Barely faint praise for Hillary

The failure of too many on the left to acknowledge – even in a quiet voice and bland tone – that a huge glass ceiling was shattered for the FIRST time in our nation’s history on Tuesday night when Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Party nomination reveals little about Hillary, but speaks volumes about too large a section of the left. Namely, it brings to the surface its shortcomings on issues of gender, equality, and democratic rights. But also its one sidedness and lack of complexity in its analysis, its tendency to collapse everything into categories of class, its penchant to think that role of the left is to turn up the temperature and stake out the most radical position in every circumstance, and, not least, its inability to think strategically (that is to understand that political struggles issue from a very concrete study of the exact balance and dynamics of class and social forces operating at any given moment).

Note to a friend

Below is my note to a friend earlier this week. It’s my latest installment to a conversation that goes back to the beginning of this election season. In recent weeks much of our discussion, as you would probably guess, has revolved around Hillary, Bernie, and the upcoming Democratic Party primaries. While differences between us seem to take center stage in our conversations, I suspect that our divergent views are more a matter of different emphasis than something fundamental.  Anyway, here is my note:

“I can only say that your understanding of the nature of right wing extremist power, the imperative of defeating that power in the coming elections, and the dynamics that would ensue upon its defeat is very different than mine. But rather than going into our differences in any detail, I would only say this: The defeat of right wing extremism – Trump and all – in November is an absolutely necessary, if not sufficient, condition to any sustained and successful challenge to corporate power on a broad range of issues.

In other words, if you skip this stage of struggle, you can kiss goodbye any serious struggle against what Bernie calls “Establishment” politics and economics. But it is precisely this interconnection that Bernie hasn’t adequately or systematically articulated in the course of the primary contest between Hillary and himself.

This blank spot in his analysis, even as his campaign draws lots of people into struggle and creates a new sense of political possibility that goes beyond the centrist boundaries of the top leadership of the Democratic Party, misleads people new to politics on the one hand, and reinforces a sectarian strain on the left on the other insofar as it flattens out the differences in the policies, political representation, and social constituencies of  the Republicans and Democrats, tends to collapse the struggle for democracy and equality into categories of class and class struggle, and plays down the necessity of establishing diverse, broad, and complicated strategic and tactical alliances. In short, it simplifies the process of social change.

That may seem like no big deal, especially when people are in motion and thinking anew, but I would argue otherwise – partly from my own experience, but more so from my reading of history and its turning points.

One more thing, as positive and promising as the surge around Bernie’s candidacy is, its social composition is still too narrow, and thus its social power is limited. And it does no good when some of his supporters attempt to minimize or run away from this fact. A “political revolution” is, in the final analysis, the handiwork of only a movement of an “immense majority” (from “The Communist Manifesto”) that is heavily represented among working people, people of color, women and the young – not to mention able to elaborate a well considered strategy and employ a range of tactics and equipped with an inspiring and radical vision.

That’s my two cents. Next week, I will elaborate on all this in a post on my blog.”

Steph, Klay, and the Warriors

The Golden State Warriors are going to the NBA finals after beating the Oklahoma Thunder last night. For most analysts the return of the defending champions to the finals was unexpected after the Thunder went up 3-1 in the Western Conference finals. What changed the series’ momentum, dynamics, and outcome was, first of all, the Splash Brothers – Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. They are the best long range shooters the league has ever seen. Ray Allen was really good, great in fact. And Reggie Miller and Larry Bird could shoot the lights out at times. But no one has done it quite as well as this pair of marksmen. Steph and Klay have raised the bar and set a new standard.

What many people don’t appreciate is that their shooting prowess not only puts points on the scoreboard at a rapid clip, as it did in this series, but it also spreads the floor. This opens up driving, passing, and cutting lanes for the whole offense, while creating nightmares for the defense. Last night 7 foot Thunder center Steven Adams more than once found himself in the unenviable position of trying to defend Steph beyond the 3 point line and the results were predictable – 3 points for the Warriors.

But it would be a mistake to explain the Warriors success in this series (or the record breaking 73 wins this season) to the Splash Brothers alone. Steve Kerr, the Warriors coach, would be the first to admit that the Splash Brothers are incredibly gifted, but he would also add in the same breath that they win (and lose) as a team. At times overlooked, because of the brilliance of their two superstars, is their outstanding complementary players, some of whom are stars in their own right and all of whom make essential contributions to Golden State’s winning ways. A misconception of many basketball fans is the belief that it is enough to have two mega-stars to win a championship. Well, it isn’t.

Look at the great teams in the modern era – Bulls, Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, and Pistons. Each of them had outstanding role players too. And their play complemented the play of the stars, including at crunch time in the 4th quarter, when the outcome of a game rested on a timely shot, rebound, stolen pass, or defensive stop of a role player. John Paxon, Robert Horrey, and Mario Ellie are a few names of role players who won playoff games and championships for their team at game’s end.

Perhaps the most unappreciated aspect of the Warrior’s success is their defense. A refrain heard last night and this morning on sports talk is that the Thunder either collapsed under the pressure of the moment or reverted back to “Hero Ball” (which means that the two Thunder stars – Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – attempted to win games 6 and 7 on their own without involving their teammates in the offense).

While there’s some truth here, it also gives too little credit to the Warrior defense. In the 4th quarter of both games, the Warriors shut down the Thunder offense, including its two stars. They clogged driving and passing lanes, forced hurried shots and turnovers, came up with timely rebounds and steals, and contested everything.

When the pressure was on the Warriors did what great teams do – play good fundamental basketball, albeit Warrior style, on both ends of the court. That may sound easy enough, but when you’re in the spotlight and feeling the pressure of the moment, keeping to script and doing what got you there in the first place isn’t as easy to do as it might seem. Ask the Thunder, if you doubt me.

Moreover, whoever does this in the finals that begin Thursday night will more than likely be crowned the NBA champion. My guess is that the Warriors will.

Memorial Day and friendship

This is an article that I wrote a few years ago, honoring my friends who didn’t return from Vietnam. Much time has passed, but still miss them.

Just Thinking

I’m happy to hear the “Two Boys” aren’t going to battle/debate it out, wrestlemania style, before an audience of fervid supporters. The amount of sexism that has poured into the primary process with little opposition is surprising to me. Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if Hillary at this time in 2008 had floated the idea of a debate with John McCain? I assume there would be been a lot of outrage – and correctly so.

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