January 25, 2007


Sam Smith

ONE THING is clear about the 2008 Democratic primary: there will be little room for reality. The media story line is already being driven by a mythology that in more trivial times would only be annoying but, given America's collapse as a constitutional society and as a respected nation, merely adds to the extraordinary danger the country faces today.

It used to be that the length of the Democratic primary season at least allowed time for reflection and for recovery from illusions shattered in scattered states as presumed victors stumbled or fell. Now not even that is possible.

The NY Times reports that "as many as four big states ­ California, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey - are likely to move up their 2008 presidential primaries to early next February, further upending an already unsettled nominating process and forcing candidates of both parties to rethink their campaign strategies, party officials said Wednesday."

The Times politely notes that "Democrats and Republicans said that the changes would be the latest step in the evolution of a presidential nominating system that increasingly seems resistant to the kind of dark-horse presidential bid that was possible back when small states like Iowa and New Hampshire enjoyed such influence over the nominating process."

What is really happening is that the primary system is being nationalized and compressed for the benefit of those with the most money and the best early standings in the media mythology.

Money at every level in American politics has already replaced the importance of the voter because money combined with media mythology makes voters do what the money wants them to. And in the last election cycle 48% of this money came from zip codes with a high proportion of households making over $100,000 a year.

Two items give a good feel for what's going on this year:

From ABC News: Movie moguls Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg want their Hollywood peers to join them at a Feb. 20 fundraiser the three are throwing for Obama. For $2,300 a person and $4600 a couple, they can meet the candidate at a reception at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Those who commit to raising $46,000 (10 couples/20 tickets) for the evening will be invited to a private dinner at Geffen's Malibu, Calif., home.

From the Jewish journal Forward: Democratic activists and operatives said Clinton will pull in large quantities of cash among Jewish donors not only because of what they described as her strong positions on Israel and domestic matters of interest to Jews, but also because of longtime ties with these activists dating back to her husband's administration. The haul is important: Strategists say that serious candidates will need to raise at least $50 million -- and probably more like $100 million -- by the end of the year. They say that money from Jewish donors constitutes about half the donations given to national Democratic candidates.

This is not democracy. This is a cattle auction.

But the money's not enough. The media, which is, after all, part of the money, has to provide a myth to replace any troubling intrusions by reality. Hence we have the lovely story of an iconic feminist running against an iconic black with, by our count, two-thirds of the candidate headlines this month going to Clinton and Obama.

The third placed candidate, John Edwards, has gotten just six percent of the headlines this month despite being ahead in Iowa and tying Clinton for second place in the last New Hampshire poll.

Edwards, once a darling of the Democratic Abandonship Council, has done the unforgivable. He has strayed from the flock and is playing his own game. It matters not that this game is the most realistically Democratic one of any major candidate in the past few decades or that his opponents often seem to be trying to prove how conservative they can be. For them it's not a matter of being the best Democrat; it's a matter pleasing the media and the money.

So you won't hear much about Hillary Clinton once being a Goldwater Republican or that Barack Obama offers little to write about, let alone justify electing him to the White House. To a media that otherwise produces soap operas and American Idol, Clinton and Obama are ideally simple to present in their mythcasts.

And the mythology runs deep. For example, the Washington Post reports that black Democrats favor Clinton over Obama by a three to one majority. Why? Because Bill Clinton, the best hustler since Elmer Gantry, managed to get blacks to take the faux Baptist bait, favoring inflection in the pulpit over improvements in the community. Even Toni Morrison fell for the scam and few seemed to notice that black incomes and net worth were continuing to decline, that Clinton's so-called welfare reforms favored whites far more than blacks, and that his aggressive pursuit of the drug war made young urban black men worse victims than their fathers fighting in Vietnam.

I once was asked by a reporter about to interview Clinton on the radio whether I had any good questions. I suggested asking him, "Why do you like blacks so much more when they're in a church than when they're on the street?" He didn't take my suggestion, but twice during the Clinton years cab drivers told me how great the economy was. "How many jobs are you working?" I asked each and it was a revelation. They had never thought of their personal disconnect between myth and reality.

That's a big job of the mainstream media: to keep us from discovering that disconnect.

And that's why they don't want to give John Edwards too many headlines. He's no longer playing their game.

Sure, Edwards partied with the Bilderberg mob, he's taken part in the current anti-Iran hysteria, he supports the death penalty, and he's won some court cases based on questionable medical science.

On the other hand it's hard to think of anyone since as far back as Fred Harris who has been willing to run for president sounding so much like a real Democrat, which is to say one centered on making life better for the most number of Americans.

And I would rather deal with Edwards' straight-forward error on the death penalty than with Hillary Clinton's attempt to make all sides think she agreed with them.

I may be unduly optimistic, but Edwards seems an unusual politician in another way. He seems to have learned something along the way. That doesn't happen often in politics.

But then Edwards lost a son in a car accident and his wife had breast cancer. It's hard to retain the sort of hubris one finds in a Clinton or a Kerry when life intrudes like that.

Now life has intruded again. From a darling of the DLC and a Bilderberg prospect he's become an outsider like us. He may be a trial lawyer but he's chosen to be our trial lawyer.

It's not perfect by a damn shot. For example, no major Democratic candidate - including Edwards - has addressed the collapse of American constitutional government and none has rejected Bush's education program.

And it's also possible that Obama might turn out to be something other than a somewhat sanctimonious pop star trying to make us feel good about him. Certainly he's a vast improvement over the most corrupt and dishonest Democrat to seek the presidency since her husband.

But at the moment, whatever his faults and given the realities of America's sick politics, Edwards is the best we've got, the best chance to hold the line against the money and the myths, against the corrupters and the corroders.

And we don't have a hell of a lot of time. Both the money and the media want this settled soon and weeks to them would be better than months.

The SUV liberals will stick with Clinton and Obama but, as Howard Dean showed the last time round, there's still a little room for an unanticipated rebellion, a demand for Democrats to be Democrats, for decency to go before power, and for the myth makers and the money shakers to be taught the lesson that reality still matters.