Obama vs. Clinton: What’s the Beef?

Future Hope column, Jan. 13, 2008

By Ted Glick

After Iowa and New Hampshire, it sure looks like the three-person horse race for the Democratic Presidential nomination has now become a two-person race. It’s not looking good right now for a comeback by anti-corporate fighter John Edwards.

Would it make any difference whether Hillary or Barack wins the nomination?

Some on the Left take the position that “a Democrat is a Democrat” and it doesn’t matter who aspires to be the D.P. Presidential nominee. I don’t agree with this view. There is a definite difference between Dennis Kucinich and Hillary Clinton.

More to the point, there is a definite difference between Dennis Kucinich and Barack Obama. Indeed, based on voting records in the U.S. Senate, Clinton and Obama are ideological twins. Here’s how national affairs writer Tom Curry explained it at the MSNBC website on November 29th, 2006:

“On Congressional Quarterly’s tally of how often senators support Bush’s positions on issues coming before the Senate, in 2005 Clinton earned a 31 out of 100 rating (with 100 meaning totally supportive of Bush) and Obama got a 33.

“On the National Journal scale of liberal to conservative positions, again based on roll call votes in 2005, Obama rated an 82.5 (meaning he was more liberal than 82.5 percent of his Senate colleagues) and Clinton a 79.8.”

This squares with my observations and research as the Presidential campaign has unfolded over the past year. I haven’t detected a single issue on which there is a major programmatic difference between the two of them. For both, it’s primary-season, Democratic Party progressivism, certain to be slid several notches to the right once the nomination is secured, in the usual attempt to secure what is seen as “the political middle” for the general election.

It seems like many of those supporting Clinton are doing so on “practical politics” grounds, or because they’re excited by the prospect of the first woman President. They think the party-establishment, Clinton machine has a better chance of defeating the Republicans, and this is their overriding priority.

Those supporting Obama are impressed by his soaring oratory, relative youth and the prospect of a first African American President. He is having a huge impact among young people, inspiring many of them to invest their hopes in him and the Democratic Party as agents of change.

It may be that if Obama becomes President, the political forces he has unleashed—particularly among young people and the African American community–will come to constitute a progressive political bloc that, by means of independent pressure from below, will make it difficult for him to accommodate to the conservative and corporate interests—with whom he has significant connections–who will undoubtedly lean on him. These corporate interests will use their influence within the mass media and elsewhere to demand that he follow through on his “unifying America” mantra by prominently including them in the formulation of government policy and the allocation of resources. And sharks at the table usually have more say than lots of little fish–unless the little fish are very well-organized and strong of heart.

It sure seems to me that those who believe in Obama because they think he is the real deal, a genuine change agent, are being set up for some severe disappointment down the road. The brother has a history. He has a track record. He’s no Martin Luther King, and his campaign bears no resemblance to the 1980’s Rainbow Coalition campaigns of Jesse Jackson. In “The Audacity of Hope,” his best-selling book, and in things he has said since, he has made it clear that he is very much within the U.S. empire-supporting, corporate liberalism mainstream. That is not the route to change.

What progressive activists need to do all throughout the year is organize independent, issue-based political activity which demands that all of the candidates for President, for Congress or for any other office stand up for straightforward progressive policies. To the extent that candidates do so, to that extent should they be supported.

And the Green Party, the Labor Party and others who appreciate the need for a genuine multi-party democracy, who understand the severe problems that come with a restrictive, big money-dominated, winner-take-all, two-party electoral system, must continue their work. It’s these problems and the lack of a strong, progressive third party alternative that allows U.S. politics and policies to be what they are. You can’t be seriously progressive and oppose the general idea of and the efforts toward such an alternative.

Since Cynthia McKinney or whoever becomes the Green Party Presidential nominee won’t be taking office in 2008, I hope that the Democratic nominee wins. Any of the Democrats will be better than any of the Republicans. But it’s essential that in 2008 we use the political dynamics of a Presidential election year to keep building what is the only genuine hope of “change,” of “real change,” of “fundamental change.” It’s not the election of Obama or Clinton to the Presidency. It’s the steadily developing coherence, strength and visible activism of an independent, popular, consistently progressive, multi-racial, grassroots movement. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize.