Monday, February 4, 2008

From the Super Bowl to Super Tuesday:
Is this the week of the underdog?

Are unlikely victories going to be the legacy of this first week of February 2008? Just as Bill Clinton has decided to follow the reputation trajectory of Britney Spears over the past few months, Hillary Clinton might just become the new Bill Belichick on Tuesday. Will the beginning of this year's Black History Month actually stake its own place in Black (and American) History with many resounding wins for Barack Obama in tomorrow's many primary elections? Will Super Tuesday strike a devastating blow in the Clinton campaign and signal the true rise of Obama to viable nomination status for the DNC? We can't know for sure until the polls close and the votes are counted tomorrow, but considering I do not know a single person who is voting for anyone other than Obama tomorrow (save the few who, like me, will be exercising our right to vote and will choose to cast our votes for nobody), I do believe that tomorrow's primary results will be something to behold. Unfortunately, New York State will most certainly go to Hillary, even though I have yet to see any Clinton '08 buttons on fellow subway riders and iPod wielding pedestrians and am conversely bombarded by Obama '08 pins, shirts, and signs in storefront windows. Could it be that Clinton supporters are embarrassed?

Either way, I hope that the Clintons have a very rough night and that Hillary spends most of the evening curled up in an empty bathtub, clutching a box of Franzia, and wiping mascara from her tear-streaked clown mask. That would be ideal. But, barring that, I do hope that Obama has a big night. No, I still won't be voting for him, but anything that hurts Hillary Clinton makes me feel better, like a reverse voodoo doll.

For a very thorough, state by state, Super Tuesday Preview, check out this manageable and readable report by Scott Galindez.

Personally, though, here's how my Super Tuesday voting experience will go:

8:11:00 AM - Enter local public school where I am supposed to vote.
8:13:15 AM - Find my district and sign in.
8:14:37 AM - Enter voting booth, pull curtain closed.
8:14:42 AM - Stare in disbelief at my two choices: Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton.
8:14:43 AM - Spew invective in my head or under my breath at the state of this country and the fact that I live in a democracy in which I am not represented.
8:15:01 AM - Calm myself down and wonder if my frustrated mutterings were loud enough to be overheard by the underpaid civil servants sitting right outside the booth.
8:15:07 AM - Look at the candidates again: Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton.
8:15:28 AM - Take deep breath.
8:15:34 AM - Pull lever with moral conviction.
8:15:41 AM - Exit booth having exercised my Constitutional right to engage in a public election, having voted for the candidate that best represents me and my beliefs: No One.

Am I really just a one-issue voter, indistinguishable from those folks who only care about say the economy or abortion or the fact that someone is Black, or a woman, or a spineless Vietnam POW, simply because the foreign policy of the country I'm from is of paramount importance to me? The answer is no. And not because I'm not focused on foreign policy, because I am, but because it's not the only thing I care about. Accountability, for one, is something else that I care deeply about and neither Obama or Clinton is interested in the immediate Impeachment of both Dick Cheney and George Bush for their crimes against the Constitution of the United States as well as their war crimes across the globe. Neither wishes to decrease our national defense budget or get rid of the PATRIOT Act. Neither will immediately remove all troops from Iraq or comment on the fact that the United States tortures people. Just because Obama has "charisma" and Clinton has "experience" doesn't mean anything will really change if one of them becomes president.

In a new article on, Ralph Nader states his belief that neither of these two Democratic candidates has been asked questions that really reflected the current state of the world or this country in recent debates. Nader and collegues such as Chris Hedges (former New York Times Middle East bureau chief) offered up the following questions (among others) that should be asked of these candidates and which speak to actual issues affecting the world today and are not just lobbed softballs intended for Obama to tout his message of "hope" and "change" and for Clinton to cackle like a deranged old crone:

"The Israeli government is imposing severe and continual collective punishment on the 1.5 million people of tiny Gaza, which includes restricting or cutting off food, fuel, electricity, medicines and other necessities. Malnutrition rates among many children resemble the worst of sub-Saharan Africa. Israel's leading newspaper, Ha'aretz, has reporters and columnists describing these horrific conditions and concluding that the ferocity of the blockade is detrimental to Israel as well as the Palestinians.

Collective punishment is clearly a violation of established international law. Prominent, former military, security and political leaders in Israel are speaking out against this punishment and calling for negotiations with Hamas. Do you, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, agree with these Israelis or do you continue to support the policy of collective punishment against innocent men, women and children in Gaza?"
And these:
"Senator Obama, you have taught Constitutional law. Has President Bush violated the Constitution, federal statutes and international treaties during his two terms of office? If so, please elaborate and tell the American people what you think should be done about holding the self-described "responsibility" President accountable under the impeachment authority of Congress and other laws of the land?"

"Senator Obama, you have often spoken about your health insurance plan as a way to reduce costs. Yet you do not discuss three major cost reduction opportunities. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, estimates that ten per cent of the entire health expenditures in this country go down the drain due to computerized billing fraud and abuse. This year, that amounts to $220 billion.

Under a single payer plan, administrative expenses would be cut by about two-thirds. That would amount to hundreds of billions of dollars a year in savings. And the Harvard School of Public Health study estimates about 80,000 people die every year from medical malpractice in hospitals, estimating costs years ago of $60 billion a year. These are large savings in a $2.2 trillion a year health care industry.

Do you agree and, if so, why have you ignored proposing practical actions in these areas?"

"Senator Clinton, you have long urged more money for children's programs. One way to make this possible is to end or diminish the complex system of corporate welfare-subsidies, handouts, giveaways and bailouts of business corporations. These amount to hundreds of billions of dollars a year, directly and through tax loopholes. Why have you not moved against such spending so that some of the money may go to help needy children? And specifically, what would you do as President to develop standards curtailing runaway corporate welfare programs pushed by corporate lobbyists?"
Even though I do not feel myself to be a one-issue voter (wait, are Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Palestine the same issue or four different issues? Only AIPAC may know for sure.), I feel that the following article holds very true for me in certain ways and I hope that you, dear hypothetical reader, will read it and think about what is most important to you and what you will be voting for tomorrow at the polls.


The Loneliness of the One-Issue Voter

Laurie King-Irani, The Electronic Intifada, 4 February 2008

The road to the White House goes through Jerusalem: Then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon meets with US Senator Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem, November 2005. (Inbal Rose/MaanImages)
Although I am now officially middle-aged, only once have I felt the excitement of waking up to the joyous news that my candidate won the US presidential elections. That was way back in 1992 when Bill Clinton was first elected.

I was living in Nazareth, conducting my dissertation research. When I found out Clinton had been elected, I let out a whoop of joy and believed that a new era of sanity, justice and decency had dawned.

Several months later, I began to wonder. While at a conference in Jerusalem I picked up a copy of New York Times. The lead story in the magazine, entitled "St. Hillary," featured a cover photo of Hillary Clinton dressed completely in white and looking quite self-righteous. In the course of reading the article, I learned that while in Law School at Yale, Hillary had decided, during a classroom debate about Palestine/Israel, that some people were "simply evil," and thus had no rights because they undertook terrorist actions. (I'm not sure if she was still a registered Republican back then ...)

I wished my Palestinian friends and neighbors could sit and chat with Hillary Clinton for a little while about the daily realities and systematic discrimination that they faced then -- and face even more so now -- under occupation. Now a particularly exciting election year is upon us. Before the Democratic race narrowed down to Obama and Clinton, I was rooting for Dennis Kucinich, because his message resonated with my "Big Issue": fair, just, and sane US foreign policies in the Middle East and outrage at the treatment of the Palestinian people.

There are lots of "One Issue Voters" out here: those who decide to support a candidate based on the sole criterion of abortion, or taxation, or gun control, or crime. For those of us who fall into the "Pro-Palestinian Rights" category of One Issue Voter-hood, it's a particularly lonely and dispiriting time. It's as though there's this big progressive celebration going on, but we haven't been invited.

Discussing the upcoming elections with friends and colleagues is uncomfortable. Should one support Hillary because she's likely to win the nomination anyway, and because it's imperative to get the Republicans out of the White House? Should one support Obama because he represents a challenge to the ossified cadres of Clintonites who assume that they are entitled to the presidency simply because they have amassed the money and the elite backing to waltz back into the White House? Should one support Republican Ron Paul, because he promises to cut all aid to Israel and end US intervention in the Middle East? Should those of us who care passionately about the human rights of Palestinians, Lebanese and Iraqis try to be "realistic" and vote for which ever candidate seems most likely to regain the White House and restore respect for the Constitution?

It annoys me that so many people I speak with say "Palestinian rights? Come on! Get real! No one can run for any office and succeed if they bring up that issue! There are other pressing crises that are much more important!" And they are not wrong to say so. Class disparities in the US are growing. Health care and insurance reform are absolutely crucial.

Looking at Obama's and Clinton's stances on some of these pressing issues, I should be excited. I just can't get mobilized and committed, though, because both have shown utter spinelessness about the key issue at the heart of the United States' misguided, destructive, and unjust policies in the Middle East: The question of Palestine. On the Republican side, frontrunner John McCain has recently gone out of his way to emphasize his decades-long record of unconditional support for Israel.

This is not a marginal, fringe issue to be swept aside. The fact that no candidate dares to speak out against US-funded Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and a raft of UN resolutions is a primary index of something horribly wrong at the heart of American politics.

Last summer, I watched a CNN broadcast during which the Democratic hopefuls underwent a cable catechism examination administered by Soledad O'Brien. Former Senator John Edwards and Clinton were grilled on their personal faith and how it has helped them in their private lives.

Obama got the booby-trapped political question: "Are Palestinians treated badly by Israel?" His answer was lame, and appeared ill-informed. Given that he is probably not ill-informed, however, it might have been dishonest. Obama responded that "although Palestinians are often put in situations that we would not want our own families to endure," it was sadly necessitated by the paramount need to safeguard Israelis from dangerous terrorists.

Obama is a lawyer. He should know something about the Geneva Conventions. He should know a bit about Israeli violations of international law, and the dozens of UN resolutions that have criticized the Israeli government and called for an end to the occupation.

Despite increasing activism, the existence of alternative news media, and growing public discomfort with the Bush administration's Middle East misadventures, it's really disappointing that an attractive front-runner in this key election did not feel secure enough to tell the truth. The public is way out in front of Congress on this issue, but given the demands of campaign funding and the fear of the sorts of underhanded attacks that AIPAC (the American Israeli Public Action Committee, i.e., the pro-Israel lobby) inflicts on those who deviate from a pro-Israeli narrative, anyone who hopes to attain office in Washington, DC is held hostage to the lobby's single-minded goal of assuring unconditional support for Israel no matter how badly it behaves.

There are those who say the lobby is not really that strong, serves as a bete noire for people who are possibly anti-Semitic, or is simply a healthy expression of active citizen participation in the US legislative process. Of course the lobby does not single-handedly control US foreign policy, but the depressing reality is that few candidates have the spinal fortitude to diverge from its narrative or to question its aims at election time.

Many -- even most -- in the American Jewish community are indifferent to or appalled by AIPAC's rhetoric, so it is not even representative of Jewish voters in the US.

And as depressing as the political scene may appear, this is where hope and opportunity lie. If concerned Americans want to support the rule of law at home and abroad, and support peace with justice around the world, they could find few better starting points than joining the international campaign to end the Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and other abuses. This means loudly opposing the unconditional diplomatic and military support that successive administrations have given to Israel, and challenging the candidates at every opportunity to respond directly to the mountain of factual evidence of Israel's abuses. This will not bear fruits in one election cycle, but it has to start.

Survey after survey shows that around the world, US support for Israeli violations remains a key motivator of anti-American sentiment. And yet in this country there's not even a debate about it among our leaders. Americans need to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ongoing Israeli infractions of international law through its occupation of Palestinian lands more openly and critically. Brave and honest presidential candidates can and should be at the forefront of such needed political discussions.

If raising these issues, and using them as important criteria for choosing which presidential candidate to support, is a "non-starter" beyond the pale of acceptable political discourse in the Democratic or Republican parties then there really are no grounds for the excitement and rhetoric about change and transformation surrounding this election. There's no easy answer for the voter who cares about justice in Palestine. Yes, we should vote, but our activism has to go beyond simply marking a ballot on election day.

Laurie King-Irani is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and the managing editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies in Washington, DC and a lecturer in anthropology at Georgetown University.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

For the record, you do know one supporter of Hillary. I intend to vote for her despite the fact that Oregon's primary is so late in the political calendar as to be completely irrelevant. (Is Obama really a non-viable underdog? Maybe it's just Obama's domination of our demographic, but he seems like the favorite to me.)

Upon actually looking at issues, Hillary's stances are more closely aligned with my own than are Obama's, especially the issues most important to me (health care and other social issues). You know... in the rare instances that they are distinguishable.

I too am surrounded and overwhelmed by Obama supporters, very few of whom could espouse any kind position of the candidate they support, yet are extraordinarily quick to forward that "Yes We Can" Youtube video to me. I get it. He's charismatic. He's a leader.

It's just that a relatively young, charismatic politician who is perceived as a strong leader with dubious experience (esp. foreign policy) swept into office on a wave of partisan support due to the low approval ratings of the existing administration sounds too much like what happened in 2000.

How'd that work out? Oh right... But I digress... I'll probably just wind up voting for Nader for the 3rd consecutive presidential election.