Letters @ 3AM

A Primary Miscellany

Letters @ 3AM
Illustration by Peat Duggins

Quote quiz: "I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to his will, and dedicated myself to discovering his truth and carrying out his works." Mike Huckabee? Nope. Barack Obama (The Atlantic Monthly, December 2007, p.49).

Quote quiz: "The whole model of our health-care system is upside down. We really don't have a health-care system; we have a disease-care system. ... The real problem is that our model, both in the insurance model and the health-care model, waits until people are catastrophically ill before it intervenes. And we really have to change the concept to a preventive focus rather than an intervention focus. And that means the entire system starts working on health and wellness, because 80 percent of the 2 trillion dollars that we spend on health care goes to chronic disease." John Edwards? Nope. Mike Huckabee (Jan. 6, ABC debate).

Money quiz: Which candidates rake in the most from the health-care and insurance industries? Hillary Clinton, $2.7 million. Barack Obama, $2.2 million. Nobody else comes close (The New York Times, Oct. 29, 2007, p.1). Not to worry. A noble woman like Clinton and a pure soul like Obama, they wouldn't give service in return for all that money, right?

Most impressive statement: In a speech carried live on CNN, Jan. 4, Obama said, "When we're negotiating that [health-care] plan, we're going to have C-SPAN on." I couldn't scribble fast enough to get it all verbatim, but he actually said that his health-care negotiations would be covered on C-SPAN live. Was he improvising? Did his advisers shit a brick and tell him to button up? No one has mentioned this stunning idea again in my hearing or reading. It's not on his site.

Torture quiz: Does Huckabee, a self-described "Christian leader," approve of torturing suspected terrorists? I've seen the debates; no one's asked Huckabee about torture. But Huckabee has said Duncan Hunter would be the perfect secretary of defense. Hunter said, "In terms of getting information that would save American lives, even if it involves very high-pressure techniques, one sentence: Get the information" (Fox News debate, May 15, 2007). Huckabee was right there. He heard it. He wants Hunter to helm Defense. (What would Jesus do?)

The poor: Corn ethanol hikes the price of food because it increases the demand for corn, and corn is basic to our food chain (The Economist's cover story "The End of Cheap Food," Dec. 8, 2007). Corn farmers get rich, while single mothers have a harder time buying groceries. Obama, Clinton, and Edwards (self-styled champions of the poor) really wanted a win in corn-rich Iowa. Each has consistently pushed for corn ethanol (single mothers will just have to get by). Who stood up for affordable food? John McCain, the guy who needs farm-state votes to win a national election – in Iowa he stated, "I will also eliminate subsidies on ethanol and other agricultural products" (PBS/CNN debate, Dec. 12, 2007).

History quiz: During the Watergate hearings, who was the Republican chief counsel who asked the question that revealed the existence of Nixon's tapes? Fred Thompson (The New York Times, Jan. 1, p.10). That article relates that later, in the Senate, Thompson "was hand-picked by the Republican leadership to investigate Democratic fund-raising scandals. ... [He] infuriated conservative groups and many of his colleagues by widening the investigation to include Republican improprieties, even threatening to quit if forced to abandon his bipartisan goal." But it's open season on hillbillies, apparently, so ol' Fred's become a media joke.

Imagine if Hillary Clinton said, "I have to constantly remind myself not to be timid, not to be distorted by the fears of losing, in order to make a real difference in the lives of the American people." My dear disappointed Lord (disappointed in all of us)! How the pundits would pund! They'd play that line over and over, spin it this way and that, while Clinton's rivals would find quasi-gentlemanly ways to tut-tut-tut about how a woman ain't really up to the job. But Barack Obama said it (PBS/CNN debate, Dec. 13, 2007), so it was no big deal.

Speaking of prejudice: There is no underestimating the bigotry Obama faces, but we often underestimate the sexism aimed at Clinton in the good old USA. Here is its precise measure: In a global poll on the number of women in government, the United States ranks 67th (BBC World News America, Dec. 18, 2007). Yep. 67th.

The Leave Your Mind Behind Department: Obama, in his New Hampshire concession-victory speech, declaimed, "There has never been anything false about hope!" His audience ejaculated joyful approval, though every one of them, even the youngest, has more than once been bitterly disappointed by false hopes. Ain't that something?

Quote quiz: "I'm a passionate, ardent supporter of having music and art in every school for every student at every grade level. Because if we don't develop the right side of the brain at the same level of attention as we do the left – which is the logical side – we end up with an unbalanced, bored student, which is exactly what we've been doing." Hillary Clinton? Barack Obama? Nope. Mike Huckabee (PBS/CNN debate, Dec. 12, 2007).

Money bulletin: Hedge funds and private equity are Real Big Money, and they've given Obama $976,000 – more than they gave Romney! Commercial banks, they ain't your corner banks, they're Real Big Money, too. They've given Obama $865,000, second only to Clinton (CNBC, Power Lunch, Jan. 7). That money won't turn his head, nor hers neither, right?

Foreign policy. During the June 3 CNN debate, Obama said: "Osama bin Laden has declared war on us, killed 3,000 people, and under existing law, including international law, when you've got a military target like bin Laden, you take him out. And if you have 20 minutes, you do it swiftly and surely." (He's mistaken, by the way, about international law.) Obama was speaking specifically about an air strike on unstable Pakistan with its many nukes. A swift and clean air strike? Swift, maybe, but clean? Bin Laden's people would whisk away his body, and there'd be no way to prove he was dead; there'd just be their camera-phone photos of the inevitable "collateral damage" to inflame the whole world. Obama had seven months to think about that before being asked in the Jan. 5 ABC debate whether he stood by it. "Absolutely," he said. Edwards agreed. Two foreign-policy virgins on the road to chaos.

When Clinton joined that discussion, she said: "The stateless terrorists will operate from somewhere. Part of our message has to be, 'There is no safe haven.' If we can demonstrate that the people responsible for planning the nuclear attack on our country may not themselves be in a government or associated with a state but have a haven within one, then every state in the world must know we will retaliate against those states." Clinton's policy warns not to harbor terrorists and says starkly that if you harbor terrorists that nuke us, we'll nuke you. She puts the onus of controlling terror on the states that harbor terrorists. I don't hold with killing innocent people, even in our self-defense. Still, it's a policy that she's thought out clearly, and, whether I approve or not, it could work.

Leave Your Mind Behind Part II: "The logic behind the candidacy of Obama ... has little to do with his policy proposals. ... Even on the issues that are seen as integral to [our domestic] polarization, the practical stakes in this election are minor [my amazed italics]." Those are the words of one Andrew Sullivan, a senior editor of the liberal and posh Atlantic Monthly, in its December cover story on (or love letter to) Obama. It's further proof that we may gauge the seriousness of an election by the silliness it calls forth from the inky depths of the usually unsilly.

Hey, I am impressed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Impressed, not in love. They are damned smart and goddamned brave. But, oh, remember ... you don't get to where they are without making shady deals and shaking dirty hands. Lincoln did. Jefferson, too. A woman or an African-American in the Oval Office, yes, that's transformational on the deepest psychic level. But before the presidency is anything else, it's a job – a job that requires familiarity with the grimier behaviors of power. A job that, dare I say it, requires a dash of corruption. To insist differently is to sleepwalk through history. Clinton and Obama – neither is an innocent; neither is pure. Clinton, Obama ... either would be a fascinating president.

Reality check, The New York Times, Oct. 16, 2007, p.1. Off-the-cuff, soft but raw, Clinton said over her shoulder, "That's the real management challenge – staying sane."  

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

primaries, 2008 presidential primaries, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee

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