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Experience or Inspiration?

Here’s a conversation I had last night with a friend in Morocco, as results from the Super Tuesday election between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were still coming in.

eatbees: Today is a big day for us politically. Twenty-two states are voting to choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

distant: Which is the Democrat and which is the Republican?

eatbees: Both are Democrats. Right now, each party is choosing its candidate. It’s a two-step process. John McCain and Mitt Romney are Republicans. Clinton and Obama are Democrats. In each of the fifty states, Democrats and Republicans hold a “primary” election. These elections don’t all take place on the same day. They’re scattered from January until June. Then each party has its convention in the summer, where they make a final decision on the candidate who will represent them in November. The November election is the “general” election between the Democratic and Republican winners.

distant: When was the last time a Democrat got elected?

eatbees: Bill Clinton was our last Democratic president. Ronald Reagan (1980, 1984) was a Republican. George H. W. Bush (1988) was a Republican. Bill Clinton (1992, 1996) was a Democrat. George W. Bush (2000, 2004) is a Republican. So for the last 28 years, you can see that every president but Bill Clinton has been a Republican. On the other hand, the election in 2000 was very close. Al Gore almost won, or really did win, and he was also a Democrat.

distant: Were things good when Clinton was in office?

eatbees: I think they were. They weren’t perfect, but they were certainly much better than they are now. The economy was strong, America was respected in the world, and our society was open and tolerant. But America has a dark side that surfaces no matter who is in power. You don’t have to look far to see it. John F. Kennedy was shot in 1963. Martin Luther King was shot in 1967. Kennedy’s brother Robert was shot in 1968. A lot of people lost hope back then in the future of American politics, because the “heros” of that time were all killed.

distant: Why are there are “primary” elections? Are there multiple parties within the Democrats, and also within the Republicans?

eatbees: We have two large national parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, but each party has many factions within it. In general, the Democrats represent working people, freethinkers, women, minorities, gays, environmentalists, pacifists, and people who believe in progressive change. The Republicans are the “hard power” party that believes in a strong military, multinational corporations and their interests, conservative religious values, and keeping things the way they were in an imagined past when America was strong and good.

distant: So there are only two parties in the U.S., versus 37 in Morocco?

eatbees: Exactly. And because our two parties are so big, each one contains many competing interests that have to unite around a common program. That’s what is happening now. Each party is deciding what flag it will carry in November. For the Democrats, the choice is between Hillary and Obama. There is really very little difference between them in terms of policies or ideology. What people are arguing about is how each will make change. Everyone agrees we need change. The question is how? It’s almost a philosophical argument. Hillary believes that change requires experience. Obama believes it requires inspiration. That’s a weird thing to have an election over, huh? But it’s the most exciting election I can remember since 1980, when Reagan took power. And Reagan was exciting in a bad way. The feeling of change is in the air this year.

distant: If this wasn’t about Bush, there wouldn’t be this much excitement.

eatbees: Of course Bush is part of it, but there’s more to it than that. In American history, there are big changes every thirty or forty years, and the moment of change is here. In 1968, Nixon’s election meant the beginning of the conservative era, the era of American imperial power. Reagan was the peak of that era, and Bush is the end of it, forty years later. Whenever an era comes to an end and a new one is beginning, there is naturally going to be excitement.

distant: I see!

eatbees: I think it’s hard for people outside the U.S. to feel it, because they’re used to American power remaining the same no matter who is in charge. Maybe they’re right, and nothing will change this time either. But America is a culture that believes in reinvention. We’ve had many big changes, the Revolution in the 1780s, the Civil War in the 1860s, the Great Depression and New Deal in the 1930s. Those are also the periods that gave us our greatest presidents, Washington and Jefferson at the time of the Revolution, Lincoln during the Civil War, Roosevelt during the Great Depression. If you look at the timing, we’re ready for another great moment. Meanwhile, the political pendulum keeps swinging back and forth between progressive and conservative. When I was born, it was starting to swing right, and now it’s swinging back.

Another broad trend is that America has always been expansionist and idealistic about its own power. This is a problem, because it means we aren’t cynical enough about ourselves, in the way the Europeans are. We still imagine that we can save the world and ourselves. With Hillary and Obama, people are asking, “Who is the leader who can accomplish this?” Obama is the one who excites young people, because they are the most idealistic and ready for change. Hillary has the respect of older people who understand that change is never easy, and ideals are never pure. They respect her because she is someone who’s been through a lot of political battles and is still there. She won’t make stupid, innocent mistakes. She won’t put emotion ahead of reason, as my mother says.

distant: Are you for Hillary or Obama?

eatbees: I haven’t decided! I understand both points of view. When I hear my mother saying that Obama’s supporters aren’t serious enough to make change, because they’re too young to understand what is involved and will quit as soon as the excitement is over, it makes me mad. But sometimes I agree with her, and I worry that Obama has a lot of fancy rhetoric, but no clear idea of the obstacles in his path. On the other hand, what I like about Obama is that he isn’t satisfied with the small changes Hillary wants. He doesn’t want to just move a few players around on the field, he wants to play a whole different sport. The choice we’re facing this year is between incremental change or transformational change. If we’re really moving from one historical era to the next, then transformational change is what we need. But can Obama do it, or is he all talk and no action? In that case, Hillary would be the better choice. That’s the question we’re asking ourselves now.


Comment from Reb
Time: February 7, 2008, 13:01

Are we truly at the end of an era? What if another Republican is elected? This would not surprise me- the U.S. is becoming more and more conservative and some democrats might vote for the Republican candidate because they are too nervous/sexist/racist to vote for a woman or a minority. I guess all we can do is vote and hope for the change to come (I would even take incremental change at this point).

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