Tuesday, June 3, 2008


The last primary polls have barely opened; but the "Hillary death watch" seems to be well under way. Huffington Post political editor Thomas B. Edsall may have kicked things off in the blogosphere yesterday afternoon with a post that began:

Hillary Clinton has summoned top donors and backers to attend her New York speech tomorrow night in an unusual move that is being widely interpreted to mean she plans to soon suspend her campaign and endorse Barack Obama - not tomorrow night but within a day or two.

As of my writing this sentence, that post has amassed 3264 comments. On the other hand the Truthdig article that links to this post has not yet attracted a dozen comments, but I have found that far less mud tends to get slung over at Truthdig. So I have been more interested in their lower level of activity, which seems to exhibit a somewhat higher level of reflection.

This morning I was most struck by the latest comment submitted by "cyrena," who described Clinton's campaign as "a campaign of terror, the kind that results from any orchestrated instability or chaos visited upon a population or an individual…that same terror of not knowing what you will be greeted with when you get home, or to wherever it is that you’re going." Of course there is nothing particularly new about "a campaign of terror." It has been stock-in-trade in our political system for quite some time. We can still remember what the Republicans did with Willie Horton, and I am sure we can find plenty of examples as we dig further back in history. Furthermore, this is far from an American phenomenon. Unless I am mistaken, it was a pre-Thatcher Conservative Party in the UK that ran on the slogan, "If you want a [N-word] for a neighbour, vote Labour!"

In terms of our own historical origins, I was glad to see that one of the talks scheduled on Book TV (still the best alternative to "mainstream media news") this past weekend was given by Edward Larson on his book A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign. This was a useful historical reminder, particularly since the HBO John Adams series tended to keep itself above the fray of all that tumult, probably because Adams himself had tried to do the same. However, this election turned out to be modest compared to the one in 1824, which had five candidates (as opposed to the four in 1800). In this election no candidate had a majority of either electoral or popular votes; and Andrew Jackson, who had the plurality, was beaten through some horse-trading between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay (putting an end to what historians now call the "Era of Good Feelings")!

Personally, I do not think that "good feelings" ever last very long. The real lesson of history is that the American electorate (not to mention those in the United Kingdom or, for that matter, Nepal) is a contentious lot; and we should leave the uniting-not-dividing cant to those who choose faith to shield them from not just terror but reality itself. After all, even the "characters" in Plato's dialogs had some pretty contentious personalities. As I have previously written, what matters is not that our social system unites us but that it is robust or resilient enough to sustain our natural inclinations to divide.

Thus, while I agree that we can't "expect reason and sanity to prevail," which seems to be the "consummation devoutly to be wished" in cyrena's comment, we should still be able to expect the "social system as a whole" to cohere (unlike the "center" of Yeats' "second coming"). From that point of view, faith-based thinking has probably been the greatest threat to our resilience; and it may well be the threat of greatest concern to all sectors of the rest of the world, regardless of political or economic status. Thus, I take some comfort in the rejection of faith-based positions that have come from both Democrats and Republicans. For what it is worth, I also am inclined to see Obama as the best guarantor for the resilience of our social system; but who knows if I shall still feel this way at the end of the two Conventions?

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