Sunday, January 27, 2008

Do the Clintons Deploy the Race Card?

Tibor R. Machan

Elections do not interest me a great deal. Not because they cannot ever be important but because my own focus is on political principles, not personalities or emotional hot buttons. Moreover, these days no one running for anything articulates truly sound ideas on political economy. Among the candidates for president only Ron Paul, whose chances of winning the Republican nomination are practically nil, shows interest in the principles of the free society and even his message has been recast so that now his ads on California radio stations, for example, make him sound like one of the Pat Buchanan nationalists who is concerned mainly with illegal aliens.)

The notion that one must vote for someone, anyone, just to vote, never mind that everyone running advocates bad ideas, bad policies, is completely off the wall. That really amounts to throwing away one’s vote--a kind of electoral littering. Better to wait for a time when perhaps some sensible people, with sensible ideas, become candidates.

Nonetheless, sometimes when a candidate has no concern for sound principles but only for winning elections, the lack of a political vision becomes significant. For example, one of my neighbors who works for a community college has a sign up advocating that we all vote for a measure that would deliver additional funds to the college district. There seems to be no other political agenda on this neighbor’s mind but one that amounts to ripping off others so as to gain benefits.

Anyway, lack of political principles can easily lead a candidate to stress other types of generalities, such as racial sentiments. Hillary and, especially, Bill Clinton appear to be in this fix now, trying to find some general issues apart from basic political ideas that will attract voters. Lacking any unifying idea of what this country is about--freedom, equality, order, spirituality, whatever--it seems like the Clintons are now putting their money on broad racial or sexual sentiments. Because Barack Obama is black, they can invoke, as Bill Clinton has done recently in South Carolina, the names of discredited or scary black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, thus linking the Senator with these men’s one-sided leadership, the kind that folks with racial bias will certainly be alarmed by.

Because of this the Clintons have recently become targets of the criticism of some liberal democrats who do not want their party to return to the era when it got all too comfortably in bed with racists. Even as a mere, pragmatic tactic this approach no longer carries any punch. The bulk of Americans, as Obama said after his South Carolina victory, just don’t much care now about the race of the candidates.

But then where else are the Clintons--who do not advance any kind of coherent system of ideas (perhaps because the one they may well have, namely Hillary’s “it takes a village” socialism, is too offensive to mention)--going to find common ground with enough voters, apart from forging a community with people who are prejudiced? Without an idea or vision of what kind of political system they are going to support when in office, the only thing they seem to be able to offer now, in a crunch, is that they, unlike their black opponent, will not favor only blacks. This even though Senator Obama has been rather careful to distance himself from any notion of black solidarity as his strategy for winning races.

One can unite voters on the basis of several common factors. One, the right sort, is a political vision. Another, an insidious one, is racial prejudice or apprehension. Another objectionable one is class hatred.

In South Carolina this last had no foundation at all. Indeed, class divisions are a phony device for separating Americans, even though many politicians give it a try. (What upsets people about class is when people are deemed to have been born into it, as a matter of a birthright. Merely being richer than others doesn’t cut it since riches can fast disappear and wealth can be earned and, in any case, most people want to become rich.)

I doubt, by the way, that too many in the Clinton camp are out and out racists. But I do think that out of desperation, and in the absence of a coherent political philosophy, many will at least be tempted to invoke the race card--subtly but still!

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