By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Wherever I go -- from glittering dinner party to glittering dinner party -- the famous and powerful people I meet (for such is my life) tell me how lucky I am to be a journalist in this the greatest of all presidential contests. I tell them, for I am wont to please, that this campaign is indeed great when, as history will record, it is not. I have come to loathe the campaign.
I loathe above all the resurgence of racism -- or maybe it is merely my appreciation of the fact that it is wider and deeper than I thought. I am stunned by the numbers of people who have come out to vote against Barack Obama because he is black. I am even more stunned that many of these people have no compunction about telling a pollster they voted on account of race -- one in five whites in Kentucky, for instance. Those voters didn't even know enough to lie, which is what, if you look at the numbers, others probably did in other states. Such honesty ought to be commendable. It is, instead, frightening.
I acknowledge that some people can find nonracial reasons to vote against Obama -- his youth, his inexperience, his uber-liberalism and, of course, his willingness to abide his minister's admiration for a racist demagogue (Louis Farrakhan) until it was way, way too late. But for too many people, Obama is first and foremost a black man and is rejected for that reason alone. This is very sad.
I loathe what has happened to Hillary Clinton. This person of no mean achievement has been witchified, turned into a shrew, so that almost any remark of hers is instantly interpreted as sinister and ugly. All she had to do, for instance, was note that it took Lyndon Johnson to implement Martin Luther King's dream, and somehow it became a racist statement. The Obama camp has been no help in this regard, expressing insincere regret instead of a sincere "that's not what she meant."
I loathe also what Hillary Clinton has done to herself. The incessant exaggerations, the cheap shots, the flights into hallucinatory history -- that sniper fire in Bosnia, for instance -- have turned her into a caricature of what her caricaturists long claimed she already was. In this campaign, Clinton has managed to come across as a hungry hack, a Janus looking both forward and backward and seeming to stand for nothing except winning. This, too, is sad.
I loathe what has happened to Bill Clinton.
I loathe what has happened to the press. I loathe the incessant blogging and commenting and talking and yapping and hype. I hate that Clinton's observation that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in June ran on and on when everyone save some indigenous people in the Brazilian rain forest knew what she meant. I hate that for days these same outlets discussed the relevancy of whether John McCain could be constitutionally barred from the presidency because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone. This, too, is sad.
What is perhaps most surprising, and sad as well, is what can be seen in the rearview mirror. There, reduced to a speck, is the once-huge expectation that the next president would be a Democrat. The current president, after all, has started two wars and completed none, and presides over a palette of debacles that encompasses everything from a crashing economy to a housing catastrophe to an immense loss of American prestige around the world (with the possible exception of those aforementioned indigenous Brazilians). It includes, of course, a lack of trust in an administration that weaseled and fibbed and exaggerated and Cheneyed the American people -- but has (and so the GOP will remind us all) kept the nation safe from another attack. No small matter, it will turn out.
So I see little to be happy about, little that pleases my jaundiced eye. Yes, voter participation is way up and in the end, the Democrats will choose a woman or an African American and, to invoke that tiresome phrase, history will be made. But this messy nominating process has eroded the standing of both candidates. It has highlighted the reality that racism still runs deep and that misogyny, although more imagined than real, is not yet a wholly spent force. This is an ugly porridge that has been placed before us, turned rancid since the cold, pristine days of Iowa only five months ago. We were, with apologies to Bob Dylan, so much younger then.