The debate that wasn’t


Courteous debate with hints of humor and (mostly) harmonious agreement marked the Obama-Clinton debate. Both candidates proved they’re equally smart on health care reforms, but, under either Democrat, Big Pharma and insurance companies may be slightly restrained but, will remain quite profitably in-charge. It almost seemed that the candidates were running down the clock on health care. Barely mentioning education, college costs were noted. No one spoke of growing inequities in k-12 schools, racial RE-segregation, or even No Child Left Behind.

While blaming the Bush Administration for the declining economy, greedy corporate globalization wasn’t questioned even as it has wrecked much of Mexico’s economy and communities across the U.S. Factories closing, 3 million jobs have disappeared in the last decade–which obviously includes the Clinton Administration. So-called “free trade” agreements, such as NAFTA–passed while Hillary Clinton got some of her experience as First Lady–and pending trade deals with South Korea and Peru–weren’t worthy of discussion.

Problems of particular concern to rural or urban America weren’t on the agenda—except for health care. Of course, it’s risky for Barack Obama to focus on inner cities. If he talked “chocolate cities”(with some vanilla poor) being devastated by economic neglect, a failed ‘war on drugs”, usually substandard schools, and a criminal justice system on steroids and police brutality–well, we might remember that Obama is a Black man in ways beyond the most shallow marketing strategy n fact, race only came up when discussing immigration. Obama did challenge the scapegoating of Latino immigrants head-on, one of the few inspiring moments that showed Obama’ passion–the community organizer–in contrast to Clinton’s cool policy-wonk.

Bloggers and media misogynists have attacked Clinton personally, but, in the debate, gender was just a history-making marker of alleged progress. Obama’s candidacy is supposed to convince us we’re in a post-race age. Clinton remarked on gender injustice in OTHER, undeveloped, no-doubt far less evolved countries that ours.

Both candidates started the night lauding John Edwards, but, neither took up his banner of fighting poverty. Housing foreclosures got a nod; the housing crisis for the working poor and rising homelessness were ignored. Katrina became just a tool of Bush-bashing, but, neither pledged to really DO anything. Neither Obama or Clinton issued the strong challenges to corporate power at the heart of Edwards’ campaign. Perhaps, Obama got the warning loud and clear from Edwards’ fate. Clinton’s 15 years as a corporate lawyer makes where she stands clear—no matter how many times she cites her connection to the Children’s Defense Fund.

Iraq momentarily heated up with the discussion with Obama’s reminder he opposed the invasion and Clinton triangulating on her vote to give Bush the Authorization to Use Military Force. resolution. Avoiding details, both spoke of “careful withdrawal”. Neither explained how their foreign policy would be much different than Bush’s, except for Clinton’s (quote) “coercive diplomacy” and Obama emphasizing that “the threat of terrorism is real”. Neither challenged the U.S. invasion as immoral or illegal. Clinton almost seemed to brag about how (quote) “we bombed Iraq for several days in 1998 to get inspectors in”. Obama claimed he’s worked on nuclear proliferation—but, NOT America’s biggest nuclear arsenal on Earth. Both say they will bringing troops home early in their first term, but,both hedged, too. It is undeniable now that the only anti-war candidate is Libertarian Ron Paul, who was far more forceful about leaving Iraq in the Republican debate.

Red-button “cultural war” issues were off the table. But, many crucial issues got no hearing at all. Neither Obama or Clinton mentioned the all-out assault on our civil liberties, the shredding of our Constitution or the vast expansion of Presidential power. As a result the Bush-bashing rang hollow and stank of hypocritical opportunism. No one asked or talked about global warming and peak oil—except for Obama mentioning “our planet in peril” and “new jobs with alternative energy”. One would think humanity’s survival would be important enough to be part of the debate. It wasn’t.

Obama and Clinton were collaborators not competitors with one another—and with the core elements of things as they are. It appears that the only real choice we have is whether we want a token for race or gender in the White House. If we want REAL change, we’re going to have to count on ourselves and build much stronger activist movements. That’s the only way, we’ve ever gotten change no matter who’s in the White House.

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis activist and independent journalist, winner of the 2007 Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She also produces and hosts “Catalyst:politics & culture” on KFAI Radio (Fridays, 11am 90.3fm Mpls 106.7fm St. Paul, archived at