James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Symbols vs. Substance, Part 2

By Lydia Howell

After seven years with George W. Bush in the Oval Office, it's easy to see why people like the idea of the next President having political and governing experience.

Of course, you're more likely to lean that way if you think the biggest problem with the Bush administration has been incompetence.

Personally, I think it's all gone pretty much according to plan -- except for those
pesky Iraqis who refuse to accept having their country occupied and their oil stolen by American corporations. With no Congressional restraint, Bush has hugely increased the power of the presidency, appointed right-wing reactionaries to executive branch agencies and named to the Supreme Court ideologues who seem committed to hurling us backwards to Gilded Age and the semi-feudalism of that era.

But I digress.

Hillary Clinton touts her experience, saying Barack Obama isn't seasoned enough for the Top Job.

I like the fact that Obama has grassroots experience as a community organizer. It would be nice to see fewer lawyers and representatives of big business and a lot more people with more typical life experiences and outlooks on city councils, in state legislatures and Congress --people whose political viewpoints have been shaped on the ground in their communities. There should be more teachers, nurses, union organizers, local activists and small business owners representing We the People.

Most elected of today's officials, who get their offices with the help of huge sums of campaign cash unavailable to the 75 percent of Americans who make $50,000 a year or less, don't seem at all in touch with the everyday reality of their constituents.

Maybe, just maybe, Obama has more of that real-life perspective. While his speeches are short on details, his Web site appears to offer some solid ideas. From
bolstering safety nets and retraining for displaced workers and investing in green energy jobs, Obama has some good ideas. The question is this: Will he go to the root of the corporate dominance that created our economic car-wreck or will he offer bandaids to the working people who are bleeding heavily while CEOs cash in? He sticks with “free trade” agreements that really ought to be renegotiated -- as only Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucnich, among Democratic candidates, demands.

It's understandable that people are uplifted by Obama's slogan “Change
We Can believe In,” but, to quote an old ad and political campaign slogan, “Where's the beef?”

If corporations are allowed to consolidating in endless mergers and corporate lobbyists go on writing legislation that's passed by corporate-sponsored members of Congress, how much of a “change” is that?

And what is Hillary Clinton's much-touted “experience”?

She puts forth her long association with the Children's Defense Fund, founded by civil rights luminary Marion White Edleman. However, Clinton never mentions being a director of Wal-Mart -— a company leading the corporate assault on the American economy, an aggressive enemy of labor organizations and the subject of the biggest
sex-discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history.

Clinton insists she should get credit as a “co-equal” in governing during her husband's presidency. But if the Clinton presidency is the New York senator's main
claim on the Democratic nomination, then policies instigated during the Clinton years should be fair game for debate.

The North American Free Trade Agreement that Bill Clinton pushed -- and
Sen. Clinton still supports --escalated the export of American manufacturing jobs and continues to gut the economic lives of whole communities and families.

Republicans have sought to end New Deal social safety nets but Bill
Clinton pushed through “welfare reform” -- dumping the nation's poorest
mothers and children off welfare, leaving most of them in poverty. The Children's Defense Fund has raised deep concerns about the actual results of that policy.

Hillary Clinton wrote a book, “It Takes a Village,” but seems oblivious to the damage to families that the so-called welfare reform is causing. She wants to be seen as a lifelong feminist but doesn't propose concrete solutions for the problems of single mothers raising children in poverty: She makes no proposals to improve access to education, decent housing and quality childcare.

Clinton refers frequently to her attempts at health care reform during her husband's presidency. But her bulky plan was incomprehensible, created in secrecy
and kept insurance companies in charge.

Her newest plan may be simpler but she keeps things as they are with insurance companies, HMOs and Big Pharmas, with profits trumping public interest.

To be fair, both Obama's and Edwards' health care plans are similar to Clinton's. The best that can be said is that Edwards admits that after some piddling “reforms” and public subsidies for the poorest citizens, everyone will be required to buy health insurance, as they're required now to have liability coverage on their cars.

Obama and Clinton also apparnetly plan to deliver tens of millions of captive
customers to insurance companies, which continue to raise the prices of their insurance, co-pays and prescription drugs.

Hillary Clinton seems to be courting the right-wing as she downplays women's reproductive rights --even as 87 percent of counties in the United States have
no abortion provider and even as insurance companies still refuse to pay for
women's contraceptives while covering the cost of Viagra.

On issues tearing apart communities of color -- the failed and phony “war on drugs,” high incarceration rates and a grossly inequitable death penalty,
Clinton is silent -— duplicating her husband's failure to take stands on those issues. But Obama and Edwards are about equally as silent on those issues in their stump speeches, although on his Web site Obama has suggested drug courts, more drug treatment and addressing the big sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine users.

I guess even most Democratic candidates feel there's still plenty of money to be made on corporate-constructed and run prisons, that the “war on drugs” has been an
invaluable model for expanding police powers and social control. In fact, it's so successful a model that the domestic front of Bush's “war on terror” was based on its design.

With his “Two Americas” talk, work on poverty since 2004 and fiery vows to fight corporate dominance, John Edwards comes closest of the three Democratic front-runners to (at least rhetorically) campaigning on the real interest of most Americans. Obama and Clinton look like symbolic “ground-breakers” who, on the issues, actually represent the entrenched leadership of the Democratic Party and their corporate sponsors. And the money people have hedged their bets, giving each of the symbol candidates $100 million.

None of the three media-picked “front-runners” is willing to take on the truly major, and ignored, issues that should be the heart of the 2008 debate:

They ignore, for example, a $500 billion Pentagon budget (not counting “supplemental” appropriations averaging $100 billion), although that's half the national budget and sucks resources from a crumbling infrastructure, desperately needed human services, not to mention a deteriorating educational system, health care and other citizen needs.

Why isn't the Incredible Enlarging Military Budget, along with it's younger sibling
the Department of Homeland Security, worthy of debate? What about the
billions “disappeared,” unaccounted for, by private contractors in Iraq?

Will Clinton, Obama or Edwards, upon moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, issue executive orders to close Guantanamo and end water-boarding? Will he or she restore the core civil liberties that Bush-Cheney have been busy burying under their relentless exploitation of the September 11 attacks?

None of them is putting those issues at the heart of their campaign speeches. In fact, those issues don't get a whisper of attention.

What do the top picks offer on global warming, peak oil and their impact on every aspect of our lives? Fahhgeddaboutit.

Serious citizenship demands going beyond images of race, gender and class symbols -—much as many of us ache to see leadership that looks like us-- to look at candidates' actual policies and voting records -— all available on the Internet.

In past years Americans had an experienced candidate with a long and impeccable record of service in the public interest, someone who could take credit for wide-ranging legislation that went from air quality protection to government transparency. That was Ralph Nader.

He ran for president three times, yet was refused a fair hearing by being banned from all debates. When the Supreme Court and the Republican dirty tricks in
Florida stole Al Gore's victory in 2000, the Democratic Party stood by and did nothing to stop that travesty in the ”greatest democracy on Earth.” Instead, the party leaders and their loyal followers blamed Nader, calling him an egotistical “spoiler” who “cost Gore the election.”

The fact is, most Nader voters said they'd have stayed home if he hadn't been on the ballot; they would not have voted for Gore.

Reality-check: there are indicators of more voting machine meddling in 2004, 2006—and perhaps in the New Hampshire 2008 primary that Clinton won against the predicted big margin victory for Obama.

Hmmm. Maybe policies aren't the only things the corporate-sponsored, war-supporting Democrats have in common with Republicans.

For more of “What You Won't Hear From the Front-runners”, see

Lydia Howell is an independent Minneapolis journalist, winner of the
Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She's also host/producer
for "Catalyst:politics & culture" on KFAI Radio, available at: