Monday, February 11, 2008

Out From Under!

(Art from The Amazing Spider-Man #33—In my opinion, one of the greatest pieces of Comic-Book storytelling ever done: By Steve Ditko—February 1966)

“I Did It! I'm Free!”

It's been a few days folks—yes, I know. But I'm “back” as it were. The hellacious deadline I was under from last weekend (when I actually couldn't watch the Super Bowl as closely as I would have liked because of working on a SUNDAY NIGHT?) bled into the week with corrections, third and fourth passes and finally, my having to learn a new piece of software in like...oh, twelve hours just to complete the job.

Got through it. Like Spidey up above there, managing to push away those tons of steel imprisoning him. Whew!

But my being buried doesn't mean I couldn't see what was going on around me in this world.

And oh, my. What things went on!

Lord, what a day. This was an extremely rough one for me schedule -wise and I almost didn't get a chance to vote, but I did. And I found myself thunderstruck by what I was seeing. I ran an errand near the end of the day and found myself going through a few sections of Brooklyn tracking down a person and a photo I desperately needed in addition to trying to cast my vote. I couldn't help but notice something in my whole “Where's Waldo”-esque trip...

Ye olde County of Kings—Brooklyn, from the foot of Roebling's famous Bridge in Downtown, through Fort Greene, Bed Stuy, Park Slope, Crown and Prospect Heights was Barack Obama country. EVERYWHERE I looked—in nearly every barber shop, nail salon, cheesy deli, travel agency and restaurant there was posted an “Obama '08” sign.

Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but you've got to understand something about Brooklyn. Up until the late seventies, the borough was the fourth largest city in the country all by itself—behind the other four boroughs combined, Chicago and Los Angeles. The population is officially 2.1 million people, but if you count the folks the census missed, it's probably closer to 2.3-2.4 million. I couldn't find a Hillary Clinton for President sign anywhere. These areas—the densest populated sections of the borough had been ceded it seemed to Obama's campaign.

In the end, according to exit polling Clinton narrowly took Brooklyn by two percentage points—50% to 48%. A bit surprising to me considering how Obama's coverage seemed near complete there, but overall I guess it was kind of stunning. This is Senator Clinton's town and in its most populous area she barely managed to eke out a victory. She took the whole city fairly handily 57% to 40%, but quite honestly, she should have swamped him here. I fully expected the Dem machine here (as levered by Harlem Rep. Charlie Rangel and his fellow elected Clinton supporters) to pull out all the stops to ensure a resounding, home-court beat-down. I didn't figure him to be able to get 40% of the vote...but he did.

Conversely, in Illinois that day, his machine steamed, spun and mowed to a 66% to 33% victory—effectively doubling her vote total. Was it “the machine” or was it something else in addition to “the machine”?

A faint whiff of...momentum?

Let me keep it brutally real...I'm NOT a huge believer in the idea of “momentum” in political campaigns. Every state and it's cities within have their own sets of concerns, pet peeves and hot-button voting issues.

And yet...

Something seems to be in the air. Not a landslide or anything like that, but a detectable shift in the direction of the political wind. That shift is what closed the considerable gap in California from what was 30 points to the end result of 52% to 42%. In spite of an undeniable surge on Obama's behalf, (something noted by more than a few friends out there) the crazy polling, particular the now-supremely questionable Zogby having Obama ahead, it was almost impossible for him to take the state considering how far behind he was in early mail-in voting—and Clinton's surrogates fingers on the scale all over the place. Senators Feinstein and Boxer, L.A.'s Mayor Villaraigosa as well as much of the Congressional delegation were in the bag and flexed accordingly. But somehow, those early returns with Clinton at 59% and Obama at 32-33% wound up at night's end at a spread of just under 10 points—51% to 42%. A thoroughly convincing win, but taking into account what was at Senator Clinton's disposal influence-wise—not enough to snow Obama under with the 370-plus delegates at stake.

According to pundits, exit polls and my own contacts out there, the winning factor for Senator Clinton was the Latino vote. And if you've ever spent any length of time in Cali—particularly Southern California, you understand the potential numerical power of the Latino voting bloc. In the last 15 years their numbers have simply exploded...while the Black population...

...sits somewhere at around nine or ten percent.

I have gone upwards of 90 minutes in sections of L.A. without seeing more than two Black faces.

Why do I bring this up? Simply because of how L.A., Cali's most populous county's demographic breakdown indicates a potential issue for Obama's candidacy. The California Congressional delegation has smartly spent the last decade heavily courting the Latino populace and cultivating them as loyal voters. The outreach efforts of Boxer and Feinstein and the state's party, as well as the canny pushing of strong candidates like the Sanchez sisters (Rep. Loretta Sanchez thankfully kicked the batshit “B-1” Bob Dornan's racist ass into the Santa Ana River a few years back.) has been a boon to the group. And they very much identify with the administration under which that push really took place—the two Clinton terms in the 90's.

The problem here though is a multi-faceted one for Obama. As the Black population of L.A. is so small and the Latino one is virtually booming, there is a power dynamic at play there that has caused quite a schism between the two groups. A friend of my wife's who lives in San Diego has totally bought into the whole GOP anti-immigration shpiel, and since being laid off from her job now routinely e-mails my wife the most scurrilous, Malkinesque anti-Latino tracts you've ever seen. The whole “they're taking all of our jobs, wrecking our schools, opening too many 'El Pollo Locos' in Silverlake” shpiel. It's another version of Miami's Cuban/African American hate-fest come to life. More than a few Black folks in Cali see the ascendant Latin power as a threat and have gone xenophobic as a defense mechanism. Said ascendant Latin population rightfully sees a chance to amass power and are naturally identifying with “the power structure” the African Americans never quite accessed.

My buddy and writing partner “M” who lives out in Sherman Oaks, an L.A. suburb noted to me earlier in the week the Obama surge he was sensing, but also the wariness the two groups—Blacks and Latinos were palpably eyeing each other with.

“It ain't like it is back there (meaning NY).”, “M” said. “Puerto Ricans and Dominicans may not love us in New York, and we've got our issues with them too, but we actually have to live together, work together, and travel together every day. Out here, everybody's so scattered. Black people are sprinkled here and there, and Latin folks are where they are. No solidarity. No kinship. And we're at each other's throats for a piece of the pie.”

That snapshot is a panorama of what the West looks like—New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. All of them saw Latin muscle bulk up during the Clinton years and identify that success with Bill and Hillary Clinton—thus the longstanding allegiance. Obama's managed to peel away some of the younger segment as they're not as conscious of and didn't benefit as directly from the Clinton years.

The East coast—outside of the freaky geo-political stew that is South Florida is a different story. In the heaviest concentrated cities, the Black and Latin populations intermingle with great regularity. There's a greater shared experience and a tendency to in spite of base cultural differences get behind candidates of color. But those cities are not the coming powers electorally for Latinos.

That would be the West.

And the West is Hillary Clinton's firewall against the seeming Obama “wildfiire”.

I didn't think he'd take Maine yesterday. I guessed he'd lose by about five to seven percentage points, taking Mainers bucking “trends” when going to the ballot. I was frankly, stunned. Caucus or no, I assumed they'd buck the tide and re-center things. And I—and not just I—was taken aback by that.

Something's up kiddies.

And what with the Clinton campaign's mounting troubles—money woes, and the internal scrapping that led to to the personnel shuffling (lateral moves, it what you will) this weekend, it doesn't take a genius to see what it is that's up. Ain't a damn thang over, but...but...

Well, I'll let a politically-connected friend from Harlem say it:

“Yeah, the Clinton campaign is pissed. But it's not on the racial tip as far as I can tell. They're pissed, and their people who are backin' em' behind the scenes are pissed because Obama's already hurt them badly. He's forcing their hand in ways they weren't ready for. He's the guy you remember out there on the stump. You can't follow him. It's like goin' on after James at The Apollo. He's raised the bar so high as far as moving the crowd that he's forced his way into a real power position at the convention and afterward. If they diss him should they get the nom, and he decides to play it cool and dial his vocal support back to say...a six instead of a ten, they. Are. Fucked. He may have made himself indispensable. But of course, if he really does sandbag her should things not go his way, he could fuck himself with the party—them thinking he's selfish and not looking at the big picture. It's strange how he's impacted things. He's clearly the poster-child for the next generation of the party. And the real shit-kicker is...the money. The fucking money. The Clinton campaign is spending money they had NO INTENTION OF EVER SPENDING because everything was supposed to be sewn up on the February 5th at the latest. Nobody had any reliable polls for Maine because Maine wasn't even supposed to matter. Now look! Money's tight, there's backbiting on the campaign bus? We're actually talking about brokered conventions and super-delegates—which nobody's ever said “boo” about. Shit. It is on. All because Alma's (Charlie Rangel's wife) dude's on fire. The roof! The roof! The roof's on fire...”

Hot stuff, indeed.


On the David Shuster/MSNBC/“Pimpin' Ain't Easy” flap. I have defended and cheered on David Shuster here at GNB in the past, particularly over his tough, combative bent when confronted with freeper spin. His takedown of the sappy wingnut Marsha Blackburn over her surge stance and brain-atrophying stupidity was delicious. When her blogospheric supporters tried to smack him down for it on a technicality, he apologized, only to in the end be proven right in what he said.

But his inane comment about Chelsea Clinton being “pimped out” was just sillyfuck verbal diarrhea that he should have been sanctioned for. Plain and simple. One of the failings of modern journalism is the loss of discerning command of the language. Time was, folks toiled over typewriters, chewing over every word they chose to use. Those days are gone with the near instantaneous nature of the news cycle and the clawing desire of today's practitioners to attain mega-viewer and mega-buck stardom. Shuster however works at MSNBC, where in spite of Keith Olbermann's being the star player, the idiotic, sexually hung-up Chris Matthews is the loudest bench jockey on the team. He's followed by the soon-to-be gone, prettily-coiffed, and equally sexist dolt Tucker Carlson.

Plus, remember that this was also Imus' network and the likes of Matthews, Brokaw and Russert were all upset with his dismissal. For all their anti-Foxishness, there is a nasty old-boy's vibe in the air there—no doubt. And in the atmosphere of all that sticky testosterone and competitiveness, (with the on-air slot situation being in flux) Shuster I think played to the cheap seats, popping off without thinking fully about the measure of his words while consciously trying to be pithy and brash.

He fucked up.

And fucked up by touching the third rail that is rough talk about Chelsea Clinton. I'm not down with the untouchability of candidate's “children” after they are grown adults and on the trail for Mom and Dad. I'm talking about Chelsea Clinton's being the butt of jokes and hard talk since she was an innocent adolescent. Limbaugh savaged her on-air and the thorazine-needing McCain did so without prompting years ago as well. Hubris cited it here a couple of days ago, and the irony of that is that McCain's own adopted daughter was made the butt of scurrilous attack by political opponents a mere eight years ago. Shuster's playing fast and loose at the mouth with someone whose been taken advantage of before like that was a dumb move.

And as Sen. Clinton's been trashed there by the more-prominent Matthews and Carlson every day in ugly sexist ways and called on it, when the less-prominent (and thus, more vulnerable) Shuster line-stepped and her people squawked—loudly, something had to give. Not only was he wrong in throwing around rough language at a sensitized target, but he exposed the network to criticism in a way that gave them an out to punish someone other than their stars. So he was suspended. He should have been for an idiotic utterance. It was Newt Gingrich who during a bruising battle with Bill Clinton (which he was losing) said to his discombobulated GOP compatriots “Never give Clinton the chance to look like a victim...he'll beat you every time.”

Gingrich's warning to his colleagues holds true in this instance. The Clinton team beat MSNBC silly—to the point where in addition to sidelining Shuster, they ran an unscheduled “Headliners and Legends” bio on Hillary Clinton several times in the following days as obvious penance for the net's misdeeds against her.

Shuster deserved a strong reprimand. He deserves a suspension. But he ain't the only one. He's paying for Matthews' and Carlson's sins in addition to his own—and they've done far worse for far longer. So a little perspective is in order. I don't think he was calling Chelsea Clinton a “whore” or Senator Clinton a “pimp”. But it's such a loaded word directed at someone whose already been so harshly and unfairly characterized in the past that it was never going to go well.

It would do my heart proud to see Carlson's twisted “Hillary's gonna castrate me”, and Matthews' every-two-days sexistly stupid statements be held to the same level of scrutiny and punished just as harshly as Shuster's ill-directed and unfortunate blabbing...but somehow, I doubt it.

And with that my friends, your regular musings from Your Friendly Neighborhood LowerManhattanite now resume.

NOTE: Nothing in this post should be construed as an endorsement of either Democratic candidate for president. It is an article with facts and opinions about politics. I have not made up my mind, and GNB is not endorsing any candidate until there is a clear nominee. I intend to add this to all my political posts from now till we have a nominee.