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Home | Politics | Nasty, Brutish, and Short: McCain's America

Nasty, Brutish, and Short: McCain's America

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Isn't it time we let the adults back into the White House?

Part I of this series explored the McCain-as-maverick media meme and the question posed by journalist Todd Purdum, of whether John McCain possessed the guile necessary to win the presidency. 

"They call it the White House, but that's a temporary condition."  (George Clinton)

Smack dab in the middle of the podium is a sign that says 'Country First.'  The words come in a stilted fashion; the speaker looks down as he reads, then up, then down, glancing up for emphasis at the end of a thought to cue the lily white audience in to the applause lines.  They respond vigorously but slightly off-time, as if the 'APPLAUD' lights off-camera are a beat behind the speaker. 

The speech brims over with populist sentiment.  The candidate being introduced will "shake up Washington" and "stand up to those...who put power over principle."  She is a leader with "strong principles," "deep compassion," and a "fierce devotion to the common good."  In essence, says the speaker, "When you get to know her, you're gonna be as impressed as I am."

With Sarah Palin's introduction, and in his speech six days later at the Republican National Convention, John McCain revived a shopworn narrative:  despite twenty-six years spent in the Western world’s pay-to-play capital, Washington D.C., and a campaign staff run by lobbyists (177 have passed through the campaign so far) thick with gambling connections, he, not Barack Obama, was the true candidate of change and reform.  At one time McCain’s servants in the mainstream press could have been counted on to parrot this line and thereby bestow on it a patina of legitimacy, but McCain’s naked lust for power during the campaign – as manifested in a mind-numbing number of flip-flops and hard-right turns – had convinced many journalists that he wasn’t really a maverick, and that he deserved the same level of scrutiny as any other presidential nominee. 

PALIN_684544821.jpgWithin a media blink of an eye, Sarah Palin’s Mrs. Smith-Goes-to-Washington routine was outed as pure fabrication, from her endlessly-repeated claim to have stopped the Bridge to Nowhere to her attacks on earmarks that she had aggressively sought.  Like many a petty dictator, Palin had used her power to reduce her own workload, steer favors to family and friends, and settle scores, both as mayor of Wasilla, where her viciousness shocked the locals, and as governor, where she deep-sixed the public safety commissioner for refusing to fire her ex brother-in-law.

Of more significance than Palin’s rank dishonesty is her confounding ignorance about foreign policy (“I can see Russia from my front porch”) and her public record.  On the cusp of the 21st Century, Mayor Palin looked into banning books at the local library, and when the librarian refused to cooperate, Palin threatened to fire her.  Mayor Palin also supported a regressive sales tax and left her constituents with 20 million dollars of debt, largely to fund a hockey rink, though her hand-picked police chief said Wasilla couldn't afford rape kits for victims of sexual assault.  As governor, Palin is among a shrinking number of flat-earthers that deny the firmly-established human connection to global warming and believe creationism should be taught in public schools, which is not terribly surprising for someone who once claimed that humans and dinosaurs co-existed 6,000 years ago.   

Palin is quick to exploit her Down syndrome baby as a symbol of her compassion, yet she has shown a marked hostility to many different forms of plant and animal life.  She supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and presumably any other pristine landscape that has carefully evolved over millions of years, if the price is right.  She subsidized the gunning down of wolves from airplanes, opposed efforts to protect endangered Beluga whales, and sued Bush’s Interior Department to keep polar bears off of the endangered species list.  And though she initially helped McCain get a 20-point bounce in the polls among white women, Palin backs a barefoot-and-pregnant agenda that includes opposition to sex education and a woman’s right to choose, even in cases of rape or incest.   

all_smiles_176595315.jpgIn the area of women’s issues, Palin follows McCain’s lead.  Though McCain has convinced many political dilettantes that he is independent-minded due to his rhetorical fake to the middle in the 2000 presidential election and his temperate bearing in the land of the talking heads, McCain’s voting record has been mainly right-wing for 26 years, and rarely more so than on women’s issues.  Among many examples, McCain has backed abstinence-only education and parental notification for teen contraception but opposed teen pregnancy prevention programs, and voted against a bill that would have made abstinence-only programs pass scientific muster.  He has opposed public funding for birth control for low-income women, including desperately impoverished women overseas, and voted against a bill that would have forced insurance companies to cover women’s contraceptives.  He has even opposed equal pay for equal work.  His indifference to these issues is exemplified by the following exchange, as cited in The New Republic:

[at a press conference], when a journalist asked him whether he thought contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV, he paused--for much too long--then answered, "You've stumped me." The reporter asked whether U.S. taxpayer money should fund contraception to prevent aids in Africa. "I'm not very wise on it," McCain said. What about grants for sex education? A long pause, then, "Ahhh. I think I support the president's policy." And, when the reporter pressed again, he finally said (after a reported twelve-second pause), "I've never gotten into these issues before"--an odd statement, given that he has voted on legislation related to all of them.     

Moreover, McCain has consistently opposed the right to choose, 125 out of 130 times during his career, according to NARAL.  As he bragged to the National Review:   “I have many, many votes and it’s been consistent…I’ve got a consistent zero from NARAL throughout all those years…My record is clear.”  In addition, McCain was one of only 30 senators to oppose the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act signed by Bill Clinton after a rash of clinic violence in the early 90s. 

Fortunately for McCain, a big number of his supporters are unaware of his record on choice.  When Planned Parenthood polled 1,205 women in 16 battleground states last February, they found that 50% of those polled didn’t know McCain’s stance on the issue of abortion, 49% of those who did support McCain were pro-choice, and 46% of the women supporting McCain wanted to see Roe v. Wade upheld. 

McCain_tongue_shot_326325336.jpgIf the election is close, one of the most important factors on November 4th could well be McCain’s race against the clock to keep pro-choice supporters in the dark not only about his votes on legislation but on what kind of judges he would appoint to the federal courts.  At a recent forum with Pastor Rick Warren, when asked which judges on the current Supreme Court he would not have nominated, McCain mentioned the four center-left judges, and then singled out George W. Bush’s two right-wing choices as being of special merit.  In plain English, this means that if McCain becomes president, and any of the current five judges supporting Roe retires, Roe will be overturned, and a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions will be up to the voters in the state in which she lives, just as it was in the glory days of cross-border road trips and back alley abortions.  

Along with the end of Roe, a McCain replacement of any of the four center-left Supreme Court judges would further erode or dismantle clean air, water, endangered species and consumer protection laws, school integration, the separation of church and state, voting rights, gay rights, free speech, civil liberties, employment discrimination claims, and checks on runaway executive power.  Currently the Supreme Court justices most likely to retire are 88 year-old John Paul Stevens, the court’s most liberal member and the second oldest justice in history, and 75 year-old Ruth Ginsburg, also in the center-left block, a survivor of colon cancer.  Even if these two judges hang on for another four years, assaults on every progressive priority under the sun would continue with John McCain’s appointees to the lower courts, where the vast majority of cases are decided. 

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Among George W. Bush’s many unique achievements has been the stewardship of an economy that has technically been growing for six years, while simultaneously increasing the number of people in poverty and the ranks of the medically uninsured by six million a first in recorded history.  Barack Obama is understandably seizing every opportunity to connect John McCain to George W. Bush, but it shouldn’t really be necessary, as McCain’s economic priorities are crystal clear:  though he constantly talks about the need for a new spirit of selflessness and sacrifice in the country, McCain’s economic plans are indistinguishable from the supply-side snake oil Republicans have been peddling ever since Ronald Reagan. 

As could be expected of someone with thirteen automobiles who doesn’t know how many homes he owns, John McCain has made an election season pivot to support a whole slew of tax cuts for the most privileged Americans.  In 2001, McCain said of Bush’s tax cuts “I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans who most need tax relief.”  In 2005, McCain told a reporter for the Wall Street Journal “I just thought [Bush’s tax cut] was too tilted to the wealthy, and I still do…We have a wealth gap in this country, and that worries me.”  But faced with a lack of enthusiasm among the financial bloodsuckers that have long owned and operated the Republican Party, McCain has not only done a 180 on Bush’s tax cuts but has also promised to ladle out even more gravy to the fat cats.  A recent study put out by the Government Accountability Office found that two-thirds of American corporations paid no taxes at all from 1998-2005, but McCain wants to cut corporate tax rates from 35% to 25%.  Though McCain likes to refer to himself as a “fiscal conservative” and grandstands often about his opposition to the pittance the U.S. government spends on earmarks, his handouts to the filthy rich are expected to add between 350 and 450 billion dollars a year to the national debt, and even more when the compounded interest is added in.   

let_them_eat_cake_297205725.jpgWhile McCain is overflowing with generosity toward the sliver of well-connected people who write campaign checks to his party, to the bread-and-butter concerns of struggling Americans he says, let them eat cake.  Earlier this year McCain made an obligatory stop in New Orleans to try to atone for one of his party’s most catastrophic failures of governance, yet on the day that underfunded levees unleashed a hell on earth, McCain and Bush stood on an airport tarmac grinning before cameras over McCain’s birthday cake.  McCain followed up with several votes against relief for the victims of Katrina and opposition to an investigation of FEMA’s mismanagement of the crisis.  The disparity between McCain’s words and his deeds is crass, but entirely consistent with his indifference to the fates of the less fortunate.  Even as he opposes a measure to increase taxes on oil companies that are hauling in record profits, McCain has voted against minimum wage increases nineteen times, and hasn’t bothered to produce an urban agenda to confront America’s shame in the inner cities.  While Barack Obama has called this long-running concern America’s biggest moral failing, McCain’s website doesn’t even mention poverty in its ‘Issues’ tab.       

At a time when forty-six million Americans have no health insurance, tens of millions more have inadequate coverage, and premiums continue to rise far faster than wages, McCain is mainly focused on reinforcing the decades-long symbiotic relationship between the Republican Party and parasitic insurance companies by further commodifying healthcare.  While Barack Obama has had a plan on the table for several months that gets the U.S. close to universal coverage, McCain’s healthcare blueprint is nothing but a slapdash campaign document designed to blunt Obama’s advantage on the issue.  McCain’s plan, such as it is, scuttles the current employer-based system in favor of individual and family tax credits of $2,500 and $5,000 with the far-fetched idea that citizens will suddenly become savvy healthcare consumers, bringing costs down through the magic of smart shopping.  This might work for the young and healthy interested in the cheapest, most bare-bones coverage, but allowing them to opt out of the risk pool would raise costs for everyone else by spreading medical expenses across a smaller, costlier population.   And As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has pointed out,  a $5,000 family tax credit is inadequate to the task, considering that the average family premium is $12,000 annually.        

McCain’s plan does next to nothing to help the tens of millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, including McCain himself, who has had multiple brushes with cancer. In fact, under his own plan, McCain might not be able to get coverage unless he was willing to shell out tens thousands of dollars annually, as people with pre-existing conditions would likely be subjected to initial waiting periods of six months to a year during which they would pay medical expenses out of pocket.  In sum, McCain’s robotic preference for privatization would exacerbate one of the central dysfunctions of our current system, in which Americans pay twice as much as anyone else in the industrialized world.  Under McCain Care®, an inordinate amount of our healthcare dollar would continue to be eaten up by the steep administrative costs associated with advertising and the man hours spent on risk assessment (intended to exclude those who need care the most), operational aspects that have everything to do with maximizing private sector profits and nothing to do with improving care.  The one good thing about McCain's proposal is that it's only a front, as he knows it's dead on arrival with congressional Democrats seeking real healthcare reform. 

If recent history is any guide, we have a good idea of what to expect if McCain’s Dickensian vision of crumbs for the masses and fat tax breaks for the patrician class comes to pass.  While Bill Clinton raised taxes on the richest 1.4% and increased government assistance to the poor and working-class, George W. Bush put social services on a diet and diverted government revenue to defense spending and the upper echelons of the investor class.  The stark contrast in approach was followed by an equally stark contrast in results:  1)  Clinton turned the biggest deficits in history into the biggest surpluses, while Bush followed Ronald Reagan’s precedent in saddling future generations with record amounts of debt; 2) the Clinton boom produced as many jobs in two years on average as Bushonomics did in two whole terms, and as many jobs in two terms as were created by Reagan and both Bushes combined; and 3) while Bill Clinton’s economic expansion lifted all boats, George W. Bush’s expansion was mostly unnoticed by the average worker, though one in a thousand saw astronomical gains in their portfolios.  It would be reasonable to expect more of the same of McCainonomics, unless a Democratic Congress could successfully check his destructive impulses.

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“For eight years, Clinton and Gore have extended our military commitments while depleting our military power. Rarely has so much been demanded of our armed forces, and so little given to them in return. George W. Bush and I are going to change that, too. I have seen our military at its finest, with the best equipment, the best training, and the best leadership. I'm proud of them. I have had the responsibility for their well-being. And I can promise them now, help is on the way. Soon, our men and women in uniform will once again have a commander in chief they can respect, one who understands their mission and restores their morale.”

-Dick Cheney, in his VP acceptance speech in 2000  

Prosperity__peace_101200687.jpgThough he is Scrooge when it comes to extending health benefits to disadvantaged children with no coverage, John McCain – who often makes self-referential comments about being a “limited government conservative” - has been a consistent supporter of steroidal government when it comes to feeding America's insatiable military-industrial monster.  

Fortunately for McCain, this glaring contradiction is rarely called out because America’s corpulent defense budget and our sprawling network of oil-protection bases abroad (and the disastrous historical precedents and profoundly undemocratic portents therein) are not discussed in polite society.  This climate of denial, in a country long steeped in military fetishization, makes McCain’s status as a former POW his trump card.  Whether expressing stern “regret” that he has no choice but to vote to impeach a highly popular president for lying about a blowjob, or fending off attacks on his puzzling opposition to a recent GI Bill designed to expand educational opportunities for veterans with feigned outrage, McCain forever poses himself as a jut-jawed military man who is always to be taken at face value.  His actual record of strongly supporting decisions that have needlessly put troops in harm’s way, and his many votes opposing expanded benefits for veterans (and what these stances say about his character and judgment) can’t be questioned because he’s a man or honor.

McCain’s carefully crafted persona is buffeted by the fact that he could have been released earlier (due to his father’s status as a commander of American forces during the Vietnam War) but chose to remain in captivity with his fellow POWs, where he was tortured on repeated occasions.  Yet despite the dehumanization McCain experienced, he has given mixed messages on the use of torture and treatment of prisoners of war. 

In June of 2006, in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that George W. Bush’s policy of indefinite detention of enemy combatants was unconstitutional.  Eager to reverse this rare limitation on Bush’s expansive executive power and milk their “toughness on terrorism” theme to the max just before the upcoming congressional elections, the Republican Congress quickly drew up a bill (The Military Commissions Act of 2006) which gave the president the right to indefinitely detain anyone labeled an “enemy combatant.”  The bill also opened the way for the steamrolling of the Geneva Conventions, the gold standard of international human rights, by codifying torture into law.

Initially, McCain joined two other Republican senators in loudly criticizing the language on torture in the bill.  Multiple television appearances plugged McCain’s image as a principled, independent leader, and his public protestations helped to force a re-write of the torture language in the bill.  However, after all the sound and fury, the bill passed through the Senate and on to a House-Senate conference committee, where the torture language was re-written again to allow the government to inflict “serious pain” (but not severe pain.) 

In the end, the bill that was signed into law gutted Habeas Corpus, the 800 year-old legal principle that the government must bring charges against someone under arrest or let them go.  The bill also denied the right to appeal in the federal courts, allowed the gathering of evidence without a warrant, and gave retroactive immunity to members of the CIA who had engaged in torture.  Short of being able to legally inflict “severe pain,” Bush got everything he wanted, as did McCain, whose meaningless stage act of defiance got heavy press and gave much of the public the false impression that a balanced piece of legislation had been passed.  As McCain said once the bill was signed, “We’re all winners.  I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished.” 

McCain’s masterful manipulation of the Military Commissions episode played up his image as a foreign policy sage, a perception he uses as a basis to continually question Barack Obama’s readiness to be commander-in-chief.  Yet despite his undeniable knowledge of foreign policy, McCain seems to have learned nothing from the Vietnam War, or the wider scope of colonial history which shows that imperial powers are always ultimately driven from the lands they occupy. 

Outside of the Bush Administration, no one has greater ownership of the Iraq War than John McCain.  Like Bush, McCain saw 9/11 as a window of opportunity to attack Iraq, and also like Bush, McCain repeatedly lied to the public about the threat level from Saddam Hussein and the status of operations on the ground after the invasion. 

In October 2001, McCain speculated – incorrectly – that the recent anthrax attacks may have come from Iraq.  Three weeks later McCain told Larry King that Saddam Hussein was “developing weapons of mass destruction as quickly as he can” and that lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta was connected to Iraqi intelligence, false charges McCain repeated on ABC a month later.  In September of 2002, McCain wrote in the New York Times that “I am very certain that this military engagement will not be very difficult.”  In late 2002, McCain repeated that “Saddam Hussein is on a crash course to construct a nuclear weapon.”  In February of 2003, McCain wrote in USA Today of Saddam Hussein’s “enormous stockpile of the world’s worst weapons” and again drew a non-existent connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.  In the weeks before the U.S. invasion, McCain said that the conflict would be “relatively short,” echoed Dick Cheney’s line about American troops being “greeted as liberators,” and told Chris Matthews, incredibly, that “there’s not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias.  So I think they can get along.”

In August of 2004, as civil war erupted and the pre-war lies about WMDs and al Qaeda connections were made plain, McCain wrote in an article titled ‘Hard Truth’ that “Only the most deluded of us could doubt the necessity of this war.”  In December of 2005, McCain said “We will see significant progress in the next six months to a year,” just before a huge spike in violence. 

stroll_through_the_market_368720223.jpgFittingly, on April Fool’s Day 2007, on a day in which four American troops and two dozen Iraqis went to their maker, McCain took a stroll through a Baghdad market before the cameras to suggest that Iraq was becoming safer.  It soon came out that McCain had been relaxed because he was protected by “more than a hundred American soldiers, three Black Hawk helicopters, two Apache gunships and a bulletproof vest” not available to the average Iraqi.  The very next day 21 Iraqis perished on the very same spot, just twenty-one of the over-500 who died in Iraq that week.  One might think that this egg-in-the face moment would have tempered McCain, but earlier this year he performed the same contortions when speaking to an audience in Wisconsin, referring to the city of Mosul as “quiet” on the same day in which 30 people died in suicide bombings.  Four months later, Mosul is still a war zone.         

In early 2007, while falsely claiming to have known and said all along how challenging the occupation of Iraq would be, McCain was vocal in his support of George W. Bush’s troop surge.  The relative stabilization of Iraq in the time since has taken the war off the front pages and seemingly vindicated McCain (and undercut Obama, as he opposed the surge), but the far more important judgment call was whether or not the U.S. should have invaded Iraq in the first place.  Ownership of this decision includes not only ownership of the breathtakingly cynical deception and motives that powered the invasion forward, from helping Republicans re-gain control of the Senate in the 2002 elections (short term) to getting our greedy mitts on the world’s second largest oil supply (long term), but ownership of the four million refugees the invasion produced, the hundreds of thousands of Americans and Iraqis dead or physically or psychologically disfigured, the widespread destruction of many of the world’s greatest cultural treasures, and the ill will the U.S. has created internationally and concomitant plunge in American prestige. 

bridge_collapse_221258334.jpgIn addition, the war has already pissed away more than half a trillion dollars of taxpayer money.  This diversion of funds has bled the elemental priorities of a civilized society back home, translating into budget cuts for hospitals, shuttered libraries, collapsing bridges, closed nursing homes, and education cuts, including pink slips for teachers.  Meanwhile, Iraqis struggle with 50% unemployment, a lack of access to electricity and clean water, and a breakdown in institutions and basic public services, in part due to the brain drain of middle-class professionals precipitated by the invasion and subsequent civil war.  Ironically, a war for oil hasn’t even produced cheap gas - the cost of a barrel of oil has quadrupled since the invasion – and despite a major loss of blood and treasure, the unprovoked invasion hasn’t met its originally stated goal of making us safer.  The U.S. military’s readiness (abroad and at home) and recruitment standards are down, suicide bombings are up, and the networks that orchestrated 9/11 – and their allies - are resurgent due to the transfer of resources from Afghanistan to a war of choice on Iraq. 

Despite the nightmarish reality of this reckless experiment in force projection, McCain, like Bush, prefers jingoism and macho posturing to negotiation, as is best evidenced in his approach to Iran.  While Bush has threatened to level a potentially disastrous attack on Iran for years, his war on Iraq has actually strengthened Iran, which has gone from having a Sunni enemy to a Shiite ally next door, courtesy of the American taxpayer.  Though John McCain has derided Barack Obama repeatedly as being weak because he said he would be willing to sit down with Iran to try to defuse their potential nuclear threat, it was the Bush Administration's rejection of Iran's peaceful overtures in 2003,  when Iran’s nuclear program was nascent, which midwifed the current predicament.  Now Iran is as powerful as ever, swimming in oil revenues and moving toward a nuclear program that could recalibrate the whole balance of power in the Middle East.  McCain’s feeling about this perilous situation was best represented by his making light of bombing Iran to the tune of “Barbara Anne” by the Beach Boys before an audience of true believers.  While five former Secretaries of State, including three Republicans, recently endorsed a civil dialogue with Iran, McCain presents voters with a false choice between bloodshed and appeasement and sabotages an opportunity to lead a sober dialogue about one of the greatest challenges we face as a nation.  

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This election is not about issues.”

 -John McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis

The feeling right after the Republican Convention was eerily similar to the dark days of September 2004:  led by Karl Rove disciple Steve Schmidt, McCain-Palin were running an empty campaign full of fantastic lies centered on mythical personas that was paying off in public opinion polls.  It looked like maybe, somehow, despite the staggering failures of leadership over the past eight years, we would be in for another election about nothing, a prerequisite for a Republican victory. 

Then came the market crash.

foreclosure_phil_151378007.jpgAt what would have been the perfect moment for straight talk, the day that the Dow Jones tanked more than 500 points, John McCain said that the economy was “fundamentally sound.”  McCain had no choice but to lie because the violent market fluctuations of the past few weeks are what one could rightly call the invisible backhand:  the culmination of thirty years of Reaganite anti-regulatory gospel to which McCain has long subscribed, with special props to former Senator Phil Gramm, until recently McCain’s chief economic advisor.  As James Galver of the University of Texas put it, Phil Gramm was “the most aggressive advocate of every predatory and rapacious element that the financial sector has…[a] sorcerer’s apprentice of instability and disaster in the financial system.”

McCain’s first instinct was to propose the usual D.C. stall tactic of creating a commission to “study” the stone-obvious hows and whys of the Dow dive.  When that fell as flat as his poll numbers, McCain reached into his bag of stunts and announced that he would suspend his campaign – because he was suddenly “above politics” – coincidentally just as it came out that his campaign manager’s lobbying firm had gotten $15,000/month from stumbling mortgage giant Freddie Mac up through August of this year.  Though he had admitted to not knowing much about economics, wasn’t on any of the committees central to the bailout, and had barely shown his face around D.C. since he had hit the campaign trail, McCain headed to Washington and proclaimed with his trademark(ed) earnestness that he wouldn’t attend the first presidential debate if a deal wasn’t worked out pronto.   

Unfortunately for John McCain, our economic crisis is so grave that the political currency of Rovian Distractions-R-Us tactics have been heavily devalued, leaving him to stand on his record.  No amount of theatre can disguise the fact that McCain is not the most convincing tribune of economic reform.  After eight years of the same heavily-deregulated, supply-side economics that McCain supported enthusiastically until two weeks ago, inflation is the highest it has been in 27 years, and consumer confidence recently hit a 16-year low.  Unemployment is at a five year high, with 159,000 jobs lost in September alone, and those who do work put in an average of 350 hours a year more than Europeans for stagnating wages, while the cost of basic needs like healthcare, education, and housing continue to soar.  Banks are closing left and right, foreclosures are at the highest rate since the Great Depression, taxpayers are being called on to bail out one financial behemoth after another, and even former Republican Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said we are witnessing a “once-in-a century financial crisis.”  Naturally, record numbers of voters feel the country is headed in the wrong direction.    

In a blind taste test, this would be a record landslide, as John McCain has voted with the grand architect of this disaster 100% of the time this year, and has insulted our intelligence and jeopardized our future by picking a special needs politician who is the least qualified Vice Presidential candidate this side of Dan Quayle.  On the other hand, Barack Obama has raised record sums of money, chosen a Vice President of exceptional depth and experience who is ready to serve on a moment’s notice, and run what is widely acknowledged to be an exceptionally savvy campaign (just ask veterans of the once invincible Clinton Machine.)

The rest of the world has issued a unanimous decision from a clear remove that America needs President McCain like a hole in the head, but back here in the States, Barack Obama heads into the final month of the campaign with a single-digit lead that could erode with one big disclosure or a sustained run of bad press.      Clearly several decades of the GOP’s war on empiricism are paying dividends, but counterfactual Republican politics-as-usual alone can’t explain it.

Good_ol_boys_239750482.jpgLeave it to a September 12th Yahoo dispatch to highlight the elephant in the room:  “Whites lift McCain to slim lead over Obama in poll.” 

Many of the white McCain supporters in the poll cited Obama’s relative inexperience as being a major drawback, but curiously, experience was virtually a non-issue in 2000, when Al Gore had not only vastly more and higher-stakes government experience than George W. Bush, but far greater knowledge of all the major issues, higher intelligence, a stronger work ethic, and better judgment - as America has found out the hard way.

As could be expected, the fringe right has shown their true colors, from Rush Limbaugh, who played “Barack the Magic Negro” on his radio program, to Georgia congressman Lynn Westmoreland, who called Obama “uppity,” to the College Republican leader who said Obama’s lips were “so large he could float half of Cuba to the shores of Miami (and probably would)", to the fun-loving folks who sold “Obama waffles” in a box modeled on Aunt Jemima at a Values Voter Summit, to the “Blacks Against Obama hoax planted at a recent Obama rally. 

But the possibility that flag-waving apple-pie eating honest-to-goodness “real” folks in the heartland won’t vote for Obama because of his race is too un-American for the commentariat or the country to own up to. 

Polls in the Democratic primaries in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia – states that Hillary Clinton won convincingly – showed that  one in six Democratic voters admitted to pollsters that race played into their vote.  One can reasonably guess that the tally for the electorate as a whole (which is generally less racially tolerant than the rainbow of Democratic primary voters), including those white voters who won’t own up to their prejudice when questioned by a probing pollster, would be significantly higher.  An AP poll showed that Obama’s race could cost him up to six points on election day and in the Yahoo article cited above McCain had a 23-point lead among rural residents, a 24-point advantage among suburban whites, and a 26-point margin among whites with no college degree, a demographic whose lot won’t be improved one iota by a McCain presidency.  As these ossified legions toss McCain a lifeline, his allies quietly go about the dirty work of trying to suppress the vote of blacks and other likely Democrats across the country, from  Ohio toMichigan to Indiana and Wisconsin, in line with Bush team efforts that worked wonders in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004.  And in the crucial state of Colorado, Republicans have conveniently placed a measure to end Affirmative Action onto the ballot to remedy the paper cuts of reverse racism experienced by long-suffering Colorado Caucasians.   

John McCain appears to be limping along like a wounded predator dreading the moment when ultimate justice is meted out, but four weeks is an eternity in presidential politics, particularly when the GOP is once again putting all their reptilian might behind 24-7 character assassination to distract voters from the ugliness of their agenda.  

Come November 4th, forty-four years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, Middle America will have a simple choice:  whether to grow up and take responsibility for their country’s future or cling to a toxic and primitive past, consequences be damned.   

© Dan Benbow, 2008

a_brighter_tomorrow_450400175.jpg"The Arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends
towards justice." (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

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