Head & Heart Vie for Vote


In the weeks leading up to today—Super Tuesday—I’ve felt like a political pinball, torn by the concerns that have shaped by activism since the 1970s, especially as it relates to the two Democratic history-making front-runners. Heart and head have been at war with one another. That is, I’ve carefully looked at candidates’ positions on the issues, voting records and policy proposals—but, I’ve also made many a “gut-check”. You can look at all the candidates’ record at the website http://www.ontheissues.org

I’ve voted in every election since I became eligible in 1976. But, there have been few political candidates that I’ve cared about enough to do much more than “vote in self-defense” for—that is, they were less bad than the other Corporate Party’s nominee. In 1987, I happily walked my precinct in Houston,Texas, telling people about Jesse Jackson’s “Workers’ Bill of Rights” and the Rainbow Coalition—both of which we still need more than ever. In 1996, I voted for Ralph Nader in disgust about Bill Clinton’s Republican-Lite first term; in 2000, I campaigned for Nader. In 2003-4, I became a “Kucinizen”–that is, I campaigned for, pledged a campaign contribution every month (on a poverty-level income) and caucused for Rep. Dennis Kucnich (D-OH) on Super Tuesday. His capitulation at the 2004 Democratic Convention disappointed me, though I still feel Kucinich is one of the few members of Congress who really does represent the public interest and the common good. This time, I leaned strongly towards John Edwards, who’s 2004 “Two Americas” seemed to have evolved into a more direct challenge against the Corporate Elite that is waging a take-no-prisoners class war against the rest of us. Big Media didn’t give either Edwards or Kucinich a fair hearing.

People I respect have questioned Barack Obama’s “vagueness” in his speeches, his lack of foreign policy experience and even that they don’t know exactly what he’s offering. People I respect support Hillary Clinton, citing how well-crafted her policy proposals are, that as First Lady and traveling to 80 countries to represent the U.S. gives her invaluable foreign policy and White House experience. Many of the woman supporting Clinton make a bluntly “feminist” argument. Certainly, many supporting Barack Obama also make an argument that a vote for him is a step forward to transforming the white supremacy that’s defined America since Plymouth Rock. But, they are plenty of feminist women supporting Obama and significant numbers of people of color support Senator Clinton.

I’ve long felt that a significant part of what is deeply wrong with America—from war-making to gutting domestic programs in favor of corporate and weapons manufacturers welfare– is that over half of humanity (woman) still don’t have enough decision-making power and leadership in most areas of public life. Second Wave feminist pioneer, Robin Morgan (who I’ve admired since I was a teenager) exposed a level of sexist, woman-hating attacks on Hillary Clinton, that Morgan quite accurately calls “toxic viscousness” in an essay you can read at http://www.womensmediacenter.com/ex/020108.html

Morgan (and others) assert that Senator Clinton is “more qualified”, as does Clinton herself, citing her “35 years of experience”, including eight years as First Lady. Morgan reminds us that plenty of female leaders here and around the world get a leg up into political power by virtue of their fathers, husbands, uncles, brothers.

Personally, I’m uncomfortable with a feminist argument for nepotism and frankly, am uneasy about returning the Clintons to the White House. If Senator Clinton wants credit for the first Clinton Administration, then, how come no one is asking her about the actual policies of those eight years? If I could interview Hillary Clinton, this is what I’d ask her:

*Given your long association with the Children’s Defense Fund, how could you support “welfare reform” that the CDF opposed (and still opposes) and that –to this day!– hurts the poorest, least educated mothers and their children?

*In the eight years as First Lady, did you ever question the economic sanctions and weekly bombing of civilians in Iraq? Did you agree with Secretary of State, Madeline Albright when she said, that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five due to those sanctions “was a price worth paying”? Have you ever challenged the use of Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons which have poisoned the people of Yugoslavia and Iraq—as well as U.S. soldiers?

*Did you challenge the “free trade” agreement NAFTA, which destroyed Mexico’s rural economy—(which is why millions of undocumented Mexicans are coming to the U.S.)– and has exported 3 million jobs since your husband singed it? Why haven’t you worked as a Senator to rescind NAFTA? Why do you continue to support “free trade” agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Peru, when ordinary people are harmed by these treaties?

*Have you ever questioned the failed “war on drugs” and the growing private prison industry? What about the death penalty—which over and over is proven to largely is given to defendants who are poor, people of color and don’t get adequate legal representation? The U.S. prison population tripled under your husband’s Administration due to crack laws you still support.

*Why have you refused to release your papers as First Lady until AFTER the 2008 election?

The New York Times (who endorsed Clinton) explored the Senator’s First Lady resume at:

The idea of an American “dynasty” of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton feels un-American to me. Isn’t that how it works in “democracy-challenged” countries like Haiti before Aristide or an oligarchy like El Salvador where less than 20 families own the wealth and run the country? From just a pragmatic point of view, the divided Republican Party would be undeniably united if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, making it far more likely we’d get another four years of Republican rule.

So, all this is what my head says.

My heart wants to support Barack Obama. As a lifelong activist, I’m drawn to his background as a community organizer, which he wrote about here in 1990:

Senator Obama took his Harvard law degree and worked for a small law firm that focused on civil rights. Senator Clinton represented corporations working for the Rose Law firm for 15 years. While Obama was on Chicago streets working with laid-off steel workers, Clinton was on the board of directors of Wal-Mart—who contributed $20,000 to her presidential campaign that a spokesman said she “does not feel there’s any reason to return”. Clinton was and is silent about how Wal-Mart illegally fires workers who try to form a union or that the largest class-action lawsuit has been filed against Wal-Mart, that ABC News showed film of Clinton saying is “a company I’m proud of”. Why doesn’t Clinton’s alleged “feminism” include her supporting the over one million female workers suing Wal-Mart for discrimination based on gender and race? Clinton’s campaign manager is a successful “union-busters” consultant for corporations. How different is that than George W. Bush?

In recent days, Obama’s health care plan has been found wanted compared to Clinton’s. I think in EITHER case, revisions can be made (for better or worse); NIETHER candidates takes insurance companies of health care—that is, neither is pushing for single-payer, universal health care, which is what every other Western industrialized nation has.

My heart looks at the Obama rallies, seeing a reflection that’;s far more accurate of what America really looks like. To see so many youth put down their high-tech entertainment gadgets and media-created cynicism to become politically engaged is exhilarating. A core part of Obama’s message isn’t about him at all: it’s about us, We The People, and the efforts we must make to practice real democracy. The fact is, the majority of Americans have been dis-engaged—barely 50% vote in presidential elections and far, far less vote in non-presidential years. Too many Americans bother get informed about U.S. foreign policy or any other issues. Too few practice the basics of good citizenship—like writing an elected representative– much less make a bit of activism part of their lives.

The result is that most Americans have the government they deserve, as Minneapolis veteran reporter, Jim Fuller, writes in “Popular ignorant and the road to fascism” on his blog at http://www.jamesclayfuller.com

While I’m caucusing today (and I hope voting in November) for for Barack Obama, what I’m really casting a vote for are the activist ideals and progression vision that have defined my life. I’m voting for a candidate who himself has that activist experience.

Supporting Obama, I’m voting for a politics that calls on the best in us—rather than pandering to the worst as the Clintons and their surrogates have done. Progressive writer Paul Loeb lists many of the reprehensible (and often racist) tactics and outright lies, the Clintons have used in “Does Clinton Cross Ethical Lines?” at http://www.paulleob.com
How is the Clinton campaign echoing Karl Rove’s smear strategy progressive or feminist? It’s not and half the reason I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton is to reject those tactics.

Finally, the candidates’ positions on the invasion of Iraq decided my vote. While he was running for the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama OPPOSED the invasion—as millions protesting in the streets around the world did. Hillary Clinton not only voted FOR giving Bush the authorization to sue military force, she, against the facts, continues to deny that that her vote was for war. That implies that, as First Lady, Clinton SUPPORTED the longest economic sanctions ever imposed, the bombing of civilians, the destruction of Iraq’s water system and electricity (which are war crimes) and the use of depleted uranium. Coupled with her long history supporting union-busting, Clinton’s stand on Iraq continues Bush’s policies and represents no change at all.

In New Hampshire last month, Hillary Clinton said “I found my voice” but, I wonder where her voice was in the 1990s. I don’t trust the Clintons (who are a “package deal”) to listen to We The People. A 1990s replay only looks good through the backwards lens of over 7 years of George Bush. With Barack Obama in the White House, I think there’s a real chance many of those of us who are usually invisible and ignored have a chance to be heard. Barack Obama is not simply calling on us to support a presidential campaign, but, to become involved and active citizens working to take democracy into our own hands far past Election Day. If we want a different future, that’s a call that demands answering.

Lydia Howell is an activist, independent journalist and winner of the 2007 Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She also produces and hosts of CATALYST on KFAI Radio http://www.kfai.org