Hey, did you know that John McCain was a POW?
Did you also know that he was a POW, and that he was a POW?
Now that I’ve recapped seventy percent of the Republican Convention last week, let me fill in the remaining 30 percent: hypocrisy, arrogance, lies and bullshit.
What an unbelievable ride the last week has been, though that will be the fundamental question of this election: Will it be believable? Can Republicans use the old magic successfully one more time? Has the American public, even an angry American public, been dumbed down sufficiently in recent decades to vote against its own interests, yet one more time, even under conditions like those of 2008?
Really, nothing less than American democracy lies in the balance, and the fact that so many folks are still susceptible to this horror show is dispiriting in the extreme. Watching the Rovoclones at the RNC in action was such a scary sight. Orwell had it so right. Of course we’re at war with Eurasia. We’ve always been at war with Eurasia. If you can fool people under these conditions with patriotic peacocks and über-elite fake outrage over ‘liberal elitism’, you can basically fool them anytime.
McCain began the week with an act that, in any healthy democracy, would have instantly disqualified him to be the city dogcatcher in Wasilla, Alaska, let alone leader of the free world. He has been telling us for years that the fight against Islamofascism is the transcendental struggle of our time. He has been telling us the most important job of the Vice President is be qualified to run the country at a moment’s notice (not least because this particular dude is a seventy-two year-old four-time cancer survivor). He’s been telling us over and over that Iraq is the central front in the war against terrorism. Then he chooses someone who has admitted that she doesn’t really know anything about Iraq, ‘cause she’s been focused on Alaska state government. Given that the war has been the premier foreign policy issue for America for half a decade now, we also can safely assume, I’m sure, that she knows even less about the rest of the world.
This definitely demonstrates two things about John McCain. First, that his judgement is deeply impaired. We know, for example, that he had hardly vetted Sarah Palin at all, other than within the last couple of days before the announcement. We know, from Alaskan Republicans no less, that no one from the McCain campaign was up there asking questions prior to the choice (but they are now!). We know that McCain had met her all of once before making the choice. Americans really need to ask themselves, do we truly want another four years of a president who goes on gut hunches and politicizes every decision?
Even more importantly, though, this choice tells us that McCain was more than willing to do something that would benefit his personal career ambitions, regardless of the consequences for the country and the world. Palin may help him have a shot at winning the presidency – perhaps by attracting the votes of unsophisticated women, certainly by rallying the regressive freakoids in his party – but it is ludicrous to believe that she is remotely qualified, let alone most qualified, to handle what McCain himself says is the most important project of our time. The man who sickeningly implies that his opponent is less patriotic than he is has exacerbated that base assault on decency and the fabric of American democracy by hypocritically doing exactly the opposite of what he claims as his campaign theme. The Palin pick was definitive proof that McCain puts country last – even by the standards of his own formulation.
Equally dispiriting was to see the regressive robots in action this week. Within hours of McCain choosing a candidate they had never heard of before, they were giddy with fanatic support for her, and foaming at the mouth with indignation that anyone might actually have the temerity to apply the rules of Republican sexual morality and gender rights to a Republican. Those are meant strictly for other people, don’t you know?
Palin’s speech was also nauseating in its condescending and disrespectfully mocking attitude. Indeed, she, herself, as the nominee supposed to attract women voters, is condescending in the extreme to those very women, just by her existence on the ticket. What an insult. One can only hope that they see it that way themselves, but after the last eight years I can’t put any insanity past the American public anymore. The fact that McCain is essentially tied with Obama in the polls right now is a really scary thought. After all this, are people still so lacking in critical faculties to discern the choices here? Can they really be so readily fooled, yet again?
The rest of the convention was an otherworldly experience for me. Often, I felt as though I had fallen through the looking glass into some alternative universe. Did you know that regressive Republicans are actually big-time feminists? You could have easily reached that conclusion watching this convention, and the indignation directed toward anyone who dared question Palin’s qualifications or challenge the lies her handlers were peddling about her. Did you know that these GOP folks are big supporters of Hillary Clinton? McCain actually ran television ads criticizing Obama for supposedly dissing Hillary when he picked Biden as his running mate. Amazing. Like McCain really gives a shit about Hillary. Like his ideological clan hasn’t spent the last two decades absolutely savaging her mercilessly at every opportunity. Like McCain really, really wants the Democrats to pick the ‘best’ VP nominee they can to run against him. Like the guy and his movement, who oppose equal pay legislation for women, is genuinely offended that Obama would pick someone else. I shudder to think what it says about America that the McCain camp didn’t see it as a ridiculous waste of money to run those ads.
An equally mind-bending episode from the theater of the absurd was Mitt Romney’s hallucinatory rhetorical journey in which he savaged liberals for putting America in the sad state it’s in now. My goodness, have I ever been deluded. All these years I was thinking that the right-wing controlled all three branches of government. I can now see how wrong I am, what with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid ending the Iraq war, jamming national healthcare through Congress, dealing aggressively with global warming, forcing Christian girls to have abortions, impeaching the president, and so on. And Mitt, too, what a reliable source he is! There’s a guy of principle who never, for instance, would radically change his political stripes depending on, say, whether he wanted to be governor of Massachusetts versus win the GOP nomination for president. You can take it from him, that’s for sure.
Often this week, I felt like I had been fully immersed in a John Lennon song, circa 1967 (though the remarkably uptight GOP rank-and-file – afraid of every conceivable bogeyman out there, but nothing so much as their own sexual urges – was usually sufficient to snap me back to the awful present). What a little LSD trip of a convention this was. Mitt! You’re such an eggman! Lieberman! What a freaking plasticine porter you are, dude! Goo Goo G’joob on all you corporation tee-shirts.
I’m crying. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I really am.
But truly the most bizarre event of all at the convention was the one that didn’t happen. Once again, one could certainly be excused for thinking that control of the government has been in the hands of some Baader-Meinhof Provisional Revolutionary People’s Movement Vanguard Government, or such, this last decade. Oddly, though, it turns out that America has in fact been controlled by the most reactionary government ever in American history. Strange, then, that a convention chock-a-block with reactionaries didn’t stop a moment to sing the praises of the good lads Bush and Cheney. A sitting president from your own party who has delivered on ninety-five percent of your agenda, and what – no gaudy, gauzy tribute video with swelling background music? No valedictory address before the raving party faithful? Hmmm. Why do you suppose that might be?
Perhaps Bush was just too modest to highlight all the accomplishments of his eight years. You know. The great economy, the capture of Bin Laden, two wars well managed and brought to a swift conclusion, the tightening of relations with our allies, the rise in home values, the fall in gas prices, the drop in unemployment, the lowering of the national debt, the strength of the dollar, the responsible efforts addressing global warming, the emergency management response to Hurricane Katrina, the personal freedoms defended like those of the Terri Schiavo family, the protection of the Bill of Rights, the restoration of the balance of power between the branches of government, the steadfastness against human rights violations in Darfur and Guantánamo, the blocking of nuclear proliferation in North Korea and all over the world by Pakistan, the solving of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the creation of universal healthcare coverage in America, the investment in rebuilding our infrastructure, the popular success of No Child Left Behind, the unifying of our country, and so very, very much more. Indeed, perhaps it is simply because the list of accomplishments is just so long that they decided to forego this ritual that is part of every convention where there is an incumbent president.
Peronally, I was hoping that Bush would reprise his 2000 nomination acceptance speech this year. You know, the one where he derided Al Gore for arguing that Bush’s policies would be “risky”. The one with the repeating riff, “They have not led. We will.” I thought a catalogue of all the ways in which Bush has led these last eight years, and all the successes he’s had compared to his Democratic predecessor would have really helped John McCain, don’t you? I wonder why they missed such an obvious opportunity to help their campaign.
There were so many lowlights to the Republican convention this year, it’s hard to know which was the ugliest episode of all. Was it Joe Lieberman whoring for a cabinet position? Was it Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin condescendingly mocking Barack Obama because he was once a community organizer? Was it McCain, himself, going on endlessly about his POW days, trying to guilt-trip us into giving him a little ride into history because he was once shot down while bombing Vietnamese peasants into oblivion? I think my favorite had to be Fred Thompson’s not-so-subtle questioning of Obama’s patriotism by saying we need a president who won’t apologize for America abroad, and one who won’t give teleprompter speeches designed to appeal to America’s critics overseas. Wow. Such brass. And such a pathetically immature society we are, where comments such as these could be remotely effective.
What all of this signals clearly is that McCain has fully given himself over to the win-at-any-cost, Karl Rove acolyte Steve Schmidt and his team, who have been running his scorched earth campaign for several months now. These are the very same people who ate McCain himself alive in 2000, using the most vicious techniques found anywhere in the political sphere, as a result of which the candidate was justifiably outraged and incensed in the extreme. These animals have been ripping apart the fabric of American democracy for decades now, using race, homophobia, faux patriotism, fear, immigration, deceit and the dirtiest of tricks to continue winning office at any cost. And the cost has been great indeed.
As so McCain, who has the audacity to campaign on the theme of “country first”, is doing precisely the opposite, and precisely the sort of things that he once deplored himself. Republicans don’t really seem to have the shame gene, as far as I can see, but if they did, this man would be avoiding mirrors for the rest of his life.
Of course, this is not really all that new for him. He’s been running around flacking for Bush for eight years now. He’s completely changed his positions on the religious right, whom he once described as “agents of intolerance”, as well as on immigration, torture, taxes and more, in every case placating the loonies in his party to win the nomination. Some conviction politician, eh? He once mortgaged the dignity of blacks in America by coming out in favor of the confederate symbol on the flag of South Carolina, just to pander to white racists in his own party. That is, before admitting that he had done so and re-reversing his position, of course. And, talk about country first, what the hell were he and Palin doing in the Gulf Coast as it scrambled to prepared for the series of hurricanes coming its way? George Bush, operational commander-in-chief of the federal government, said he wasn’t going to go there and cause a distraction. Gee, I wonder what the senator from Arizona and the governor of Alaska brought to the preparation efforts down there? You’d almost think they were using a national disaster as a campaign event.
I’ve seen Barack Obama reacting to the allegations and smears coming out of the Republican convention, and I’ve seen some of the ads he’s running. The latter are pretty good, but the former is pathetic. This dude better freakin’ cowboy up, and fast, or he is going to get consumed by the Rove machine, just like Dukakis, Gore, Kerry and the rest. Obama needs to show some anger, he needs to stop speaking so hesitantly in his delivery, he needs some sharp pithy lines to trot out, and he needs to go on the attack. In short, he needs to bare some teeth.
Most of all, while he still barely has a chance to do so, he needs to inoculate himself from what is surely coming. Now is the time to runs endless ads associating McCain with Rove with Bush with dirty politics and to scream out foul play, especially along the lines of not putting country first. Such inoculation will prove invaluable when the pond scum in the McCain camp want to start going very, very low, as the campaign nears election day. Obama can then fit such attacks into the frame he’s created, shake his head in ‘sadness’ at the ‘desperation’ of the McCain campaign, and take away the single thing the Republican has going for him – the false perception that he is a patriot and an honorable man. But if Obama waits until Schmidt really gets going, without paving the way in advance for an accurate perception of what they’re actually doing, it will be too late.
Aren’t they smart enough to get this?!?! The thought of another weak-kneed Democratic presidential candidate getting rolled by a GOP dirty politics machine is too much to possibly stomach, especially in 2008, when a candidate pretty much just needs to show up in order to win.
I have tentatively supported Obama so far in large part because I liked what I saw as some fighting instincts during the primary season. But if he can’t attack McCain for picking someone who doesn’t meet McCain’s own definition of what the country needs in a president, if he can’t show enough intelligence to put this patriotism crap off limits after the swift-boating experience of 2004, if he can’t show some grit to the voting public who longs to see it, then he won’t win and doesn’t deserve to.
But that’s him, and that’s his problem.
I deserve better than that, and so does the rest of the world.
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net