What I Care about Politically

Okay, I have a couple of non-political posts in the hopper, but I want to get this down in pixils before returning to regularly scheduled programming. So, here’s what I care about at the present political moment:

  1. Real health care reform that does not simply reorganize the current domination of insurance and pharmaceutical companies. I would prefer a national single payer plan, but I am open to innovation.
  2. An economic stimulus plan that pushes investment in infrastructure, education, and and green energy.
  3. A complete and unambiguous repudiation of extraordinary rendition, torture, and the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens.
  4. A complete & final withdrawal from Iraq & no escalation in Afghanistan.

Number three will be a bright line indicator for me of the Obama administration’s moral seriousness. There are also several things I don’t give a hoot about:

  1. Hillary as Secretary of State — might create something of a circus atmosphere, but if Obama wants her I don’t have any objections.
  2. Same goes for bringing in seasoned professionals from the Clinton administration. I seem to recall that, long ago, in what seems like a fairy tale, president Clinton presided over eight years of peace and prosperity despite the frothing radical right’s attempts to destroy him.
  3. Prosecuting Bush / Cheney for war crimes. Some on the left are disappointed that this appears unlikely & yes the invasion of Iraq was a crime, but a prosecution wasn’t / isn’t ever going to happen in any case & would consume all of Obama’s political capital if it did. That’s just not the way the system works & I’m not going to spend too much time regretting this. History, as Bush himself has said hopefully, will judge. (I think his hope is misplaced & that he will be judged harshly.)

Poetic Responses to the Election

My friend the indefatigable Anny Ballardini has begun assembling an online collection of poems written in response to the recent US election. There is a call for further submissions, as well. (Anny does a lovely job, by the way, of presenting poetry online.) The New York Times did something similar last week, with poems from five American poets — Ashbery‘s was the only one that moved me — but in any case the collection developing at Fiera Lingue is much more capacious, generous, & daring than the stuff in the Times.

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.

Two Bad Wars

Going to war in Iraq was such an obviously bad choice I’m still amazed that some otherwise rational people supported it. The choice to go to war in Afghanistan was — to me, at least — more difficult & I initially supported it, with reservations. (Based mostly on my sense of the deep tarpit of evil at the heart of the Bush administration.) I am now convinced that the decision to go to war in Afghanistan was as bad as the decision to go to war in Iraq. (In retrospect, at least, I don’t agree with Quiggin that the Afghan war was inevitable & understandable because the US needed to “lash out.”) This was all brought into sharp focus for me while reading this post by John Quiggen at Crooked Timber & the responses to it. I recommend the discussion:

Perhaps with more competent management the Taleban could have been defeated by now, and Al Qaeda put out of business in the region. But they haven’t been and it is time to admit that a military victory over the Taleban insurgency is now unlikely whether or not it might have been achieved in the past. As with the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, it’s time to look harder at offering both a part in the political process and plenty of cash to those willing to abandon the insurgency.

Quiggen begins by noting that things have been going “better than expected” in Iraq over the last year & this is the narrative that the Bush administration & the McCain campaign have carefully built around “the surge,” with the implication that they had been right all along. It’s an attractive & even natural narrative & one that is hard to counter, even though it is untrue. Things are “better” in Iraq, compared to what? Police recruits are still regularly targeted, markets are still bombed, many Iraqis still can’t return to their old neighborhoods because they have been ethnically segregated. And what do we have to show for the effort? Thousands of American dead & an unstable country that is concluding oil contracts with China & Russia even as they give us a timeline for getting out. So, even if one were to approve Dick Cheney’s realpolitik approach, we’re fucked.

This is going to be the main problem faced by the Obama campaign* over the next two months — what is the alternative narrative (and how do you advance it) in the face of such an attractive although untrue story? The “we’re fucked” narrative above does not play to the electorate’s predilection for chest-thumping self-aggrandizement & sentimental militarism.

*Note: Despite my various disappointments with Obama’s politics, the alternative is simply too grim to contemplate. Watching closely over the last three weeks or so, it is possible to predict that the first & most pressing foreign policy problem that a McCain administration would take up would be the question of whether to go to war first with Russia or Iran.