You Remember It, Don’t You? An Incredible, Hope-Filled Year

May 7

It looks as though it’s over for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic candidate for the US presidency in 2008 will be Barack Obama.

To keep her flagging candidacy alive Mrs Clinton’s task yesterday  was to show that the white working class vote that gave her victory in Pennsylvania would sweep her to another convincing triumph in Indiana.

It didn’t happen. She needed a robust victory by ten points or so, but in the end Mrs Clinton eked out the slimmest of margins, 51-49,and by ate evening even  this tiny lead still did not look entirely secure.  Meanwhile in North Carolina Obama rolled to a thumping victory by 14 points.

Even by mid afternoon on Tuesday the Clinton camp gave the impression of being triumphantly  on the verge of derailing Obama’s drive with a big win in Indiana. Obama had a rough couple of weeks trying to leap clear of the ferocious rhetoric of his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Hillary Clinton whacked the war drum tirelessly and continued to threaten to obliterate Iran.  It was the first time one could sense a certain desperation in Obama. There was something close to panic in his diatribes against Wright.

But Mrs Clinton’s strategy didn’t work, and there are no other big states left for her to contest. Primary season is all but over, with Oregon the only significant contest left, one which Obama could well win.

There is now absolutely no way that Hillary Clinton can argue that she can beat Obama in either the popular vote this primary season, or in the count of committed delegates. Already across this last week  Hillary’s last line of defense – the uncommitted Super Delegates —  showed a trickle of defections to Obama and the next few weeks will most likely see this turn into a steady stream.

Mrs Clinton’s financial crisis is now acute. It may happen in the next few days or at a slightly later date, but Mrs Clinton will surely concede. Defeat was certainly written all over the face of her spouse, who looked ghastly, just as on the other half of the television set Obama was already speaking in lofty and magnanimous terms about Democratic unity.

May 22

There’s certainly no effective liberal, let alone left presence in mainstream American politics any more. The political primary season, now in its final throes, has resoundingly buttressed this fact.

Take the scene in Portland, Oregon last Monday, on the eve of a vote in that north-western state which sent Barack Obama one step further in formally clinching the Democratic nomination. How did Hillary Clinton try to remind Oregonians of her claims to be the authentic rep of white working-class America, without whose votes no Democrat can ever win the White House?

She held a press conference in the upscale Portland suburb of Beaverton, in a subdivision where $500,000 homes have gone unsold for the past year. She spoke movingly of the pain being experienced by the developer. A few miles north, homeless Oregonians were besieging the offices of Portland’s mayor, Tom Potter.

Almost exactly forty years ago John F. Kennedy’s younger brother Bobby was making a similar last-throw bid  in California to win the state and seize the Democratic nomination by a populist campaign. Bobby reached out to California’s poor. There’s no way Bobby would have hunkered down with a property developer. He’d have been heading the homeless to the mayor’s office to demand the homeless be given rent-free accommodation in the unsold mansions.

Bobby Kennedy’s younger brother Ted, diagnosed this week with a malignant brain tumor, tried to sell the same populism as Bobby in his run for the nomination against Carter in 1978. Ten years later Jesse Jackson, the first black American to take a serious tilt at the Democratic nomination, led many a poor people’s march to City Halls across America.

Not any more. Hilary’s populism has been skin-deep in the literal sense of the term. It’s not been about rich developers, or predatory sub-prime loans. It’s only about the color of Obama’s skin.

The old truism about primary season used to be that Democratic candidates had to run left to capture crucial support from the sort of politically active progressives who vote in Democratic primaries and caucuses. Then, with the nomination secured, the nominee would spend the rest of the year running right, to win over middle America.

But Obama has achieved the amazing feat of being the almost-certain nominee without barely a phrase on the record with whih John McCain can belabor him for “loony-leftism” or even “outdated liberalism” in the months to come.

Bloated Pentagon budgets? This favored target in past primary seasons has flourished unscathed this year, even though the arms-spending to which Bush’s former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, committed the US government promise certain budgetary catastrophe in across the next fifteen years. Obama’s subservience  to the US military has been evinced numerous times, most recently when he confided last week to David Brooks, one of the New York Times’s profuse stable of neo-con columnists, that “The [U.S.] generals are light-years ahead of the civilians. They are trying to get the job done rather than look tough.”

What about Wall Street, whose leading bankers have devastated middle-income America with the sub-prime scams? Obama has been tactful, meanwhile hauling in hefty campaign contributions from these same bankers. Health care? No relief for America’s 45 million uninsured from Obama, who has a program unreservedly deferential to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. What about labor and the right to form a union – something virtually impossible to do in America today, where it’s (barely) legal to go on strike but almost entirely illegal to win one.  Seldom has a Democrat won the nomination with less IOUs to organized labor than Obama.

The only politically unorthodox item on Obama’s record is that he has a black skin. As he runs against an elderly, unstable  Republican candidate whose own mottled epidermis raises constant uneasy questions sbout possible battles with cancer Obama should thank Bush 1 for making a black man chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and putting Clarence Thomas on the US Supreme Court, and Bush 2 for making  Condoleezza Rice secretary of state. He should thank the Republican Party for nominating a candidate weaker by far than any he might have dreamed of only six months ago.

May 25

The wish is mother to the deed. If anything does happen to  Obama in California Mrs Clinton should surely be indicted as a co-conspirator.

How to else construe her grotesque remarks in Sioux Falls, South Dakota,  in the editorial offices of the Argus Leader newspaper. Here she told the editors,  “My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don’t understand it,” she said, dismissing calls to drop out.

June 5

On Tuesday June 3 Barack Obama claimed the greatest prize the Democratic Party can offer, namely his nomination as its candidate for the presidency. The very next day the salesman of “change” raced from Minnesota back to Washington and publicly abased himself at the feet of an organization whose prime mission is to ensure that change unpalatable to the state of Israel will never be pressed by the United States government. The terms of Obama’s surrender exploded like rhetorical cluster bombs across the Middle East. To Israel and its Arab neighbors it surely signaled that whoever moves into the White House next January, there will be no swerve from Bush’s role as guarantor of Israeli intransigeance.

The conferences of the American Israel Public Committee have become showcases for the political clout of this lobbying group. The clout is real.

On January 11 of this year, hot on the heels of an editorial praising Obama as a Friend of Israel in the rabidly Zionist New York Sun, Lester Crown circulated a testimonial through the Jewish community, expressing his eagerness “to share with you my confidence that Senator Barack Obama’s stellar record on Israel gives me great comfort that, as President, he will be the friend to Israel that we all want to see in the White House-stalwart in his defense of Israel’s security, and committed to helping Israel achieve peace with its neighbors. Few public figures inspire as much hope and optimism as Barack Obama. Please pass on this message to all who are interested.”

Worried about rumors fanned by the Clinton campaign that he was still a secret Muslim, Obama insisted that before the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania, a state with a politically significant Jewish vote, his campaign start a Hebrew-language blog in Israel.

So Obama came to this year’s AIPAC conference determined  to dispel all remaining doubts that he’s a Friend of Israel. “We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran,” he assured AIPAC.” I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power. Everything and I mean everything.”  He swore he wouldn’t talk to the elected representatives Palestinians, Hamas. To thunderous applause he declared, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided,”

As Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli writer and peace activist expostulated here furiously in the wake of this last sentence, “Along comes Obama and retrieves from the junkyard the outworn slogan ‘Undivided Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel for all Eternity’. Since Camp David, all Israeli governments have understood that this mantra constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to any peace process. It has disappeared – quietly, almost secretly – from the arsenal of official slogans.  No Palestinian, no Arab, no Muslim will make peace with Israel if the Haram-al-Sharif compound (also called the Temple Mount), one of the three holiest places of Islam and the most outstanding symbol of Palestinian nationalism, is not transferred to Palestinian sovereignty. That is one of the core issues of the conflict. On that very issue, the Camp David conference of 2000 broke up.”

Obama’s foreign policy advisors were tearing their hair out and the next day his campaign issued a clarification. “Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties” as part of “an agreement that they both can live with.” All the same, they insisted, Jerusalem in Obama’s eyes must be the capital of Israel.

June 13

The delirium in the press at Tim Russert’s  passing has been strange. As a broadcaster he was not much better than average, which is saying very little. He could be a sharp questioner, but not when it really counted and when courage was required. He was tough with George Bush in a February interview in 2004. He taxed with him with faking the reasons to attack Iraq. But in the years before the 2003 attack, I used to hear him being merciless with those questioning whether Saddam Hussein had the nukes and bio-weapons alleged by the Bush administration and its conspirators in the press, prominent among them Russert himself.

If Russert had rocked the boat in any serious way he’d have had more enemies.  The right wingers didn’t care for Walter Cronkite, but they had no problem with Russert. Rush Limbaugh nuzzled him respectfully on the air and so did Don Imus. Russert was always there with his watering can to fertilise myths useful to the system.

Russert  spent many years working for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who played the greasiest cards in the political deck, whoring  for the Israel lobby, race-baiting for Nixon. Few were more zealous than Russert in shredding anyone with the temerity to criticize Israel. Obama, now shuffling  Moynihan’s greasy deck  with his  Father’s Day sermon about black responsibility, himself got a dose of Russert’s own race-baiting earlier this year, with a ridiculous volley of questions about Farrakhan and Wright in the Feb 26 debate   Any white telly pundit can make hay with Farrakhan, but when it came to high gasoline prices Russert was meek as a shoeshine boy on his show, lining up the oil execs and tugging his forelock.

The  tv carried live shots of Russert’s coffin. He was lying in state and the mourners could pass by and merely touch the edge of his coffin for a cure, or hope for cure. There’s  been nothing more grotesque since Reagan’s funeral; this, after seven years of craven, culpable journalism across the mainstream board. No one at this point is remembering the reporters at Knight Ridder, who were among the few in the mainstream pre-war to hammer away at the WMD argument. Russert’s colleague-survivors need him as a saint.

June 28

In his always entertaining and instructive column on this site  The Musical Patriot David Yearsley this weekend describes the appalling sunburn inflicted on him by Thomas Mann, for reasons I shall not divulge, except to say Yearsley took Mann with him on holiday.

How many arms has Thomas Mann turned into spaghetti, lugging his vast novels around Europe in the vain hope that on some beach or restful glade the traveller will finally settle accounts with the Joseph Trilogy. When I left Oxford I took my girlfriend Jenny Barnes plus Joseph and his weighty Brothers on a tour of Mallorca. The vehicle was a Lambretta, and Thomas Mann x 3 rode postillion, right behind Jenny, who was right behind me.  I wasn’t used to the Lambretta or to the weight of three hardback vols of T. Mann. I would over-rev, the Lambretta would rise on its rear wheel and fall over backwards on top of Jenny and me and Thomas. One time this happened was right outside the gates of Robert Graves’s house in Deya. I ripped my pants and sat on the Mann vols as Jenny the pants up. Mann tagged along the whole of the trip, but I never got anywhere with him. A very over-rated novelist in my opinion.

July 1

For millions of Americans the political highpoint of 2008 is now behind them. The precise day is forever inscribed in their hearts as one of glorious ratification of one of America’s core freedoms: June 26, when the US Supreme Court for the first time affirmed by a narrow majority of 5-4 the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

The Court’s decision was written by the court’s peppery ultra-conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia who became positively lyrical in his paean to the handgun: “There are many reasons that a  citizen may prefer a handgun for home defense: It is easier  to store in a location that is readily accessible in an emergency; it cannot easily be redirected or wrestled away by an attacker; it is easier to use for those without the upper-body strength to lift and aim a long gun; it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police.  Whatever the reason, handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid.”

Europeans, incredulous at America’s 50 million households holding about 250 million guns usually miss two important points. “Home defense” is a phrase with profound reverberations, as Scalia emphasized strongly in such paragraphs as the one cited above. And the gun lobby has been successful in anchoring their cause in the notion of a basic “freedom”, in an era when Americans correctly feel that freedoms – against unreasonable searches and seizures, or to a speedy trial, – are being relentlessly eroded by Government.

Looking for silver linings the day after the decision, gun controllers pointed to Scalia’s acknowledgment that cities and states can still pass laws denying weapons to the unsuitable, ban them altogether near schools, prohibit bazookas on front lawns and so forth. But in response the exultant gun owners point to the all-important footnote 27 in Scalia’s decision, declaring flatly that laws impinging on the Second Amendment can receive no lower level of review than any other “specific enumerated right” such as free speech, the guarantee against double jeopardy or the right to counsel. June 26 truly did open a new page in American judicial history, as politicians quickly recognized. In contrast to the New York Times’ editors, Barack Obama  prudently endorsed the Court’s decision.

I remain astounded by the tiny number of weapons allegedly seized by the Feds in their recent execution of 29 search warrants in Humboldt county, northern Caifornia, commencing on June 24.

Only thirty firearms seized in SoHum! Mr McGregor probably had better home defense against Peter Rabbit. If that’s all that a passel of alleged cultivators  can muster in Southern Humboldt, heaven help us when the Chinese declare World War Three. They could land at Shelter Cove, and scythe their way through the woods to Garberville with only token resistance from pacifists bunkered down in their plastic greenhouses flourishing watering cans. The red flag would be flapping over Willits by sundown, and San Francisco right down 101 waiting to drop into the hands of the Commie-Capitalists like a ripe plum.

July 19

Bleary Americans – well aware that neither candidate will do anything to improve their material condition —  have nothing much else to brood upon beyond the fact that Obama is half black, has “Hussain” as a middle name, spent formative years in his childhood  in places like Indonesia surrounded by Muslims and is married to an attractive black woman who said earlier this year that she’d been ashamed of America till her husband ran for the presidency.

The New Yorker is creating a stir by running its cover of Obama in ethnic dress bumping fists with Michele sporting an Afro and a gun, with Osama bin Laden’s portrait on the wall behind him and an American flag burning in the grate. Obama says it doesn’t bother him, though it’s a slur on Muslims. Liberals whine that it fans the flames of prejudice. The editor of the New Yorker, David Remnick, claims to be stunned and upset that satire has been confused with reality. This is the magazine that has never apologized for running a very influential though entirely fake story by Jeffrey Goldberg before the Iraq war claiming seriously that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were bumping firsts, while the American flag burned in the grate. Either Remnick is being disingenuous or he’s really stupid. Anyone familiar with editing material for the internet knows that satire is always taken as literal truth.

August 14

Just shy of the seventh anniversary of the Sep 11, 2001, attacks on the Trade Towers and the Pentagon, a mystery linked to those attacks has burst once again into active life, prompting a hail of speculation about just how far Bush and Cheney were prepared to go in inflaming public fears.

The mystery concerns the envelopes of white powder containing anthrax spores that were mailed out to prominent Americans, starting on September 18. In the post-Sep 11 mailings five died. The crudely written notes accompanying the anthrax spores said “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.”

Within hours the Bush administration was leaking stories to the effect that analysis of the anthrax in the envelopes disclosed the presence of bentonite and this chemical footprint – so the anonymous sources insisted to their favored outlet, Brian Ross of ABC News  — was characteristic of products from the bio-terror Labs of Saddam Hussein. (Bentonite is widely used in the US in applications ranging from oil drilling to clarifying wine.)

ABC’s stories about bentonite-laced anthrax spores were hugely effective in helping prep public sentiment for passage of the Patriot Act, giving the White House dictatorial and thus unconstitutional powers. Longer range, the stories helped justify the attack on Iraq.

Those – I count myself among them – who most emphatically do not believe that George Bush and Dick Cheney masterminded the 9/11/2001 attacks on the Trade Towers and Pentagon – have much less difficulty in agreeing with those who suggest the US government played a sinister role in setting up ABC News with its inaccurate reports, acting – as one critic, Glen Greenwald has written, as “fabricators and liars who purposely used ABC News to disseminate to the American public an extremely consequential and damaging falsehood.”

Will ABC’s Ross fess up to who fed him the stories? I doubt it. He’s been a useful conduit for  government leaks on matters such as the utility of water-boarding as a vital weapon in the war on terror. He’ll keep his mouth shut, even as public cynicism government and the press, soars.

August 20

Vacations are dangerous. Ask Barack Obama. He went off to Hawaii for rest and fun and while he was being tossed around in the surf, John McCain – who should by rights be snoozing in a hammock in one of his eight homes – was right there in the trenches fighting the Third World War. Guess who’s jumping in the polls. Obama is still stuck at 45 and McCain is pushing past him, right on the eve of the Democratic convention. Obama’s having nearly as bad a summer as John Kerry did four years ago.

Vacations have cost Georgia dearly too. A friend of mine has business in Georgia. Correction. He may have business in Georgia, but on the phone he didn’t sound too confident. “Georgia’s a disaster,” he said gloomily. “But why did Shaakashvili do a dumb thing like attacking the capital of South Ossetia,” I asked. “Couldn’t he figure that this was exactly what the Russians wanted him to do?”

My friend said the problem was that all the sensible people around Saakashvili had gone off on holiday. It seems that the Georgian president is a man of impulse. He blows his top easily, just like his friend John McCain. The Americans had given his army nice shiny new toys and his generals were eager to use them. One bright morning in early August he started screaming orders to invade, and there was no one around to tell him to cool it. Only the nuts were in the office and they cheered him on.

Saakkashvili also made the mistake of thinking the United States was right behind him.  That’s almost as big a mistake as going on vacation. Ask the ghost of Saddam Hussein. He swore up and down that he only invaded Kuwait at the start of the 1990s after a U.S. envoy in Baghdad gave him the okay. The envoy was called April Glaspie. Many hold the view that it was not entirely unreasonable of Saddam to draw that inference. The record seems to show it.

August 23

“Change” and “hope” are not words one associates with Senator Joe Biden, a man so ripely symbolic of everything that is unchanging hand hopeless about our political system that a computer simulation of the corporate-political paradigm senator in Congress would turn out “Biden” in a nano-second.

The first duty of any senator from Delaware is to do the bidding of the banks and large corporations which use the tiny state as a drop box and legal sanctuary. Biden has never failed his masters in this primary task. Find any bill that sticks it to the ordinary folk on behalf of the Money Power and you’ll likely detect Biden’s hand at work. The bankruptcy act of 2005 was just one sample. In concert with his fellow corporate serf, Senator Tom Carper, Biden blocked all efforts to hinder bankrupt corporations from fleeing from their real locations to the legal sanctuary of Delaware. Since Obama is himself a corporate serf and from day one in the US senate has been attentive to the same masters that employ Biden, the ticket is well balanced, the seesaw with Obama at one end and Biden at the other dead-level on the fulcrum of corporate capital.

Another shining moment in Biden’s progress in the current presidential  term was his conduct in the hearings on Judge Alito’s nomination to the US Supreme Court. From the opening moments of the Judiciary Committee’s sessions in January, 2006,  it became clear that Alito faced no serious opposition. On that first ludicrous morning Senator Pat Leahy sank his head into his hands, shaking it  in unbelieving despair as Biden blathered out a self-serving and inane monologue lasting a full twenty minutes before he even asked Alito one question. In his allotted half hour Biden managed to pose only five questions, all of them ineptly phrased. He did pose two questions about Alito’s membership of a racist society at Princeton, but had already undercut them in his monologue by calling Alito “a man of integrity”, not once but twice, and further trivialized the interrogation by reaching under the dais to pull out a Princeton cap and put it on.

In all, Biden rambled for 4,000 words, leaving Alito time only to put together less than 1,000. A Delaware newspaper made deadly fun of him for his awful performance, eliciting the revealing confession from Biden that “I made a mistake. I should have gone straight to my question. I was trying to put him at ease.”

Biden is a notorious flapjaw. His vanity deludes him into believing that every word that drops from his mouth is minted in the golden currency of Pericles. Vanity is the most conspicuous characteristic of US Senators en bloc , nourished by deferential  acolytes and often expressed in loutish sexual  advances to staffers, interns and the like.
His “experience” in foreign affairs consists in absolute fidelity to the conventions of cold war liberalism, the efficient elder brother of raffish  “neo-conservatism”. Here again the ticket is well balanced, since Senator Obama has, within a very brief time-frame,  exhibited great fidelity to the same creed.

August 30

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 Midland Public Library  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. )

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? 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.

September 9

There are certitudes about our political situation that were not addressed in Denver or St. Paul.

Indeed, it would take the pen of Swift to depict a scene more ludicrous than the recent Republican convention, featuring thunderous denunciations of big government a few hours before 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.

The directors of these two giant operations had been engaged in the pleasant activity of cooking the books by borrowing at low-interest government rates, selling the repackaged mortgages at a higher-interest markup and then lying about their actual exposures.

Now the Treasury is refloating these two huge casinos and sending them down the river again, so that Wall Street can stay happy and China and the other overseas lenders can be assured that the money they’re lending the United States to finance activities like strafing Afghan children from the air is at least partly secured.

September 13

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.

September  20

Hope walks arm in arm with fear, and so naturally enough Candidate Barack Obama is now reminding us, a la Roosevelt, that we have nothing to fear but fear itself and we must all pull together in a spirit of bipartisanship.  Wrong. We have many identifiable things to be frightened of, starting with a bailout program designed to bail out the thieves running our financial system, and stick middle America with the pricetag – heftier than you can imagine. Why pull together with the licensed thug who just stole your money with the pledge that he would be doing it again to your kids?

October 1

In whatever years remain to him – and the health prognoses for McCain are cloudy at best – McCain should look back at the debate over the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street as the Rubicon he was too scared to cross.  He spurned a huge chance to turn the tables on his all-too-decorous opponent. Instead he flopped around, and finished by making an ass of himself, claiming a vital role in successful passage of the bill, minutes before  House Republicans, with 95 Democrats, voted it down.

McCain should have furiously denounced the bailout. There was no ideological impediment, since the Arizona senator has no firm convictions beyond the precepts of his bankrollers – which can be quickly summed up as: less taxes for the rich. Everything else, the thundering about earmarks, the calls for an abolition of “cost plus” in defense contracting (actually, a truly radical proposition if McCain believed a word of it), is hot air.

A McCain “No” to bailout would have put Obama in a difficult position, exposing the timidity of his own posture, and leaving him with the options of continuing as  Wall Street’s errand boy, his  role to date, or if he tried to outflank McCain from the left, as a wild-eyed radical.

But McCain’s nerve failed him, and he declared himself to be Wall Street’s errand boy too, same as Obama.  In the opening exchanges of the debate even the sedate Jim Lehrer became impatient as McCain and Obama fled the all important matter of the economic crisis and the proposed bailout and retreated into campaign boilerplate about earmarks and tax cuts.  Sacrifices? It should not have been hard for Obama to say, right up front in stentorian tones, “You ask, Senator McCain, what I propose to cut in this hour of crisis. John, I propose to cut the war in Iraq. Here’s what it has cost to date…”

The first function of any presidential debate is to demonstrate to the Big Money that both candidates are “safe”, first  on the matter of keeping the rich secure from worry. The second function is to assure all relevant lobbies that they are ready and willing to blow up the world if American “security” requires it.

In the requisite demonstrations Obama and McCain sang in unison. They are as one with Wall St. They are ready to blow up the planet. Three times Obama said he completely agreed with the elderly crank opposite him. The interactions became progressively more hackneyed and absurd. Obama pledged to “take out” Osama bin Laden. McCain vowed to prevent another Holocaust of the Jews. Obama respectfully agreed with McCain that Putin is a potential problem and that plucky Georgia needs America’s succor. It was nauseating. Most of the world and its problems didn’t feature at all. Latin America? Free trade?

Between the two of them, the candidates affirmed, often in identical terms, almost every lunatic policy position that has doomed George Bush’s presidency and made America an object of derision and loathing among the nations.

Obama is incapable of going for the jugular or even sounding as though he can take a firm stand on anything. This guy’s no leader. He comes across as a trimmer and a wimp.   McCain looks decisive by comparison.  He’s a throat slitter by temperament. He nicked Obama a couple of times, but the Wall Street tycoons went unscarred. At a ripe tactical moment McCain declined the role he affects to love. When the chips are down, he’s no maverick.

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