Being an avid music fan and all-around lefty, it’s kind of hard living in central Pennsylvania. Sure, Philadelphia and Pittsburg are some of the most colorful cities in the U.S., but it’s amazing how my current zipcode of residence (the Harrisburg/Hershey area) truly falls into the “bitter gun-clinging, bible-thumping” stereotype that Senator Obama has been quoted as labeling Pennsylvanians. (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080505/younge) No arguments here; I’ve met more shotgun-loving, squirrel-hunting people in my three years of residence here than I ever have before. As such, it’s no surprise that central PA is mostly conservative in nature, and it’s only the populations in Philadelphia and Pittsburg that have made Pennsylvania a blue state in recent years. And as far as primaries go, Pennsylvanians vote so late in the process that their votes usually go to reinforce the party’s already-nominee.
All that changed on April 22nd. After the Pennsylvania primaries, we feel like, for once, we were allowed to vote for our preferred candidate, instead of just reinforcing both parties' nominees. Our vote actually could change the outcome. And ever since the primaries swept by, talk about the candidates has been much more prevalent. For the first time, democratic supporters in Harrisburg/Hershey are voicing their opinions like it actually matters. What’s more surprising (to me, at least) is how heated the discussions are getting between Obama and Hillary supporters.
The primaries came and went, and whether it's due to Rush Limbaugh's help (http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/314393/chaos_not_in_pennsylvania) or her own determination and stance on the issues (http://progressive.org/mag_wx042308), Hillary won big. And so, the elections continue, and so do the arguments from the Obama and Clinton camps. Each side has been painting their candidate as the second coming of Christ (and will continue to do so), and assures their counterparts that they are the only ones with a solution for the current problems facing this country. I - as a conscientious objector – am here to ask; is this actually the case? Is there merit to the arguments posed by each side? Is there truly any difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?
The first obvious question to ask is; what do we know about each candidate’s policies? What do they stand for? The truth is that anyone who has subjectively browsed the Obama or Clinton websites will tell you one thing; not very much. Both sides dwell on the same exact broad policies and ideas. (http://www.barackobama.com/issues, http://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues) Clinton argues that President Bush’s policies have brought serious harm to the U.S., and so does Obama. Obama endorses policies that will have most U.S. troops out of Iraq in a year and will work with the U.N. and surrounding countries to help bring stability to the area. Clinton agrees. Hillary wants to create programs that will help bring healthcare to everyone, and this is the same for Barack. And, in fact, both candidates have the same exact perspective on many issues; strengthening the economy by assisting the middle class through tax cuts, helping education by making school more accessible and affordable, increased spending in research and development, stricter immigration laws, and even green energy laws that will make the country more energy efficient by the year 2050 (long after each is president, and any other administration can overturn these policies), which, honestly, is a little far-fetched.
If this is the case – if both candidates are so similar – why is there such heated discussion from both sides? I’ve heard, in more than one case, that Barack supporters would never vote for Hillary if he loses to her. This argument is true for the Clinton camp as well, sadly, and it’s only because, with such little difference between the two, each side has relied on cheap shots and unfounded criticism of the other in order to paint themselves as the more suitable and progressive candidate. When there is truly no difference between the two camps (let’s face it; in essence, we have the same exact person fighting for the democratic nomination), one has to be fabricated as if it’s an illusion. Let’s look at some of these illusions.
The first I’d like to touch on is how the Obama campaign paints him as being the candidate of “hope.” It’s gotten to the point where it’s impossible not to see the word superimposed next to his face in some way. Obama’s campaign is trying to convince us that his policies are the solution to our problems; the only hope for the country lies in the policies and changes he will implement as president. Will his policies actually solve our problems? It’s a possibility. But aren’t his policies nearly identical to Clinton’s? We’ve already discussed that they are. So if that is the case, she should be a candidate for hope just as much as Obama. The point is, if we were to base this argument of “hope” on policies (and shouldn’t that really define a president?), then “hope” becomes merely a slogan or decoration for the Obama campaign; it’s not a quality that is unique to his candidacy. Actually, I’m pretty sure the only reason Clinton doesn’t use the slogan of “hope” is because Obama beat her to it, and has actually been using it so excessively and out of context that I’m surprised a copyright sign doesn’t appear next to “hope” every time it’s put next to his face.
Another illusion that frequently comes up is the claim by the Hillary Clinton campaign that Barack Obama isn’t experienced enough to lead the country, because he only has ten years of experience as a senator. Since when has the experience of the president mattered? It’s the people in their elected cabinet who are the ones who should be the experts, not the president. A brief look at Bush’s presidency is evidence enough that you don’t have to be the sharpest tack in order to run the country. Even Hillary herself has three fewer years of experience than Barack in the senate, and he seems to be on the same exact page policy-wise as Hillary, so, actually, he should be more fit than she to serve as president.
Finally, both candidates like to portray themselves as more liberal (these are the democratic primaries, after all), more “progressive,” and more able to provide “change.” Here it’s different, because actually none of the candidates stand for these ideas in the true sense. If they truly were progressive, we would be seeing fresh perspectives in their approaches to the government and not just standard policies that every democratic candidate has had over the years.
Where are the truly innovative ideas? Want to talk “progressive”? Then, how about a reduction in military spending? Why not provide universal healthcare for everyone? It’s called “socialized” health care when it’s done right and both so-called “progressive” candidates are afraid of the word “socialism” itself, so they won’t approach it. The money that’s been spent currently on the war could have been spent to provide free health care for every American for years, so the money is obviously there, but no such ideas are coming from either candidate.
They both like to talk about stabilizing Iraq by cooperation with the U.N., but none of them talk about withdrawal of policies that have allowed for the corporate free-for-all in Iraq that has caused so much of its instability. What about increasing restrictions on corporations in general? It’s gotten to the point where our entire lives are in danger of being privatized, but again, not a word on any of this, because both candidates are, in fact, pro big business. What about a restructuring of the neo-liberal policies of the I.M.F. so that poor countries are able to fund their government projects without bringing oppression to their people? These are policies reflecting true change, liberalism, and progress. Both candidates fail to earn these titles.
Jeremiah Wright’s recent comments are quite controversial, but anyone who has read a Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky book knows that his allegation that the U.S. has backed state terrorism in the past is not that far from the truth. Look at Pinochet in Chile or the junta in Argentina, just to name a few. Both candidates had the opportunity to confront these topics from an honest perspective and admit that some change needs to be brought in this kind of foreign policy, but instead they just decided to back off and condemn Wright’s comments.
The fact is that both candidates are not truly progressive, because they can’t be; it would be political suicide. People are afraid of any drastic change, and it reflects on the final candidates. That’s why both Republican and Democratic nominees will move their views to the center once November starts coming around; an innovative or “progressive” candidate has no chance. Just look at the other Democratic candidates. John Edwards was slightly more progressive than Clinton or Obama by offering universal healthcare (although it was a little unclear just how responsible his government would have been for its citizens), and he came nowhere close to being a real runner-up. Dennis Kucinich was even more to the left; he was pro gay marriage, offered universal healthcare, and even some corporate restrictions. Sadly, he was also one of the first to bite the dust. Will Barack or Hillary pump new life into their campaigns by choosing one of these other candidates as their running mate? Well, Edwards already said he wouldn’t accept the offer (http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080403/pl_nm/usa_politics_edwards_dc), and whether the remaining candidates will use Kucinich is still up in the air. They seem to be too busy taking shots at each other to really care.
Voters aren’t ready for a truly progressive candidate who stands for change, so why are we fooling ourselves? A vote for true progress and change does not lie with the Democratic Party (which has been around for 180 years. “Stale” is a more fitting term), let alone the two-party system. It’s basically a popularity contest at this point, with the candidates either bowling or taking a shot of whiskey to cater blue collar voters, or scurrying to get the most popular endorsements in order to make people more likely to join their club. Even Shepard Fairey (of Obey Giant fame) has joined the Obama camp.
So, what now? It’s very likely that Obama will win the nomination at this point, and most polls (Fox News withstanding, interestingly) favor him right now against McCain if the presidential elections were to be held today (http://www.pollingreport.com/wh08gen.htm). But, the conservatives have already started to paint him as a Marxist, which could be enough to scare swing voters to side with McCain (http://progressive.org/mag_wx041908). This very fact is swimming in irony, since it could mean that associating Obama with one of the most famous progressive leftists in the world could doom his campaign. So much for progressive change, right?
Honestly, I’m not worried by it at all. What’s important to remember as voters and most importantly, as citizens, is that no matter what happens in November, the battle will not be over. True change rests in our hands. It’s up to us as citizens primarily, and not whoever is in office. It’s the people who demanded an end to slavery in the 1800s, it’s the people who brought equal racial rights in the ‘60s by conducting sit-ins, and it’s the people who have fought against the Vietnam War. We can’t get out of our houses every four years, vote for the presidential candidate, and claim that we’ve done our part for the nation. We have to search for the truth, continue the struggle, and fight for what is right.
It’s only then that we can progress as a nation, as voters, and as people.