Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bad and Badder

Hegel famously remarked that all great political movements develop left and right wings. [I am referring, of course, to the philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, not Obama’s traveling companion and potential running mate Chuck (R, Nebraska). The latter spells his name differently and never thinks dialectically.] Hegel’s observation pertains to mediocre political movements as well. Clintonism – that peculiarly Democratic version of imperialist and neo-liberal politics – is an example.

The institutional home of orthodox Clintonism is still the Democratic Leadership Council with its affiliated “think tank,” the (misleadingly named) Progressive Policy Institute. The center is holding, but not very well – thanks mainly to disgust with the Bush government. It has dawned on many voters that there are many affinities between orthodox Clintonism and Bush’s policies, notwithstanding the Bush government’s incompetence and its dull-headed unilateralism. Voters are coming to realize that differences on cultural and social questions don’t matter as much as they seemed to a decade ago, and that on the traditional axes of political life, there is just not enough difference. There is also the fact that, during the primaries, Hillary Clinton, the standard bearer of orthodox Clintonism, was obliged to veer slightly to the left. Moreover, centrist Clintonism is bound to take an Obamaistic turn. No one quite knows what that portends – beyond “change” and “hope” and other vacuous aspirations. The principle of plus ça change governs, of course; but, even so, new people are likely to implement more than merely cosmetic changes. With respect to “national security” policy, some inkling of what we can expect is offered in the current New York Review by Samantha Power,a likely Obama functionary. If she is right, under Obama’s leadership, Clintonism is likely to morph into a kind of neo-Trumanism – a more imaginative imperialism, based on professional military power and (multilateral) institution building. It is significant that, in recent years, Harry Truman, architect of the Cold War and founder of the national security state -- the only Commander in Chief ever to have dropped nuclear weapons on human populations -- has been venerated by centrist Clintonites with as much zeal as Republicans (and many Democrats too) venerate the right-wing actor and anti-New Deal militant Ronald Reagan.

I have called left Clintonism “Pelosiism,” and analyzed its mischievousness in countless entries. Pelosiites talk left and act – Clintonite. They are enablers. There are perhaps a dozen genuine progressives in the Progressive Caucus; the rest are out and out Pelosiites. Thanks to the 2006 elections, when the Democrats snookered anti-war voters into thinking that a vote for a Democrat was an anti-war vote, the ranks of the Pelosiites have swelled somewhat – not so much because many real or phony progressives were elected (the Pelosiite leadership saw to it that only a very few ran), but because many centrist Clintonites, seeing which way the wind is blowing, have edged every so slightly out of the center and into the Pelosiite fold.

Then, overlapping with the DLC, there are the Blue Dog Democrats, the Clintonite right. In his most recent entry at salon.com, Glenn Greenwald makes a convincing case for booting as many of them as possible out of office. His arguments are persuasive. The one thing all Clintonites have in common is opportunism; they “triangulate” at every opportunity. Pelosiites and orthodox Clintonites (including Obama and his advisors) are friendly to imperialism and militarism and pro-corporate by nature. But the Blue Dog Democrats drag them even further to the right. The chances of forcing the coming Obama administration to steer a better course would be enhanced if the influence of the Blue Dogs within the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, were diminished. But even if Obama can’t be changed for the better, rank-and-file Democrats in the House and Senate will legislate and investigate better (less badly), the fewer right-wing Clintonites there are.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Reliable Sources

As I’ve argued many times before, in not nominating John Edwards, the Democrats missed a rare historical opportunity to change course (albeit slightly) for the better. But maybe it’s a good thing, from a lesser evil point of view, that the opportunity was missed. I say this because it seems that Edwards may have a Gary Hart streak; one that, were he the nominee, might land John McCain in the Oval Office. Even if Edwards did nothing remotely sleazy, count on the Republican sleaze machine to work full time to convey the impression that he did. They know that for a sizeable portion of the American electorate, “there’s nothing true nor false but seeming makes it so.” Witness their repeated insinuations that (JC and Yahweh forbid!) Barack Hussein Obama is a “secret Muslim,” a “charge” sure to rile America’s growing ranks of Islamophobes.

The story does seem preposterous. Would Edwards have had an affair just in time for the primary season? He’s no dummy, after all; he understands that this isn’t France and that there’s more than a little (thoroughly justifiable) sympathy out there for his wife. But even if he had an affair, a “love child” is a bit much. And don’t forget the cover up – getting a campaign aid named (ironically) Andrew Young to claim paternity and then to move the mother and child into the gated North Carolina community where he lives with his wife and children. This exceeds Gary Hart. But The National Enquirer, the tabloid that broke the story, is a more reliable source than our so-called quality press, especially in matters of this sort – they were the ones who broke the story on Hart! Now the affair is beginning even to find its way into the mainstream media. There is some comfort in the fact that The Enquirer’s story was “confirmed” Friday night on Fox News. That supports disbelief. On the other hand, the quality press abroad -- here, for example -- does seem to have picked up the story. That lends it credibility.

Elizabeth Edwards, who would have made a better President even than John, doesn’t need this. Neither do those of us who still harbor the hope that Obama might nominate a VP with better politics than his own. Most likely, that won’t be anybody; now it almost certainly won’t be Edwards. Unless the allegation is false, which is unlikely -- or even if it is, unless the rumor gets definitely squelched, which is all but impossible -- Edwards will likely have no role at all in an Obama administration. That will be our loss.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Why I Will (Probably) Vote for Ralph Nader (Again)

This year, as in years past, the Nader campaign counsels “voting one’s conscience” (or sometimes “one’s values”). Cynthia McKinney, this year’s Green Party candidate, has said the same. I will probably vote for one or the other of them – most likely Nader. But I won’t be voting my conscience. I’ll be doing what nearly everyone else does in our political system – voting for the lesser evil. However, unlike many others, I won’t be voting for the lesser evil because I want my candidate to win; that is a plain impossibility. Neither will I be voting for Nader or McKinney because Barack Obama doesn’t pass some “tolerable lesser evil” threshold; though I must say that, with each passing day, he increasingly falls short of the mark. Consider just his plan to shift quagmires, from Iraq to Afghanistan, in the so-called War on Terror. That would be reason enough to vote against him, were he not running against someone much worse. Nader’s and McKinney’s politics are better, vastly better, than Obama’s. In the end, that’s why I probably will vote for one or the other. However, the sorry fact is that having better politics is not a compelling, principled reason to vote for one or the other of them, though, in some cases, it can be a good enough reason. Let me explain.

First, though, a comment on “voting one’s conscience.” Measured against any plausible normative theory of democratic institutions, or even in comparison with other so-called democracies, American institutions fail miserably in this respect: they deny many (perhaps most) citizens the opportunity to vote anything like “their conscience” – in other words, to register even some pale approximation of their real preferences through electoral processes. The higher the level of the office in contention, the more this is so, but the problem doesn’t just afflict the federal and state governments; it is evident at regional and municipal levels as well.

The situation is worse here than elsewhere for two reasons: first, because it is more difficult than elsewhere for choices reflecting real preferences to be represented; and, second, because most of our elections are not genuinely competitive. It is all but impossible for many (perhaps most) voters’ real preferences to be represented because we have an entrenched duopolistic party system that makes it so – mainly, but not only, by making ballot access difficult for all but Democrats and Republicans. The reason why many, indeed most, of our elections are not competitive is similarly the duopoly’s fault: thanks to their gerrymandering electoral districts, the outcomes of most legislative contests are known in advance. Then, in the case of presidential elections, there is the problem of the electoral college – dividing the country up into red and blue states. [To repeat a complaint I’ve voiced several times before: how is it that the more heinous party gets the color red!] Of course, the political coloration of an electoral district or of a state can change over time. We are very likely to find, this year, that much has changed since 2004 and even since 2006. But in the weeks leading up to an election, very little changes. Reasonably informed people in most, but not all, electoral districts, will know, before they vote, who the winner will be – because the parties will have chosen their voters, rather than vice versa. More importantly, voters in most states will know in advance which presidential candidate will get their state’s electoral votes. Needless to say, the corporate media is utterly complicitous in these undemocratic machinations.

Foreclosing all but Republican and Democratic voices forces a particularly virulent form of lesser evilism upon us. It would be different if we had run-off elections, instant or otherwise, proportional representation, or even fusion. But except for fusion in a handful of states, we have none of that – and, in any case, fusion seldom addresses the problem in presidential or state-wide electoral contests. Therefore, for the most part, we can only vote for or against Democrats or Republicans on the grounds that one will be less bad than the other. In almost all cases, the Democrat, no matter how awful, will be the lesser evil.

* *

Why bother to vote, if the outcome is already determined? There are reasons. Voting has an expressive dimension, irrespective of its effect on outcomes. This can be valuable for more than just the psychological equanimity of voters. Protest votes can be useful – not for picking winners, but for affecting what the winners will say to gain office and even what they will do once they are in office. There can also be some point in putting up a good fight, especially if you believe that circumstances are changing so that the party sure to lose today will become a serious contender tomorrow. For example, it is widely believed that although Texas is still a safe Republican state in 2008, Democrats will have a chance there in 2012. If that’s true (or even if it is only believed to be true), Texas Democrats, though sure losers in the contest this year for their state’s electoral votes, have a reason to make as good a showing as possible for Obama – for the sake of elections to come.

It’s against this background that one must decide how to vote. A few people probably will be able to “vote their conscience.” Many more of them will be Democrats than Republicans. Could John McCain be anybody’s real preference? Perhaps Joe Lieberman’s and the neo-cons. But people who think like they do are hardly worth engaging – unlike people who are disposed to vote for McCain because they think he is the lesser evil. Some of those people, this year, are racists, but the majority are not moral or intellectual reprobates – they’re just misinformed and/or obviously wrong. Obama’s case is different. There is a kind of liberal (I use the term pejoratively) for whom he evidently is a close approximation of the ideal. Then there are others, quite a few it seems, whom he’s adept at fooling into voting for him, and not just against McCain. It is urgent that those people be engaged too – in order that the Obama presidency will be as good as it can be (which will probably not be very good at all).

* *

What then are we on the left who are unable “to vote our conscience” to do? The default answer, of course, is to vote for the lesser evil, Obama. But it isn’t always quite so simple.

One relevant factor is how “safe” one’s state is. Those of us who live in safe states have less reason to vote for Obama than those who live in “battleground” states. But the implications are not always clear cut: first, because nobody really knows how one’s own state will go; and then because, even in battleground states, abject lesser evilism isn’t necessarily the best strategy. Voters, especially progressive voters, can be too clever by half. Had progressives voted less strategically in 2000, the Greens would have probably gotten what they were after – enough of the popular vote to assure future ballot access and public funding. Then, even with Al Gore’s Democrats letting George Bush steal the election, we’d all be better off today. Had voters voted less strategically in the 2004 Democratic primaries, perhaps the Democrats would have fielded a better candidate than John Kerry. Then maybe Bush and Cheney would not have been quite so able to steal that election too. [Arguably, they stole the 2004 election “fair and square” (that is, within the limits of “normal” chicanery); in 2000, with a little help from their friends among the Supremes, they just plain stole it.] So far, strategic hyper-shrewdness does not seem to have been a factor in Obama’s successes. But that was then. Now there is a looming strategic choice for voters who are to Obama’s left and who are tempted by one or the other of the more progressive candidates in the race. Most likely, many of them will again be too clever by half.

Voters who can indeed “vote their conscience” by voting for Nader or McKinney will have an easier time of it than I will. As I said, I’ll probably vote for Nader even so. To the extent that I’m “undecided,” it’s more between him and McKinney than between one or the other of them and Obama. Only if my state, Maryland, suddenly becomes unsafe would I consider voting for Barack Obama.

I’d like to vote for Cynthia McKinney mainly because she has all the right enemies. Also, for those who care – as I do, somewhat – she’s (unambiguously) African American, female, and outspoken. But, lets face it, the more she says, the clearer it becomes that she won’t do the progressive cause well. She’s too much of a flake. Her running mate, hip hopper Rosa Clemente is even worse. [Am I the only one who finds it remarkable that, this year, the Green Party is not all that interested in green causes? It is more interested, it seems, in becoming what the Rainbow Coalition, under Jesse Jackson’s leadership, might have been; a voice for the excluded. But, for that, it would need an articulate and charismatic leader, like Jesse Jackson and unlike Cynthia McKinney or Rosa Clemente.]

Nader is, by far, the more forceful and articulate proponent of progressive ideas. I wish he were running as a Green, as he did in 2000. Then there’d be a “party building” reason to vote for him. But I have no problem with making him my lesser evil; and not just because he too has all the right (liberal Democratic) enemies. [I would have had no problem even with the more progressive of the “electable” Democratic contenders for the nomination, John Edwards or even Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd, though their views are far to the right of Nader’s. My lesser evil standards are not very high!] Nader is good; but his views don’t represent my “conscience.” They are, so to speak, neo-New Deal Democratic. As Democrats should (but don’t), Nader seeks left alternatives within capitalism. That makes his positions infinitely better than Obama’s. But they don’t address the “conscience” or “values” of anyone who, like me, thinks that capitalism itself, not just inordinate corporate power, is the problem.

Still, there is something to be said for casting a protest vote, especially from within a safe state. There is probably no defensible principle that mandates it. But my intuitions tell me that, all things considered, I can do more good voting for Nader than by adding to Obama’s (likely) “mandate.”

It would probably be better were the progressive protest vote not split. But the situation may not be as bad as it appears. Despite his politics, Nader has never done well among voters “of color.” Perhaps McKinney, aided by Clemente, can make some inroads there. The more serious problem, in communities of color and in the constituencies that Nader has been successful in reaching, is Obamamania. It is likely to make both campaigns more than usually futile. But both Nader and the Greens are determined to push forward; and the quixotic aspect of their efforts is no reason to gainsay their determination.

One further point bears mention. Were the Democrats at least nominally better than they are – were they more like the pre-Blair Labour Party in Britain or like almost any European Social Democratic Party – there’d be a reason to be loyal to the party even for people in “safe” districts. It would be a way to voice solidarity with a certain (largely abandoned) militant tradition and its values. I’m not sure how compelling such a reason would be (it would depend on the circumstances), but it would be a relevant consideration. However, Obama is running on the ticket of a party that has almost nothing in its past that is even remotely estimable, except that it has been reliably the lesser evil. Yes, for a few years in the mid-30s, after popular pressure forced the New Deal to take off and before the enemies of progress – and then World War II -- succeeded in stalling it in its tracks, the Democrats were, for the most part, a force for good. But that was little enough and long enough ago not even to count as a relevant, much less a compelling reason to be loyal to the party of Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and, worst of all, Bill Clinton. Except for Carter who, out of office, has shown an unseemly tendency to tell the truth (most recently about Israel/Palestine), these are the Democrats’ role models. They are a truly villainous lot who offer nothing worth emulating. For them, as for Obama, the best that can be said is that the alternatives to them that our very undemocratic institutions permitted were even worse.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Prickly Liberals

Was it the magazine cover or was it the fact that Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker article about Obama’s years in Chicago politics revealed the Democrats’ presumptive nominee to be just an ordinary pol, not a messiah in the making? In any case, Lizza and The New Yorker were invited off the press plane accompanying Obama on his campaign trip (aka “fact finding mission”) to Afghanistan and Iraq, and then to Israel, Jordan, Germany, France, and the UK. This piece from The Guardian reports on liberal bloggers complaining about “retribution” for “unfavorable coverage.” But, of course, for anyone with a brain screwed on right The New Yorker cover was pro-Obama or, at least, anti-rightwing caricatures of him. Needless to say, prickly liberals don’t have their their brains screwed on right. Needless to say too, there are plenty of sound reasons to oppose Obama that have nothing to do with him being an unpatriotic secret Muslim out to wage “jihad” and/or get whitey.

Needless to say too, none of these reasons come close to reasons for hoping John McCain’s Republicans defeat him in November. Our institutions force lesser evilism upon us -- and, compared to McCain, even a turnip would be a lesser evil. But this does not mitigate the plain fact: that Barack Obama, like Hillary Clinton, is, at best, a kinder, gentler and more competent proponent of the politics George Bush and Dick Cheney ought to have brought into profound disrepute. Unfortunately, thanks to a media as much in the thrall of the regime as our two semi-official parties are, those criminals have only brought disrepute upon themselves – not the politics for which, as it were, they stand.

That leaves it up to we, the people: to wean ourselves and each other away from the illusions of Obamamania and, to the greatest extent possible, to force President Obama to do the right thing (or at least not to wallow in the wrong thing, as the beneficiaries of the regime in place would like).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bring Bush to Justice?

Not likely; not if our Democrats have anything to say about it. With CNN and its ilk framing what counts as political discourse in the Land of the Free, justice for the Bush crime family is far from the public mind. According to our manufacturers of acquiescence, all that matters, this week, is how “presidential” Barack Obama looks as he visits the troops (as in their trope “support the troops”) and meets with imperialism’s increasingly recalcitrant servants (Hamid Karzai and Nouri al-Maliki).

But without an enraged citizenry clamoring for it, justice for Bush and Company would be bad for the regime. Such, it seems, is the Democratic view, identified and explained here, in Glenn Greenwald’s latest column on salon.com. Democratic thinking reduces to this: let principle be damned and the rule of law as well! What matters more is that we (the political class) “just get along” so that the regime we administer continues unperturbed. This, I might add, is what the paymasters of both parties want; and it is their dollars that the Democrats are shamelessly chasing. Note, especially, Greenwald’s gloss on the position of New York’s “civil libertarian” Senator Charles (Schmucky Chucky) Schumer and the views of that archetypical Obamian liberal Cass Sunstein, ace legal philosopher and recent bridegroom of the (temporarily) deposed Hillary name caller and “humanitarian interventionist” Samantha Power.

In 2000, the still cowed Al Gore, aided by the hapless Warren G. Christopher, Bill Clinton’s first Secretary of State (now a senior Obama advisor), let George Bush and Dick Cheney, aided by the far more able Bush family fixer James Baker, steal the presidential election. Although the facts were on their side, the Gore campaign put up a miserable fight. In the end, though, it wasn’t just incompetence and/or timidity that permitted Bush and Cheney to take possession of the Oval Office. The Democrats caved mainly for the sake of “harmony” within the political class. This is the same reason that will permit Bush administration leaders and functionaries, the beneficiaries of the old Gore’s quest for harmony, to get away with crimes far worse than murder.

Will not future generations see Gore’s capitulation as emblematic of the Democratic political style? And will they not appeal to the disposition it illustrates to explain what is bound in time to seem almost incomprehensible: why Bush and Cheney and the criminals they let loose upon the world were never tried by competent courts and, in consequence, obliged to live out the remainder of their miserable lives in orange jumpsuits under conditions more humane (for how could it be otherwise!) than those they (illegally) imposed upon others?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Remember the Reasons, Part 2

To repeat a point I’ve made many times before – here, for example – in the contest for the Democratic nomination, there were few discernible policy differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. To the extent that there were some – whether or not to mandate universal health care coverage is the most conspicuous example -- Clinton’s position was probably better. The reason to prefer Obama therefore had nothing to with “the issues.” Rather, the reasons were twofold: to hand the Clintons a measure of retributive justice for their actionable offenses (murderous sanctions, wanton bombing campaigns, illegal wars, encouragement of ethnic cleansing) and to keep the old Clinton hands, the more noxious ones anyway, from coming back into power.

There was never much justice in the offing. The Democrats won’t even impeach George Bush or Dick Cheney, let alone bring them to justice for their crimes against the Constitution or for their war crimes, crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity. What chance, then, that they’d submit their own ideological leader to the rule of law? But there was at least the prospect of popular repudiation and public humiliation. That hasn’t happened either. Instead, Obama can’t pander enough to the Clinton family and their benighted enthusiasts. His media allies have followed suit – putting hopes of repudiation to rest.

The second reason has all but faded too. In order to diffuse the Republicans’ claim that he hasn’t talked enough to world leaders and American generals, Obama is about to set off today on a European junket with trips to Israel and Jordan and, most likely, also to Iraq and Afghanistan. In anticipation, today’s (July 18) New York Times reports on Obama’s foreign policy advisors. Perhaps there are backbenchers in the group who aren’t tried and true Clintonites -- The Times is characteristically uninformative on this question -- but the higher echelons positively wreak of Clintonism. With these folks running the empire, we can probably look forward to fewer preemptive wars we cannot win. But expect plenty of similarly motivated “humanitarian interventions.”

There is still a difference, however. Hillary’s likely choice for Secretary of State, the villainous Richard Holbrooke, is not in the inner sanctum – yet. [For this, apparently, we have Anthony Lake’s animosities, not Obama’s principles, to thank.] That’s about all that’s left of the reasons for siding with Obama in last spring’s sound and fury.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wishful Thinking

How far will Obama go to assure the ruling classes and the influential lobbies Democrats pander to that he is at least as trustworthy a steward of their interests as the doddering, war-mongering erstwhile napalm dropper John McCain?

Since defeating the Clintons – the one thing he has so far been good for – Obama seems ready to go far indeed. Upon becoming the presumptive nominee, he began his rightward trek by paying obeisance to AIPAC, the vital center of the Israel lobby. He has only gone down hill from there. Why not? He knows that he has a large base for which he is either the Great (non)-White Hope and/or the Second Coming of Jimi Hendrix. They will not desert him. With the primaries behind him, he therefore feels free to reveal himself to be the Clintonite he has always been.

For media pundits, it’s a win- win- strategy. Waxing Clintonite will assuage the Democrats’ paymasters and the kinder, gentler War Democrats who lead the party and populate its House and Senate caucuses. According to the conventional wisdom, it will also draw “independents” into the Obama fold. By this, the pundits do not mean the people who are too (small-d) democratic to vote for Democrats or who make the reasonable but ill-advised decision not to vote at all. They mean the mindless “moderates” who are either too uninformed, too apolitical, too morally debased, or too stupid to realize what lesser evilism requires.

[As I have argued repeatedly, our un-democratic electoral institutions force lesser evilism upon us. To get beyond it, it is not enough to “just say no,” though the Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney (Green Party) campaigns make that prospect tempting (and, for persons living in “safe” states, reasonable). To diminish lesser evilism’s hold upon our political life, the institutions that stifle the expression of voters’ real preferences must themselves by changed.]

If Obama’s VP pick is someone even to the right of himself, Hillary Clinton or one of her close allies or one of Joe Lieberman’s many Democratic co-thinkers, it will be clear that there are no limits to his rightward drift. I’d wager – say, 3 to 1 – that this is the case.

But there is a chance, a small but non-negligible one, that having shored up his “fascist pig” credentials, Obama will choose someone with better politics than his own (or rather with better politics than Obama is willing to fess up to). John Edwards is an obvious example; so too, these days, is Al Gore. Even Bill Richardson or Chris Dodd would do. There are other, more imaginative, possibilities. Were Obama to do so, he just might, for a while longer, “keep hope alive,” as one of his more illustrious out of favor supporters might say.

But, of course, this is wishful thinking. Obama won’t change for the better, unless he is compelled to do so either by circumstances or by a militant Democratic base. If, in the next few months, the economic situation deteriorates rapidly or the Bush wars worsen, circumstances might force Obama onto a better track. Unfortunately, this is more likely than the more welcome alternative – that Obama’s base will revolt. With Obamamania still rife, there is little reason to expect Democratic voters to rise to their responsibilities. But who knows? As Obama careens into full-fledged Bush/McCain territory, he just might overreach. Then a deceived and outraged electorate might just force him to do the right thing.

As I suggested in the entry that precedes this one, Obama very likely does know better than appearances suggest. The problem is to get him to act accordingly. It won’t be easy. But a decent running mate -- for example, one who puts the elimination of poverty and/or environmental security at center stage -- would make the task a lot easier. Too bad it’s so unlikely to happen.

More on The New Yorker Cover

To the ranks of liberal pundits who are nearly as dumb, and every bit as reprehensible, as the people the July 21 New Yorker cover satirizes, add MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. Fresh back from vacation, he joined in on last night’s “Crossfire.” Olbermann’s was the first anti-Bush voice to find a home in the corporate media. Needless to say, it didn’t happen until long after it might have done more good than it does now when only the most benighted still think well of the Torturer-in-Chief. Even so, for breaking through the media haze, we are all in Olbermann’s debt. But, now that Bush bashing has become the norm, Olbermann’s rants have become predictable and tiresome – making his lack of depth, and inability to appreciate irony, more striking.

Olbermann and the others would do well to look beyond the magazine’s cover. The “offending” issue contains a fine piece by Ryan Lizza on Obama’s years in Chicago and Illinois politics; it is called, appropriately, “Making It.” If Lizza’s detailed and subtle account is on track, Obama’s instincts are better than most, but he’s nevertheless a thoroughgoing opportunist – as any serious Presidential candidate would have to be. As such, he courted elite interests in Chicago from the outset. But he was and probably still is more than usually vulnerable to pressure from the base.

How to provide that pressure, and how to force Obama to focus his mind on it, is the challenge we will face between now and November – and, more importantly, after January 20, when Obama’s longstanding political ambitions are finally consummated.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dumb and Dumber

One question raised by The New Yorker cover depicting the Obamas as Afro-Muslim terrorists, burning the American flag in the Oval Office under a portrait of Osama bin Laden, is who is dumber – the liberal pundits and bloggers who find the cover “racist” and “offensive” or the people (as many as 13% of the voting public, according to some accounts) who believe that the Obamas are pretty much as the cover depicts? The rightwing “blogosphere” and Fox News have much to do with the views of folks in the latter category; they planted the seed and cultivated the flower. But in the end we have to face the fact – 13% of potential voters are morons. Prickly liberals are another matter. Presumably, they understand the concept of satire at some level; it’s just that irony is beyond their ken. Or maybe they’re simply buffaloed – like the Democrats who supported (and effectively still support) Bush’s wars and who won’t say anything even remotely critical of “the troops”(torturers included) or the godly (so long as they’re Christians or Jews, no matter how benighted), and who won’t do or say anything that certifiable morons might deem “unpatriotic.” These liberals might not be dumber than the people The New Yorker cover satirizes, but they’re every bit as reprehensible.

The larger question, though, is how is it that right-wing bloggers and Fox could rustle up anything like 13% of the population? Why can’t people who have their heads screwed on right and who got enough oxygen in utero do that? Think how much better the world would be if, say, the Green Party and/or Ralph Nader got 13% of the vote! If it were the case that there are many more stupid and ignorant people out there than reasonably progressive and enlightened ones, the question would be easy to answer. But that’s almost certainly not the case. Therefore the question is anything but easy.

One thing is clear, however: that though they play some role, the “manufacturers of consent” in the corporate and corporate-friendly media are not the main culprit in the disorganization and decapacitation of the Forces of Light. It’s the institutions – the ones that channel holders of centrist and left of center positions into the cesspool that is the Democratic Party. In this crime against (small-d) democracy, we are all complicit to some extent. That’s why a first order of business, now and after Obama trounces the increasingly bathetic John McCain, must be to think hard about how to break out of the prison house our duopolistic politics has become.

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. Especially for people living in “battleground” states, voting for Cynthia McKinney and/or Ralph Nader (yet again) is problematic – given the institutional arrangements that constrain our politics. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty in dismissing “third” (actually, second) parties or independent campaigns. They can’t “win” and neither can they restructure political life (unless circumstances change radically). It’s not even clear that they are useful as “educational” vehicles – since the media only mocks or derides them, when they pay attention at all. But there is still the expressive side of politics. Its importance shouldn’t be dismissed, even if protest votes have only a negligible effect on outcomes. For those of us who live in “safe” states, it is looking increasingly like casting a protest vote against Obama may make more sense than adding to the “mandate” of that Clintonized (center-right, empire and military friendly, shamelessly opportunist, bought and paid for) but “inspiring” Democrat.

Monday, July 14, 2008

With an Anti-War Candidate Like This...

Barack Obama’s opinion piece in today’s (July 14) New York Times, “My Plan for Iraq,” intended to calm his anti-war “base,” concludes with this remark: “…for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.” True enough. Obama has not flip-flopped, and neither is he prepared to accept defeat (“surrender”). To his everlasting discredit, he has consistently advocated the kinder, gentler imperialist program he advocates now.

For as long as Obama has had a plan, it has been to draw down combat troops in Iraq over sixteen months after he assumes office, conditions permitting. That would extend the war and occupation at least into the summer of 2010! Obama’s plan has also been to build up troop strength in Afghanistan. To that end, he has long called for adding two combat brigades (about 10000 soldiers) and other support troops, comprised largely of men and women redeployed from Iraq. The “anti-war” part of his message is just that, before the Iraq War began, he opposed it; and that he still thinks it a “blunder.” But Obama will not cut and run. That might encourage the emergence of an Iraq Syndrome to rival or even surpass the Vietnam Syndrome that Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton worked so diligently to wear down.

Needless to say, an Iraq Syndrome, making further military interventions and preemptive wars more difficult to wage, is just what the US needs. Without that break on imperialist predations, a soft-landing for the American people will be harder to accomplish, as the American empire inevitably and inexorably crumbles in the years ahead. But Obama, like most Democrats, will have none of it. Democrats can say, unabashedly though belatedly, that the Iraq War was a mistake. But since “we” are there, we must leave with dignity, the better to fight another day. Shades of Richard Nixon’s and Henry Kissinger’s “peace with honor.” No doubt, Obama does want the war he’ll inherit to wind down; the quicker the better. But the main thing for him, as for Nixon and Kissinger and John McCain too, is to keep the imperialist project going. It’s with that thought in mind that Obama’s opinion piece concludes disingenuously: “it’s time to end this war.”

It’s worth bearing in mind that Obama’s is the mainstream Democratic position. In 2006, Americans thought they were voting to end the Iraq War. What they got were Democratic majorities in the House and Senate led by Pelosiites hell bent on funding Bush’s wars, while mouthing off as if they thought differently. Before the primary season degenerated into a seemingly endless contest between two Clintonites, Obama and Hillary Clinton, only one “electable” contender, Bill Richardson, even came close to voicing a genuinely anti-war position. [I leave aside Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, who were marginalized from the get go, and even excluded from joint public appearances (“debates”) at the party’s first opportunity.] The others, even John Edwards, whose domestic positions were light years ahead of Obama’s or Clinton’s, were on board. Like the hapless Howard Dean in 2004 (and still), the Democratic contenders were doves (on this war at least) – but hardly anti-imperialists or principled opponents of the militarism that makes American imperialism possible.

The Democratic leadership and rank and file have much to answer for, but the fault is not theirs alone. The POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, is only doing what comes naturally to it. Serving their paymasters is the default position for Democrats. They have become stuck there because they have not had to contend with a militant anti-war movement threatening to tear apart the regime they help maintain. There is probably some truth in the claim that the anti-Vietnam War movement helped end the Vietnam War. Back then, when the anti-war movement was militant enough for our rulers to fear the consequences of keeping the war going, there were probably fewer “doves” in the general population than there now are. But dovishness counts for very little; not with political institutions as unresponsive to public opinion as ours are. What counts is militancy.

There has not been much of that in the Home of the Brave in recent years. With the candidacy of the Rorschach man, Barack Obama, what little militancy there was dissipated further. Some of it even morphed into Obamamania. But, in the past few weeks, with Obama and the party he leads careening even farther to the right, it has become harder for liberals to maintain their illusions. That’s not good for Obama, and neither is it good for the regime he wants to administer. Thus, Obama and his handlers have embarked on an illusion-restoration offensive – to “shore up” their liberal base. They will probably succeed. After all, we are dealing with people who, as Robert Frost famously pointed out, are notoriously disinclined to take their own side in an argument.

Jesse Jackson is a case in point. Having said that, for talking down to African Americans, Obama should have his nuts cut off, he has spent the past few days apologizing profusely. Apparently, he does not want to jeopardize the prospects of the Great (Non-) White Hope. [Ironically, his remark seems actually to have bolstered Obama’s cred with white racist voters.] But Jackson’s original instinct was more salutary than his efforts to make amends. Opponents of the Iraq War should learn from this sorry episode. For playing anti-war Americans for fools, Obama deserves worse than the fate Jackson would dish out. In a better world, he, along with all the other “anti-war” Democrats, would be told so in no uncertain terms, and unapologetically.

That’s not going to happen, of course. But not all is lost as long as Obama still feels a need to shore up his base – in other words, to fool more of the people more of the time. Were he to jettison his Rorschach qualities entirely, it would be much harder for the Democrats to mobilize the support they need to defeat that even greater evil, John McCain – the doddering neo-con whom our vaunted democracy offers up as the only real alternative to the “anti-war” Democrat on whom so many well-meaning but deluded voters still pin their hopes.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What? Me Offensive?

As the Democratic Party under Barack Obama moves from right to righter, it is becoming harder than it used to be to bear in mind that the Democrats are the lesser evil. But John McCain all but insures them that role; much as Dick Cheney and George Bush insure the Democrats, if not Obama himself, electoral successes this year.

The Republicans’ problem, the main one, is that reality is getting in the way of the fantasies they govern by. To illustrate the point, consider what surrogates for Obama and McCain have to say to get demerit points for offensiveness. The differences reveal very different attitudes towards the truth. Democrats don’t dote on it; Republicans have no idea what it is. Thus, for a Democrat to cross the line, it is sufficient to state obvious but inconvenient truths. The Republican mind is so remote from anything real that the Democratic way doesn’t cut it with them. To step out of bounds on the Republican side, what one has to do is reveal the party’s nature too blatantly – for keeping all those useful idiots, the “patriots” and “values voters,” in line.

Thus the former Texas Senator Phil Graham, a McCain economic advisor, is now on the outs. His sin: calling people who complain about the economy whiners. There was a certain logic behind his indiscretion, at least in his mind. Since markets are always right (provided nasty regulators stay away), and since their (unregulated) workings give us the best of all possible worlds, what else could complainers be? Needless to say, only the ideologically besotted could think this is so; in the real world, it is pure and simple (minded) bunk. But it is what McCain’s free-marketeer constituency believes. Graham let it be known. In more prosperous times, that would not have been so awful. But with prosperity down the drain, Graham’s was a serious tactical error, one McCain’s handlers cannot abide. Since he won’t apologize to the people who are hurting, the “little people” and so-called Reagan Democrats, the man has got to go – for now.

I confess: I’m happy that Graham is in the shit house; it’s where he belongs. He is an unusually repellent Republican -- and not just because he shares Newt Gingrich’s inflated sense of his own intellectual abilities. That occupational hazard of failed and middling academics is common enough in the Halls of Congress. What gets my contempt going is that signature expression of his. His is the face of an aging, sweaty good ole’ boy sitting on a toilet in some god awful bus station – at just the moment when the janitor opens the stall door by mistake.

The Democrats have an eminence waiting in the wings who sports a similar look; a man similarly self-deceived about his intellectual abilities. That would be former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, the purported master of all things military. For purveyors of conventional wisdom, Nunn would make a fine running-mate for Obama. Lets hope Obama doesn’t agree, and lets hope too that, after Obama wins, Nunn doesn’t become his Secretary of Defense or otherwise find a place in the higher echelons of government. The last thing we need is yet another Democrat who just knows that all those voters who are impatient about getting out of Iraq, and all those soldiers complaining about getting called back to active duty after they’ve done their time, are whiners.

I’m hopeful because like some far greater malefactors – George Schultz, for example, and even Henry Kissinger – Nunn has pointed out that there is no need for any country – including our very own beacon of truth, justice and the American way -- to have a nuclear arsenal. [Why our so-called left hasn’t joined these eminences in pointing this out is something to ponder. That they are mum does not speak well for them.] Anyway, the need, even the urgency, for nuclear abolition is an obvious and inconvenient truth, if ever there was one. In a Clintonized Party, with Obama leading the rightward charge, that should seal his fate.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What's Truth Got to Do With It? Part Umpteen

Utter some obvious but “inconvenient” truth this electoral season – then, if you’re a Democrat, get denounced, diagnosed by media pop psychologists (aka pundits), and, if possible, forced out of public view. Thus Jimmy Carter on Apartheid in occupied Palestine, Samantha Power on how the Clintons will do anything to win elections, Jeremiah Wright on America’s racist past and present, Wesley Clark on John McCain’s lack of military and diplomatic experience and now – Jesse Jackson.

Jackson, according to the movers and shakers of conventional wisdom, is sore because he thinks he, not the upstart Obama, should be the first black President. So he acted out – by saying “crudely” that Obama was “talking down” to African Americans in casting blame on black fathers (Pat Moynihan style) and in pandering to black (and other) evangelicals on “faith based initiatives.” Well, duh! The only thing wrong with what Jackson said is that it’s incomplete. Not only is Obama talking down to African Americans; he’s sucking up to those “hard working white” folks Hillary Clinton spent her cynically courting.

But Jackson is not blameless. Had he not folded the Rainbow Coalition back into the mainstream of the Democratic Party in the late eighties, had he not been so loyal to the party’s mainstream ever since, and had he not accepted crumbs from the Clintons all these years (even to the point of “counseling” Bill when his Monica troubles were getting him down), the Democrats would, in all likelihood, have more backbone than they do today (they could hardly have less!), more progressive policies, and a candidate for President who wouldn’t be quite so ready to aid and abet Dick Cheney and George W. Bush as they continue to commit high crimes and misdemeanors – not to mention war crimes, crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity. Remember this the next time Barack Obama joins the neo-con drum beat for war with Iran, as he has been doing with renewed vigor yesterday and today.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Worse than Clinton!

It had to happen sooner or later. It happened sooner – Barack Obama has now moved to the right of Hillary Clinton! It had to happen because, unlike in most other “capitalist democracies” (if I may be permitted that oxymoron), it’s the American way for candidates to betray their base before they are elected. For this, we have our unusually undemocratic electoral institutions to thank. With two semi-institutionalized Business parties competing with each other, the wisest electoral course is to go for the middle; or so our candidates believe. [This is not a strategy that has worked out particularly well for Democrats in recent decades, but Democrats, including Obama, evidently believe in it nevertheless.] Needless to say, the middle has been moving ever more rightward at least since the waning days of the Carter administration; a trajectory our electoral institutions has encouraged. Thanks to the incompetence of Cheney and Bush and the majority (Republican) party, there was an opportunity to change course this electoral season. But the paymasters and functionaries of the Democratic Party, and the media hacks who legitimate their doings, held their ground. The rightward drift is therefore still alive and well.

Thus Obama voted for the new FISA bill (and, in the end, for giving telecom companies retroactive immunity for having clearly violated U.S. laws). In other words, he voted against freedom (ostensibly for the sake of “security”). He voted with each and every Republican. Among Democrats, he was not alone. Only 26 of them voted against cloture and only 28 voted against the final FISA bill. Hillary Clinton voted on the right side both times.

These Democrats did the right thing for once: Akaka, Biden (yes, Biden!), Bingaman, Boxer, Brown, Cantwell, Cardin, Hillary Clinton, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Feingold, Harkin, Kerry, Leahy, Levin, Lautenberg, Murray, Reed, Reid, Sanders, Schumer, Stabenow, Tester and Wyden.

These Democrats voted like the pusillanimous enemies of liberty they are: Bayh, Carper, Casey, Conrad, Dorgan, Feinstein, Innuoye, Kohl, Landrieu, Lincoln, McCaskill, Mukulski, Nelson (Neb.), Nelson (Fla.), Barack Obama, Pryor, Rockefeller, Salazar, Webb, and Whitehouse.

I must therefore correct what I have been saying. In earlier postings, I several times ranked Obama better (less right-wing) than Joe Biden or Clinton and, of course, worse than John Edwards, Bill Richardson, and Chris Dodd. [Needless to say, he was and is also much worse than the “unelectables” – Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel.] After today’s vote, that assessment cannot stand. Whether thanks to circumstances or character defects or both, Barack Obama is now the worst of the lot. Of course, he’s still better than John McCain -- though McCain at least had the decency to be out of town for the vote! But increasingly the race between those two is boiling down to a contest to see which one will be the less dangerous Bush Three.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What a Difference a Month Makes

One good thing about the Clintons’ obstinacy this past spring: it delayed Barack Obama’s not so slow but steady rightward drift. This thought was driven home when I read Eliot Weinberger’s very useful “Obama v. Clinton: A Retrospective” in the July 3 London Review of Books. Weinberger’s article articulates what many liberals were thinking as recently as a few weeks ago -- back when it was so much easier for proponents of “change” to delude themselves about Barack Obama. No doubt, there are still many Obamamaniacs who remain deluded. The farther away they are from American shores, the easier it is to keep the delusion going. This is why, from abroad, Democrats have always looked better than they are – compared to the “competition.” Thus I recall many a spirited argument with foreigners who should know better in the early days of the Clinton administration -- before it turned comically rotten and when memories of Ronald Reagan and Bush the Father were still very much alive – about the Man from Hope.

[It may be relevant too that European, especially British, audiences are inclined to go gaga when an American President is bright and not “linguistically challenged.” The latter affliction runs in the Bush family (along with ignorance and stupidity); in the case of the family's current avatar, all three afflictions have run amok. Thus the contrast could hardly be sharper.]

In any case, where Obama is concerned, it is becoming harder to indulge in wishful thinking. The current issue of The Nation (July 21/28) contains an informative article by Robert Dreyfuss on what can be ascertained about Obama’s foreign policy. It is sobering to read. Dreyfus is not yet ready to despair; he thinks Obama is still a work in progress. Perhaps, but the prognosis is becoming worse day by day.

Dreyfus does say tellingly, towards the end of his article, that “the most hopeful aspect of an Obama presidency …[may be]…the fresh face of America that he would present to the world.” True enough, and more than enough to justify opposition to John McCain. But how pathetic is it that at an historical conjuncture where, for the first time in decades, a real change of course is feasible, that’s about all there is in the offing.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Iraq Flip Flop?

It must be true that “the press corps” loves John McCain. Why else would they mention his many spectacular flip flops so rarely? Perhaps it’s because they’re rooting for him as he tries, in vain, to win over his party’s several extreme right wings. In the Democratic primaries, they notoriously favored Barack Obama too – not just over Hillary Clinton but, even more blatantly, over the more progressive candidates. Now, however, they have no hesitancy about pointing out his flip flops. Since becoming the presumptive nominee, Obama has given McCain’s media “base” a lot to work with. He has flip flopped on, among other things, public financing, FISA, tax policy and “free” trade. The extreme nature of Obama’s flip flops is remarkable, as is the rapidity with which he is moving rightward (having already begun with a good head start), but there is nothing surprising about the phenomenon itself. Just as McCain has extreme right wingers to placate, Obama has a ruling class to win over. Sometimes the media flip flop detectors are wrong, however. Thus, contrary to what they would have us believe, Obama hasn’t flip flopped on Iraq; not yet. He did suggest that his plan to get the troops (the combat troops, that is) out in sixteen months isn’t written in stone. But this isn’t a flip flop. It’s worse than that.

It’s worse because his position really hasn’t changed – a point that George Packer makes perfectly clear, perhaps unintentionally, in his “Obama’s Iraq Problem” in the July 7/14 New Yorker.

Obama did oppose the invasion of Iraq in 2002, back when opposition from more prominent Democrats might have made a difference. This is to his credit; just as the support so many Democrats, including the still unapologetic Hillary Clinton, gave to Cheney and Bush marks them as Cheney/Bush collaborators. Like most of his advisors (in the halcyon days before his campaign and Clinton’s melded together), Obama understood that an effort to make Iraq a de facto U.S. colony – which is all the Iraq War was ever really about – was bound to fail. Thus he was a “dove” when most Democrats were still “hawks.”

But, as a dove, he never opposed the war for anti-imperialist reasons. If anything, the opposite was the case: he thought, correctly, that America’s imperial interests would be better served by not undertaking that war of choice. Note that, to this day, Obama has never objected to other recent American wars – the one in Afghanistan, for example. In fact, part of Obama’s plan from the beginning was to transfer troops from Iraq to that other theater in the so-called War on Terror. Neither has there ever been a peep of criticism from his quarter about Bill Clinton’s military adventures: in the former Yugoslavia, most conspicuously, but also in east Africa and central Asia.

The fact is that, for as long as he has been in public life, Obama has never been an anti-imperialist. He is against imperialist wars that harm imperial interests. But so are Cheney and Bush and the Clintons. The difference is just that Obama’s judgment is better than theirs-- and that, until recently, he surrounded himself with more competent advisors.

This is why Obama, like most Democrats, has never taken a truly anti-war position on Iraq. Democratic majorities in the House and Senate could have ended the war on a dime -- by defunding it, as is their Constitutional right and duty. But they can’t (or won’t) do anything of the sort. The reason why is not that they think electoral success depends on “supporting the troops” (by keeping them in harm’s way), though they’ve been talking up that howler for years. The reason is that even more than they want that disastrous war to be over, they don’t want the U.S. to suffer an abject defeat. Or rather, since the U.S. was defeated abjectly in Iraq long ago, they don’t want the outcome to seem like what it is. That would make it harder for the empire to continue on its longstanding course; something the candidate of “change we can believe in” wants desperately to avoid. For Obama, as much as for Hillary Clinton and the others, the first priority is not to revive the so-called Vietnam Syndrome; in other words, to keep the public more or less on board as the empire does what it’s gotta do.

Democrats like Obama, along with Republicans, do not want the fiasco in Iraq to result in an “Iraq Syndrome.” But this is just what the United States needs if it is to achieve anything like a soft landing as American economic dominance declines. Neo-conservatives and their Clintonite cousins are oblivious. Obama is oblivious. But the fact remains that either the United States eases itself out of its imperial role in a way that leaves intact what is still good about the country – especially, the civil liberties it still (mostly) honors – or life here will get worse fast, as the national security state ratchets up its project of perpetual war.

Democrats under Obama will obfuscate as they must to keep an Iraq Syndrome at bay. But there’s a better chance of their not getting their way if they, not McCain and his minions, control the government. Thus it is crucial to work against McCain. But it is equally crucial not to fall into line behind Barack Obama. In 2006, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity (or of Pelosiites!), deceived Democratic voters. For that they deserve not just shame, but condemnation. If voters let themselves be duped again, then, as the saying goes, shame (and also condemnation!) on them too.

Democratic voters would have made the tasks ahead much easier had they chosen a more progressive candidate in the primaries. They had the opportunity. Instead they fell for an “inspiring” Rorschach Man, who seemed to be whatever they wanted him to be. Now reality is intruding into that illusion; Obama can’t remain a Rorschach Man forever. When will it dawn, though, on the Obamaniacs that if they want anything good to come of an Obama presidency, he will have to be fought every step of the way!

Partly because the press corps favored Obama so much during the primaries, a rare opportunity for real change, not plus ça change…, was missed. But it is not entirely gone. To salvage what we still can, it is crucial that we not obscure differences between doves and anti-imperialists. The difference affects policy, as Obama’s latest (non) flip flop should force even his anti-war supporters to acknowledge. But there is more than “just” the duration of this most disastrous and self-defeating of Bush’s wars riding on it. It is the wars to come that we must now fight to prevent.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


In much the way that Ulysses had to bind himself to the masts of his ship in order not to succumb to the Sirens’ call and remain on course, sensible voters in 2004 had to force themselves not to listen to what John Kerry said and did in order to remain steadfast in their determination to vote for him against George W. Bush. It is fast becoming that way in 2008 with Barack Obama. If his public appearances these past few days are any indication, not paying attention to the content of Obama’s “inspiring” muttering will be necessary not only for voting for the lesser evil, but even for keeping down one’s lunch.

For political philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, patriotism can be something more than “the last refuge of scoundrels.” But not for the flag waving, lapel button wearing “patriots” Obama pandered to yesterday in Independence, Missouri (not incidentally, the “Show Me” state). Their “thinking” may not be out of line in the Land of the Free, but the fact remains: their patriotism is stupid. But it’s one of those things – there are many others – which Democrats feel obliged to encourage. [Another is “supporting the troops,” which is code for keeping the Bush wars going and keeping the economic conscripts who fight them in harm’s way.] We owe this nauseating spectacle to the fact that the Party of Pusillanimity, the POP, much like the country at large, never quite assimilated the real lessons the Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon war against Vietnam (and then the rest of southeast Asia) taught. If it had, it would be unthinkable now that a John McCain might be the one to extend the Cheney/Bush presidency for yet another dreadful term.

The POP has also not learned from its real mistakes in 2004. Instead, it focuses on its imaginary mistakes; thus its determination to turn itself into the party of the godly. After Karl Rove mobilized Christian fundamentalists to clobber Kerry in 2004, it has become a Democratic axiom that, in their obsessive pandering, they must not forget evangelical Christians. It seems that, since 2004, they’ve learned (or at least convinced themselves) that evangelicals are not all the same; and that some of them can be won over (or won back) to “progressive” positions – by which they mean saccharine Democratic positions. Thus today, according to news reports, Obama will tell evangelicals in Ohio that he favors “faith based initiatives” of various sorts. With the primary season over, it’s evidently not enough that he and Hillary Clinton meld together. He now seems to want to go all the way – assuming the God-fearing mantle of George W. Bush.

To be sure, Obama has a problem. In our debased political culture, where the likes of Fox news help set the agenda, a disturbingly large number of very ignorant people believe that Obama is a “secret Muslim.” To this “charge,” a slightly more “audacious,” but still God-fearing Obama could reply: “I’m a Christian, but there’s nothing wrong or ‘un-American’ with being a Muslim” That would at least inject a little oxygen into some moribund brains. But NO. Obama prefers to deny the “charge,” letting the slight to Muslims go uncorrected.

Of course, in a saner possible world, being a Muslim would indeed be a reproach, as would being a Christian or a Jew. But that isn’t the universe Democrats choose to inhabit. Nevertheless, there are some well-meaning but deluded people, some of whom surely know better where godliness is concerned, who find Obama’s stance “pragmatic.” [In their ignorance, these good liberals have turned Sidney Morgenbesser’s quip about pragmatism inside out. Morgenbesser famously, and very wisely, said that “pragmatism is true in theory, but in practice it just doesn’t work.”] “Pragmatically,” Obama is now positioning himself as the candidate of God and Country, while liberal Democrats either cheer him on or turn a blind eye. Thus, like him, they reveal themselves to be the scoundrels they are.

* *

Speaking of which, Obama and his liberal supporters have dealt yet another blow to truth telling. This time, the one in trouble for stating the obvious isn’t Jimmy Carter, whom the liberals would love to go away, or Jeremiah Wright or Ralph Nader, whom the liberals love to bad-mouth: it’s Obama’s own “surrogate” -- General Wesley Clark. Like Jay Rockefeller before him, Clark pointed out that being shot down in an airplane and then held as a POW is not exactly a qualification for being Commander-in-Chief. Were he not a military man and a Democrat, he might have added that volunteering to drop bombs and napalm on a civilian population fighting for its independence isn’t much of a qualification either; or at least that it shouldn’t be. But through some convoluted reasoning, Obama and his handlers felt obliged to rebuke the good General – confounding his truth telling with an attack on John McCain’s “patriotism.”

In the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal pointed out that when a point is carried to its extreme, it turns into its opposite. “Too much light blinds us,” Pascal wrote. Perhaps we’ll see another example today in Ohio. Or is it too much to hope that the next time Obama castigates someone for stating the obvious, he’ll confound their temerity not just with leveling charges about the patriotism of others, which Clark’s adventure in truth telling plainly was not, but with an attack on faith. Or will no Democrat dare state the obvious about believers (except, of course, the Islamic variety).