A Few Thoughts about the Election, Or: “Socialist” is the New “Liberal”

Well, it looks as if Obama is going to win & that makes me proud to be an American. Still, there is a little voice in my head saying that the right is not going to relinquish power without a fight. I'm hoping for an electoral vote blow-out because it will limit the Republicans' ability to cheat around the margins. I am glad that I have been able to contribute money & make a few phone calls in support of the Obama campaign. What I have found most impressive about that campaign is that it has not been about Barack Obama's personal ambition, but about ideas and policies. Despite the fact that the McCain campaign has routinely characterized as "negative advertising" any criticism of their proposals, Obama's campaign has pretty much left personal attacks out of its message. The McCain campaign, though, has been vile. I never personally thought McCain had any "honor," but that was his reputation; now, even that fiction is in tatters. The spoiled Navy brat who advanced, like Bush Jr., through his father's influence, finishes his career encouraging the worst racist & nativist fears among the most ignorant & ill-educated portion of the American populace. (The country is not well-served by this kind of pablum, spooned out by USA Today in an attempt to be "objective.") That is why you can expect to continue hearing howls about "socialism" from people who have no idea what the word means, or to actual historical examples; just as these same people, inspired by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, have for years hurled "liberal" as an epithet at those who disagree with them, "socialist" will become the new hate word on the know-nothing right. Josh Marshall has an insightful discussion of the inner workings of this particular bit of verbal garbage. In following this election more closely than I have followed any other, I conclude that there is roughly a third of the population of my country who would support a white-supremacist, authoritarian, militarist, imperialist state. Those people must be driven to the margins of our political discourse, not brought to the center as McCain & Palin have done. I've been reading the comment threads at a couple of news sites & so can predict that in addition to the "socialist" nonsense, we can expect to hear that:
  • Barack Obama is not an American citizen -- because, like, he went to Hawaii to seal up his birth records not see his sick grandmother. Oh, and he's a Muslim.
  • There is something in his billing records as a Chicago lawyer that will prove he has defended sleazy criminals. Question: Did he ever even practice law directly, in the sense of representing clients? And if he did practice criminal law, wouldn't it be his job to defend criminals?
  • He helped his distant aunt violate immigration laws to stay in the US.
  • Obama will take away people's hunting rifles. In fact, Obama is more supportive of the "individualist" interpretation of the Second Amendment than most Democrats.
  • He has accepted "millions" of suspicious small donations from "foreigners" who are not allowed to contribute to political campaigns. The real motive here is transparent -- the Republican party is completely dumbfounded & enraged that millions of ordinary Americans funded a political campaign because they supported Obama's vision for the future rather than theirs, which they had assumed they had tied up.
  • He will force through a "reparations" measure that will pay African Americans for slavery. This, along with other paranoid fantasies are particularly revealing because they demonstrate the way the nativist right thinks about government -- always in dictatorial terms. It's harder than that, of course, which you would know if you paid any attention to news and current events at times other than elections & treated elections as something different from team sports. Even Bush / Cheney, for all their attempts to impose a unitary executive, were not able to institute the permanent right wing government they envisioned.
That's what we have to look forward to as the right wing noise machine revs up. But maybe new leadership will lead to a modestly more progressive set of policies coming out of Washington. My wish list would be:
  • A national health care system that covers everyone in the country.
  • The end of the Iraq war.
  • A massive goverment stimulus package to pull the country out of its current economic nosedive.
  • A way to finance higher education that does not leave graduates with massive debts.
  • A plan for regaining the initiative in Afghanistan, stabalizing the situation & getting out. This will obviously require close cooperation with allies from around the region & around the world.
This is a partial list & I should also say that I don't agree with Barack Obama on a number of issues. I think he's wrong about keeping the No Child Left Behind Act; I think he is too hawkish on Afghanistan (thought I think his native good sense may lead him toward a more moderate positon once he gets into office); I'm positive he was wrong to vote in support of the government's ability to spy on American citizen; I think he is too soft on church-state separation; & so on. Well, there is a fine post by Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber, followed by one of CT's characteristically insightful comment threads that turns over in various ways the policy possibilities for a first Obama administration. Reading it reminded me that it is possible to have a civil -- in both senses of the word -- discourse. But first, as Tristero (writing at Hullabaloo) argues, the radical right must be decisively defeated:

And this is why, girls and boys, all talk about a less toxic political atmosphere with the current Republican party is sheer nonsense. Oh sure, Obama - if we are lucky enough to wake up Wed and find him elected - could find a spare Hagel lying around, or a Jim Leach to nail into his Cabinet,and that's probably a good idea in the long run. But the reality staring us straight in the face is that the leadership of the Republican party - and a huge GOP majority having influence in the party's ideological and strategic direction -have no interest in anything remotely resembling bipartisanship.

And neither does anyone I know personally who's supporting Obama. Not with these murderous, corrupt clowns. We want the extreme right and their agenda out of our national politics, driven back to the margins of American discourse where it belongs. Maybe someone out there truly yearns for a less nasty politics, but not me, not now. Not with extremists who call me "traitor," who have listed my friends as some of the 100 most dangerous people in America or placed them on terrorist watch lists, and who, from their seat as a US Representative pronounce a candidate for the American presidency a chicken shit.

If New York had early voting, I'd have already cast my vote for Obama, but I will wait to do so on Tuesday morning, with guarded optimism. Oh, and I can't resist a prediction: Obama will get 364 electoral votes & win by 7% of the popular vote.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

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