Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The racist heart of PUMA politics

It's surreal to recall just how twisted the racism of Hillary Clinton's 2008 PUMAs actually was. Consider, for example, their odious insistance that Barack Obama could only win the election as an affirmative action president. On one level, this was just standard-issue right-wing colorblindism, directly at odds with the foundational progressive position that affirmative action is actually Good. But the complaint was even more odious on another level given the fact that Obama was the better candidate with or without any special consideration. In this light, the affirmative action argument simply expressed the basic PUMA belief - obviously borne of racism - that Obama was inherently inferior and could only win given some kind of extra advantage.

The psychology here is relevant, because seven years later we're still seeing it in modern PUMA advocacy.

As Madeline Klein notes, one of the most common arguments for electing Clinton has been quite explicit: "after Barack Obama made history as our first Black president, it [has] seemed time for Clinton to make history again as the first female president." At this point, that refrain - "make history again" - has essentially evolved into an unofficial slogan of Clinton's 2016 campaign.

But I wonder what the President (and what other black Americans) think about this notion that we should vote for Clinton to make history again - as if we simply voted for Obama "to make history". There's an unmistakeable continuity between that premise and the PUMA characterization of Obama as an "affirmative action president" who didn't earn the nomination on his own. When you recognize this, you'll notice that the sentiment, among today's PUMAs, is everywhere:
I voted for Barack Obama during the 2008 primary. It wasn’t that I thought he was any better on the issues than Hillary Clinton—they appeared to be nearly identical in all important matters—or that I had any particular problem with Clinton. I just felt, all other things being equal, he was running a better campaign and I wanted to reward him for it.
It seems fairly clear to me what's happening here. Amanda Marcotte magnanimously "rewards" Obama for incidentally "running a better campaign" - even as she denies that he was the better candidate, and even (insanely) crediting his victory over Clinton to shenanigans by John McCain. And now that she's done Obama this generous favor, it's time to make history again.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with making history, just like there's nothing wrong with affirmative action! It would be perfectly legitimate to admit that Clinton is not a great candidate, but to insist that we should elect her anyway, since the good of putting a woman into the White House would outweigh all of her bad politics and personal failings. That's a completely orthodox progressive argument, and I would love to see the Clintonite honest enough to make it. What is not progressive is to pretend that Obama was an affirmative action president, and to expect us to make history again on that basis - either because it would be neat to do it twice in a row, or (gross) out of some weird sense of reciprocal obligation. Obama owes Hillary Clinton nothing for his victory, and neither do his voters.