April 20, 2008
By Dean Powers
From Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, Democrats voiced surprise and then anger over comments that Senator Hillary Clinton made at a private fund raiser that were caught on tape. Surprise because the media has largely blacked out coverage of the comments; anger because of their nature.
The Huffington Post published those comments and the clip of the audio sound bite on Friday. At the event last February, Clinton told those in the audience, "We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with. And you know they turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me."
Although the left had flagged numerous warning signs, the release of the tape provided, for the first time, an unadulterated glimpse at Clinton’s feelings for the “activist base of the Democratic Party.”
The truth is: many people don’t know that Clinton disagrees with the “activist base of the Democratic Party.” In fact, Clinton has largely defined herself in contrast to George Bush, and she opened her campaign with a pledge to listen. “I’m not just starting a campaign… I’m beginning a conversation; with you, with America, because we ALL need to be part of the discussion if we’re going to be part of the solution. Let’s talk about how to bring the right end to the war in Iraq and restore respect for America around the world. Let’s talk about how to make us energy independent and free our dependence on foreign oil.”
As an activist in the base of the Democratic Party, I’m pretty enthusiastic about this candidate. She wants to end the war—or at least it sounds that way—and make America energy independent! Clinton for president!
She goes on, “You know, after six years of George Bush, it is time to renew the promise of America.” Therefore, she says, “Let’s talk, let’s chat, let’s start a dialogue about your ideas and mine, because the conversation in Washington has been just a little one-sided lately.”
Exactly! They aren’t listening to the “activist base of the Democratic Party!!!!” Maybe you’ve heard its message: “Get us out of this disastrous war!!!” No? Well it’s not for a lack of trying. So, let’s vote for another candidate who doesn’t agree with the activist base of the Democratic Party. Let’s have that “one-sided” dialogue for another four years.
So we know that Clinton doesn’t agree with the “activist base of the Democratic Party,” so then, who does she agree with? Activism is what defines the Democratic Party. We’ve opposed this war early, if not from the beginning. We’ve signed petitions and called our representatives, and donated to political campaigns, and volunteered around elections, and attended protests and bought hybrid cars and switched to organic foods. Democrats are activists. Hillary Clinton means that she agrees with the 27 Democrats who vote Republican periodically. She agrees with James Carville or Chris Matthews or any of the so-called “Democratic strategists” who turn up on Fox News and bash the Democratic Party.
In over three dozen conversations with folks in Pennsylvania, a clear consensus emerged. Only one of the registered Democrats supported Clinton’s opinion of the “activist base,” and he seemed too intoxicated for a public appearance on these pages. Nobody wants a citation.
Linda Smith, a letter carrier in Philadelphia, said she was still undecided about who she would vote for. She opposes the war and says that she is angry when somebody puts her into a category for her opposition to the war. In reference to Clinton’s comments, Smith said, “It doesn’t bother me, but it upsets me.”
April Davis, a nurse in Philadelphia, said she is tired of feeling like Washington doesn’t care about popular opposition to the war in Iraq and doesn’t want another four years of it.
Arlene Roberts, an office manager, felt the same way, and took issue with the “activist base” label. “Everybody has a right to their own opinion,” Roberts said, “and just because they oppose the war doesn’t mean they should be categorized into a lump of people.”
Asked about her feelings toward Clinton, in light of Clinton’s remarks, Roberts said, “It really shows me what type of person she is. She says what she needs to say to the crowd she’s speaking to.” Roberts was also concerned that the story is receiving no attention from the same mainstream media that attacked Obama for an entire week over a couple of words.
Annelle Davidson, a stay-at-home mom from Pittsburgh, said she felt Clinton shouldn’t even be running as a Democrat. “There’s too many soldiers dying over there,” she said of the Iraq War, frustrated that it continues. “The president is supposed to represent the will of the people and he’s not listening.”
Lavera Brown lives in Pittsburgh, and she’s retired. “I’m uncomfortable with someone who would push away that many people,” Brown said. She felt that the activist base of the Democratic Party was in large part responsible for many of the advances in civil rights over the last 50 years. As for the media blackout of the story Brown said, “I’m always for equal coverage, and I don’t know why they ignored that quote, but I think it’s wrong.”
In contrast to the controversy over Obama’s statements at a fund raiser in San Francisco, which the books of Geoffrey Nunberg and Thomas Frank have largely validated, and the media had to dry spin to arrive at an interpretation of elitism, Clinton’s comments clearly articulate a world view that’s shockingly out of sync with the persona she has presented to voters and 90 percent of the Democratic Party.
The blackout is not a result of a saintly conversion in the corporate mass media in response to the protests against the manipulation and “gotcha” tactics in the ABC debate. In fact, the New York Times, though toned down, is still arguing the Obama-as-elite case.
“Whatever Senator Barack Obama meant by his less than artful remarks about small-town Pennsylvanians ‘bitter’ over lost jobs,” wrote Louis Uchitelle in this Sunday’s “Week in Review,” “he certainly turned a lot of attention last week to the decline of the American worker, bitter or not.”
Less than artful? Where is the attention for Clinton’s “less than artful” opinion of the Democratic base?
In contrast to the headlines declaring “Opponents Call Obama ‘Out of Touch’” that sprouted up in major papers and cable news immediately after the publication of his comments at a San Francisco fund raiser, major newspapers have relegated the story largely to their blogs, or have tucked it away at the bottom of substantive “news” articles with headlines announcing something else.
Until Clinton clarifies her feelings about the “activist base of the Democratic Party” publicly, there is a serious question mark surrounding her campaign. While the media continues to black out the tape’s revelation, an effort will continue online to spread word of its discovery.
The activists who are ready to vote for Clinton in Pennsylvania ought to know that she has different priorities when it comes to national security and foreign relations. They are looking for an end to this war, a de-escalation of American-led conflict throughout the world, and cooperation with the UN in its peace-keeping priorities. Clinton doesn’t agree. Either that or she’s talking about the fence in Mexico. I don’t know which would be more alarming as an indicator of her priorities.
If I’m wrong, I invite her to clarify exactly how and on which issues she disagrees with the “activist base of the Democratic Party” because she isn’t being clear about it in her campaign.