Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Cult of Personality:

If you read the various blog posts about the Democratic campaign this year, and especially the comment threads, you will find that in general, Clinton supporters dominate in terms of angry, barbed remarks. On the other hand, Edwards and Obama supporters are more disposed to admit their candidate's flaws (specifically with rhetoric and tactics). While they both like their candidate, they are more laidback about the whole thing. Hillary supporters, much less so. This has been evident as far back as early December, but has intensified in recent weeks - largely in the wake of various Clinton campaign acts: Bob Johnson saying Obama "acts white" aka Sidney Poitier, implying Obama was educated at a madrassa before dealing cocaine in Chicago which then paid for his tuiton at the University of Shuck and Jive, Bill saying Obama raised the race issue (!), the challenge of Nevada caucus rules.

This is most evident when looking at the reaction to Hillary Clinton's Michigan-Florida gambit. And woe to any blogger who takes issue with Clinton on this. Poor Josh Marshall gets submerged in angry e-mails for his measured criticism.

The defense offered up by Clinton supporters boils down to one thing and one thing only:
It is a virtue for my candidate to be a down-and-dirty fighter even if it causes big bruises within the Democratic party.
The allegiance of Clinton supporters is to Hillary Clinton, the person. They completely ignore her policy positions, then and now, which are at variance with a progressive agenda. They ignore her prominent role in the DLC. They ignore Bill Clinton's claim that she was part of the decision making process during Bill's furtherance of Manchester Capitalism while in office. They ignore her complete failure to be a strong voice against the Iraq War.

When it comes to domestic politics, Clinton supporters are mum about Hillary and Bill's limited support of Kerry in 2004. They are mum about Hillary's failure to provide financial support to Democrats in 2006 (unlike PACs of Obama and Edwards which did help in congressional races). And now, in the face of Bill heatedly arguing over procedures that affect about 3 delegates in Nevada, are mum about his failure to defend Gore in 2000.

So what's going on here? The explanation is that Hillary Clinton supporters are devoted to her as a person. That may strike many people as odd, since her character is not particular appealing (contrast Nancy Pelosi's dulcet tones to Hillary's annunciator-style voice). Which leads to the question, how did Hillary get so much adoration?

Setting aside those attracted to her for identity-politics reasons. It would seem that Hillary supporters are in love with her for two reasons:
  • A transference of allegiance from the former Hypnotist-in-Chief Bill towards Hillary.
  • A way of getting revenge on Republicans for their attacks on the Clintons in the 1990s.
Both items listed above are emotional and not rational. That's not something this blog is comfortable with, but that's how people often behave. And it's something that cannot be ignored.

In fact, sometimes you want folks all fired-up for a candidate under certain political conditions. Late in Bill's term, when he was being impeached, that sort of blind allegiance was beneficial to the nation. But is it appropriate now?

That's for you to decide. However, it would appear that since the Republicans are wounded and in retreat, the Democrats do not need a gutter fighter. A gutter fighter that will defeat Republicans, yet not be progressive at all.

In any event, don't expect a Hillary supporter to be persuaded to change their mind when you tell them:
  • She's hard-core DLC.
  • She's not helped the Democratic party much.
  • Her honoring of intra-party pledges cannot be guaranteed.
  • Her advisors on economic policy matters are not progressive.
  • She's a liberal hawk.
Because they are in thrall with Hillary as a person. And they will be vicious should you confront them, because that's what dealing with a cult of personality is like.

CODA: Why this post? Because it has been instructive to watch, as the charges of unfair-play by Hillary have become more serious (and less defensible), there have been no concessions by Hillary supporters that anything is wrong. Instead, they have become more vociferous in their support. And that demanded an explanation.

As to the virtues and vices of a cult of personality, arguments can be made, both pro and con. Political effectiveness vs. progressive policies? Asset or liability when it comes to November? History reveals instances where a cult of personality has been effective and worthwhile. In fact, that's what fuels the dynastic-style of politics throughout the world. So don't expect a Hillary supporter to care about the argument that 28 years of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton is suffocating. But is this sort of politics desirable now?


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