Tuesday, April 01, 2008

National Amnesia & the Bum's Rush For Hillary

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's not just an ignorance of history, but serial amnesia that's destroying the U.S. One Viet Nam isn't enough? Let's give Iraq a try. Nostalgic for McCarthy? We can unleash that delicious invention of Homeland Security. Too young to remember the cool breadlines of the Depression? No worries. We can arrange some, along with bank runs, lost homes, and suicides.

It's deja vu all over again with Obama and Hillary. Every paper this week has some pundit exhorting Hillary to back out immediately, concede, disappear, get lost, evaporate. The pressure is worse inside the Democratic Party itself where the good ole boys are sneering, "C'mon sweetheart, baby, doll, be a good sport."

Even if I didn't think Obama was a pig-in-waiting, I'd be up in arms, having flashbacks to Election 2000 when Al Gore literally handed Bush the election with a tap of his gavel.

Blame the Supreme Court if you want, but in the final analysis it was Gore himself presiding over the Senate who quashed the objections of the Congressional Black Caucus to Florida's electoral vote, offering a grin and shrug to Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., who had just denounced fraud and black voter disenfranchisement, saying, "The chair thanks the gentleman from Illinois, but, hey..."

"Don't you know, that's not the way the game is played?" Al seemed to mean. He wanted to get home, lick his wounds, and maybe Tipper. Other members of Congress had schedules to keep, an inauguration to hold, committees to jockey for. So what if they had to pretend that the Republicans hadn't already changed the rules to the game getting the Supreme Court to intervene on their behalf? Just concede, already. Get off the stage like a good loser.

Nobody could have predicted what would follow, especially after 9/11, but that concession smelled bad to most of us. As I wrote in The Gully at the time, "This is the little tableau that should haunt our new American century -- a smiling, smug Al Gore tapping his gavel to silence the protests of twenty Democratic, mostly black Representatives, while in the background white Republicans shout 'out of order.'"

And it has haunted us, whether we remember the source of the specter or not. Al's retreat not only enabled a Bush presidency, but reinforced the tone leading to eight years of a jovial partisanship that enabled the headlong rush to the Iraq War, greedy deregulation and disastrous economic collapse, the burgeoning national deficit, and by instituting a policy of unilateral action on an international stage, the deterioration of democracy in all corners of the globe. All was done under the watch of spineless career politicians who wanted to make things easy on themselves, who cut deals, and squashed dissent.

Now, knocked head over heels by the Obama candidacy, the formerly irate Democratic faithful have forgotten that demanding premature concessions can have ugly consequences. Oh, quit sneering at the comparison. Sure, Hillary's uncertain bid for November is not exactly the same as Bush taking the White House. And yes, Hillary may not make it to the finish line, but trying to silence her now raises that same little matter of democracy, of representation, of diversity, which is not just a matter of skin, but of voices.

Shutting her up buries the 94 percent of El Paso County, Texas that supports her. It buries me. The only thing worse is when we do it to ourselves, like Democrats under Bush.

Meanwhile, her perseverance makes her something we haven't seen in a long time and need to reconsider: either an idealist, or bad loser. Shouldn't we have more of both? People that hold their positions to the bitter end? Fighters who refuse to retreat smiling from the ring, who are impolite enough to bleed on the carpet of their enemies?

No matter who wins in November, we desperately need that capacity to dig in our heels and resist. Civil liberties have gone to hell. The Constitution has unraveled. There's a ton of rebuilding to do, and activists demobilized during two "friendly" Clinton administrations and stream-rolled under Bush's bipartisanship must prepare to constantly hector the next President, even a Democratic one. Because without us, I guarantee they'll find it easier to leave things as they are in the midst of putting out new political and economic fires.

Like biological diversity, the key is dissent. The more voices and ideas, the better our odds of survival. As for dissent, Hillary's persistence is the only model we've had for ages.

As I did after Gore gave his "Aw, shucks" concession in the Senate, I call once again for a return to a garden variety, even fundamentalist, democracy in which we value every voice, and don't give candidates the bum's rush until we've counted every single vote.

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