Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Lesser and the Greater Evil

The morning after the first debate, it seems that Barack Obama “won.” I confess, however, that I’m reporting mainly on MSNBC’s and NPR’s reaction. There’s no telling how the Republican spinmeisters will spin what happened or how effective they will be. I don’t trust my own judgment at all; I’ve never been able to tell who won in a Presidential debate. That became especially clear back in 1984 when Ronald Reagan, already exuding signs of senility – remember that McCain moment when he blathered on about driving down the Pacific Coast Highway! -- purportedly “won.” I was sure he was a gonner. Obama was more articulate and his command of the facts was stronger than McCain’s. At least he didn’t call Pakistan a “failed state” or get the name of its new President wrong. He was also better at pronouncing “Ahmadinejad.” But what’s that got to do with it?

Maybe Obama won, if he did, not because he came off as smarter or more articulate, but because he is nicer. John McCain combines arrogance and condescension with raging stupidity. And, unlike the equally arrogant and stupid George Bush, he seems utterly unaware of his own limitations. He’s not a goofus like Bush is; just a slightly pathetic and outrageously repellent character. If, as pundits tell us, voters vote for the candidate they’d rather hang out with, it seems to me that Obama should win hands down. But, then again, that may be giving too much credit to those “independent” voters who somehow just can’t make up their minds about Palin-McCain.

In any case, were it not for McCain -- and, worse still, the stupendously unqualified Sarah Palin – last night’s dose of Obamaite (essentially Clintonite) politics would have made it even harder than it already is to pull the lever for the lesser evil. [I’m still hoping that, living in a “safe” state, I won’t be scared into doing so.] It was a debate among co-thinkers. Both of them want to indemnify Wall Street speculators; they differ, if at all, only on how many crumbs to throw their victims. Both of them want what Nixon would have called “peace with honor” in Iraq. They differ only on whether the best way to achieve that goal is by prolonging the murder and mayhem (“responsibly”) for another year and a half at least, or by staying on for as long as need be for total and complete “victory.” Both want to expand the military – and to ratchet up the Bush War in Afghanistan. Both will do whatever it takes to “contain” Iran. Both will “pay any price, bear any burden” to assure that Israel can do whatever it wants. Both will stand by the flunkies the U.S. has installed on Russia’s borders in Georgia and Ukraine. And so on and on. It was a truly sickening spectacle.

Obama couldn’t even bring himself to state the obvious: that the U.S. lost the Iraq War a long time ago, and that the “surge” has hardly been the “strategic” success McCain claims it is. No surprise, then, that he steadfastly refused to strech the envelope, even just a little. There was not a word about nuclear disarmament in the Middle East (or anywhere elsewhere); not a word about bringing Bush and Cheney et. al. to justice or, in any other way, investigating their war crimes, crimes against the peace, and crimes against humanity; not a word about promoting any social program that hasn’t been on the mainstream agenda for decades; not a word about new ways to ward off global ecological catastrophes; and, worst of all, no inkling of a new New Deal – just the same old, same old with a tad better regulatory apparatus in place. It was Kerry and (the pre-born again) Gore and Bill Clinton all over again.

Obama wins on style, competence and (the new buzzword) “temperament.” Better that he run the empire while attending to our rulers interests than McCain. But that’s about it – that, and some minor kindnesses, like not invoking the name of that hapless, groveling General Petreus at every opportunity. I wish, though, that he and Biden would stop praising McCain’s “heroism” -- for being a prisoner, as if he had a choice, when he was shot down while dropping napalm and bombs for the wrong side in the Vietnam War.

My reasons are not just aesthetic. Like McCain, Obama wants to avoid the perception of abject defeat in the Bush wars, the better to fight again another day. That’s not a way to guide the United States to a soft, humane landing, as its imperial reach – and perhaps also its economic might -- declines. But it is a way to keep the likes of John McCain in our politics for another generation or more. Imagine the consternation if a proud member of the Waffen SS had run for office in Germany! That’s part of the reason why Germany today is a bastion of decency and civil liberties compared to the erstwhile Land of the Free. Must we be pummeled to arrive at that point? Couldn’t we have the functional equivalent of a devastating war to bring us to our senses – but without the attendant pain and horror? I think it’s still not too late, but not with the (Clintonized) Democratic Party at the helm. Neither Obama nor his fellow Pelosiites are preparing for a soft landing; quite the contrary. They want to build up the juggernaut, making a hard fall all but inevitable.

If only, as in something more like a real democracy, Ralph Nader had been permitted to debate along with Cynthia McKinney and Bob Barr. Then last night would have been an educative, not an emetic, event for the more than one hundred million people who tuned in.

Still, if Obama did indeed win, then we must be grateful for small favors. A McCain-Palin administration is about the only thing imaginable that could make Cheney and Bush look good. But the fact remains: in a conjuncture that presented historical opportunities unknown for decades, where genuinely progressive “change” really was possible, last night’s mind numbing, intra-imperialist, intra-corporate capitalist debate was another opportunity lost.

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