Thursday, February 14, 2008

There Will Be Blood

spilled in the Democratic Party no matter who wins the nomination. Paul Krugman’s column from earlier this week (that I fully agree with, btw)

Hate Springs Eternal

In 1956 Adlai Stevenson, running against Dwight Eisenhower, tried to make the political style of his opponent’s vice president, a man by the name of Richard Nixon, an issue. The nation, he warned, was in danger of becoming “a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland.”

The quote comes from “Nixonland,” a soon-to-be-published political history of the years from 1964 to 1972 written by Rick Perlstein, the author of “Before the Storm.” As Mr. Perlstein shows, Stevenson warned in vain: during those years America did indeed become the land of slander and scare, of the politics of hatred.

And it still is. In fact, these days even the Democratic Party seems to be turning into Nixonland.

The bitterness of the fight for the Democratic nomination is, on the face of it, bizarre. Both candidates still standing are smart and appealing. Both have progressive agendas (although I believe that Hillary Clinton is more serious about achieving universal health care, and that Barack Obama has staked out positions that will undermine his own efforts). Both have broad support among the party’s grass roots and are favorably viewed by Democratic voters.

Supporters of each candidate should have no trouble rallying behind the other if he or she gets the nod.

Why, then, is there so much venom out there?

I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.

What’s particularly saddening is the way many Obama supporters seem happy with the application of “Clinton rules” — the term a number of observers use for the way pundits and some news organizations treat any action or statement by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, as proof of evil intent.

The prime example of Clinton rules in the 1990s was the way the press covered Whitewater. A small, failed land deal became the basis of a multiyear, multimillion-dollar investigation, which never found any evidence of wrongdoing on the Clintons’ part, yet the “scandal” became a symbol of the Clinton administration’s alleged corruption.

During the current campaign, Mrs. Clinton’s entirely reasonable remark that it took L.B.J.’s political courage and skills to bring Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to fruition was cast as some kind of outrageous denigration of Dr. King.

And the latest prominent example came when David Shuster of MSNBC, after pointing out that Chelsea Clinton was working for her mother’s campaign — as adult children of presidential aspirants often do — asked, “doesn’t it seem like Chelsea’s sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?” Mr. Shuster has been suspended, but as the Clinton campaign rightly points out, his remark was part of a broader pattern at the network.

I call it Clinton rules, but it’s a pattern that goes well beyond the Clintons. For example, Al Gore was subjected to Clinton rules during the 2000 campaign: anything he said, and some things he didn’t say (no, he never claimed to have invented the Internet), was held up as proof of his alleged character flaws.

For now, Clinton rules are working in Mr. Obama’s favor. But his supporters should not take comfort in that fact.

For one thing, Mrs. Clinton may yet be the nominee — and if Obama supporters care about anything beyond hero worship, they should want to see her win in November.

For another, if history is any guide, if Mr. Obama wins the nomination, he will quickly find himself being subjected to Clinton rules. Democrats always do.

But most of all, progressives should realize that Nixonland is not the country we want to be. Racism, misogyny and character assassination are all ways of distracting voters from the issues, and people who care about the issues have a shared interest in making the politics of hatred unacceptable.

One of the most hopeful moments of this presidential campaign came last month, when a number of Jewish leaders signed a letter condemning the smear campaign claiming that Mr. Obama was a secret Muslim. It’s a good guess that some of those leaders would prefer that Mr. Obama not become president; nonetheless, they understood that there are principles that matter more than short-term political advantage.

I’d like to see more moments like that, perhaps starting with strong assurances from both Democratic candidates that they respect their opponents and would support them in the general election.

Well that article sparked quite a response as the Times printed Letters to the Editor either in supporting and understanding of Paul Krugman’s column, or whatever Barack supporters think.
I’ve separated them into two sections (because nuance doesn't have a place in our society anymore


Re “Hate Springs Eternal,” by Paul Krugman (column, Feb. 11):

Mr. Krugman, a consistent critic of Barack Obama, did not produce a shred of evidence for his categorical statement that the “venom” being displayed in the Democratic campaign comes from Obama supporters, “who want their hero or nobody.” And it seems to perpetuate the same bizarre bitterness that he derides in his column.

Even worse is his assertion that “the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality.” I am surprised and saddened that a thoughtful public intellectual like Mr. Krugman would write such a careless and unfair statement at a moment of critical potential in national politics.

Barack Obama is changing the way we think about race in America. His inclusive message is so refreshing that, in addition to strong backing from blacks, he is drawing unprecedented nationwide support from white voters. It is so upsetting that this remarkable and historic feat is belittled as a “cult of personality.”

William Julius Wilson
Cambridge, Mass., Feb. 11, 2008

The writer is a professor of sociology and social policy at Harvard University.

To the Editor:

Paul Krugman decries the “bitterness of the fight for the Democratic nomination” and then proceeds to contribute to the name-calling by comparing Obama supporters to members of a “cult.” I find that offensive.

I am passionately in favor of a change from the current administration. Does that make me a member of a cult? I am passionately opposed to a Clinton presidency. Does that make me a member of a cult?

Like thousands of other voters who lean Democratic, I don’t pledge allegiance to the Democratic Party. I will vote for the candidate I think will best serve the nation.

I don’t have to give Mr. Krugman or anyone else my strong assurances that I will support the Democratic nominee, and I don’t have to apologize to Mr. Krugman or any Democratic Party apparatchik for passionately opposing Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Robert Bonello
Edina, Minn., Feb. 11, 2008

To the Editor:

As a self-identified progressive, I often find useful insights and information in Paul Krugman’s columns. Not so in “Hate Springs Eternal.”

Mr. Krugman paints supporters of Barack Obama with too broad a brush when he alleges that they “want their hero or nobody,” and therefore engage in venomous attacks on Mr. Obama’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I am an Obama supporter, as are many people I know. Every Obama supporter I know wants to see a Democrat next in the White House first, and Mr. Obama as that Democrat only second. The “examples” Mr. Krugman cites demonstrate that Clinton-bashing is popular sport, not that Obama supporters (rather than the media or isolated individuals) engage in it.

To top it all off, Mr. Krugman compares Mr. Obama’s ability to inspire and organize to George W. Bush’s demonstrated penchant for conceit and self-indulgence in Operation Flight Suit. Who’s perpetuating “Nixonland” now?

Brian W. Stull
Durham, N.C., Feb. 11, 2008

To the Editor:

I believe this is the first time I’ve ever disagreed with Paul Krugman. The source of vitriol is not to be found in the putative “cult of personality” among supporters of Barack Obama. The source is not to be found among supporters at all. One needs to look at the leaderships of the campaigns.

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign keeps careening between sweetness and scorched-earth policies. Mrs. Clinton has created an impression that she will do anything and say anything to win, from sponsoring flag-preservation legislation to the bizarre racial innuendo by her campaign in South Carolina. (Does South Carolina bring out the worst in every campaign?)

The vitriol is not the result of a cult of personality in the Obama camp. The vitriol is a reaction to very real deficiencies in Mrs. Clinton’s personality.

Bill Morris
San Diego, Feb. 11, 2008

To the Editor:

Can’t Paul Krugman see that there is a growing number of Americans who do not want to relive the days of Clintonian testiness and right-wing vitriol? Former President Bill Clinton alerted many of us to the dangers of a Hillary Rodham Clinton victory by his arrogant behavior in the week before the South Carolina primary.

The fact that many Democratic voters would simply stay home in November rather than vote for Hillary Clinton is not a sign of “hate” or “venom.”

Mr. Krugman brings up his preference for Mrs. Clinton’s health care agenda, but why should we think she could achieve it after a bitter campaign, without enough Democratic senators to break a Republican filibuster and with the same old team back in charge?

Bill Dawers
Savannah, Ga., Feb. 11, 2008

To the Editor:

Paul Krugman, in his account of the strong emotions that the Clinton-Obama race has raised among progressives, doesn’t mention one notable fact.

Many antiwar Democrats continue to view with suspicion Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s attitude toward the Iraq war. Her clarifications for her support of the various pro-war bills proposed by President Bush revolve around her criticisms of the execution of the war, not around the thinking that led us into the war in the first place.

Progressives have found Senator Barack Obama’s more specific denunciation of the whole mind-set that created the war much more helpful. I believe that it continues to be a leading explanation for why he is doing so much better against Mrs. Clinton than anyone originally predicted.

Jon Landau
Purchase, N.Y., Feb. 11, 2008

I agree with Paul Krugman’s assertion that the attitude “their hero or nobody” is divisive and silly. But just because both Democratic candidates are strong doesn’t mean I find them to be equal.
I resent the implication that “hero worship” is inherently dogmatic or without substance. I long for a day when I can name a sitting American president as my hero. [Ed. Note: How old are you that you would ever look up to a politician as a hero? Become someone else’s hero don’t look for someone to elevate as yours. Call me a cynic but I've never "found a hero" in far off places]

For me, one of Barack Obama’s biggest strengths, both as a leader and as a candidate, is that he inspires people to participate in politics who otherwise wouldn’t get involved.

If voters fail to respond to Hillary Rodham Clinton in that way, I think it’s much more a legitimate flaw on her part than it is an example of Americans falling prey to “Clinton rules.”

Though Mr. Obama is my preference, if Mrs. Clinton is the nominee, I will campaign for her 100 percent because I want to see a Democrat in the White House. For the moment, however, this is still a contest, and I feel no obligation to come to the defense of someone who is my second choice.

If Mrs. Clinton can’t stand against me, who sees her merely as the lesser of an embarrassment of riches, how will she ever last when the opponent gets much tougher?

Suzanne Joskow
Los Angeles, Feb. 11, 2008

To the Editor:

The Barack Obama supporters I know would ultimately be happy to see any Democrat become president. “It’s an embarrassment of riches,” I’ve heard from my fellow Democrats countless times. Both candidates are smart, experienced and capable.

I voted for Mr. Obama, but I will support his opponent with unmitigated enthusiasm should she win the nomination. Where Paul Krugman sees a “cult of personality” forming around Mr. Obama, I see involved citizens who are deeply excited about their candidate.

Mr. Obama is not L. Ron Hubbard. If there’s an Obama cult, then there’s also a Hillary Rodham Clinton cult, a John McCain cult, a Mike Huckabee cult and so on. [Ed. Note- Scientologists don’t believe their in a cult started by a crock either. And I don't see anyone getting tattoos for any other politician especially before he's even nominated.]

Mr. Krugman, usually so dead-on, is way off in this case.

Laura Cummins
New York, Feb. 11, 2008

The Leader is good, the Leader is great, we surrender our will as of
this date!
To the Editor:

Cult of personality, indeed. Barack Obama has style, but no substance. He has been in national politics only a couple of years. And the media have given him a virtually free ride.
But we did “likability” and inexperience eight years ago with George W. Bush and look where that’s gotten us. It is frightening how easily some of us are persuaded by hype, especially when we are confronting such serious problems as a nation and in the world.
Hillary Rodham Clinton does have substance: knowledge, experience, intelligence, sensitivity, stamina. She has withstood attacks from all sides and come out whole. She is the only candidate in this race in whom I have complete faith and confidence to do the right thing. With all that is at stake, I can only hope that the media will start doing their job and that the American people will see the light this time around.

D. Murphy
Merrick, N.Y., Feb. 12, 2008

To the Editor:

I see nothing illogical that a close competition for the most important leadership role in the world would be extremely competitive. But venomous? We’re not even close. Just this year, the Republicans (John McCain versus Mitt Romney) have been much more combative than Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Perhaps Paul Krugman is closer to the point in recognizing that we are a nation focused on personality; much of what passes for public discourse is driven by celebrity, hyped-up conflict, and the trend for news and sports coverage to resemble each other.

Barack Obama’s supporters certainly did not create this trend, nor can they be faulted for recognizing that character and inspiration are as important as ideas in picking a leader. This is not a result of some irrational spell, and implying that we’re joining a cult of personality really misses the point about our recognizing the qualities our nation needs to effectively move forward to collectively meet our challenges.

Richard C. Hubbard
Evanston, Ill., Feb. 11, 2008

To the Editor:

Senator Barack Obama’s campaign reminds me of a series of revival meetings. There’s the charismatic speaker who uses emotional words to raise the audience to a fever pitch, followed by conversion to his ideas and the passing of the hat.

Supporters who wrap themselves in these emotional promises find that it works for a while. But then it grows quiet, and looking around, the converts see that the revival tent has moved on and everyday life intervenes.

Where is the critical thinking here about how to achieve getting out of Iraq? To help the economy? To solve the health care crisis? There’s just the emptiness of the emotional words, ringing hollow in the air.

Sue Roupp
Evanston, Ill., Feb. 11, 2008

My stance has long been clear on this but they're both b.s. though one is more so than the other but maybe it’s things like this, where Michelle Obama who should be a leader in her husband’s movement says “she’d have to think about supporting Hillary if she were the nominee
while everything from the Clintons has been of course I’ll support the Democratic nominee, it’s about taking back the white house
And maybe Krugman’s ideas about the cult of personality and the Messianic fervor that Barack is cultivating stems from stuff like this in the media as documented in Slate's Obama Messiah Watch

Is Barack Obama the Nazarene? To answer this question, Slate has periodically gathered gratuitously adoring biographical details from newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of the U.S. senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review president, Men's Vogue cover model, two-time Grammy winner, efficient note-taker, physics wunderkind, descendent of George Washington's great-great-great-great-great grandfather, teenage jazz enthusiast, possible telepathic communicator with space aliens from distant galaxies, improvement on all civil rights gains since 1957, calmer of turbulent Iownas, and front-running candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

I merely suggested that a few excitable souls in the media bear the apparant conviction that Obama is the Redeemer. To this growing list we must now add the Reuters photographer who snapped this

Hail Michelle,
full of grace,
the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women
and blessed is [he that made holy your] womb
Holy Michelle, consort of God,
pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death

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