Cool is conquering crotchety in election…

October 9, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

It has become the contest of the crotchety old geezer against the cool kid, and cool is winning.

Republican John McCain is strident and does demonstrate policy knowledge gained from nearly three decades in Washington. But there is a certain angry and desperate edge to his demeanor that subtracts from what we would like to see as a leader in these extremely difficult times.

On the other hand, the Democrat Barack Obama exudes calm. In fact, it seems the more he is attacked and baited, the calmer he gets. Certainly he must be exasperated. But he is cool enough to know not to fall into the trap of being called an “angry black man.” He does not have the luxury of simply appearing as a forceful white military officer. We still have certain double standards in our society, the vestiges of racism. Then again, maybe Mr. Obama is just naturally unflappable (we have, though, seen him bristle ever so little at times – he is human after all). Obama does not claim to have all the answers as McCain does. He does demonstrate that he understands the problems we face and has ideas and can reason with others. McCain brags he is a “maverick” who loves to cross party lines, but his demeanor suggests one who is super sensitive to criticism or perceived slights, and who demands hero worship.

Asked about the fact that the McCain campaign is pressing its charge that Obama has consorted with a terrorist, William “Bill” Ayers, and that he is disloyal, but that in the debate McCain did not bring it up, Obama cooly noted that he wished McCain had the guts to charge him to his face.

When McCain referred to Obama as “that one” in the debate Tuesday night, I did not see it as a slight or sign of disrespect, it was just a rhetorical flourish to show some supposed irony about the way Obama voted on a particular bill. On reflection, though, I have to say that McCain acts as if he has no respect whatsoever for his opponent, even though some time ago he had promised to run a civil campaign. He’s getting desperate.

McCain talks as if the fact that he’s been in Washington for nearly three decades and has “been in on every foreign policy decision,” his words, and spent five years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of War camp gives him an automatic ticket to the White House.

First of all, I wouldn’t brag about being in on every foreign policy decision considering the mess we are in now with our military way over extended and world opinion being more negative toward us than any time in history (even our friends don’t like us).

And just how being a prisoner of war qualifies one to be president, please tell me.

McCain’s biggest liability is what he brags about being, a maverick. I really don’t know what his complete record is in the congress and senate, and at this point I really don’t care. But he has been so erratic during these past few financially turbulent weeks that such should be enough to convince folks he’s a little unstable or confused. The economy is “fundamentally sound”; we are in an “economic crisis”, two McCain assessments made within 24 hours. He tried to explain such away by saying “fundamentally sound” referred to the work force. Absurd. If that were so he would have said “work force,” not “economy”.

Choosing a woman to be his running mate seemed to me like a bold move at first, that is until I saw and heard more from this heretofore unknown. Now that I have gotten to know Sarah Palin I see her for what she is: a right wing reactionary demagogue who always goes for the lowest common denominator. So many people, from ones who are wealthy today to those who live in the ghetto, share something in common, they sought help from their government when they needed it. Even Palin has proclaimed that she is a recipient of women’s rights measures in civil rights legislation. But at the same time, Palin mocks government. We have freedom of speech in this nation, but anyone who doesn’t think as Palin or McCain is suspect, in their minds, or not ready to be president, as if Palin were. When Obama votes against one military funding bill, but supports another, he is voting against the troops, they say. No one votes against the troops. No one votes not to supply food and shelter and ammunition to the troops. To suggest otherwise is nonsense on its face. People who call for “supporting the troops” generally are using that slogan as a rhetorical device to stifle debate on the underlying policy that puts troops in harm’s way and keeps them there for such extended periods of time.

And contrast the shrill Cindy McCain who charges out on the stump that Obama somehow endangered her son in Iraq by voting a certain way in the Senate, to Michelle Obama’s graceful handling of the question of whether she thought McCain the candidate disrespected her husband by referring to him as “that one”. She said, “no not at all.”

Palin, a college graduate herself, mocks education, and refers to common folk as “Joe Six Pack.” She also refers to the concerns of “soccer moms” or “hockey moms” as if they were Stepford wives with no brains of their own, thinking and acting in unison. I’m sure neither of the afore mentioned groups are in total agreement among each other, but Palin cynically tries to appeal to prejudice and ignorance. Don’t think. Just react.

Just as Palin claims Obama is not fit to lead, I fear for the safety and dignity of this nation should she ever reach the White House. With McCain’s age and health, there’s too much danger of this undignified light weight becoming president. Despite her claim to be a conservative, many of the conservatives are in despair over her candidacy. There is actually a rift now between the less sophisticated conservatives and some of the more learned and I think genuine conservatives because of Palin.

Sorry for the diatribe on Palin. But the fact McCain chose her without even vetting her (we know now that he barely knew anything about her), says something, too much, about his irrationality.

McCain is also the man who sang bomb bomb bomb Iran, to the tune of Barbara Ann. A good joke I admit, but hardly an example of Teddy Roosevelt speak softly and carry a big stick policy that McCain always says he admires. And a leader of the free world should not be so flip.

He threw out the line or two at Tuesday night’s debate about coming up with his own original idea about the government buying up mortgages and renegotiating them at diminished value. Now we find out that it just means the government would eat the difference but give the total payoff to the banks up front. I’m not sure this is much different than what is proposed under the new bailout law, and I am not even sure that it is a bad idea, but I understand it is not original. Hillary Clinton proposed a similar approach on mortgages during the primary. But of course back then McCain said that would be government usurping the role of free enterprise (today we are finding out there is nothing free in free enterprise).

And that brings to mind another rift among the conservatives and among the Republicans in general. Bush, their man, pushed through the biggest socialization of free enterprise in the history of this nation. True conservatives should not be happy about that. And McCain suggests having the government buy up mortgages and then setting a lower value on property. Yikes! Adam Smith has to be rolling in his grave. And all this thanks to the conservative Republicans.

Maybe conservatism is dead. If true conservatism is anything like what has been supported by the Republican party since Nixon, thank goodness.

Once upon a time conservatism was about preserving the basic values of democracy and the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and support of the Bill of Rights, and of resistance to rapid change, and holding to accepted moral values. Then came Nixon who introduced a kind of meanness. He was an eager participant in the communist witch hunts of the late 40s and early 50s (now I don’t think he was wrong to fight what he saw as communist subversion, but it is said he tarred the reputations of innocent people in his zeal and often just threw around the word “communist” as a distraction, rather than argue on honest issues). Then in the late 60s and early 70s Nixon led the vile and cynical Southern Strategy that fed on racial prejudice, turning the Party of Lincoln (who freed the slaves) into the party of white bigotry. And if there was a war of choice, even more than ours in Iraq today, it was Vietnam. Americans have a right to oppose wars of choice, I believe (technically they have a right to oppose any war). But first under a Democratic administration and then under the Republicans, the idea that dissent on war or war policy even in wars fought for ambiguous reasons is disloyal has become vogue among those who call themselves conservatives.

When you consider the situation we are in today with the wars in the Middle East, you have to realize that to say we cannot reassess our situation but must continue on no matter what and to do otherwise is treason is illogical and beyond all reason. We have to look again at what we are trying to achieve (hard to do since it has never been made fully clear or the reasons have changed) and assess whether our goals are attainable. No one would reasonably argue against true defense of our nation. But gaining control of oil lands and nation building is not purely self defense. And we need to look at the moral aspect as well. Our Founding Fathers did not intend for ours to be a conquering nation. But then again, maybe they were not conservative for their time. They had the newer notion that people should be able to live free and peacefully and not be ruled by unquestionable authority. That was a liberal idea for the time.

I doubt whether most Americans concern themselves a lot about “liberalism” and “conservatism” and even “socialism”, though these terms are bandied about by candidates and political pundits (I must admit, though, liberalism has joined socialism as being an epithet in the popular lexicon, even though we seem now headed for a little more of both, go figure).

Personally, I believe in preserving our form of democracy using what works for the time. Maybe we could call it “Americanism.”