Two Notes on the Election

1. I keep hearing about “the real America,” which is presumably different from the fake America of which I am indubitably a part. You know, until this phrase started showing up in right-wing discourse I was inclined to hear Obama’s talk of unity and coming together as campaign rhetoric; but now I see that it marks a real difference. The right is exclusionist, liberals inclusive by instinct, if not always in practice. Here’s just one example, from a bush-league congressman. Update: Only Real Americans® should be allowed to vote.

2. I don’t expect the McCain campaign to make the distinction, but there is a difference between criticizing someone’s approach to stem cell research or one’s health care plan and making darkly portentous statements about someone’s character that suggest the other guy is not a true American (see above). It would be nice if the news media enforced this simple distinction in the name of intellectual honesty.

Presidential Debate: Sneering Demagoguery

Well, the snap polls are in & Obama is the clear winner of the debate. Cool & calm has seen him through. It is hard for me to believe that anyone could be an “independent” at this point in the campaign, like that “typical voter” I heard on NPR the other day who said “both gentlemen have things about them I like, but I’m just not sure.” the guy sounded like he was waiting for someone to come & wipe his ass, not choose a president. (As someone commented on one of the blogs I read, “If it weren’t for low-information voters, the Republicans would only have a cople of billionaires showing up at the polls this year.”)

Oh, yeah, the debate. McCain looks like a study in anger-management in the split-screen close-ups & that’s not doing him any good, especially when contrasted with Obama’s cool demeanor. Not just anger but contempt. The exchange about negative campaigning was revealing: you had to be paying attention, but McCain believes that an ad attacking his health care plan is a “negative ad” on par with his campaign’s relentless personal smearing of Obama’s character. For McCain, it’s all about McCain. (“I know how to get Bin Laden,” “I know how to fix the economy.”) For Obama, who is the ur-technocrat, it is about issues and systems. It’s really not personal with Obama.

But McCain lost the debate — & revealed himself as a moral zero — in two exchanges. In the first, he accused the Obama campaign of “perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” This was in reference to the hysterical right-wing Pavlovian response to the acronym ACORN. McCain had to ring that bell for the crazy base & he did, but he knew he was lying. McCain is an enthusiastic but unskilled lyer & it showed. (You see the same kind of bell-ringing with the phrase “class warfare,” which McCain managed to shoehorn into his discussion of Joe the Plumber — & was there ever a more elitist, condescending campaign invention than this particular everyman McCain tried to use for his own benefit?) So that’s the demagoguery; the sneer came in McCain’s discussion of abortion, in which he dismissed legal language in restrictive abortion laws that seeks to protect a woman’s health by putting air quotes around the word health. That pretty much says it all. The man was of course pandering to his base — he doesn’t care about abortion rights any more than he cares about taxes or health care; but it was exceedingly clear from this exchange — in which he hauled out another tired old debunked lie about Obama voting to kill babies — that the man hates women. We already knew this, of course, but if there was any doubt, this moment would have erased it.

Language and the Truth

I’m sort of old-fashioned in that I tell my creative writing students that they have a responsibility to the truth of their own experience and that the way they use language reveals the extent to which they have taken that responsibility seriously. Listening to Sarah Palin reminds me of nothing so much as listening to an unprepared & incurious freshman discussing the reading for the day. After listening to Palin for a while, I feel stupider than when I began. In recent days I have found that immediately after listening to Palin, reading a big chunk of Beckett or Chekov is the best antidote. See also: The poetry of Sarah Palin — not since rumsfeld have we had such a master.

Veep Debate

Just watched the debate. Sarah Palin is the Readers digest Condensed version of a vice-presidential candidate. She leaves out all the hard words.

Conservative Science Studies

I know the American radical right has a problem with science, but I had no idea they had adopted the doctrine of the four humors; next thing you know, Sarah Palin will be talking about the four fundamental elements of earth, air, fire & water. Oh, read it yourself, as much as you can take before you bust out laughing, but the upshot is that the choleric John McCain will make a better president than the phlegmatic Barack Obama.

Now for Something Completely Different?

Sorry for the Monty Python allusion, but the last few days have been so politically rediculous it seemed appropriate. And now we seem set to repeat the exercise, not as farce but as tragedy, to reverse another famous formulation. The Washington Post reports:

House Democratic and Republican leaders vowed to go back into negotiations to devise compromise legislation to stabilize the credit markets, but no talks were scheduled. After U.S. financial markets closed, with the Dow Jones industrial average down a one-day record of 778 points, or 7 percent, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. tried to calm frazzled traders, assuring them that work on a market intervention would resume.

But what if Democrats in Congress, along with Barack Obama, put together a financial plan on their own, without the reactionary hard right faction in the House? It would mean taking a risk politically, but the risk would be in the service of principle and patriotism. Democrats have the votes to pass a bill without Republican support, maybe they should try something along the lines suggested by Robert Reich or some other responsible economist. What if Obama brought in Nouriel Roubini (the one economist who seems to have seen the meltdown coming) and came up with a progressive plan? Just let the Republicans fulminate & prove the bankruptcy of the bankrupt ideology of unregulated markets and invisible hands. Republicans are saying that Democrats “injected politics” into the bailout? It is to laugh, but never mind; perhaps it’s time to show them what would happen if politcs really got injected into the process. I mean, how many times do Democrats have to get punked by “bipartisanship” before they give partisanship a try?

Update: This looks like a progressive plan. And Galbraith makes sense in this article, even before the worst hit yesterday. TPM has rounded up the statements of a number of liberal economists here.