Creatures of Capital

“When the waters poured into Atlantis,
the rich men still screamed for their slaves.”

Bertolt Brecht, “Questions from a Worker Who Reads”

The brief mutiny is over. The Democrats, who control Congress, have pushed through the outrageous Paulson swindle, giving an initial $700 billion or so to Wall Street. The Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, lobbied hard for the bankers’ bailout, according to reps and senators receiving his phone calls. Obama voted for the package of course, and so did the vice presidential Democratic nominee, Joe Biden.

With McCain one could at least speculate, as I did here last week, that he might have opposed the bailout in one last desperate throw to rescue his flagging campaign. In the event he disdained that lifebelt,  clicked his heels and saluted the big money, just like Obama and Biden.

I never heard anyone speculate that Obama might, against all the odds, rally to the “No to Bailout” cause. His Yes was pure. He told reporters in Clearwater, Florida last Wednesday that “issues like bankruptcy reform, which are very important to Democrats, is probably something that we shouldn’t try to do in this piece of legislation.” In addition, he said that his own proposed economic stimulus program “is not necessarily something that we should have in this package.”

In the crunch, almost invariably, Obama does the wrong thing and in my opinion he always will. Just count out the moments of surrender: reauthorize the Patriot Act? Aye, from Obama. The “class action fairness act”, sought by Big Business for years. Aye from Obama. Capping credit card interest rates? No-o-o from Obama. FISA? Aye from Obama. With Robert Rubin at his side, his bailout vote was as sure as that of the harlot of the credit card companies, the six-term senator from Delaware, Joe Biden.

Normally, in these elections, one  tries to peer forward into the future, to  alert people to impending villainies, still dim in contour.  Rare is it to have corrupt servility to the Money Power so brazenly displayed by the Democratic ticket merely a month before the ballot. We have just witnessed  a class struggle where, for once,  we had a huge popular coalition stretching all the way across the political spectrum. The coalition was there; the anger was there;  the timing was perfect. “ The great appear great to us,” James Connolly wrote, “only because we are on our knees. Let us rise.” This time it was Paulson who was on his knees. Could not Obama, at this moment of  extraordinary power, have extorted extraordinary concessions from these frantic bankers? He could, but he fled the task.   Could not Bernie Sanders have filibustered the bill? Of course not. That would have taken the Vermont blowhard “independent” far beyond his ritual bluster.

Obama’s designated role in these fraught times is to de-fuse, not inspire; to urge the angered crowd to remain calm, and disperse quietly, not to march upon the citadel, pitchforks upraised.

But somehow Obama is not the focus of the liberals’ fury. From many of the pieces pouring into my inbox, I can scarcely deduce that he was even at the scene of the crime. Sparing Obama, the left and the progressives reserve their venom for the Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.

I read more than one piece from these gallant leftists hailing Biden for his fine performance. Biden! This is a man with six full terms of infamy in the US senate. Find a Palestinian kid maimed from a cluster bomb, and you’ll likely read “Greetings from Joe Biden” scrawled on the casing. Find someone crippled from 25 per cent interest charges on credit card debt, and you’ll espy “Best wishes,  Joe Biden” scrawled across the front of the bill. He’s a poster boy for all that is foul about the Democratic Party. Here are some of his lines inn Thursday’s debate:

Biden: Gwen, no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden. I would have never, ever joined this ticket were I not absolutely sure Barack Obama shared my passion….Here’s what the president said when we said no. He insisted on elections on the West Bank, when I said, and others said, and Barack Obama said, “Big mistake. Hamas will win. You’ll legitimize them.” What happened? Hamas won. When we kicked — along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, “Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don’t know — if you don’t, Hezbollah will control it.”

Now what’s happened? Hezbollah is a legitimate part of the government in the country immediately to the north of Israel.  The fact of the matter is, the policy of this administration has been an abject failure.

And speaking of freedom being on the march, the only thing on the march is Iran. It’s closer to a bomb. Its proxies now have a major stake in Lebanon, as well as in the Gaza Strip with Hamas.

We will change this policy with thoughtful, real, live diplomacy that understands that you must back Israel in letting them negotiate, support their negotiation, and stand with them, not insist on policies like this administration has.

Ifill: Senator, you have quite a record… of being an interventionist. You argued for intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, initially in Iraq and Pakistan and now in Darfur, putting U.S. troops on the ground. Boots on the ground. Is this something the American public has the stomach for?

Biden: I think the American public has the stomach for success. My recommendations on Bosnia. I admit I was the first one to recommend it. ….With regard to Iraq, I indicated it would be a mistake to — I gave the president the power. I voted for the power…. I don’t have the stomach for genocide when it comes to Darfur. …. We can lead NATO if we’re willing to take a hard stand…. When a country engages in genocide, when a country engaging in harboring terrorists and will do nothing about it, at that point that country in my view and Barack’s view forfeits their right to say you have no right to intervene at all.

I will place my record and Barack’s record against John McCain’s or anyone else in terms of fundamental accomplishments. Wrote the crime bill, put 100,000 cops on the street….

Had enough? We’re not talking a novice ,two-year governor of Alaska here, a woman the liberals and pwogs are –in my view somewhat creepily — thrill to beat up on. We talking a man with a lot of blood on his hands, a man who has played a serious role in incarcerating, hence disenfranchising millions of poor people, many of them black, for drug offenses.

Here was  the question Radley Balko, a senior editor at Reason magazine (no doubt using Fred Gardner’s excellent piece on this website) wrote in the New York Times he’d like to ask Biden in the vice presidential debate: “Senator Biden, you’ve been one of the Senate’s most ardent drug warriors. You helped create the office of ‘drug czar’; backed our failed eradication efforts in South America; encouraged the government to seize the assets of people merely suspected of drug crimes; pushed for the expanded use of racketeering and conspiracy laws against drug offenders; advocated the use of the military to fight the drug war; and sponsored a bill that holds venue owners and promoters criminally liable for drug use by people attending concerts and events. Today, illicit drugs are as cheap and abundant as they were decades ago. Would you agree that the anti-drug policies you’ve championed have failed? If not, how have they succeeded?”

But no. Our brave pwogs have spared Biden and savaged Palin. As Steve Conn, a retired professor at the University of Alaska, who  lived in the state from 1972 until 2007, wrote on our site , about the probable boomerang effect from trashing Sarah Palin:

It’s amazing how quickly Alaskan liberals bought into the new Palin story, dismissing the recent past as if it had never happened.  If Palin had come to Juneau with an agenda crafted in her church basement, cultural lines would have been drawn and no attacks on the Big Oil hegemony would have occurred. And state Democrats, who may have looked down their noses at Valley Trash, just like Ben [Stevens] , were smart enough to keep their mouths shut and find common ground while old-line Republicans leaders looked over their shoulders for subpoenas flowing from their overly cozy relations with VECO, the oil service company. To the dismay of oil company executives, she formed a working coalition with Democrats who represent West Anchorage’s well- paid liberals among unionized public employees and the professions.

And indeed, Palin spoke harshly of Exxon and Conoco Phillips in the Thursday debate.  Sarah Palin could still end up as a footnote to history, the same way way Geraldine Ferraro did, after the Mondale-Ferraro ticket plummeted to defeat in 1984 when Ronald Reagan Reagan won his second term. Or she could be back in the coming years as a major Republican player on the national scene.
As the pick of those betting on the latter proposition, Palin did herself a favor on Thursday night. After widely criticized interviews with Gibson of ABC and Couric of CBS she put up a spirited performance. She showed that just like Ronald Reagan she might be shaky on the fine print but knows how to write the headlines.

The giant issues in America today are the economy and the $700 billion bailout. No one outside the professional Commentariat really wants to know whether Sarah Palin is capable of waging nuclear war  or frying Afghan “terrorists”.  They want a sense that there’s someone in the political tier who sounds like a human being with the same concerns as them, starting with the fear that their local bank will lock its doors in the morning.

In their debate last week neither Obama nor McCain passed this simple test. Biden, a silver-haired denizen of Washington in his sixth, six-year term, tried to offer himself as worried Joe Sixpack from Scranton, PA, prowling around Home Depot,  but the act was thin. Palin, despite somewhat excessive folksiness, with “gosh-darneds” and the like, did sound  as though she and Todd really had spent some time at their kitchen table in the not-too-distant past figuring out how to pay the bills and deciding they couldn’t afford health insurance.

This was no faltering Palin unable to tell Katie Couric which newspaper she read. This was a Palin fiercely denouncing, at least half a dozen across 90 minutes,  “the corruption on Wall Street”, about which  Biden remained  silent. Alone of the four candidates, she spoke to the fury and fear of Main St America about the bailout.

Ifill: Now, let’s talk about — the next question is to talk about the subprime lending meltdown.

Who do you think was at fault? I start with you, Gov. Palin. Was it the greedy lenders? Was it the risky home-buyers who shouldn’t have been buying a home in the first place? And what should you be doing about it?

Palin: Darn right it was the predator lenders, who tried to talk Americans into thinking that it was smart to buy a $300,000 house if we could only afford a $100,000 house. There was deception there, and there was greed and there is corruption on Wall Street.

If John McCain had issued similar denunciations in his debate, and campaigned against the bailout across the last ten days in Washington and voted No in the US senate, his campaign would not now be in a truly  desperate situation.  Americans are living through the last months of an awful 8-year Republican presidency and McCain has offered them nothing.  Crucial  “battleground states” like Pennsylvania are tilting decisively towards the Democrats. Only the unknown race factor could trip Obama now.

On present trends, the McCain-Palin ticket is doomed, just as the Republican presidential campaign of another Arizonan senator, Barry Goldwater,  was crushed by  Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. Yet that defeat was the making of Ronald Reagan, who stole every right-wing Republican heart with his speech for Goldwater in the party convention that year. Two years later, Reagan was governor of California. Twelve years later in 1976,  he was challenging an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford. In 1980 he won the presidency

More than once, last night, I thought Palin must have been watching re-runs of Reagan’s speeches, though decades of deference to Hollywood tycoons made Reagan far more respectful of Wall Street than the Alaskan governor. Her first national political foray may have only a month to run, but on Thursday night she won herself a long-term political future. Populism comes in many different garments. The bailout, voted through this last week by Obama and Biden and the Democrats, showed the party has lost the capability even of deception, even of the pretence that it is the friend of the working people. (And yes, Palin is the only person on the campaign trail from whose lips I have heard the increasingly unfamiliar term “working class”.) Palin has a lot to learn, but in the years ahead, amid the bankruptcy of the liberal left, her strain of populism will have an eager audience.

As Brecht also wrote, “What happens to the holes when the cheese is gone?” Byron’s Mazeppa, quoted by Connolly, gave an answer:

“But time at last makes all things even,
And if we do but watch the hour,
There never yet was human power
That could evade, if unforgiven,
The patient hate and vigil long,
Of those who treasure up a wrong.”

McCain’s Women
The social culture of the Naval Academy at Annapolis shaped McCain. His own recollections of his less than stellar career there focus mainly on his drunken escapades and relentless sexual predations. He met his first wife, Carol, in Annapolis while he was hanging out with the group self-styled  “the bad bunch”. She left her first husband for him, bringing her two children with her, soon becoming pregnant with Sidney.

On accounts of this period, McCain grew restive, had some affairs and became a fixture on the party circuit. At the end of 1966, he volunteered for active service as a bomber pilot in Vietnam. He was shot down ten months later, and spent the next five and half years as a prisoner of war.

Meanwhile Carol, a former fashion model, was bringing up their three children. During Christmas 1969, while visiting her parents’ house, Carol took her car to deliver presents, slid off the icy road, hit a tree, and was hurled through the windshield. Very badly hurt, she lay in the snow for several hours before being discovered.

The accident crushed her hip and mangled her legs so badly that surgeons had to remove large sections of her leg bones, shortening her by 5 inches and leaving her with a limp and in more or less permanent pain. She refused to send word to McCain, saying “he’s got enough problems.” Ross Perot stepped in to pay her medical bills.

McCain came home in 1973 and, according to friends, was “appalled” at his wife’s changed appearance. It wasn’t long before he sought comfort with others. His friend Robert Timberg says, “John started carousing and running around with women.” Through Perot, he met Ronald Reagan when the latter was governor of California, and both Ron and Nancy became particularly fond of Carol and put her on their payroll.
For the full story of McCain’s treatment of Cindy  and of his first wife Carol, I urge you to subscribe to our newsletter. As Fred Gardner remarked to me this week, there should be “more attention to the fact that the first Mrs. McCain is the one who underwent
torture –23 surgeries, I think, while raising the kids and waiting for him.”

There are crackerjack reports from Jeffrey St Clair and myself and also an update of McCain’s shameful conduct as a POW from Doug Valentine. Also in this latest issue, David Price’s shocking account of how subscribe US intelligence agencies re trying to strong arm an impoverished scholar into being a spook.

Footnote: An earlier version of this column also appears in The First Post.

ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at



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