Democrats, exquisitely sensitized to the footfalls of defeat by the disasters of 2000 and 2004, caught the first menacing chords of impending disaster last weekend and have been panicking ever since.

The hours they had to revel in the apparent success of their Denver convention and Obama’s big speech were pitifully brief. The very next day John McCain picked as his running mate a virtually unknown governor from Alaska and the country has gone Palin-crazy ever since.

Ignoring  Obama’s solemn appeals for unity, America has become joyously divided. Evangelicals, braced by Palin’s Christian faith, have risen spryly from the bed of their indifference to McCain, a man whose relationship to the Holy Spirit is remote. Now their champion is an accredited bible-thumper, in whom the Holy Spirit burns as brightly as  natural gas flares over the Arctic tundra.

Liberals, particularly women, maddened at the spectacle of attractive Governor Sarah embodying everything they loathe, flood the internet with frantic oaths and seize on every particle of gossip from Alaska suggesting that Palin is a hypocrite, a mismanager, a would-be burner of books, a bad mother and untrue to her man.  Those scoffing only a few short weeks ago at the National Enquirer’s “mere unverified gossip” about John Edward’s affair, now hasten to the supermarkets to snatch up the Enquirer’s latest allegations about Palin and her family.

As the political news circuits began to buzz with news of improved polling numbers for McCain-Palin in the battleground states, Obama’s ascent towards the status of a Sure Bet is  stalled. After the triumphs of Denver the candidate relapsed into the nerveless mode of early August. He had the poor judgment to go on the cable news show of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and make the extraordinary statement that the so-called Surge in Iraq had “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams”. He calls for 10,000 more troops for Afghanistan. Move over, Sarah Palin! You only want to shoot wolves from helicopters. Real men like Obama want more helicopter gunships to mow down Afghan kids from the air.

At a stroke, with that deadly concession about the success of the surge, Obama handed McCain the opportunity, in their upcoming debates, to congratulate his Democratic opponent for acknowledging McCain’s superior political and military judgment. Simultaneously Obama foolishly threw over the side the reports of journalists on the spot like CounterPunch’s Patrick Cockburn who have been describing how the present lowering of violence in Iraq owes little to the surge in US troops, as opposed to changes in local political conditions. It certainly confirms my view that Obama rarely has the stomach to stand his ground, when challenged from the right with any vigor.

When a candidate trips up, or loses the initiative, his path becomes one endless snare. Obama’s likening of the hypocrisies of the McCain campaign to a pig wearing lipstick was swiftly converted by McCain into a sexist insult against Palin. The Democrats try to fight back by saying McCain and Palin are being unfair, are misrepresenting their views. But then, the next day, the Republicans launch a fresh slur and retain the initiative.

Ominously reminiscent of John Kerry in 2004, defensiveness seeps from a Democratic ticket endlessly trying to set the record straight. Obama’s running mate, Senator Joe Biden,  pays tribute to Hilary Clinton at a campaign rally and says politely that “Quite frankly it might have been a better pick than me.” This was instantly offered up on the right wing talk shows as a confession of total inadequacy.

Day after day McCain’s escorts shielded Palin from any impromptu exchanges with the press, until the eagerly awaited 3-part interviews with ABC’s Charles Gibson began last Thursday. I’ll root for anyone against an uppity, patronizing network interviewer and so I was in Palin’s corner when ABC’s Gibson went after her about the Bush Doctrine, which he made sound as though it was something you learned in school along with the Gettysburg address.  No one knows what the Bush doctrine is, least of all President Bush. He’s spent seven long years trying to define it. Basically the Doctrine says it’s okay for employees or subcontracted agents of the US Government to kidnap people, lock them up in wire or concrete hutches for years at a time, regularly electrocuting them and beating their genitals until they go mad. Small wonder Sarah Palin didn’t want to get too specific.

I don’t think anyone, however charitable, could watch the interviews and conclude that the Alaskan governor is highly qualified to take up the reins of executive power. She’s no Dick Cheney, seasoned in state craft. But I thought at least Palin’s not a waffler. Wrong.  Here she was trimming on issues like choice and man’s supposed contribution to global warming. Next thing you know, she’ll be back-dating Creation to the Miocene and tipping her hat to Al Gore, a creature who in Palin’s previous incarnation, less than three weeks ago (only 3,999 years and 344 days after the Beginning, on her old calendar)  she’d have  been happy to hunt from the air in whatever state-owned helicopters weren’t otherwise engaged in shuttling Piper and the kids to school or home for the weekend.

In the mid 70s, covering Ronald Reagan’s first presidential bid, I remember formulating complicated, smarty-pants questions on the campaign trail designed to trip up the California governor  and expose him as a tyro in foreign policy. I taxed him at his impromptu press conferences  with recondite queries about the Law of the Sea and side agreements to the latest GATT round. Reagan sailed through on cushions of blather,

The Obama campaign is rattled, and the Republicans heartened. But it’s way too soon to make larger surmises. Presidential elections are settled by the electoral college and not by popular vote, and in the states crucial to a majority in the electoral college Obama is still doing okay. In 2004 Kerry lost such swing states as  Ohio, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Colorado. Today (somewhat depending which polls you read)  Obama is ahead in Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico and New Hampshire. McCain leads in Florida and Virginia.

Obama has a lot more money for campaign advertising  than  McCain, though the campaign ads he’s issuing right now need to get rougher if they’re going to counter McCain’s torrent of lies. Economic conditions are bad and the official rate of unemployment (about half than the actual rate) now above 6 per cent. Last weekend Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson rushed to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the largest nationalization in history, privatizing the profits and nationalizing the losses, sticking the taxpayers with a $300 billion tab. This week it’s been the turn of Lehman to go belly up, with Washington Mutual also in bad trouble. Governor Palin may be weak on the Bush doctrine, but McCain’s grasp of the economy is frailer by far.

We have the debates ahead and six weeks in which Americans  can recover from the intoxication of their first date with Governor Sarah and ponder whether they really want Republicans in the White House for 12 straight years. Popular though the Palin pick may have been, she’d need truly magical powers to have elicited an immediate Yes on that big question.

McCain NOT crippled upon POW release

Did you catch the previously unknown footage of McCain on Thursday night by a Swedish TV station? It was from March 14, 1973, when McCain was released by the Vietnamese. This was not the tortured cripple of the “returning hero” clips and photos we’ve been seeing. He looks pretty spry, albeit with a slight limp.Here’s the  link to the news coverage on SVT’s “Rapport”

We were sent it from Stockholm by CounterPuncher Horst Schröder who also furnishes a rough translation of the clip. As follows:

[Images of  journalist Erik Eriksson today at his writing desk.] It was Erik Eriksson, foreign correspondent for Swedish Television covering the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 70s who found these images while doing research for his book on his time in Vietnam.

[CLU on determined but rather healthy looking McCain in a group of POWs standing ready for release. Vietnamese speaker [off] calling out the names of the POWs in turn.]

– John Sidney McCain

[found footage: McCain walking briskly and with a slight limp across a square towards an US military officer. He salutes, and shakes hands. US soldiers and officials all around.]

Eriksson: He doesn’t look like he’s a wreck. The image we have been fed was that he had been violently battered and broken when he got home, like a wreck.

[found footage: McCain salutes again, walks briskly off. Cut to another officer. Cut to McCain stepping off a (military?) bus, followed by other  passengers (released POWs?)]

Eriksson: But these here images don’t show this at all.

Newscaster: These images which are shown here for the first time where taken on March 14, 1973, the same day McCain was released after five and a half year as POW in communistic North Vietnam.

[CLU Eriksson]

Eriksson: The image which has been put forward – maybe not by himself, primarily, but by his campaign manager – of course, is totally defined by his position as a presidential candidate.

[Clip from McCain bio RNC video.]]

VO: “A year came Hanoi. Critically injured, with wounds never properly addressed, for the next five and a half years John was tortured and dragged from one filthy prison to another.”

[Found footage. CLU McCain walking past a large group of onlooking soldiers. ]

Newscaster: John McCain was a bomber pilot, and he was shot down during his 23rd mission in North Vietnam, the start of his five and half years as POW.

[McCain campaign video with McCain looking haggard and in sickbay.]

Newscaster: These pictures are from his campaign video. Why, Erik Eriksson wonders,

[Found Footage: MC Cain stepping down an airplane gangway]

does McCain leave Vietnam walking on his own legs, but does walk with crutches later on, like here

[the well known photo shoot McCain and Nixon shaking hands]

…when he, much later, half a year after his release, meets with President Nixon.

[Original Soundtrack McCain campaign propaganda. The RNC biog release, I assume]

Five and a half years later, the war was over and the..[fade over to]

Newscaster: The explanation, according to the former editor in chief of Dagens Nyheter, [largest national morning paper] Hans Bergström, being that McCain in summer 1973 had undergone an operation for a wrongly healed leg fracture. Bergström has written a biography about McCain.

[Still the Nixon shot]

Soundtrack RNC biog :”He chose to spend his life serving the country he loved”

[Still: Present day McCain shaking hands with soldiers]

Newscaster: McCain’s status as a war hero is exploited vigorously by his campaign staff in the fight for the presidency.

[RNC biog again]

“Some called him a warrior, a soldier, naval aviator….”

[CLU Erisson]

Eriksson: The targets they had been assigned, of course, were so-called military targets. But I travelled in this country after these extensive bombing campaigns, when I saw these so-called military targets they bombed. I travelled in these areas where each and every town had been reduced to rubble. USA [historians have been reported ] to have estimated they killed about one thousand civilians per week during these bombing campaigns, a number which came to public knowledge later.

[cut to young Eriksson reporting from Vietnam War]

[Eriksson original war report from totally flattened town. Vietnamese trying to clear the ruins]

“They are clearing the ruins with an enormous frenzy, hoping to, maybe, save the people buried in the ruins. I haven’t any reports yet how many they are, four or five it is rumored, but it might be more. They dug out one lifeless person, a man giving no sign of life, most likely he was dead.”

[End of clip.]

Schroder correctly adds:

I assume such a news coverage would be totally impossible on US TV, especially the critical reflections on the USA’s war in Vietnam, and the juxtaposition of McCain’s heroic bombing raids with the suffering of the bombed Vietnamese on the ground. But then, of course, the main Swedish TV is  public, not privately owned. Not to say that we do not get some propaganda, but nothing like what’s dished up in the USA. I follow the major papers and some TV on the web, and I fail to understand how the people put up with this. If Goebbels still were around, he would eat his heart out with envy.

As far as I am concerned no one who flies up in the air carpetbombing a helpless civilian population, is a hero. McCain and others make out like these were Red Baron dog fighter times, or WW II RAF pilots who ran a much, much higher risk. The real heroes – if one wants to call them that ­­– in this totally immoral war were the grunts who actually had to meet the “enemy”. The same of course goes for the “heroic” bomber pilots in the present immoral wars in Afghanistan/Pakistan and Iraq.

It is really depressing from our perspective, that such a large part of the US voters seem to be addicted to this kind of false heroic myths, to such a degree that one can build a whole election on some bomb raids 40 years ago committed on a hapless population by a greedy foreign power. It may well be that McCain felt at the time that he was doing the right thing, and felt proud of it. But it is depressing that 40 years later he still is proud of it, instead of regretting what he has doen and hang his head in shame. Even more depressing that close to half the voters lap this up.

And most depressing of all that even Obama and the Dems feel they have to pay lip service to this immoral hogwash and constantly debase themselves in worship of McCain the Hero.
Woe is us.

Woe indeed.

The Real John McCain

Our friend from Stockholm, quoted above, asks how come the US mainstream press hasn’t look closely at McCain’s conduct as a POW. That’s a no-brainer and even ABC’s Charlie Gibson could probably muster a truthful answer if he had to sit in Guantanamo for a couple of minutes. But most of the so-called “alternative media” has been nervous on this topic too. Somehow they think it’s dangerously counterproductive to assail so-called “heroes”, even if the heroism consisted of raining high explosive on peasants from 30,000 feet.

Not CounterPunch, I’m proud to say. We’ve run Doug Valentine’s investigations and other testimonies. And now, in our latest newsletter, released today, we take a long hard look at McCain the man: violent, deceitful, devoid of ethical principle. And that’s not us talking. That’s people who have known him well. Read the new stories by Doug Valentine, Jeffrey St Clair and myself. If the press had really homed in honestly on McCain instead of licking his boots for twenty years, he’d have been toast long, long ago.

So subscribe now to the newsletter. Read about McCain and read David Price’s savage investigation of the case of a scholar, Nicolas Flattes, whom the government is tying to blackmail into being a spook.
Click here and subscribe.

Return to 68

Here on this site last week we ran Chellis Glendinning’s excellent piece “Retorno a 68“, about the slaughter in Mexico City in 1968 during the Olympics.)  Chellis was discussing Paco Ignacio Taibo’s recent book, 68.

CounterPuncher Eric Jacobson, a public interest lawyer in Culver City, writes:

Chellis  might like to see the  Auden poem below,  if she hasn’t run across it. He was referring to the Soviet Union’s crushing of the Prague Spring but could just as well have been referring to Mexico City or a while later Chile, Argentina, Salvador, or ugly America today (albeit without the murderous lethality save for those poor souls who drive “taxis to the dark side”, or God help them, urgently require medical attention while residing in a California prison with its sadistic guard force and decrepit medical system, now under federal court receivership).

Regarding Obama, isn’t most of the problem that he rose because he embodied pluralistic/multicultural change, but instead of developing the theme that his knowledge of the world tells him is in America’s interest, he decided to become a lackey for the establishment, literally the day after clinching the nomination, and has never really looked back?

It is a well worn road to perdition. Alas, the American Ogres will remain in charge.  Turns out my first vote for McGovern in ’72 which I cast during my freshman year at Berkeley (I was part of the next cohort up from Chellis’ time there) was my best and only one I will ever cast for president with any sense of real conviction that I am part of the solution. Oh well.

The Ogre does what ogres can,
Deeds quite impossible for Man,
But one prize is beyond his reach,
The Ogre cannot master Speech.
About a subjugated plain,
Among its desperate and slain,
The Ogre stalks with hands on hips,
While drivel gushes from his lips.

–W.H. Auden

Footnote: Portions of the first item also appear in The First Post.

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