— Albert Camus in 1957 lecture at Uppsala University
Presidential politics are fought in the center. You cannot be too leftist or too rightist to win a major party nomination. The middle ground is precisely where Barack Obama stands after wresting the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton.
Historian Howard Zinn observes that Obama offers no change from the status quo, just more “capitalistic greed and militarism.” Doubtless proper cynicism. That view is supported by Obama’s appointment of Jason Furman as his economic adviser, a centrist favoring Wall Street over Main Street.
Nevertheless, a President Obama would re-invigorate the Oval Office in contrast to the despicable foreign policy and musty domestic policies of Bush-McCain.
Obama’s instincts are progressive, McCain’s retrograde. As Lincoln phrased it in his First Inaugural, Obama can summon “the better angels of our nature.”
Two candidates on the Left were forced to drop out early, Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards. Kucinch, the best, would have pulled U.S. troops from Iraq immediately and battled for Canadian-style universal health care.
The populist Edwards rightly denounced corporation money controlling politics and the ever-growing gap between the Haves and Have Nots.
As for Clinton, she is a warhawk. She vowed to “totally obliterate” Iranians in the event of a nuclear attack on Israel.
She is a gross exaggerator — if not a liar. She claimed that she had been against NAFTA “from the very beginning.” Truth squad: She spent 10 years praising trade deals. She ignored concerns of labor, farm and environmental groups to urge passage of NAFTA in 1993.
Even worse, when an Obama nomination seemed inevitable, Clinton hinted that she would not quit because he might be assassinated.
She slimed Obama. She said that when it comes to national security, she would prefer McCain to Obama.
Another truth: The Clintons, Bill and Hillary, are not very nice people, betraying long-time friends and supporters.
Clinton’s first “concession” speech was no concession. It showed her utter lack of class, her gracelessness.
Yet it is clear why so many women supported Clinton. They were anxious for her to break the ultimate glass ceiling: the White House.
So many women have felt the sting of bias in the workplace: sexual harassment, denial of justified promotions, squashing of justified executive hopes, less pay than men in comparable jobs and advice ignored as “mere” woman-talk.
To them, the nomination of Clinton would have been wonderful payback, “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”
As it is, the Democratic nomination fight had important political and sociological significance. For the first time one of the two major parties produced a black man and a woman who were powerful candidates for president.
Obama’s record and speeches offer hope again after eight years of hopelessness under the wretched Bush administration.
Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple,” has observed of Obama: “He is a remarkable human being, not perfect, but humanly stunning as King was and Mandela is … He is the change America … must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people.”
Running for the U.S. Senate in 2002, Obama opposed the invasion of Iraq. He pointed out presciently that such a war would “fan the flames of the Middle East … and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida.” (Mission accomplished!)
In the Illinois Legislature he made his mark by championing civil liberties. So he rightly lauded the recent Supreme Court decision to grant Guantánamo detainees habeas corpus, hailing it as “an important step toward re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law.”
In bleak contrast, McCain called it “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”
Obama would raise the Social Security payroll tax from the maximum of $102,000 to $250,000, noting that it is unfair for most workers to pay the tax on “every dime they make” while millionaires and billionaires pay a tiny percentage of their incomes.
Even in relatively minor matters Obama exudes a marvelous feel for humanity. He advocates the end of federal intervention in medical marijuana cases, wanting states to make their own rules.
But the paramount issue in the presidential campaign is ending the sickening Iraq War quickly, withdrawing U.S. soldiers and shuttering military bases.
If Obama would do this as president the great bulk of the American people would applaud and the Muslim world would have far less reason to hate U.S. policies.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.