As long as Hillary Clinton, and now Gloria Steinem, has chosen to play the women's card against the race card, let me throw in a third one: the class card. Clinton claimed in the New Hampshire primary debate that she is the unmistakable agent for change because she is a woman and her election as president would send a strong signal of a new day aborning to America and the rest of the world. It is hoped that it would be a more progressive message than the one sent by Margaret Thatcher's ascent in England.
Steinem put a finer point on the argument in her New York Times commentary, published Tuesday, New Hampshire's primary election day, arguing that women get wonderfully more "radical" as they age, and therefore older women are more inclined to vote for Clinton, Steinem's preferred candidate, as opposed to Barack Obama, whom younger women went for in Iowa. Maybe those younger women were more worried about how to pay off college loans or swelling mortgage obligations than gender identity.
What is radical about voting for a corporate lawyer who, in defense of her Arkansas savings and loan shenanigans, once said you can't be a lawyer without working for banks? Steinem boasts of Clinton's "unprecedented eight years of on-the-job training in the White House" without referencing the Clinton White House's giveaways to corporate America at the expense of poor and working Americans, the majority of them being women. Sen. Clinton's key election operative, Mark Penn, was the other half of the Dick Morris team that recast populist Bill Clinton as the master of triangulation.
I am not trying to play the class card here by claiming that because Obama grew up black and middle-class he will therefore inevitably be that rare politician who remembers where he or she came from. Bill Clinton, who came from a poor family, disproved the notion about remembering. To his everlasting shame as president, Clinton supported and signed welfare legislation that shredded the federal safety net for the poor from which he personally had benefited. He faithfully served big corporate interests by signing off on Gramm-Leach-Bliley, the Financial Services Modernization Act, which, as a gift to the banks, insurance companies and stockbrokers, reversed consumer protection legislation from the New Deal era. Thanks to Bill Clinton, those pirates were allowed to merge into the largest conglomerates the world has ever witnessed and, adding insult to injury, to "data-mine," thus sharing your most intimate financial and health information. Bill Clinton's next biggest concession to the fat cats was the Telecommunications Act, which ended what was left of public control of the airwaves and permits mega-media corporations to grow even bigger. No wonder Rupert Murdock and Hillary Clinton now get on so famously.
Yes, Bill Clinton was a very good president compared to what came immediately before and after, and his wife has many strong points in her favor, not the least of which is her wonkish intelligence. What I object to is the notion that the perspective of gender or race trumps that of economic class in considering the traumas of this nation. That is because the George W. Bush administration engaged in class warfare for the rich with a vengeance that has left many Americans hurting, and we desperately need change to reverse that destructive course.
John Edwards deserves credit for putting this issue of the growing division of American society front and center, and certainly Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich has related his politics to growing up in abysmal poverty. As Kucinich has pointed out, a permanent war economy in which more than half of federal discretionary funds go to the military leaves no room for needed social programs. Question the honesty of any candidate who continues to vote for war funding while talking up all the wonderful domestic programs he or she claims to favor. At least Ron Paul is consistent in saying he would cut both. Obviously, coming from an impoverished background does not ensure a social conscience, and there is no better example that the contrary can be true than Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the scion of a wealthy family, who, as president, was a god in my Bronx home for expanding federal poverty programs that put food on our table when both my parents were out of work.
Yes, it is important for the health of our democracy to break barriers that have held back a majority of our citizens, and for that reason it would certainly be an advance to have a black or female president. But that alone is not enough to justify a vote. What we need far more than a change in appearance is one of perspective. Otherwise, Condoleezza Rice would make the ideal candidate.
Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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