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.

John McCain Thinks We Have Too Much Health Care as it Is

So this obviously won’t be a problem. Well, not for him — he has the best health insurance money can by. For the rest of us, he thinks we ought to be able to get by on five grand a year. Oh, and the free market will reduce costs so much that that five thousand dollars (for a family, only $2500 if you’re single) will make insurance affordable.

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.