Friday, October 31, 2008

Having It Both Ways

If our institutions were more (small-d) democratic, there would be less of a gap between what candidates say and do during electoral campaigns and how they govern if they win. But, of course, our institutions are hardly (small-d) democratic, especially at the national level. Ours is a quasi-official two party system in which privately raised money makes all the difference – for buying media time (which ought to be widely available and free) and even for organizing so-called ground forces. Under these conditions, there are only two ways to run a general election: by appealing to one’s own party’s “base” or by appealing to “undecided” voters -- those clueless apolitical people who somehow can’t make up their minds.

[I confess that I’m still “undecided” too, though not about the obvious need to defeat the McCain-Palin ticket. I can’t make up my mind between Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney. If the Greens were not a lost cause and/or if McKinney were less of a flake, it would be a no brainer. I’ve consistently maintained that, in the face of Obamamania, for Nader to run as an independent this year was foolish. Nevertheless, I’m likely to vote for him – because, living in a “safe” Democratic state, I think that’s a better way to use my vote than by adding it on to the Obama majority.]

The conventional wisdom has long had it that going after the handful of clueless people in “the middle” is the best path to electoral success, though the Rove-Bush campaign of 2004, targeted at the Republicans’ godly contingent, could plausibly count as a counter-example. Looking forward to 2008, there was some hope, probably illusory, that John Edwards, if he won the nomination, would go against the conventional wisdom – by running to the left. That hope vanished when he withdrew from the race, even before Super Tuesday. So, last spring and summer, it was the same old same old. Barack Obama started out to the right of the (big-D) Democratic center, positioning himself just a tad to Hillary Clinton’s left. No sooner had he secured the nomination than he surged to the right – towards the perceived center of the general electorate (where those “undecideds” live, along with “moderate” Republicans). Then, having discovered that serenity works well in these troubled times, he implanted himself in that place – while his doddering opponent flails about mindlessly, wreaking of incompetence, and making a cult out of ignorance and stupidity. Sarah Palin is the goddess of that cult, and Joe the Plumber its “revelator.”

Somehow, though, while running center-right, Obama has succeeded in energizing the (big-D) Democratic base – as well or better than Edwards might have. Being “of color” has helped. So has Obama’s charisma and his considerable political skills. So too is the fact that he is intelligent and articulate – a welcome rarity in our political culture, notwithstanding Joe the Plumber. Thus, for the time being, Obama has it both ways: he has the Democratic base and he has the general electorate’s center. Barring some unforeseen and unforeseeable misfortune, he is on track for winning big.

The conventional wisdom has it too that to govern well, one must govern from the center. Hence, the babble, emanating from both parties and the servile corporate media, about “bipartisanship” and reaching “across the aisle.” Despite Obama’s example, I still believe that, even just to “win,” the way it looked like Edwards might go is at least as efficacious as the way Clinton and Obama actually went – and that it took a “perfect storm” for Obama to have it both ways. But I could be wrong. When it comes to governing, though, I’m as confident as can be that the conventional wisdom is wrong; that the way to get “real change,” the change people want, is, as the early Obama and the late Saint-Just would say, through audacity, audacity and more audacity. That’s why I’m gloomy about the coming Obama presidency. Unless Obamamania somehow morphs into a popular movement for what Obama only seems to promise, changing the constraints Obama shamelessly accepts, we will be in for a level of disappointment in comparison with which the disappointments following the 2006 Congressional elections will pale. If you think the war-abetting, impeachment preventing Nancy Pelosi is bad news, as indeed she is, just wait.

I fear a repetition of what Bill Clinton did in 1992, when, for at least a while, there was a chance (not as great as at present, but a significant one nevertheless) of moving the country, ever so slightly, to a better place from where it had stalled when it set out to “save Vietnam” (from the Vietnamese). If Obama governs the way he has been campaigning, expect it to be déjà vu all over again; expect the Hillary health plan writ large – with most of the prize given away at the start, and whatever is left negotiated into oblivion.

There is every likelihood that Obama will govern as he has run, or at least that he’ll try. His declared policies are evidence enough. But his silences are more revealing. It isn’t just that, on the Middle East and the former Soviet Union and on Latin America, Obama and McCain, along with the rest of the political class, are on the same page. It isn’t that Obama, like the others, still acts as if he thinks that what’s good for the duopoly’s corporate paymasters is good for the country. It’s worse than that. Gone entirely now is Obama the anti-war candidate: he’ll get out of Iraq, but only if he can make it not look like the abject defeat it has been. And then he’ll intensify Bush’s Afghanistan War, while building up the military generally. On accounting for Bush’s and Cheney’s high crimes and misdemeanors, not to mention their war crimes, crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity, not a peep emerges from the Obama camp.

One shudders too to think of the cabinet appointments that will follow on the heels of Obama’s all but certain victory. If we’re lucky, he’ll stay away from the old Clinton hands, the devils we know. Then perhaps we’ll be able to delude ourselves, for a few months at least, that the devils we don’t know are better. Most likely, though, we’ll get a motley assortment of the old and the new, and it will be hard to tell which is worse.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Loyal to the malefactors who own them, subservient to the lobbies that run them, and disposed, in any case, to “pay any price, bear any burden” for the empire’s sake – the Democrats have done everything in their power to quash a stubborn fact. But that fact remains: thanks to Cheney and Bush and their aiders and abettors on both sides of the aisle, there is a constituency for real change out there – one that is big enough to carry the day. The problem is that with Obama in the Oval Office – unless the never-ending Bush wars take a turn for the worse or America’s economic decline becomes even more painful – that great sleeping Giant will continue to delude itself or to lapse back into the acquiescent apathy that permitted the depredations of the past several decades.

We must not let that happen. Circumstances have conspired to let Obama have it both ways – for a while. But circumstances change. If Obama is to steer clear of disaster, he will have to put the bipartisan nonsense he has been promoting to rest. He’ll even have to govern against his fellow Clintonites in the Senate and House. He won’t do that on his own. We’ll have to make him. Otherwise, in 2010 and 2012, expect a repeat of 1994, when Republicans swept back into office as the execrable Newt Gingrich took out his Contract (on) America. That dreadful prospect is a change we can “believe in” – much more than the ones willfully oblivious Obamamaniacs imagine.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Choosing Our Battles

“It’s not over ‘till it’s over” but, with “senior campaign aids” sending out resumes and calling Sarah Palin a “rogue candidate” while prominent Republicans hasten to endorse Barack Obama, it sure looks like the McCain campaign is kaput. It couldn’t happen to a more doddering, dishonorable, war mongering former napalmist or to a more stupendously unqualified Barbie doll!

This means that we can look forward, deservedly, to some warm glows as an African American assumes the highest office in the land in a capitol city that was still segregated within the lifetime of his running-mate! It means that the whole world can breathe easier. It means that our next President will be a man of consummate political skill, considerable intelligence and unusual eloquence. In these respects, Obama excels in comparison not just with Reagan and the Bushes – who wouldn’t! -- but in comparison with Bill Clinton too. Still, in the end, his politics and Clinton’s are not all that different. Obama probably knows better; perhaps Clinton did as well. But when our lesser evils are bought and paid for by “malefactors of great wealth,” and when they are on board for maintaining American world dominance and military superiority, there is only so much we can expect from them.

There is the idea out there that Obama is more moveable (in the right direction) than Clinton was. Perhaps he is by force of his personality and intelligence, but this won’t come to much unless “we” who want more than a Clintonite Restoration make it so. If the past is any guide, that will only happen if circumstances force “us” to develop the requisite capacities and militance. In the world Obama will inherit, that is not impossible. This is why we need urgently to think beyond November 4, and to choose our battles wisely.

Since Obama started from generally Clintonite positions and then, after securing the nomination, surged even more rightward, there are many battles to wage. But in a major recession (or worse), it is probably unwise to push hard on policies that would require huge expenditures to implement or that would cause major economic perturbations. This is why now is not the time to push aggressively for, say, single-payer health insurance. Should Obama’s much worse plan be enacted, with all its wasteful giveaways to the insurance industry, it may be possible eventually to back into a single-payer framework. That was more or less what John Edwards’ better, but still bad, plan expressly envisioned. Perhaps we can force Obama to move more in that direction. We should certainly keep talking up the single-payer idea, the better to keep the idea alive. But that’s about all we can expect to achieve for now.

Similarly, let Obama and his advisors have their way, for now, with economic reconstruction. If circumstances force a new New Deal upon them, fine. Some of what they do will then merit enthusiastic support, some will merit criticism. But it’s not for “us” to save capitalism from itself. If it must be saved, then let the more enlightened capitalists and their political operatives do it; let them institute a suitable regulatory apparatus and tax regime (including perhaps “sales taxes” on financial instruments and currency exchanges). Let them punish the white collar criminals within their ranks. For the time being, “we” lack the capacity and the vision to do much better. Paradoxically, it is reasonable to hope that, if they do their jobs well, we who see a future beyond capitalism can begin to do ours.

In marked contrast, however we can and should now move on a major cause of the current economic turbulence: the three Bush wars – the two real ones that are already lost (despite assurances to the contrary by nearly the entire political class and the mainstream media) and the phony one, the so-called War on Terror. By now, Obama has all but dropped even the pretense of being an anti-war candidate. But it was the Iraq War that brought the Democrats to power in 2006, laying the foundation for what is likely to happen nine short days from now. It is up to us to remind Democrats of this, and to keep these matters foremost in Obama’s mind.

Several consequences follow:

- consistent with a sane purchase on what is required to keep the “homeland” secure, we should demand a rapid restoration of the rule of international law (including habeas corpus rights and prohibitions against torture), along with restoration of the freedoms Americans enjoyed before the so-called War on Terror began.

- we should raise (or rather re-raise) demands for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. We should demand as well that suitable funds be provided for the reconstruction of those countries under local or international (not American) auspices; in other words, reparations.

-since the the outcomes of the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are easily obfuscated, we cannot count on the perception of defeat to force a “soft landing” upon us (as the Germans and the Japanese could after World War II). It is increasingly unlikely that the shock of defeat will even be salient enough to give rise to an Iraq Syndrome, analogous to the very beneficial Vietnam Syndrome of the 1970s and 80s. But, if we fight hard enough for it, we can force an accounting for what happened under Cheney and Bush that would help make it less likely that similar misadventures are undertaken in the future. Ideally, this would involve bringing “those two,” as McCain might say, along with their fellow miscreants to justice -- for war crimes, crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity. Unless compelled, the Democrats, with Obama in the lead, are too committed to “bipartisanship”, “reaching across the aisle,” “supporting the troops” and similar nonsense to do anything of the sort. Expect them instead to try to treat the matter similarly to the way Clinton dealt with Iran-Contra malfeasances when he took office in 1992. The better to make nice with Republicans, Clinton effectively called off investigations (and possible prosecutions). Needless to say, his kindness was hardly reciprocated.

If Bush and Cheney are to be brought to justice, it will be because intrepid local prosecutors bring charges of murder against them, as Vincent Bugliosi proposes in his widely read, but seldom reviewed, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder (Vanguard Press, 2008). We should encourage those prosecutions. But also, at the federal level, if the Democrats remain steadfast in their cowardice, refusing to prosecute, we can at least force them to launch something like a “truth and reconciliation” commission. Then, if nothing else, the American public can find out definitively who knew what when; they can learn the extent of the lies Cheney and Bush and the rest of them told.

In other words, we can force the Democrats in Congress to ask again the well-worn question: what did they know and when did they know it? That’s a question not just for high officials in the Bush administration, but for their Democratic aiders and abettors as well. It is a line of inquiry that can be as “bipartisan” as the times demand.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is Sarah Looking Beyond November 4

Of course, it’s possible that the McCain campaign is so incompetent and/or Sarah Palin so dumb that she just can’t stay on message. Still, it’s remarkable how often Palin and McCain have taken different sides lately: on removing North Korea from the State Department’s “terrorist” list, on violating Pakistani sovereignty, on drilling in ANWR and, most recently, on McCain’s robocalls (though, apparently, she has some of her own!) and on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Could the rat be deserting the sinking ship, the better to position herself to be the religious Right’s standard-bearer after the election? Could she have it in her little mind to run for President in 2112? It is certainly looking that way.

That’s why the latest scandal about the Palin wardrobe is so delicious, especially inasmuch as she presents herself as a working class hero, up there with Joe the Plumber, and an everymom. It’s John Edwards’ $400 haircut all over again, but with the extravagance ratcheted way up. That, along with his zipper problem, was tragedy; this is sheer farce.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Here We Go Again

The Obama campaign has responded deftly to every desperate attack John McCain and Sarah Palin have thrown its way, but their responses have either been unprincipled or else revealing of how close in principle (if not in competence or style) Obama and McCain are. Thus, on several occasions in recent postings, I have pointed out, contra Obama:

-that, if we overlook the God thing (which he at least has the decency to temper with “liberation theology”) and one or two over the top statements (for instance, the one about HIV in the black community), what Jeremiah Wright was castigated for saying is absolutely correct;

-that William Ayers’ “revolutionary” activism in the late 60s and early 70s, however misguided and tactically questionable, were in every way and by any defensible measure superior to John McCain’s voluntary military “service” (which included bombing and napalming civilian populations); and that, in all likelihood, Ayers’ views today are wiser than those of the “business leaders” and foreign policy “experts” whose counsel Obama praises himself for seeking out;

-that Congressman John Lewis was absolutely right to take the McCain-Palin campaign to task for fostering a poisonous, racially charged atmosphere at campaign rallies; and for comparing McCain-Palin rallies to George Wallace’s when he ran for President in 1972;

-that being (or, in this case, not being) a Muslim, though hardly a point in anyone’s favor, is no worse than being a Christian or a Jew; and that Arabs are no worse or better than anyone else.

Now, in these final, Joe the Plumber days, the Obama campaign is falling in line with McCain’s disparagement of “socialism,” as it deftly makes the obvious point that the description hardly fits Obama or his policies.

[As is well known by now, Joe the Plumber is not exactly a plumber and his given name isn’t even Joe. It is also known, contrary to the story McCain keeps telling, that Joe is not about to buy any business, that he is in serious trouble for non-payment of taxes, and that he’d be better off under Obama’s tax plan than under McCain’s. All in all, another fine vetting job from the McCain campaign staff!]

Having spent several decades arguing for socialism (that’s even the title of a book I wrote long ago), I’m loathe to repeat the arguments here for the benefit of anyone who cares about McCain’s “charges.” There’s too much to say and what would have to be said isn’t always obvious or straightforward – as it is with Wright or Ayers or Lewis or with Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism. Still, I cannot forbear from making just a few comments, prompted by the ignorance evinced by both sides (but especially by McCain, who raised the issue) about socialism and related matters:

-socialists, most of them anyway, favor income and wealth equality, but it is not in virtue of that commitment that they are socialists. Neither can socialism be defined by views about the “size” of the state or its role in economic affairs, although many (perhaps most) pro-socialists are indeed more “statist” than most pro-capitalists. In both pro-capitalist and pro-socialist circles, opinions on these matters vary considerably. The difference between socialism and the capitalism that is so dear to both Republicans and Democrats has to do with property rights – rights to control and to benefit from productive assets -- and with underlying systems of property relations.

-since the Joe the Plumber campaign is a rather transparent attempt to mobilize white working class (actually petit bourgeois) voters against Obama by adopting “populist” rhetorical gestures, it is odd that McCain and his surrogates are using Obama’s remark about “spreading the wealth” as their cudgel. Back in the first Great Depression, genuine populists like Huey Long knew better than McCain or any of his handlers how to appeal to the constituency the Joe the Plumber campaign targets. For them, spreading the wealth was a watchword; indeed, it was very nearly their only point.

-all taxation is redistributive in its effects. Apart from a few strains of libertarian theory (but not outside of the political practice those theories are sometimes invoked to defend), redistribution (of market generated distributions of income and wealth) is a deliberate policy or, at least, a foreseeable by-product of deliberate policies. This was certainly the case with the Bush tax cuts and, since McCain promises more of the same (though with a few new, generally worse, wrinkles), it is true of his proposals too. The difference from Obama’s policies is not that one (Obama’s) is redistributive while the other (McCain’s) is not, but that Obama’s policies are less likely to make the rich even richer at the expense of everyone else and may even tend in the opposite, more salutary direction.

I remain convinced that Obama knows better than his policies suggest, and that in his campaign – and in his future administration – the problem will be with the constraints he is under, not with any lack of understanding or good intentions on his part. It will be up to “we the people,” starting from the day Obama is elected, to do our best to change those constraints. On the other hand, should a torrent of racism erupt and McCain win (at this point, there seems to be no other way that could happen), our job will be much more difficult – because McCain does not know better and his “maverick” intuitions are as wrong-headed as can be. Sarah Palin is not the only reactionary ignoramus on the Republican ticket.

Big Deal, Colin Powell

It should go without saying that the first order of business, for anyone to the left of George Will, is to defeat McCain-Palin. With that in mind, vote for Obama if you live in an “unsafe” state (if there still are any in two weeks time). I would say the same for people living in “safe” Republican states because voting for Democrats in those benighted regions is probably the best way to make a point and also to lay down foundations for a (marginally) better future. Since I live in a “safe” Democratic state, I will probably vote for either Ralph Nader or Cynthia McKinney on the grounds that doing so is a better use of my vote than adding it on to an Obama majority. I’d feel less conflicted about that, though, if there were a serious project underway to build a progressive alternative to the Democratic Party. There was, or at least there seemed to be, back in 2000, but Nader has backed away from the effort and the Greens are hopeless. So, unless I succumb to fear and/or bad judgment (as I well might), I’ll be reduced to casting a protest vote. Such is “democracy in America.”

But however that may be, to make oneself able to vote for Obama, or even just to hope that he wins, it is necessary to think McCain (or, worse, Palin) thoughts and to pay no attention to what Obama says or does. The Colin Powell endorsement is a case in point. Like McCain (and unlike Bill Ayers!), Powell fought for the wrong side in Vietnam. Then, thanks to bureaucratic finagling and judicious ass kissing, he rose up the Pentagon hierarchy, engineering Poppy Doc Bush’s Iraq War One and the beginnings of the Bush-Clinton sanction regime. Most notoriously, though, he went on to serve Baby Doc Bush by doing his best to legitimate the most loathsome of Cheney’s and Bush’s machinations – up to and including lying about weapons of mass destruction at the United Nations. Perhaps, now he is repentant. That would make him the Robert McNamara of his generation. But it hardly makes him a towering figure or even a barely estimable one. Yet, Obama is not just pleased but profoundly “humbled” by his endorsement and inclined, it is reported, to make the man a trusted, senior advisor.

How god-awful! But, as I said, since the first order of business is to defeat McCain, we must keep our eye on the prize – and, above all, off the “prize” we’ll soon be saddling ourselves with.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Mixed Blessing: The Triumph of the Cool

The good news from the final presidential debate last night is that John McCain lost again.

Watching McCain, I was reminded that, according to Aristotle, a tragic figure is not a hero, only a good but ordinary person – Joe the Plumber, perhaps – who finds him or herself in circumstances in which he or she must choose among alternatives all of which are bad. Tragic figures, Aristotle tells us, inspire pity and fear. Notwithstanding, his self-representations (aided and abetted by Democratic “friends”), John McCain is no hero, and he certainly inspires pity and, the closer he is to power, fear. But it is far from clear that he rises to the level of a good but ordinary man confronting a cruel destiny. He is ordinary, no doubt, but not good – as John Lewis pointed out, causing McCain to feign outraged feelings. McCain is a self-made, and made over, fool, profoundly deceived about his dedication to public service. That puts him several notches below the tragic figure level. It makes him unequivocally reprehensible – a man who will do, as was said (very plausibly) of Hillary Clinton, anything to get elected. Neither is McCain one to agonize over bad but inevitable choices. That sad lot falls to us, the voters.

In last night’s debate, Barack Obama, was, as always competent and cool. Being far ahead in the polls, he evidently saw no reason to take risks; and he took none. He wouldn’t even stoop to point out how stupendously unqualified Sarah Palin is when the moderator, CBS’s Bob Scheifer, all but invited him to state the obvious. Instead, he praised his own VP choice, Joe Biden.

It was clear right away that McCain was done for. The magnitude of his loss will become even clearer in the coming days as his misstatements are scrutinized along with his body language and his sarcasm. There is no need here to add to the torrent of criticism to come.

But I do want to call attention, again, to something that is as obvious as Sarah Palin’s shortcomings but that is unthinkable for Democrats to say or for the mainstream media to point out. Prodded skillfully by Obama, and asked directly by Scheifer, McCain reverted to his campaign’s talking points on “terrorist” Bill Ayers. Obama was ready to set the record straight, which he did – according to his own party’s line.

[He did the same for McCain’s latest bugbear, ACORN. For the past few days, McCain and his surrogates have deemed that organization’s efforts to register voters, a threat to democracy of unprecedented historical proportions. This charge is so transparently preposterous that, of course, Obama dispatched it easily. McCain and his handlers must be beyond desperate when they find it expeditious to badmouth a group even he has, in the past, supported.]

When McCain called Ayers “a washed up old terrorist” – talk about the pot calling the kettle black! – Obama only pointed out how little contact he had had with Ayers, how Ayers has nothing to do with his campaign, and how Ayers is in no way an advisor of his. Then he went on to name some people he does take advice from: Warren Buffett and Paul Volker on the economy and, on foreign policy, Joe Biden, Richard Lugar, and General Jim Jones. He might as well have hung up a sign – see I’m an imperialist too, and I’m as safely in Wall Street’s pocket as any Clintonite could be. As if there was ever any doubt!

That might count as bad news, except it isn’t news at all. What is news, in the sense that it isn’t quite as well understood, is signaled by the fact that Obama did not come to Ayers’ defense. If he abstained just to avoid taking risks with the election now his to lose, then fine. But I think he really meant it when he called Ayers’ past actions, forty years ago, “despicable.” Arguably, that description has merit, but not for the reasons Obama seems to have had in mind. Not by a long shot. Thus, yet again, an opportunity to elevate the level of political discourse was lost.

There is, first of all, a comparatively subtle point to be made: that the Weather Underground to which Ayers belonged was never really a “terrorist” organization at all -- unless the word is used mindlessly, Sarah Palin fashion, to mean any purveyor of political violence one opposes. There are more scrupulous ways to use the term, as Obama surely knows. Strictly speaking, a “terrorist” is someone who uses violence indiscriminately against civilian populations with a view to demoralizing them. This the Weather Underground never did. Their bombs harmed no one except themselves – when some bomb makers blew themselves up in a Greenwich Village town house. Weatherman bombings were symbolic – and also futile – gestures designed to harm property, not persons; and they were always directed against the American government, not the American people. They were intended, as in the slogan of the time, “to bring the war back home.”

With Nixon and Kissinger piling crime upon crime, apparently as impervious to public opinion as to the demands of morality, the Weather Underground thought of itself as a militant solidarity group, acting within the United States in behalf of the Vietnamese national liberation struggle. Their strategy was wrong headed and self-defeating. Pushed to the limit, it could have turned the Weathermen into moral beasts like Nixon and Kissinger, though there was never the slightest prospect of moral equivalence. But the Weathermen never reached that point; they never even came close. Very few of them even did anything that a vindictive and repressive legal system was able to construe as an actionable offense.

On the other hand, John McCain “volunteered” -- as much as any cowed son and grandson of Admirals could have chosen his vocation freely -- to fight on the wrong side in the Vietnam War. The bombs and napalm he delivered killed and maimed dozens, scores, perhaps hundreds of people; while Ayers killed no one. McCain was on the imperialist side; Ayers was against it. And yet he has the unmitigated gall to call Ayers “a washed out old terrorist!” The earth should shake with convulsions at such an affront!

[It is remarkable that, even today, Democrats like Obama are unwilling to say outright that ours was indeed the wrong side in Vietnam. Do they think, like John McCain apparently does, that the war was a fine idea, and that the problem was just that it was fought too “gently” and/or that a reprehensible, “unpatriotic” public turned against “the troops”? No doubt, some do, but here again I suspect that Obama knows better. How can anyone who does honestly deny that the U.S. was the wrong side? There’s only one way – by casting logic aside.

Note, though, that it doesn’t follow automatically that the enemies of those on the wrong side are in any non-trivial sense “the right side” or that they merit solidarity. That is not the case now in either Iraq or Afghanistan where the “good guys,” to use an expression emblematic of our debased political discourse, are thoroughly marginalized. But it was the case in Vietnam, or at least so it seemed to most informed war opponents at the time (and to many of us still). The Weather Underground, for all its strategic errors and despite the moral precariousness of its tactics, was part of that consensus.]

Now, I have no idea what Bill Ayers’ thinking is like these days. But forty years ago, his views and actions were, by any measure, superior – vastly superior – to John McCain’s. And if he has kept the faith ever so slightly, then even today he would have to be a wiser, more decent advisor than the “humanitarian interventionists,” Biden especially, whom Obama named. Those folks are the political descendents of the anti-Communist interventionists who brought on and sustained the Vietnam War – a war initiated and waged by Democrats long before Nixon and Kissinger took over the helm. Better, therefore, that Obama take counsel from Ayers than from the advisors he advertises. But don’t count on him to say anything like that – much less to do it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ready, Get Set

Who knows what tonight’s debate or the next twenty days will bring, but it is heartening that even Rush Limbaugh is now asking what Sarah Palin’s plans will be after November 4. Saner pundits too are pondering the question of the GOP’s future and Palin’s role, if any, in it. The prevailing assumption, of course, is that John McCain has no future. The only question, currently of interest to the commentariat, is how culpable he has been in bringing about that outcome. [The consensus still is that it’s mainly “the economy, stupid.”]

But, again, anything can happen, and this is no time to be complacent. The first order of business, for the next twenty days, is therefore to insure that McCain-Palin lose, and that they lose in the best possible way.

This does not necessarily imply that the best thing to do is to pile onto the Obama bandwagon. Since I live in a “safe” state, I’m still “undecided” – between Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader. There is some danger, of course, that, as November 4 approaches, so too will panic, and that I’ll end up hating myself for voting for Obama. In the coming days, I expect to be thinking hard about how I and others in my situation can get the most bang, as it were, out of our feeble votes.

In any case, now is plainly the time to get ready for the struggle to come. Obama started out his primary campaign as a center-right Democrat, barely less onerous than Joe Biden or the Clintons, but worse than all the rest. Since winning the nomination and especially since the conventions, he’s been surging to the right – to the point of caving in entirely on retroactive telecom immunity and the shameless Wall Street bailout. And, of course, he no longer even tries to maintain the pretense that his is an anti-war candidacy. On the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, Obama-Biden are about as onerous as McCain (and Palin too, insofar as she is able to hold a “secular” thought on the subject).

Therefore, if not now, then in twenty days (and not a day later), it will become urgent to agitate for “real change” and to organize to bring it about. What this will include is obvious enough; some of it even found its way into the Democratic primaries, back in the days when Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel were still included, and when John Edwards offered a more “realistic” prospect of amelioration on the domestic, if not the international, front. What is called for is not especially “radical,” though that could come later, if all goes well. Here, in no particular order, is a far from exhaustive list:

-ending both on-going Bush wars;
-“supporting the troops” by spending serious resources reintegrating them into society;
-supporting the Bush wars' victims in Iraq and Afghanistan by offering genuine, no strings attached reparations;
-bringing the perpetrators of those wars, at least Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice, but ideally also their principal underlings, to justice;
-launching far-reaching government interventions into the economy with a view not just to diminishing economic turbulence but also to empowering the labor movement and other “civil society” organizations (some not yet even formed);
-restoring civil liberties, including privacy rights and protections for political protesters and other dissidents;
-ending torture, indefinite detentions and other violations of international morality and law currently “justified” by the so-called War on Terror.
-appointing federal judges who will not impede progress in advancing civil and reproductive rights or block efforts to employ the federal government to promote liberty and equality;
-promoting sane sentencing policies and ending judicial murder at the federal level;
-restoring the integrity of the Department of Justice, making it work in ways that enhance, not diminish, Americans’ rights and freedoms;
-changing American foreign policy in the Middle East, including Israel/Palestine, with a view to de-militarizing the region, quashing religious fanaticism, stopping ethnic cleansing, and promoting justice for all its peoples;
-ending efforts to establish American satellite states around Russia’s borders; and
-establishing “normal” relations, based on mutual respect and international law, with all the countries of Latin America, including Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.

There is no reason to think Obama and the band of Democrats he’ll bring with him to the White House will do any of this or much else that is estimable (and embarrassingly “moderate”) – unless “we the people” make them. Ready, get set.. and (in just three weeks time) go!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Good News for Obama

The announcement this morning, that Paul Krugman has won the Nobel Prize in Economics, is good news for Barack Obama. Except perhaps for the Peace Prize, which has had no credibility left since Henry Kissinger won it decades ago, the Economics Prize is, by far, the most political of the Nobels. That Krugman won out over the usual Chicago School types speaks volumes. Thanks to the unwitting – and witless—Cheney/Bush administration and despite continuing Democratic collaboration with their bellicose, corporate-friendly policies, it is looking more and more like “the times they are a changin’.”

As a New York Times columnist, Krugman was, to put it mildly, soft on the Clinton administration. But he has been a forthright and insightful critic of the economic policies of the current occupants of the Oval Office, even back in the days when it took courage to buck the tide. As it turns out, this morning’s column is a good example. Although he has no official position, yet, with Obama, Krugman is certainly a fellow traveler of the left-most flank of the Obama campaign. Thus his award is good news for Obama. It is also as good news as progressives can expect – in the short run. Our task, for now, is to assure McCain’s defeat and then to do whatever we can to block Obama’s post-primary rightward surge. If Krugman and his co-thinkers gain sway, it can only help the Democratic “base” to return Obama at least to where he was in the long ago primary days – when the Edwards campaign dragged all the Democratic candidates, including Obama and even Hillary Clinton, to the left.

If Obama is smart and if he is able, he’ll put Krugman and Joe Stiglitz and other prominent leftish economists in charge over Robert Rubin and other Obamaite holdovers from the Clinton era. The last thing Obama needs is the last thing we all need: more free market theologians and Wall Street moles shaping economic policies. Desperate times require not just bold leadership but also new departures. If Obama rises to the occasion, he can seal the election in advance of November 4, notwithstanding the furies the disintegrating McCain-Palin campaign will continue to arouse.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Furies

It is looking increasingly like the McCain campaign, having flailed about mindlessly in the face of disastrous economic circumstances, is lost beyond repair; that nothing that could happen in the next three and a half weeks could reverse the trend; and therefore that the November 4 election will not be close enough for the Republicans to steal in the usual way – through voter suppression, ballot tampering, judicial meddling or fraud. The finding, announced yesterday evening in Alaska, of a bipartisan but Republican-dominated legislative investigation of “troopergate,” concluding that Sarah Palin was indeed guilty of abuse of “the public trust,” is another nail in the coffin.

Does this mean that we can stop worrying about both a de facto third Bush term and the economic catastrophe Bush’s policies helped bring about, and concentrate just on the latter? I don’t think so. The “honorable” John McCain – working mainly, but not entirely, through surrogates and, of course, through the adorably feisty and morally repugnant Sarah Barracuda – has stirred up the dark side of the American psyche, the side that has been more or less in eclipse since it last bubbled over in the late sixties, the Age of Assassinations and real (not imaginary) domestic (mainly racist) terror. Last night, in Minnesota, McCain (temporarily?) reversed himself, yet again, when his “town hall meeting” took on the atmospherics of a lynch mob, and some woman called Obama not just a “traitor” but also an “Arab” (horror of horrors!). McCain, to his credit, corrected her – by saying that Obama is a fine “family man” (yippee!). But will that or anything else he can do at this point suffice to put the evil genie back in the bottle? Probably not; therefore, worry!

Who knows whether McCain pulled back out of decency or because, the polls along with increasing numbers of Republican pundits – including the handful who, like George Will and David Brooks, have intellectual pretensions – were telling him that indecency wasn’t working? Who knows even if, from now on, he’ll run the “respectful campaign” he once boasted of? It hardly matters. Partly thanks to McCain, the devils of our worse nature are abroad in the land. Therefore, again I say, worry!

Note: Jonathan Raban’s piece in the October 9 London Review of Books provides as cogent an account of the Sarah Palin phenomenon as I have seen. Rabin’s aim is to explain Palin’s popularity, at least as of a few weeks ago, to a European audience. That perspective is as useful as any for those of us who live too close to it. I must also say that, of late, the opinion pages of The New York Times have been unusually good too – though characteristically emphasizing atmospherics more than the broader historical context. Sarah Palin has brought out the best in Gail Collins, among others. From the moment she erupted on the scene, Palin has been a godsend for comedy writers. Now, she’s even helping liberal commentators find the courage to defend their own side. For both developments, we should give thanks. Verily, the Intelligent Designer, cruel jokester that He be, works in mysterious ways!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

You Do Need a Weatherman

The liberal line on John McCain is that he was once a decent and honorable fellow, notwithstanding his reactionary views, but that he made a Faustian bargain with the Republican “base” that has led him to abandon decency and honor. There is some truth to this story, though it wildly exaggerates the virtues of the McCain of yesteryear, as a host of writers have pointed out. Here, again, is a link to a particularly instructive discussion of the issue. McCain has descended from a very low plateau, not a mountain.

McCain’s supporters would, of course, disagree; though it isn’t clear how they could do so plausibly. Thus, following Sarah Palin’s lead, they endlessly repeat the claim that the man is a “maverick” who puts his country first. Why not? Plausibility is not something Palin, or the people she appeals to, appreciate or even understand.

One thing that both McCain’s liberal critics and his supporters agree about, however, is that John McCain was a war hero. This shared conviction is what gives Barack Obama’s grotesquely exaggerated “palling around” with Bill Ayers, a leader of the Weather Underground some forty years ago, its sting. That sting, in turn, is why liberal Democrats want to claim that raising the specter of Bill Ayers is just a “diversion” that the McCain campaign, because it has nothing constructive to say about the economy, is raising out of desperation. To have any chance at all of winning, the argument goes, Republicans have nothing more they can say or do except raise racially-tinged doubts about Obama’s character – in order to make susceptible voters wary of pulling the lever for him, no matter how dissatisfied they may be with the alternative.

There’s some truth to that story too, though it misses the most morally and politically relevant point – in a way that calls attention to how much of an evil the lesser evil is. As I’ve written before, in many entries on this site, Obama, like most Democrats, is a dove, but emphatically not an opponent of America’s imperial role in the world. This is why he will prolong the occupation of Iraq and intensify American involvement in Afghanistan – although both of these Bush wars are not just lost causes, but also reprehensible misadventures in behalf of a misguided cause. Like Richard Nixon back in the days when Bill Ayers was “bringing the war back home,” liberals, including most Democrats, want at least the appearance of “peace with honor” – the better to fight again another day (should more fighting become necessary to maintain American domination of the rest of the world).

Thus they honor McCain’s “service” as ardently as they “support the troops” (by keeping them in harm’s way); and they deride what Bill Ayers had been about before he “rehabilitated” himself -- as Keith Olbermann, the best of them, put it on MSNBC’s “Countdown.” They could hardly be more wrong.

Before his plane was shot down, John McCain fought on the wrong side in Vietnam. No doubt, he killed and maimed scores, perhaps hundreds, of people. Bill Ayers and the other Weatherpeople tried, maladroitly and in vain, to fight on the right side -- to attack the aggressor here in what we now call “homeland”, in order to aid the aggressor’s victims in Vietnam. Their strategy was wrong-headed and counter-productive. Perhaps it was morally reprehensible too. Even so, they killed no one (except, through bomb-making ineptitude, several of themselves) and hardly did much property damage either. In other words, the liberals have the moral and political assessment all wrong. Ayers was not a “hero,” but he was – and is – an estimable person. McCain, so far from being a hero, is not even an estimable person and never has been. And, unlike Ayers, he is not in the least repentant.

What about Sarah Palin, the chosen messenger for making much ado about Obama’s tenuous association with Ayers? Now that she no longer has to cram for “debates” or interviews outside the precincts of Fox News, she has emerged as a full-fledged and unabashed “pig” in the sense, unfairly demeaning to the animal, that the word had back in the days when Ayers’ response to the Vietnam War was in every respect morally superior to McCain’s. The difference from McCain is just that she is spunky and, of course, that she slaps on lipstick.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Second Debate

Once again, by all credible accounts, Obama “won,” though you’d have to listen carefully to Mora Liason on NPR to figure that out. [Could Ms. “Fair and Balanced” have a crush on the doddering geezer? Her reporting over the past several months suggests so.] McCain’s “defeat” was not due just to his quasi-racist gaffes or near gaffes – like forgetting the name of an African-American questioner or referring to Obama as “that one.” Joan Walsh on gives a good account of all that. The bigger problem for McCain was that he looked, as Keith Olbermann put it, like “not a well man.” He didn’t exactly pout, but he was borderline cranky. The scariest thing of all, though, is that what he said, though syntactically intelligible, was reminiscent of Sarah Palin’s blatherings. Evidently, the gruesome twosome the Greater Evil Party has inflicted upon us work from the same mindless talking points.

For good or ill, McCain didn’t overtly continue his running mate’s recent (post-debate prep) turn towards unrestrained sleaze. The “maverick” is evidently willing to appeal to the darker (paranoid, racist) side of the American electorate – through surrogates. But he seems to have retained a shred or two of decency – at least enough to keep him from slandering Obama to his face. In the McCain campaign’s division of labor, it evidently falls to Sarah Barracuda to do that.

It was noteworthy that McCain didn’t once mention that dreadful woman. He did mention Joe Lieberman several times, however. Could the old “maverick” be suffering from buyer’s remorse – in addition to everything else?

All this, I suppose, is good news for lesser evilists. As the world economy implodes, the prospect that John McCain will be the one to carry on from George Bush continues to recede.

The bad news – though it’s hardly news – is how close McCain and Obama are on key issues. The most obvious, and dangerous, points of convergence are in foreign policy – especially with regard to the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. No doubt, Obama would do ill more competently, more multi-laterally and perhaps in a kinder, gentler way. But, under the skin, he too is as dedicated as McCain or any other neo-con to making the world safe for the American empire.

I continue to believe that at least Obama knows better. But even if he does, it hardly matters, given the constraints he is under. Would another war, this time targeting Iran, be less likely under Obama than McCain? It’s far from clear, especially with Israel wanting it so much. Maybe Obama doesn’t quite share Joe Lieberman’s (and therefore John McCain’s) affection for that ethnic (and ethnically cleansed) state; maybe, in his heart of hearts, he appreciates the dangers inherent in its bellicosity and the illegitimacy of the Apartheid regime it has imposed upon Palestinians in the West Bank and its brutal sequestration of the Gaza Strip. But don’t count on Obama to be any less disposed to do Israel’s bidding than McCain would be. Similarly, don’t count on Obama to be any less eager to promote the “security” of American vassal states on Russia’s borders or any less determined to exercise control over the oil-producing regions of Eurasia.

It is a proven verity: to vote for the lesser evil four weeks from now or, if you live in a safe enough state that you don’t have to, to hope that the lesser evil wins, two things are necessary: first, to keep constantly in mind the prospect of a John McCain (or, worse still, a Sarah Palin) presidency; and second, to pay no attention to what Obama or Biden say about world affairs (not because they don’t mean it, but because they do).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Making Vietnam the Issue

Democrats are still sometimes called “the Left” by the Right and, insofar as there is a difference, the mainstream media. If there were anything to the description, if the Democratic Party were even a pale approximation of a genuine party of the Left, then instead of praising John McCain’s “heroism” in the Vietnam War, Democrats would have long ago taken him to task for his Vietnam days. After all, before he ended his military exploits in a Vietnamese prison (where he “broke” before he didn’t break), he fought on the wrong side, bombing and napalming and otherwise participating in the murder and mayhem. As a not very independent minded son and grandson of Admirals, he may not exactly have gone there by choice. But he was no conscript; not even an economic conscript like most “troops” today.

[In several entries I’ve noted how unlikely it would have been for, say, a veteran of the Waffen SS to rise similarly in post-War German politics. In Germany after World War II, defeat was so total that no one could deny its reality. In Vietnam – and now in Afghanistan and Iraq –defeat is real but the reality is not as salient. Thus, with the help of a compliant media and a Democratic Party as committed as their rivals to maintaining America’s imperial role, there is “plausible deniability” or at least there still might be if the Bush wars are allowed to drag on. This seems to be Obama’s plan, even as he depicts himself and is thought to be a peace candidate. It should surprise no one that it is McCain’s plan.]

Nevertheless, despite Obama et. al., Vietnam has found its way into the current Presidential campaign – thanks to the party of the (much) Greater Evil. The messenger is Sarah Barracuda, though she may not understand that it is the ghost of Vietnam that she conjures up when, on her handler’s instructions, she looks straight into the camera and, while praising American “exceptionalism” (which she seems to think means “patriotism”) in phony folksy cadences, makes former Weatherman (later Weatherperson) Bill Ayers the new Willie Horton. So long as she can rant to friendly audiences, free from “filters” asking her ever so gently to make sense (something neither Gwen Ifill nor Joe Biden made her do in the “debate” that, according to all the polls, she “lost” even so), she can get away with it – at least to the satisfaction of her “base.”

Evidently, John McCain is too dishonorable and unprincipled to have a genuinely conservative temperament; and the bizarre universe Sarah Palin inhabits is off the political map. But it should be remembered that real conservatives have a sense of the order of things, a sense of natural hierarchy. I confess I do too. Could it be, God forbid, that there’s a conservative in me waiting to come out? Why else am I so offended by Palin’s gosh darn mindless babbling? It reaches a kind of apogee when she speaks of former “terrorist” Bill Ayers – as if she has any idea what the Weather Underground was about. Who’d have thunk it? And, for that matter, why him? Why not, for example, Bernadine Dohrn, his wife? She was much more conspicuous and colorful back in the day. Didn’t Obama know her too? I probably have met Bill Ayers, though I have no recollection of it. But, if I may be permitted to plagiarize (borrow from) Lloyd Bentsen, “I did know plenty of Weathermen (persons), many were my friends, and I must say to you, Governor, as one who does have a sense of order and hierarchy that you are not fit to…” [In my conservative gentleman persona I must forbear from identifying the part of the Weatherperson anatomy that she is not fit to wipe.]

Thus it is the GOP, not the POP, the Party of (pelosiite) Pusillanimity, that has made an issue of Vietnam. Since the Democrats won’t fight back, it’s time for the constituencies they’re about to betray (again!) to do it for them. Wherever that team of “mavericks” – the doddering geezer maverick and the adorable ignoramus maverick – show their faces, we should greet them with a modified chant from the golden days of yesteryear: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, we kicked your sorry asses once, we’ll do it again!”

But not to get on the wrong side of the Obamamaniacs, whom we’ll need to win over after Obama wins and the real struggle begins, perhaps we should add – “and, oh yes, support the troops.” It would be no more incongruous than Joe Biden’s declarations of love for John McCain, ably parodied last night on Saturday Night Live.

Note: For reasons not to love John McCain, should more than the obvious ones be necessary, I highly recommend Tim Dickinson’s account in Rolling Stone of “maverickness” McCain-style.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Another Disgrace

This time, in the House, only 63 Democrats – not all of them progressives, many were “blue dogs” (fiscal conservatives) – voted to resist the Bush administration’s extortionate Wall Street bail out (as modified by craven Democrats in the Senate). Is there any hope of turning back the harm the Clintons and their co-thinkers have been doing to the Lesser Evil Party since the late 80s? It doesn’t seem so, especially with Barack Obama picking up the Clintonite banner and running with it -- to the right.

The Great Debate

The much anticipated Vice Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin has come and gone. If it proved anything, it proved (yet again) how impoverished our political culture is. Had third party candidates been allowed to debate, as would have happened if our country were a tad more democratic, it would have been different – for at least those ninety long minutes. But the ruling duopoly won’t hear of it, and “we, the people” don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. Thus the mind numbing continues. Since, for last night’s debate especially, the two parties negotiated rules designed to keep gaffes to a minimum, last night’s debate was a particularly egregious example.

The consensus the morning after, as at the debate’s end, is that Biden “won.” No surprise there. According to the conventional wisdom, he wisely forbore from “condescending,” though the temptation must have been overwhelming. How much better it would have been if he had smashed Palin to smithereens! There is no doubt that he could have done so easily; who couldn’t? But, alas, he did not. And so the prospect of a McCain presidency is not quite vanquished yet.

Biden, even more than Obama, is a problem for lesser evilists determined to stop John McCain. To vote for a ticket with him on it, the first order of business has to be to block out every word he says about “humanitarian interventions,” Middle East politics, “supporting the troops,” protecting creditors, and all the rest. The man is an unabashed Clintonite – a corporate ass-kissing neo-con in sheep’s clothing. Joe Biden is one step removed from Joe Lieberman. So far, Obama, as he surges right -- and Hillary Clinton too, at least lately -- have stayed two steps removed.

And then there was Sarah. Clearly, her major in broadcast journalism (and minor in political science!) paid off; she’s good with the camera. [Of course, any of a half dozen more knowledgeable CNN anchors, “half her age and twice as hot,” would have done even better.] But, admittedly, she was one feisty little barracuda. Who could look at her, though, and not fear for the planet! Our ruling class must be rather dispirited these days – crying all the way to the bank (or what’s left of it) – but surely they can’t be so beaten down that they’d risk even a small chance of entrusting their interests to that woman! Too bad for them they have no choice; not if they are Republicans. It all seemed harmless enough when Ronald Reagan invited the Christian Taliban in; after all, the GOP could use a few useful idiots. Then came Karl Rove’s ungodly machinations, and now the lunatics run the asylum. The lions of American capitalism are reaping what they have sowed. The only thing to regret in this, of course, is that so might we all.

Thanks to Biden’s unseemly niceness, it looks like comedy writers will have Sarah Palin to kick around a while longer. Coming on as feisty and folksy in a caricaturish way, she provided good material last night. That’s the silver lining.

Palin was well-coached, but it is worth noting that not all McCain’s men could keep her from flubbing. Since theater is all in these debates, she is sure to lose points for not even pausing to commiserate with Biden when he became (characteristically) emotional alluding to the death of his first wife and his daughter. After prepping at John McCain’s desert ranch, one of his seven (or more) houses, she was too on message for that. In fact, as commentators are sure to have noticed, she was so much on message that she didn’t even try to answer the questions she was asked. Instead, she’d repeat her talking points, no matter what the context. On her allegedly strong point, energy policy, she was fatally vague about everything, except the rectitude of “drill, drill, drill!” On all the foreign policy points on which Biden’s (and Obama’s) policies are vile, hers, insofar as they can be ascertained, are far worse.

After eight years of having to look at and listen to George Bush, we Americans have become used to simultaneous displays of arrogance and stupidity. Sarah Palin is George Bush on steroids and in high heels. Could it be that Walmart moms, as distinct from horny Nascar dads, find that appealing? It’s hard to believe.

But I will give her credit for one thing. She uses the words “working class.” From the time Bill Clinton campaigned for “the great, forgotten middle class,” Democrats have been unusually loathe to utter those words. Joe Biden’s performance last night was a case in point. It was of a piece with the terminally boring Gwen Ifill’s question to Biden about whether Obama’s tax the very rich policy wasn’t an instance of (dreaded) class war. Gene Debs must have been gyrating in his grave.

[Before the debate, Palin’s handlers tried to impugn Ifill’s impartiality on the grounds that she is writing a book about Barack Obama and the new generation of African-American politicians. In other words, they tried to play the ref. Palin too said at one point during the debate that she was not obliged to bow to the referee’s dictates; no doubt, she’d been coached to say that, should the occasion arise. But Ifill was so willing to let Palin stray off point that, in the end, Palin’s belligerent comment was gratuitous; there was nothing for her or her handlers to complain about, except how boring it all was. That an Ifill moderated debate would be boring was utterly predictable. Everyone and everything associated with “Jim Lehrer’s News Hour” on PBS is boring.]

Anyway, Sarah did about as well as she could. For those of us who aren’t particularly surprised (just disappointed!) that she didn’t fall to pieces or mutter incoherently, there were no big surprises – except one enormous one that, if we’re lucky, the mainstream media will notice. Whether because she didn’t understand what she was saying or because she actually believes it or was told to say it, she strongly intimated that she supports Dick Cheney’s “constitutional” expansion of Vice Presidential powers and, by implication, the noxious doctrine, dear to the Bush administration, of a “unitary executive.” Of all the many reasons there are to fear the prospect of a Palin vice presidency (or presidency, should the geezer “maverick” croak while in office), this is a big and unexpected one to add to the list.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Give Her Hell, Joe!

Vile as Democrats are, vile as Joe Biden’s politics is, the fact remains: in the coming election, Obama-Biden is, by far, the lesser evil. This is not the case just because their politics is (somewhat) better than John McCain’s, though it surely is. It is mainly because McCain is an erratic nincompoop with Cheneyesque instincts. And it is because Sarah Palin, who would be, as they say, a “heartbeat away” from a visibly aging cancer survivor, is a not very bright ignoramus who is more out of her depth that words can describe.

Of course, along with many others, I anticipate a flurry of Palindromes in tonight’s debate, and I look forward to seeing what John Stewart and Steven Colbert and Saturday Night Live and countless others will make of them. There’s a good chance Sarah will do herself in. But, Joe, you have it in you to deliver the coup de grace. Don’t pull your punches! The whacko from nowhere becomes “increasingly adorable” – as Amy Poehler put it on last week’s Saturday Night Live -- when cornered. But that’s because she’s been cornered, sort of, by interviewers, Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, who, despite what Republican spinmeisters claim, have been inordinately gentle. Your task tonight, Joe, is to strike fear in the hearts of the folks who, even now, still identify with the hockey mom/barracuda beauty queen (and high school basketball star). That’s why you need to reduce her to silence and outright incoherence. Katie Couric showed the way with gentle questions. How much better it will be if you spar with her as if she were an equal! Nothing you could do at this point will be more useful for accelerating the pace of the McCain campaign’s sputtering disintegration.

Democrats Disgrace Themselves--Again

Only nine Democratic Senators resisted the call from their corporate paymasters and their party leadership in the Senate and in the Obama campaign, and from a gullible and abject media -- to vote against the Wall Street bailout (“economic rescue package,” indeed!). Russ Feingold (WI) voted out of principle, and so did “independent” (quasi-Democrat) Bernie Sanders. For the others, the motives were less clear – Cantwell (WA), Durgan (ND), Johnson (SD), Landrieu (LA), Nelson (FL), Stabenow (MI), Tester (MT), Wyden (OR). What is clear is that, yet again, “liberal” Democrats have done their part to visit miseries upon the people they allegedly represent, and to indemnify the speculators who stuff their pockets at the public’s expense.

The pressure on House Democrats to go along is now overwhelming, but there is still a chance that a sufficient number of progressives there will join Republican dissenters – an odd assortment of libertarian reactionaries and right-wing populists -- to resist the fear mongers and extortionists. Then perhaps saner minds will prevail. The first order of business would then be to ascertain, quickly but also correctly, what the situation really is. Then sensible palliative measures that take popular interests into account will surely become conceivable. [Real solutions would require an assault on fundamental economic structures that, for now and the foreseeable future, lie beyond the purview of any significant, organized political constituencies, and therefore far beyond the purview of legislators in Congress.]

One would think that in a (small-d) democracy, with public opinion overwhelmingly opposed to the bailout (mostly, for the right reasons), resisting this Wall Street driven extortion would be easy. Perhaps it would be if (big-D) Democrats were capable of more than acting like Republicans would, if the GOP hadn’t been turned silly and inept by the “Reagan revolution.” But, of course, that is not the situation. It would be too much to expect Democrats to be part of the solution, but at least they should be able to contrive a way not to exacerbate the problem. Don’t count on it, however.