The Debate That Wasn’t

Courteous debate with hints of humor and (mostly) harmonious agreement marked the Obama-Clinton debate on Thursday night. I had checked out Politico’s website, where people posted questions they wanted asked. The moderators left out many.

Both candidates proved they’re equally smart on health care reforms, but under either Democrat, Big Pharma and insurance companies may be slightly restrained but will remain quite profitably in-charge. It almost seemed that the candidates were running down the clock on healthcare. Barely mentioning education, college costs were noted. No one spoke of growing inequities in k-12 schools, racial RE-segregation, or even No Child Left Behind.

While blaming the Bush Administration for the declining economy, greedy corporate globalization wasn’t questioned even as it has wrecked much of Mexico’s economy and communities across the U.S. Factories closing, three million jobs have disappeared in the last decade — which obviously includes the Clinton Administration era. So-called “free trade” agreements, such as NAFTA — passed while Hillary Clinton got some of her experience as First Lady, and pending trade deals with South Korea and Peru — weren’t worthy of discussion.

Problems of particular concern to rural or urban America weren’t on the agenda, except for health care. Of course, it’s risky for Barack Obama to focus on inner cities. If he talked “chocolate cities” (with some vanilla poor) being devastated by economic neglect, a failed “war on drugs,” usually substandard schools, a criminal justice system on steroids and police brutality . . . well, we might remember that Obama is a Black man in ways beyond the most shallow marketing strategy. In fact, race only came up when discussing immigration. Obama did challenge the scapegoating of Latino immigrants head-on, one of the few inspiring moments that showed Obama’ passion — the community organizer — in contrast to Clinton’s cool policy-wonk.

Bloggers and media misogynists have attacked Clinton personally but, in the debate, gender was just a history-making marker of alleged progress. Obama’s candidacy is supposed to convince us we’re in a post-race age. Clinton remarked on gender injustice in OTHER, undeveloped, no-doubt far less evolved countries that ours.

Both candidates started the night lauding John Edwards, but neither took up his banner of fighting poverty. Housing foreclosures got a nod; the housing crisis for the working poor and rising homelessness were ignored. Katrina became just a tool of Bush-bashing, but, neither pledged to really DO anything. Neither Obama or Clinton issued the strong challenges to corporate power at the heart of Edwards’ campaign. Perhaps, Obama got the warning loud and clear from Edwards’ fate. Clinton’s 15 years as a corporate lawyer makes where she stand clear — no matter how many times she cites her connection to the Children’s Defense Fund.

Iraq momentarily heated up the discussion with Obama’s reminder he opposed the invasion and Clinton triangulating on her vote to give Bush the authorization to use military force. Avoiding details, both spoke of “careful withdrawal.” Neither explained how their foreign policy would be much different than Bush’s, except for Clinton’s (quote) “coercive diplomacy” and Obama emphasizing that “the threat of terrorism is real.” Neither challenged the US invasion as immoral or illegal. Clinton almost seemed to brag about how “we bombed Iraq for several days in 1998 to get inspectors in.” Obama claimed he’s worked on nuclear proliferation — but NOT on America’s biggest nuclear arsenal on Earth. Both say they will be bringing troops home early in their first term, but both hedged too. It is undeniable now that the only anti-war candidate is Libertarian Ron Paul, who was far more forceful about leaving Iraq in the Republican debate.

Red-button “cultural war” issues were off the table. But, many crucial issues got no hearing at all. Neither Obama or Clinton mentioned the all-out assault on our civil liberties, the shredding of our Constitution or the vast expansion of Presidential power. As a result the Bush-bashing rang hollow and stank of hypocritical opportunism. No one asked or talked about global warming and peak oil — except for Obama mentioning “our planet in peril” and “new jobs with alternative energy.” One would think humanity’s survival would be important enough to be part of the debate. It wasn’t.

Obama and Clinton were collaborators not competitors with one another, and with the core elements of things as they are. It appears that the only real choice we have is whether we want a token for race or gender in the White House. If we want REAL change, we’re going to have to count on ourselves and build much stronger activist movements. That’s the only way, we’ve ever gotten change no matter who’s in the White House.

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis, Minnesota journalist, writing for several newspapers and online journals and winner of the 2007 Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She also produces/hosts CATALYST;politics and culture on KFAI Radio, shows archived for 2 weeks after broadcast at http;// this piece is part of her daily column MOVING MOUNTAINS, updated Monday through friday at http;// Read other articles by Lydia, or visit Lydia's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Andrew said on February 2nd, 2008 at 8:54am #

    Ironically, as long as I can remember, no matter which party raises up the newest president, nothing changes as far as policy is concerned. And where is it leading us? I see industry moving out of the country at alarming rates. Masses of illegal immigrants swarm across our unprotected borders while our military is used to protect the borders of foreign countries and big oil. I see a policy of endless preemptive war against an undefined enemy. I see the United States being dictated to by the United Nations. I see dangerous legislation, such as the “Patriot Act,” and “Military Commission Act,” eroding our constitutional rights, passed by a Congress who swore an oath to protect those rights, and I see debates with candidates who argue with each other as to how best to continue these policies. Google Ron Paul

  2. Max Shields said on February 2nd, 2008 at 2:44pm #

    Andrew, I think it’s not what you see, as much as how you intrepret it. While I do agree that nothing much changes in terms of policy regardless of administration or party, there is more than a correlation between our trade agreements and the migration of immigrants to the US. Capital creates work, and people follow whether its people chasing jobs criss-crossing America or from the North and South (mostly from the South, and East and West). Check out NAFTA to see how that has driven millions in from the South.

    While I agree with you that our foreign policy is beyond illegal, I really do think that that speaks to the mistaken thinking that “the United States being dictated to by the United Nations”. If that were the case, Israel’s leaders as well as US administration leaders would be on trial in some international tribunal or court of law to heed the laws of acts against humanity that they have regularly broken. But that is clearly not the case. The UN did not santion the invasion into Iraq. It was the US who bullied the UN and then decided unilaterally to invade and occupy against all treaties and agreements between that body and others.

    This is why Ron Paul has the problem with our foreign policy clear and so much else dead wrong.

  3. HR said on February 3rd, 2008 at 1:45pm #

    It’s a source of constant amazement that people waste time watching this nonsense. Do you expect “candidates” to actually let you know what they would do? Do you think they are telling you the truth? The “debates” are nothing more than a part of the cheap sideshow that we are taught to believe is part of some “solemn” process “we” engage in to select our next executive.

    I was totally disappointed with the first “debates” I saw, the ones between Kennedy and Nixon, and it’s been downhill since. Face it folks, it’s all a carnival, a means of making suckers part with their money, and their principles. There may a dime’s worth of difference among all the candidates, from “both” parties, and even that’s being generous. If you take seriously, and believe in, the hallucination projected to you, then you’ll get exactly the government you deserve.

  4. John Hatch said on February 3rd, 2008 at 7:54pm #

    I think you already got the government you deserve, and the next won’t be much different, but the rest of the world doesn’t deserve America’s insane self-entitled brutality and greed, and therin might lie the only possible solution: a prolonged and comprehensive world boycott. Of course America would threaten war, but how would that differ from the current circumstance?