Saturday, November 01, 2008

Warning: Politics Ahead

This morning I dropped my wife’s and my own mail-in ballots into a postal box. I know it’s not yet Election Day--Tuesday, November 4--but I had no reason to wait. This election was a no-brainer, at least as far as my vote for president goes.

Since George W. Bush began occupying the White House in January 2001, the United States has gone through what has often seemed like a never-ending series of scandals and disasters. And in most cases, Bush and his Republican allies--including John McCain--haven’t shown the ability or even the willingness to fix things or guard against repeating mistakes in the future. We were lied into a war against Iraq. We’ve been spied on by our own government without sufficient reason or the sanction of law. We’ve been put through the sad and ideology-driven psychodrama of the Terri Schiavo fiasco. Bush has sought extraordinary powers through his abuse of “signing statements,” and his administration has ignored ethical standards, which led to the CIA leak scandal. We have seen the beautiful city of New Orleans flooded, because Bush put a political crony, Michael Brown, in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and then didn’t even listen when Brown warned--well before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005--that there was the potential for disastrous levee breaches. The hefty economic surplus that President Bill Clinton left behind has been squandered by Bush on war-making, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and payments to Dick Cheney’s too-powerful Halliburton corporation. Our nation’s safety in the world has been undermined by Bush’s go-it-alone approach, and its moral standing has been further compromised by the abuse of inmates at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

No wonder U.S. historian Sean Wilentz wrote in Rolling Stone a couple of years back that Bush was well on his way to being remembered as “the worst president in history”--a charge that must be salutary to descendants of James Buchanan, who’d previously been derided as the worst America had to offer.

His vague reassurances to the contrary, John McCain has demonstrated in his policy proposals no desire to change Bush’s dismal direction for the country. As he’s acknowledged in the past, “I voted with the president over 90 percent of the time, higher than a lot of my even Republican colleagues.” (Proof of that can be found here.) This is hardly the hallmark of an independent thinker--but then McCain isn’t really the “maverick” he claims to be. He selected as his vice-presidential running mate a person, Sarah Palin, who even GOP officials say lacks the judgment and experience necessary to take over from the 72-year-old McCain in the event of his demise--a woman who doesn’t even know what the First Amendment is about. (This, from somebody with a college journalism degree?)

Since he lost to Bush in the 2000 presidential race, McCain has flip-flopped dozens of times on issues he claims are of the utmost importance, hoping to capture Bush’s base of Republican and Christianist support. And he has certainly run one of the most inept, ugliest, and intellectually dishonest campaigns for the Oval Office during my lifetime, showing that he is indeed willing--as others have put it--to take the low road to the highest office in the land. Furthermore, McCain has shown little interest in talking seriously about subjects other than national defense, preferring some variation on the non-specific pledge “I know what to do, I know the people involved--trust me.” As it became clear that the U.S. economy was in crisis, McCain showed a lack of both judgment and leadership, lurching back and forth between allegedly “suspending” his campaign and then upsetting a settlement in Congress that required other, cooler heads to repair once he finally stepped away from the microphones and TV cameras. Even now, as Americans say that fixing the economy is the most important issue facing the next president, McCain has other priorities, focusing his “transition team” on “taking control of the U.S. national security apparatus,” rather than finding financial relief for Americans who have lost their homes or their retirement plans as a result of this crisis.

If nothing else about this campaign proved that Senator Barack Obama is ready to become the 44th president of the United States, his handling of the financial crisis should have. While McCain flailed about in a frantic artifice of command, Obama remained cool-headed in the crisis, consulted his economic advisers for the best approach to solving the situation, and then was clear in explaining to the public what needed to be done. That’s the sort of leader this country demands right now. Which is why Obama and his skilled running mate, Joe Biden, have been endorsed by so many newspapers, as well as a number of Republicans, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Ronald Reagan’s former chief of staff, Ken Duberstein.

Obama has shown a willingness to embrace both Democrats and Republicans to right the ship of state. He’s not an ideologue like Bush, but somebody willing to consult the best minds in search of the best solutions, no matter which side of the political spectrum they inhabit. Obama understands, unlike the bellicose McCain, that this nation cannot continue down the Republican “borrow and spend” path if it ever hopes to regain solvency. Nor can it continue to prosecute Bush’s war on Iraq, when that conflict is costing the United States $10 billion a month and when the Iraqis themselves want us out. And Obama’s life story--the fact that he was raised in modest circumstances, and understands what it’s like to worry where the next meal is coming from--recommends him as a person who will stand up for those of us who cannot claim to be rich. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, like Bush; and unlike McCain, Obama didn’t cheat on his first wife and then dump her in order to marry a younger beer heiress who would advance his political career. Just listening to Obama talk about people in poverty and the elderly who’ve been cut from insurance rolls because of “pre-existing conditions,” you can see that he’s honestly concerned. His empathy isn’t political, it’s personal.

For these reasons and others, I proudly marked my mail-in ballot for Barack Obama. As he acknowledges, he isn’t a perfect person and won’t be a perfect president. But I’m convinced that Obama is the right man for the job right now.

READ MORE:Obama’s Winning Argument,” by Joe Conason (Salon); “Vote, Damn It!,” by J.D. Rhoades (What Fresh Hell Is This?); “Barack Obama for President,” by Ben Hunt (Material Witness); “‘Doonesbury’ Comic Strip Presumes and Obama Victory,” by Andale Gross (Associated Press); “That Why They Call ’Em Secret Ballots ...,” by Chris F. Holm.


Ali Karim said...

Very well put, and I agree with your points; especially as McCain and Palin seem very scary to me.

Stephen King said recently that his family thought Palin reminded them of Greg Stillson, and for those of you who have either read King's The Dead Zone or seen David Cronenberg's film adaptation of King's THE DEAD ZONE will understand the line used to promote Cronenberg's THE FLY.

If by some weird cosmic shift in the universe, McCain and Palin get elected....then it's time to BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID

Excellent essay - and fingers crossed next week, because what America decides, ripples throughout the world.


Keith Raffel said...

I can find only one small error in your argument, Jeff. Buchanan had no descendants.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

While it's true, Keith, that Buchanan never married, he did have siblings, who had children of their own. One of those was Harriet Lane, an orphaned niece whom Buchanan adopted and who later acted as his First Lady. I think his extended family can be counted as "descendants," if not direct ones.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Well said. The war issue alone really bothers me (and I find it perplexing that McCain and Palin want to push so hard for "victory" in a war that never should have been fought in the first place) but beyond that, the way Palin has been handled has really troubled me. It seems as candidates asking for the public's trust, McCain thinks he can shelter Palin, and she doesn't do any standard press interviews and won't talk to reporters after events. Transparent government doesn't start with concealment.

I'd be against them based on how they've carried themselves even if I had nobody to be for.