-state primaries, we all know now that she has a big advantage. Thousands upon thousands of poorly educated voters who probably haven’t been living and breathing this election, let alone shaken the hand of The Rock Star, will walk into the ballot box and see a name they have loved for years (Clinton) and another that they associate with an unproven upstart. They’ll vote “the brand,” and that – combined with the super-delegates -- should be enough for her to get the nomination.

That at least was my honest-to-God thinking on the morning after Super Tuesday. The betting markets don’t agree with me – they had Hillary going from a 52/48 pre-Super Tuesday favorite to a 46/54 underdog the next day – but I still see her as the candidate to beat. And yet … even though I’m an Obamamaniac, and even though I was disappointed by the results of the big day, the 6th felt like spring to me too. It reminded me of Aprils past, back when I was a teenager and had been infatuated with a girl, only to get my heart broken.

I know what you’re thinking – that Obama is like those “girls” with whom I was infatuated and who broke my heart. But that would be missing my point. In this case, the “girl” is the notion of an America with an inspiring leader devoted to making real changes in Washington, and the heartbreaker was the American public; in particular, those who would style themselves moderate or progressive. I know that they include the majority of the electorate, and yet time and time again, I find myself distraught at their choice of candidates. Walking around on the 6th in 70 degree weather, I couldn’t bear the thought of it.

I started reflecting on my teenage years, after one of my girlfriends would give me my walking papers. Some of my buddies would see how depressed I was and would tell me that it just doesn’t pay to get so infatuated with a girl. Spinoza himself would surely agree – that kind of passion inevitably leads to frustration, he would argue. And yet I knew full well that a teenager’s passion for romance is, in fact, the epitome of health, despite all the pain it engenders. It’s that passion that sharpens our appreciation for beauty, inside and out. Similarly, the passion for real political change is the epitome of health in an adult. If we don’t want the societal change that we desperately need with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might, we can be damned well sure we’re not going to get it.

The thought of an Obama loss in the polls was indeed depressing to me … until the next morning, when, for the first time, I watched the speech he gave at the end of the night on Super Tuesday. That speech convinced me that, regardless of the outcome in November 2008, Obama is founding a movement that will inevitably succeed. For those who don’t get the Obama candidacy, I’m sure his Super Tuesday speech came across as full of soaring rhetoric, but signifying nothing. I can imagine Clinton’s supporters shaking their head at the “vacuity” of lines like “Change will not come if we wait for some other person. Or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

Vacuous? Only if you’re part of the old Democratic Party. A party that equates cynicism with wisdom. A party that equates fear with prudence. A party that wouldn’t dare try to implement bold progressive initiatives, lest they be defeated, resulting in the dreaded conservative “backlash.” A party that is so stupid that it could actually ignore the second coming of Paul Wellstone in the name of Steve Novick (Happy Birthday, Steve!) … and support instead his yawner of an opponent.

Hillary Clinton fits the old Democratic Party perfectly. She’s always been afraid to take courageous stands on any issue. She always seems to stick her finger in the wind and follow its lead – whether that means supporting a law on flag burning or supporting Bush’s right to invade Iraq. If you listen to one of her stump speeches, the theme is always the same: “Trust me. I’ve studied up on the topic. And I’ve got a plan that will work!”

Hillary reminds me of Squire Trelaine, the Star Trek character whose source of power was based in his large living room mirror. With Hillary Clinton it’s always about “I.” With Barack Obama, it’s about “We.” She’s the self-styled expert. She’s paid her dues, worked hard, and now, not surprisingly, she knows best. Barack? He doesn’t know nearly as much as she does. But he knew enough to oppose the Iraq War, didn’t he? And he knows something else: that it doesn’t matter how many briefing books our leaders read, if the rank and file of the progressive community isn’t energized, we can kiss off the chance of driving the national agenda.

Politicians need community activists every bit as much as the activists need politicians. If the work doesn’t get done from the ground up, we’ll be left with Hillary Clinton’s original health care proposal and John McCain’s immigration bill. In other words, we’ll be left with bupkis.

Why do I believe Barack is right that we need to see this as a movement primarily about us, and not about him? Because I’ve seen what it’s like to go to peace marches, protesting one of the most idiotic wars in modern history, only to encounter small crowd after small crowd. I would try to invite my friends, and they were busy. Then, when I tried to get a group together from my “progressive” synagogue, I would be rebuffed, because pro-Palestinian elements were among the march’s planners. I look back at the 60s, when hundreds of thousands of people could show up for a march, and then I think about what it’s like today, when Democrats are too damn busy with our own lives to worry about other people losing theirs.

Obama and I pine for the day when we Democrats will enjoy the kind of renaissance that the Republicans enjoyed with Reagan. Republicans were optimistic. They were bold enough to dream big dreams. They got together in spiritual communities and spoke about social change. They took to the airwaves spreading their ideas. They realized how easy it is to influence Congress with orchestrated letter writing campaigns. And above all else, they realized the benefits of unity.

Sure their ideas were reactionary. But at least they had faith in ideas. And armed with that faith, they changed this country and this world.

That’s all I ask – to have our own day in the sun. It doesn’t even have to be 70 degrees. But we do have to be together. You. Me. Barack. And all the other politicians and non-politicians who are willing to get their hearts broken over and over again if that’s what it takes to change the world in a progressive direction.

Keep the faith.

4 comments:

Betty C. said...

I freely quoted you today here:

http://and-so-forth.blogspot.com/2008/02/take-this-country-come-take-me-home.html

Washington State is caucusing today, as you surely know. Lorac and Mij are both caucusing for Obama, defying the demographics theory.

I believe now.

Daniel Spiro said...

Go Lorac and Mij!

Hillary doesn't have a hammmer lock on the senior citizen vote, just like Barack doesn't get 100% on the college campuses. It's true, though, that when I see a 20ish kid with a Clinton sticker, I shake my head in disbelief, but I realize deep down that they're not alone. Unfortunately.

Night Stranger said...

You're up tomorrow, Dan! Hope Virginia comes through.

Daniel Spiro said...

Yes, I can't remember the last time that I was this psyched to vote.