Obama’s Speech; McCain’s Palinomy

I’m no great fan but certainly Barack Obama gave a strong speech on Thursday night that reassured an edgy Democratic Party that he is ready to trade blow for blow with John McCain, his Republican opponent. His tone of decorous pugnacity calmed those fearful that the Party had saddled itself not just with a black presidential candidate but one who was turning out to be a high-minded wimp.

Obama’s 45-minute speech before an 80,000 crowd in a Denver football stadium and a national tv audience of 40 million  was competently designed to knock such doubts firmly on the head. In its wake Republicans howled that Obama had gone “negative”, evidence that his shots at Bush and McCain had drawn blood.

Even before his speech, heavy emphasis on the white portions of his ancestry in the filmed bio preceding his address may have soothed the segment of Americans – unknown in its dimensions — at best deeply nervous at the prospect of an African American couple taking up residence in the White House; at worst, adamantly opposed. The rhetorical undertow in all the introductory speeches was that in Obama is reborn the spirit of that earlier Illinois politician, Abraham Lincoln.

Only a few minutes into his speech, Obama was talking tough: pro forma homage to McCain’s military heroism rapidly gave way to punchy gibes that he’s a tired old retread of George Bush who just doesn’t get it. “I get it”, Obama assured the cheering crowd. “It”, of course” is the rotten shape America is in, with jobs gone to China, troops needlessly slaughtered in Iraq, desperate middle class families, homes foreclosed and credit cards maxed out.  Particularly effective were Obama’s gibes about McCain’s economic advisor, Phil Gramm, still vivid as one of the nastiest politicians in America, jeering about Americans suffering from a “mental recession,” and becoming “a nation of whiners.”

In answer to McCain’s criticisms that his programs have been heavy on “hope” but void of substance, Obama outlined his program: a tax cut for “95 per cent of all working families” and a cut in capital gains for small business.

Obama followed this with a call – one of many from Democrats at this convention — for “energy independence” from Middle Eastern oil (although the US actually gets most of its oil right here at home in the Americas, from Alaska, Canada, Mexico and Venezuela). Of course his specifics are an environmental nightmare: nuclear power, “clean coal” offshore drilling, biofuels. The rest of Obama’s laundry list was familiar: health care reform (vainly pledged by every Democratic presidential candidate since Harry Truman in 1948),equal pay for women, closing of corporate tax loopholes, trimming of fat from the federal bureaucracy and so forth, including a change in the bankruptcy laws to protect the little people.

CNN’s cameras had the good manners to stay away at from Obama’s vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, whose role in passing some of these same iniquitous bankruptcy laws and tax breaks for big corporations has not been small.

Obama paid ritual homage to Israel and now Georgia as two states he would stand up for and beyond that mostly steered clear of foreign policy, except to assert that he could  carry just as big a stick as John McCain. The foreign policy posture of the Convention was displayed in simple terms, namely the decision not to let Jimmy Carter speak on Monday night. Put the words “apartheid” and “Israel” in the same sentence and a former Democratic President becomes a non-person.

As the first black couple in American history with a serious chance of inhabiting the White House, Barack and Michele Obama rose to the occasion.  With her self possession and poise Michele won the Convention’s respect on Monday night.

But how realistic is the prospect of victory? Right now there’s a bounce, but the numbers from crucial states  — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado  — suggest the race is too close to call, particularly when one factors in the likelihood that a significant fraction of those being polled are concealing racial antipathy.

It may well be a very close run thing – perhaps as close as the tiny margins of Bush v Gore in 2000. Obama needs all the help he can get, and despite the lip service they paid him in Denver, it’s uncertain how much assistance he will actually get from the Clintons.

The specific proposals Obama put up in his speech exposed another problem. Once the message shifts from diffuse sermons about national unity to concrete proposals on tax cuts for the middle class and closing of corporate loopholes,  the Haves will roll out their heavy artillery against this “divisive” spokesman for the Have-Nots, a preacher-cum-populist radical  rabble-rouser  who has finally ripped off the mask of “bipartisanship”. And of course, if Obama ever presumes to try to alter the distribution of income and wealth  in America,  “bipartisanship” will indeed have to be tossed aside. But then Obama will need a constituency, a powerful movement, to carry him forward and overwhelm an implacable opposition. Eight years of Clintonism voided the Democratic Party of whatever tiny sliver of potential as a popular movement it might still have retained, with the added irony that one prime constituency Obama needs is to be found precisely among  those Hillary Clinton Democrats who will have the most difficulty in voting for him.

In fact  Obama has neither a movement or – so far as we know – a plan, except to muddle along the roadmap designed by corporate America and the foreign policy establishment in Washington. In Denver, the disconnect to economic reality was awe-inspiring. You could switch over to Bloomberg News and sniff the panic, then switch back to one cheery speech after another about “taking the country back”. They’ll be only too happy to give Obama back several trillion dollars worth of unpaid bills: “Here, sonny. Now it’s your problem.” The only concrete reference to the credit crisis that I heard came in an excellent little speech on Thursday by Susan Eisenhower.

Obama’s prime diagnosis of America’s condition is that it’s bitterly divided. This seems wrong to me. America is more united than in any time in my memory. By a vast percentage it despises George Bush, and thinks America has been hijacked by neo-cons and billionaires. The last time America was this united was in the mid-70s, as Nixon fled west to San Clemente. And in the wake of a lost war and accounts of tycoons hauling bags of cash into the Republican National Committee there was a big appetite for real change, swiftly quelled by calls for “bipartisanship”.  Suddenly we had the McNeil-Lehrer Show telling us, night after night, there were two sides to every question.

The Boadicea of the Backwoods

You want drowsy Sarah Palin getting that 3am phone call from the Situation Room, in charming décolleté, her hair down, snuggled under the soft mounds of grizzly pelt? Or you want Joe Biden, still talking even in his sleep? Who would not wish to take off Sarah’s spectacles and liberate those rich, heaped-up tresses? It’s that librarian look so reminiscent of  Laura Bush in happier days, back among the stacks in the Public Library in Midland which I made visited in 2001, mostly to view the crossroads where 17-year Laura broadsided her boyfriend in that so-tragic “accident”. (The  police report says that Laura ran a stop sign in her Chevy and struck the Corvair of 17-year old Michael Douglas. He was thrown from the car and broke his neck. Some accounts have claimed Michael and Laura had been dating. Laura was with a 17-year old girl friend at the time. It was a clear night, with unobstructed views,  shortly after 8 p.m. on Nov. 6, 1963. )

If Todd Palin ever plays her false I assume Sarah will blow him away with her AK-47. Todd, incidentally, is one quarter Yup’ik, a native heritage that doesn’t seem to have had much impact on his wife’s posture on native rights. The Yup’ik have an interesting culture, not least with their fall Bladder Festivals, returning the bladders of seals they have killed to the sea so the seals’ souls can be reborn. Biden would probably wish the same destination for his bladder, so all those endless speeches in the US senate can be recycled down the aeons.

Palin and Obama seem to have more or less identical postures towards the environment, though Palin has been tougher on oil companies than the Democratic nominee. McCain, so my coeditor Jeffrey points, out, had somewhat better positions on the environment than Obama, but has now thrown that edge away with Palin, who favors shooting bears from the air and backs the Pebble Mine project, a terrible proposal by Northern Dynasty Minerals to build one of the largest gold and copper mines in the world, in southwest Alaska, near Lake Iliamna. She only mentioned Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton in her introductory speech in Ohio on Friday, but Palin, who was born in Sandpoint, Idaho, and went to the University of Idaho in Moscow, should have paid proper homage to that other Boadicea of the Backwoods, the late Helen Chenoweth, who famously  said the way she liked to see endangered salmon was on the slab in Albertson’s.

Pundits murmur that McCain has blown the “inexperience” argument against Obama by picking a young Alaskan governor, not so long ago the mayor of Wasila. I don’t think Americans have much patience with that kind of talk. Who needs experience in foreign affairs in the White House, since the major decisions are taken in Jerusalem and relayed through AIPAC? And anyway, Palin does have experience dealing with oil companies, the other major lobby dictating America’s foreign policies. No chord in populism reverberates more strongly than the notion that the robust common sense of an unstained outsider is the best medicine for an ailing polity. Caligula doubtless got big cheers from the plebs when he installed his horse as proconsul.

It’s obvious too that Palin is both wily and bold. You only have to study her daring success in outmaneuvering Alaska’s triarchy of  Murkowski, Stevens and Young to see that. Unless Palin makes some Jerry Ford-type blooper, Joe Biden shouldn’t expect to have an easy time of it with Palin in their debates. Reagan performed moderately against Mondale in their second debate in 1984, but he won the headlines with one second-rate crack:

REPORTER: Mr. President, I want to raise an issue that I think has been lurking out there for two or three weeks, and cast it specifically in national security terms. You already are the oldest President in history, and some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr. Mondale. I recall, yes, that President Kennedy, who had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuba missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?

REAGAN: Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience. If I still have time, I might add, Mr. Trewhitt, I might add that it was Seneca or it was Cicero, I don’t know which, that said if it was not for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state.

And as for Palin’s absolute views on abortion, what can Biden throw against Palin’s simple statement apropos her having a baby identified in the womb as having Down syndrome, “I chose life”.

Of course, the choice could blow up in McCain’s face, but between the two presidential nominees’ performance in Veep selection, I prefer McCain’s. From him we get Palin, who is already making the race a lot more fun. From Obama we got Biden. Already, when Biden flashes that grin I want to throw a shoe through the tv set. Palin only looks a bit like the dead DC Madam. Biden is a seasoned, living madam in the DC brothel.

Monday is Loofah Day!

Got your loofahs ready, ripe for ridicule of Bill O’Reilly. Just to remind you of the CounterPunch Proclamation:

Whereas millions of Americans despise Bill  O’Reilly as a loathsome polluter of the airwaves, fanning ignorance and hatred with every word he utters,

Whereas no opportunity should be missed to expose this contemptible scoundrel to ridicule,

Whereas at 11.06 pm on September 1, 2004   the above-mentioned O’Reilly made a lewd phone call to his Fox producer Andrea Mackris, depicting a prospective sexual encounter between the two of them in which  “You would basically be in the shower and then I would come in and I’d join you and you would have your back to me and I would take the little loofah thing… and kinda’ soap your back … and I would put it around front, kinda’ rub your tummy with it and then with my other hand I would start to massage your boobs, get your nipples really hard… ‘cuz I like that and you have really spectacular boobs….I’d be rubbing your big boobs and getting your nipples really hard, kinda kissing your neck from behind… and then the other hand with the felafel thing”….

Whereas this conversation was recorded by Ms Mackriss and subsequently exposed to public scrutiny in court documents,

Whereas this engendered mirth among the millions of O’Reilly haters and much satisfaction at his humiliation,

Be it proclaimed that September 1, 2008 will be recognized as Loofah Day and citizens should honor it by proceeding at noon to the nearest Fox studio with a loofah and, standing outside the Fox studio, brandish said loofahs in derision of O’Reilly.

CounterPuncher  Michael Greenberg writes from Minneapolis:

Dear Alex,

With ‘loofah day’ fast approaching, it may be too late to mention this but it seems that you’ve made a significant omission to the proposed festivities. An end-of-the-summer event like this calls for street food to sustain the revelers. Certainly felafel is a nutritious and tasty snack and seems an obvious choice as I read years back when you first recounted the story. (See cockburn11272004.htm.) As a felafel afficionado and someone who has aspirations of preparing it for the masses (I have yet to perfect the recipe to my liking), I may wander down to the local Fox station here in Cleveland with some homemade mix, a pot and a camping stove and fry some up for the celebrants. Seems like a perfect opportunity.


Lest You Forget

Harry Browne’s terrific new book, Hammered by the Irish, published by CounterPunch/AK Press is now available for immediate purchase on this site. In February 2003, five activists from Catholic Worker broke into a hangar at Shannon airport. Swinging hammers and a pickaxe they did more than $2.5 million damage to a U.S. Navy transport plane. They were hit with the full weight of the law, plus a trashing by the press and a goodly chunk of the antiwar movement. But three and a half years later, a Dublin jury made legal and political history, deciding that the Pittstop Ploughshares 5 were innocent of any crime. Harry has written a marvelous account of this brilliantly successful piece of direct action.  The people need victories, and this was one of them.  Now the victory has its historian.

And while you are in the buying mood, don’t forget to subscribe to our exclusive newsletter. Thiere’s still just time to start your sub with the current killer issue, with Marcus Rediker’s report of popular resistance in the comunas in Medellín, Colombia; my own report on the fight between Russia and the Bank of New York (which as the Russian new reports, owns 76 per cent of the Bank of Georgia), and Ruth Horowitz’s important piece  about false confessions either volunteered for complicated psychological reasons or extorted by police interrogators by guile and fraud.

Subscribe now and give yourself a treat.
Portions of the first item appear  in the First Post (www.thefirstpost.co.uk/)

ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com

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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.