Water Man Spouts

Friday, April 25, 2008

American University

This may sound like a bit of speculation, but I think there is an explanation for the apparent coordination between the McCain and Clinton campaigns’ attacks on Barack Obama. Watching the news in the past few days, I have been reminded of discussions with my late father, who was an FDR democrat. In fact, the whole family was FDT democrats at that time. I remember him telling me about his Aunt Mary, a charter member of the Order of Railroad Telegraphers’ Union (Newark and Ridgewood Stations), who was a staunch FDR supporter. She taught Dad to be aware not only of the differences between the two political parties, but also the similarities. She said it was in the overlap that the real opposition to the New Deal was found.

Any system that deals with large numbers of people is, by definition, a bureaucracy. And bureaucracies always have their own internal balance. When I worked in human services, I recognized that "family systems" have a balance like a mobile over a baby’s crib: pull on one piece, and everything shifts. Work-places are the same. Many of us have had the experience of having a new supervisor coming into the workplace, saying, "There are going to be big changes. Big ones." And despite the best of intentions, the system resists change: he numerous pieces on the mobile keep that new supervisor in their balance.

Sometimes in discussions on DU (and elsewhere), people will say that when JFK was assassinated in Dallas, that it represented a coup. There are many people who believe that the military-industrial complex took the reins of power on that day. My Dad always told me that this was incorrect: Kennedy’s being elected president was the coup. He showed me how even in the democratic primary, a number of good "systems" democrats attempted – right up to the convention – to keep JFK from being the nominee. Part of it was because they resented that he wasn’t dependent on the usual sources for his finances, which Dad said was always a key.

President Kennedy was working within the system, but he was aiming at making real changes. Dad used to point to the American University Commencement Address as JFK’s compass pointing where he was heading in his second term. Of course, back then, like today, some people will say that such speeches are meaningless. Take a minute and read (or listen to) this June10, 1963 speech, and decide for yourself:


When LBJ became president, he did his absolute best to make shifts in the mobile, to institute social programs that were inspired by his understanding of FDR and JFK. But the system would not accommodate both the "Great Society" and the "War Society." The Vietnam War and the Cold War/Arms Race controlled more pieces on the mobile.

In the 1988 democratic primary, when Jesse Jackson was gaining in support in the factories and on the farms across America, and holding out the promise of real change, the other candidates huddled and devised a plan to put a company man out front. And today, we have the myth that Dukakis lost because he was "too liberal." No, he lost because he was too weak to be anything but a company man. He lost the support of the progressives and many of the liberals when he refused to show them respect by acknowledging what Jesse had accomplished. And there are a lot of democratic "leaders" who are more comfortable feeding at a trough filled by the republican machine than in seeking to accomplish real change.

James Carroll’s book "House of War" documents how the Pentagon has been the nucleus of the American mobile, holding the pieces in place. And while it is not difficult to identify some brave individual democratic politicians who have attempted, from the end of LBJ’s presidency until today, to institute change from their seat in the House of Representatives or the Senate, the system has not changed. It is evident that to make such change a reality, we need to have an agent of change in the White House, a majority in the Congress, and an energized American public that demands real change.

We need a JFK, not an LBJ or a Nixon. It’s no coincidence that LBJ and Nixon were friends, and that in 1968, Johnson actually worked behind the scenes in coperation with Nixon to insure a republican victory. LBJ believed that Nixon was more capable of keeping the machine properly oiled.

The Clinton and McCain attacks on Barack Obama do risk the possibility of a democratic victory in the presidential election. Representative James Clyburn (D-SC), the House Democratic Whip, has said what many of us have come to believe: that Hillary Clinton is willing to damage Obama, allowing McCain to win now so that she can run in 2012. That’s "machine politics," which also risks the democratic party’s ability to win in congressional, state and local elections.

Not this time.

We need to take steps at the grass roots level to counter the Clinton-McCain offensive. One obvious ploy the machine is resorting to is having Clinton supporters being very vocal about how they will vote for McCain if Obama is recognized as the party’s nominee. (Now you tell me – is this not what my father spoke of as the similarities, rather than the differences?) They want to convince the Super Delegates that Obama will have trouble in November, as if the democratic party would do better by picking the candidate who is currently not only in last place, but who cannot win the democratic primary.

Not this time. We are not better off running the last place candidate. It is important that today, people of good will take steps outlined in Amendment 1 of that Bill of Rights. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper(s). Call, write, and e-mail your elected democratic representatives. Tell them to take steps to end the Clinton campaign’s attempt to damage the democrat party’s top candidate.

Also, please send a contribution to the Obama campaign. We need to be able to set a pace that they can’t keep up with. We need to drain the swamps that breed division within our party that benefits the McCain campaign.


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