No Way. No How. No McCain.

Hillary Clinton surely put all doubts to rest in her speech at the Democratic convention: She really does support Barack Obama for president and she urged her “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits” to get in line behind the Democratic nominee. “You haven’t worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership,” she said. “No way. No how. No McCain.”

A CNN poll on the eve of the convention showed the race deadlocked at 47% each for Barack Obama and John McCain. It suggested that a quarter of Clinton’s former supporters were considering voting for McCain for president—before the speech.

It made little sense, given how close Obama’s positions were to Clinton’s and how far both Democrats are from McCain’s positions. Some Hillary supporters may have been Republicans who responded to Rush Limbaugh’s call to create chaos at the Democratic convention. A march through downtown Denver before Clinton’s speech was co-sponsored by a group of Clinton diehards called PUMA, which stands for “Party Unity My Ass.”

But Clinton was having no part of the disunity movement. “I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me? Or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?”

The open question was how many of the Clintonistas would accept their new assignment. But there seemed to be little doubt among Clinton delegates inside the convention hall that they were ready to pitch in with Obama.

Democrats can’t afford to feel complacent, of course: A USA Today/Gallup poll reported Aug. 25 that 80% of respondents are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the US and 70% said the economy is getting worse, but 43% of registered voters still said they support McCain, who embraces George W. Bush’s neocon agenda that got us into this mess. (Obama still leads with 47% in that poll.)

Michael Powell of the New York Times on Aug. 21 quoted a United Steelworkers organizer who spoke bluntly with 30 workers in Beaver, Pa. Obama stands for national health care, strong unions and preserving Social Security, he said. “Some of you won’t vote for him because he’s black,” the organizer concluded. “Well, he’s a Democrat. Get over it.”

Fire Joins Ice

Obama also helped himself with his choice of Joe Biden as his running mate. Biden is not without sin. (In addition to his vote for the Iraq war resolution, one of the big blots on his record is his vote for the bankruptcy deform bill in 2005 that made it harder for individuals to clear their debts. Well, he is a senator from Delaware, after all.) But he is a solid progressive with a working-class background and he knows his way around a union hall and a factory gate.

The Drum Major Institute, which tracks voting on progressive middle-class issues, reported that Biden, who got an A-plus grade in 2007, has a 95% middle-class voting record so far this year. (Obama, who also got an A-plus in 2007, scored 88% this year. John McCain scored 60%, which ranks fairly high among Republicans, but he’s only voted on five of 21 bills considered this year. McCain received an incomplete in 2007 and flunked in 2005.)

Biden is tough, he has passion, he can talk and he appeals to working-class voters, including Catholic and other white voters in Pennsylvania, where he was born in Scranton. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Biden is practically a third senator for the state. Biden also is expected to play well in the key states of Ohio, Michigan and Florida. He is well-suited for the running mate’s traditional role of playing the attack dog against the opposing presidential candidate, allowing Obama to keep his hands clean.

Biden also is a salesman who can close a deal. Our brothers, who run the Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa, were planning to endorse Obama last year when Biden came to town. First he glad-handed at the Times office, then he went on to charm a living room full of Democrats with his Irish-American gift of gab, quoting poetry he had memorized as a youth when he recited the poems to overcome a stutter.

That gab can get him into trouble, of course, but if Obama is light on foreign affairs experience, Biden, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, can hold forth on the history of Iraq (and unlike McCain, he knows the difference between Shi’ites and Sunni Muslims). Biden can put his hands on voters’ shoulders, look them straight in the eye and ask for their vote, as he did that evening in Storm Lake. (He got the Times endorsement but didn’t carry Storm Lake’s caucuses, as Obama’s organization swept all before it.) But as a running mate, Biden can look those white, working-class voters in the eyes who might look askance at Obama. He can be the fire to Obama’s ice.

Biden jumped into his role at the convention. Walter Shapiro noted at Salon.com that Biden brought the Supreme Court—an issue that has gone AWOL in the campaign—back into the Democratic political arsenal at a women’s economic forum Aug. 26. “Ladies and gentlemen, other than ending the war in Iraq, the single most significant thing that Barack Obama will do ... will be to determine who the next members of the Supreme Court will be ... So, folks, remember when you go out there, it is not only a woman’s right to choose that is at stake. It is [also] whether or not you will have a fair shot at a fair wage, it is whether or not you are treated equally in every aspect of your life.”

His next assignment was to get under the skin of his good friend, John S. McCain.

Send Reinforcements

Progressive groups complain that Democrats have not pursued an aggressive agenda after they regained the majority in the current Congress. Congress did some good, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted in her convention remarks Aug. 25. Among the accomplishments she cited were increasing the minimum wage for the first time in 10 years, requiring better fuel efficiency for the first time in 32 years, expanding college aid, increasing veterans’ health-care funding and enacting a new GI Bill over the Bush administration’s objections to let veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan attend college.

The House majority was not inclined to pursue progressive initiatives that they knew would stall in the Senate, where Republicans filibustered a record 131 times in the past two years—more than twice the previous record. Unless the Dems can come up with 60 votes in the Senate, major bills aren’t going anywhere. Given the abuse of the filibuster, we think the Senate majority leader should require traditional filibusters, in which the obstructing senator can block the bill only as long as he or she can actually speak against the bill. Current Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been loathe to require that.

We wish the House majority had the confidence to force the Bush administration to withdraw from Iraq, take up universal health care, enforce fair trade rules and force Bush aides to submit to the authority of the House to question them—under the threat of arrest by the sergeant-at-arms if the Justice Department won’t pursue contempt charges against administrative scofflaws. We also wish they’d go ahead and impeach Bush and Cheney. But it looks like the best we can hope for is that voters will pad the Democratic majorities and put someone in the White House who will work with them next year rather than threaten to veto whatever they manage to get out of the Senate.

Well, that’s a start. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, Sept. 15, 2008

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