Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pot about Kettle: They know what "black" looks like, too!

I love this.  Rick Davis, spokesman for the McCain/Palin campaign went out and suggested that Sen. Barack Obama's campaign gets a "free pass" on negative campaigning (story here).

Here's the thing.  Negative campaigning isn't the problem.  It never was the problem. It's McCain/Palin's 1) constant negative campaigning since June and 2) the veracity of the negative campaigning.  It's the terrorist/Bill Ayers/ACORN's stealing the election/Obama's angry and uppity and elitist and dangerous/"he's using the race card"/inexperienced/etc. line of attacks that has gone on unendingly for the past 4+ months.  Most of his attacks have been way over the line and have led to inciting violence and racial epithets (see previous posts).

Sen. McCain's campaign has not only been over-the-line, and continuously so, but has never shied away from encouraging racism.  I couldn't care less whether or not McCain is a racist or whether or not anyone from his campaign is a racist, but his ads, his speeches, and the tenor of his campaign has not only encouraged racism toward Sen. Obama, but seem to have tried to find a way to get the racists onto its side. 

Lastly, and perhaps most disturbing in the political world, is that I have been an active follower of this campaign season since last summer and I have to tell you this:
I can't tell you what John McCain stands for.
Think about it for a second.  What is McCain's vision statement?  What are his plans for the first 100 days in office?  What would the McCain presidency look like?

I know he has it in for earmarks.  I know he thinks that his dad being an admiral and his being shot down and held as a P.O.W. gives him military cred, but I'm not sure what he wants to do with diplomacy.  He likes being in Iraq.  He doesn't want to talk with our enemies.  That's it.  He likes having a "mavericky" VP that might get impeached before the swearing in ceremony on January 20th.  What are his economic plans "I'm not going to raise taxes."  Great solution--in that it actually is the opposite of one.  Um...that's about it.

McCain/Palin has been so negative that it doesn't have any positive contribution.  It can't tell you what its administration would look like--just what it isn't.  And even that is inconsistant, since it is clearly not like Bush's, except the 90% that's identical.  We'll have a spending freeze except on anything that is remotely related to running the government.  Honestly, I don't get it.

So here it is.  We are less than a week away, and a news junky cannot give a positive assessment of anything one of the candidates has planned for the country.  This is in stark contrast to the 30 minute Obama infomercial last night that was on point, explaining economic, international, healthcare, and education priorities, with tangible plans for the first year.

So, Mr. Davis, as you cry foul, has it ever occurred to you that the problem has absolutely nothing to do with us, but in fact, everything to do with you?

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Bush Enigma

It’s too early to write a political eulogy, of course, as his final term is not over yet. And the next person hasn’t even been chosen yet, the one in the unenviable position of cleaning up his mess.

And yet, the one truth that must be addressed before we are able to bury the specter of the George W. Bush presidency is this: the existential crisis of the enigmatic, straight-shooting candidate vs. the belligerent, tyrannical president. That George was a different person as a candidate (both times) from who he was as president is not as surprising as the schizophrenic degree to which the compassionate conservative who wanted to reform government morphed into the emperor demanding our country’s transformation into a near-fascist state.

I figure I will address the monster-in-chief at a later date. But I am more interested in the former, the enigmatic candidate.

First, I will confess that this inspiration came from a review in Entertainment Weekly of the new Bush biopic W. by Oliver Stone. I have not yet seen the movie (though I want to). But the review seemed to expect Stone to either address his subject as a neutral subject, long dead and gone: Ray Charles, Shoeless Joe Jackson, etc.: or as if he were a left-winger bent on revenge. If Stone produces the former, the reviewer could be disappointed for Stone’s lack of vision and if he delivers the latter Stone could be condemned for being a partisan hack (film reviewers can have it both ways). Stone, in including most of the important background info, produced a film that is scattered and unfocused according to the reviewer. A “C+” it receives. All of the praise is reserved for Josh Brolin’s performance as the title character. He seems to channel the spirit of George without relying on ticks and other acting crutches. He gets an “A” for his performance.

What the review for a simple film actually reveals is the true zeitgeist of our 43rd president: a man that we all know without caring to know about. That he is in fact, just a face to us: a living caricature of a president with an archetypal past. We know what we need to know: he was a spoiled rich kid that everyone liked; he rebelled as a teenager, as a young man, and as an adult; his father paved the way for his path to the presidency. He is a born-again Christian who continues to rebel against his East-Coast pedigree by fulfilling his Texas-based dreams of being a cowboy. He is simple and plain and hopelessly devoted to his Dad’s ideology: oil is a good money-maker. This seems to be enough for us. We avoid the truth, even when it is presented to us.

He was an adequate student. He is charismatic and lived on that charisma through his entire life, including his time as president. He uses nicknames to manipulate and gain power over people—a subtle, “folksy” tactic that shows disdain for the individual (only friends get to give you nicknames—the journalist makes the leap to believe that they are now the president’s friend). That charisma got him power and influence that he could not earn on merits of skill, past performance, or knowledge.

Everything George has done in his life has been on someone else’s dime. His Dad’s friends lent him money to start an oil exploration company that failed. Then those friends bought the failed company and reinvested in it, promoting George to head of the new, bigger company. It failed. Then those friends bought it out, promoting George again to head the new, bigger company. He left with millions in his pockets and a 0% success rate in the oil business. Then, he gathered more of those same friends and bought the Texas Rangers. Even though he was only worth 2%, he was given control of the team. His biggest trade resulted in sending Sammy Sosa to the Cubs—before he hit 66 home runs. He was given more stock in the team than was warranted by his ownership position, but we know what that was about, really. By this time he was son of the President of the United States of America. He quits the business world to run for governor of Texas against a popular incumbent. Big bucks flowed in from Washington and a couple of Karl Rove smears later, he is governor of one of the biggest states in the country with absolutely no credentials for the job. His military record demonstrates the same nepotism and favoritism that typified his business activities, getting appointments that he didn’t earn (he failed the flying tests and he was demoted) as well as an early exit that was not endorsed or sanctioned (in other words, he went AWOL).

He is a recovering alcoholic and former drug-user (cocaine). His party-animal reputation continued past his teens and early-twenties and into his late thirties.

So why did anyone think that this man could be fit for the presidency? Because we didn’t really want to examine that past. We knew about it. It was reported and put on the nightly news. Half of us didn’t really care. The other half didn’t take it seriously (“Aren’t they seeing this?” we asked). But this isn’t a Republican/Democrat divide thing. This is willful ignorance. This is willful abandonment of our values.

We expect our president to represent our values. We expect our president to tell us what s/he is going to do. During a campaign, we invite them to prove their worth to us in speeches, debates, and explaining their policy priorities. For some reason, George got a free pass. He used circular non-logic, word-smithing, and character and ethic debates to derail the discussion that we all say we want. And then we blamed VP Al Gore for what came out of Bush’s mouth. And then again to Sen. John Kerry four years later.

George W. Bush the candidate seemed to combine all of the things we dislike about typical presidential candidates (inherited wealth, privilege, a Messiah-complex, insulated upbringing), attitudes that cause us to reject a candidate out-of-hand (drug problem, unsuccessful business background, accounting scandal), and personality traits that cause the electorate to worry (intellectual laziness, hot-headedness, belligerence, blind adherence to faulty logic). And yet, we didn’t care. He seemed to be the embodiment of all the things we dislike with a sprinkle of folksiness and charisma, but all we saw was swagger. Even after he perpetrated the greatest fraud on the American people in the history of our country, we didn’t push him out of office: we let him steal another election. So he upped the ante and we still didn’t get him impeached.

In Bush, we can see where the monster comes from: we can understand how George was able to take the power from those that didn’t guard it wisely. But what is inexplicable is that Bush could maintain that enigma after Election Day. How, in plain view, our democracy could be high jacked with a wink and a nod. Maybe it is charisma. Maybe Bush is just that good. Or maybe it really is us. Maybe it’s our own intellectual laziness that allowed us to trust the untrustable. Maybe it’s our own self-loathing that wanted to be mistreated. Maybe we want the book written about this time to say, like Esau, that we did this because we despised our birthright.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin and the scandal of wasting other people's money

You no doubt have heard about these hilarious financial scandals involving the Republican Vice Presidential candidate. The first was the thousands of dollars she forced the Alaskan taxpayers to pay for her per diem—while staying at home. Next was the tens of thousands spent on flights and five-star hotels for her daughters. Now she has spent $150,000 of the Republican National Committee’s money on clothes and makeup.

Jeez, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that she seems to have some problems with the basic concepts of conservatism.

So here’s the thing: don’t attack her for the clothes and the kids (both are actually pretty reasonable expectations). Instead, attack her for this: she really seems to like spending other people’s money. Not just spending it, wasting it. Blowing it. Look at the evidence: she expects the Alaskan people to pay her to stay in her home, spending the night in expensive hotels (while getting a second room for her kids--who weren't invited in the first place), and presumably on high-fashion clothes.

The reality of this argument is not that I expect the governor to stay at a Motel 6, 100 miles from downtown or to shop at TJ Maxx, but I do expect some frugality and responsible stewardship of funds.

Think about the state jet. Alaska, a huge state, much of which is only reachable by airplane, now only has a 28 year-old plane. One that was out of commission for 1/3 of Palin's time in office so far. The other plane, the one that her predicessor purchased so that he could, presumably, meet with constituents in his own state, was a loss. She jeapordized Alaskan infrastructure--and lost money.

In all, these issues reveal two things about Palin: her economic unfitness as an officer of the state and her selfish greed as an individual.

As a governor, she wastes her people's money. She shows little to no prudence and foresight with regards to the economic health of her state. She uses Band-aids when stitches are required. This inspires no confidence in me as she hopes to get to be a heartbeat away from our country's multi-trillion dollar economy.

As a public servent, she greedily extorts the state for her personal gain. This isn't stealing pencils from the office closet, this is bending loopholes in obviously inappropriate ways. The per diem is intended to cover travel, hotel, and food expenses on trips to visit constituants, not a little extra pay for going home. Her visits away from home didn't require first class travel and accomodations for the entire family. She probably could have kept the kids at home with "First Dude", her sepretist husband. And with the deep pockets of the Republican Party footing the bill, she felt no remorse in racking up clothing and makeup bills in the last two months that are greater than the average household makes in two years.

Palin's eagerness to waste other people's money should be a chilling reminder of what is at stake in the current economic environment. We have spent 8 years under one Republican with neither the ability to act with fiscal prudency, nor the moral fortitude to keep from benefiting from the arrangement. Mavericky? No. Bushy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

McCain supporters commit violent acts

At the last debate, Sen. Barack Obama looked Sen. John McCain in the eye and gave him the opportunity to repudiate the supporters that have called for Obama's death.  And what did he do?  He complemented his supporters.  He thinks their great.

Also during the debate, McCain raised the specter of voter fraud--a favorite Republican bogeyman that actually encourages vote suppression--because of a successful ACORN recruitment effort.  So what happens just days after the debate?  Those wonderful patriots, those incredible citizens that support McCain vandalize ACORN offices and send death threats to ACORN personnel all over the United States as reported by McClatchy Newspapers.

This is what happens when a presidential candidate stokes the racist fears of the puritanical xenophobes.  This demonstrates the danger of the McCain/Palin rhetoric--it has begun spilling over into direct, violent action.  It has moved from shouting death threats to carrying out criminal acts in the form of breaking and entering, theft, and vandalism.  What is next?  What will it take for McCain to reject these acts?

And what does it say about his character?  What kind of maverick lets his supporters behave this way?  What kind of high-minded citizen and dutiful public servant stays silent; or worse, defends those who have gone to far?  Perhaps only one who recognizes his own guilt and complicity in tearing the country apart.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A perfect Special Comment

Last night's Countdown featured the Special Comment I've been waiting for: a plea for McCain and Palin to stop the violent rhetoric. Check it out!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A great comic strip

My favorite comics are the ones that make me laugh--and a bit upset.  Take a look at this one.  It is on Susan Russell's blog, and I just couldn't take credit for finding it!

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain's gambit and the problem with betting it all

After reading this article on Alternet, which seems to reinforce the statements I've been making for the last week about the McCain/Palin campaign's hate-speech, new things became obvious to me.  Through quotes by journalists and polticians, the article shows the widespread opposition to this strategy, from condemnation as hate-speech at one end to being politically unhelpful at the other.

What is interesting, however, is the original response to this stuff when taken through the lens of what it could lead to.  Let me explain.  In the spring, when Sen. Hillary Clinton was losing ground in the primaries to Sen. Barack Obama, she began mudslinging with some borderline inappropriate suppositions.  The response at the time to "the Kitchen Sink Approach" came in the form of three predominant viewpoints: she is fighting to the end (Hillary supporters), she is handing the Republicans a ready-made campaign (moderate Democrats), she has descended her campaign into the hell that political campaigns must avoid, namely racism and fear (Obama supporters).  When McCain came out slinging at Obama, eager to paint him as unsuitable for the presidency, the worst fears of all (and the total expectation of the majority) of Democrats were realized: a campaign that was destructive and nasty--and entirely worse than anything in recent memory.

But here's the thing that I don't understand--the long-odds gamble.  When Sens. Clinton and McCain started throwing whatever they could find at Sen. Obama, arguing that they are demonstrating what fighters they are, how driven they are to protect America from whatever Obama is supposed to represent, why is it construed by supporters, and worse, the media as "the only choice" and "all [they] have left"?  Isn't pride, decency, and the very fabric of our country's political future worth preserving?  Why shred our ability to transcend partisanship in favor of a selfish desire to do literally everything possible to become president?

Let me say this again, because it is that important.  McCain has a choice.  He doesn't have to be a nasty jerk.  He doesn't have to throw his honor out the window and toss his scruples.  He doesn't have to make a deal with the devil and compromise the country.  He doesn't have to go about spouting vile garbage, insighting riots and lynch mobs.  He has a choice.  He has the option of winning or losing as a decent man.  He has the option of being a humane and humble leader.  But he's not.  He is selfish.  He is willing to throw three decades of public service in the toilet, flushing it with an angry hand because he is that desperate and selfish.  He is out of options and in his mind, the only thing left is to tear it all down.  Like a child playing with Legos and has trouble dealing with a better castle being made by another kid, he is willing to stomp on them, breaking the legos, the playmat, ruining the opportunity for himself, the other kid, and any other children that hope to play there in the future. 

McCain has always had another option.  A candidant doesn't have to live by the mindset: by any means necessary.  You don't have to ruin things for everyone when you don't get your way.  You can choose to run a good, high-minded campaign with every intention of winning.  You can be a good sport.  You can show people how's it's done: by being a role model for other political figures.

Nobody wants to see their husband, their father, or worse, their son running the type of campaign that McCain has.  It is dishonorable and indecent: it is the definition of obscene.  But what is truly tragic is that McCain had all the means of running that other campaign.  He had the opportunity to actually be a Maverick, not pretend to be one.  He had the opportunity to unite the people under important principles of bipartisan unity and debate--he could have made disagreement cool and useful, not a constant means of division.  He had the opportunity to redeem the Republican Party and helped us work toward forgiveness.  He had the the opportunity to be an inspirational figure.  He had the opportunity to out post-partisan his opponent.  He had the opportunity to do all of these things.  And at the end, regardless of how the chips fell, he could have won an historic and politically unprecedented election based on optimism, respect, and honor.  All of that was possible.  But he chose Rove's disciples to run his campaign and chose the low road, only worse.  He chose the subterranian road.

Maybe now we will understand that when you've run out of cards, you don't need to bet it all.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

John Stewart, I love you, but get on this!

I was reflecting on something John Stewart said in the last issue of Entertainment Weekly.  He suggested that he expected the Obama-McCain election season to be different, to be something new.  He was disappointed that we are at the same place we were at with Bush-Gore and Bush-Kerry.

He suggests that the campaign season hasn't improved.  Of course, I think it has gotten worse, but Stewart is looking at historical benchmarks as equals.  By saying that things haven't appeared to improve (kind of a vague, non-descript word), he seems to suggest that the 2008 benchmark is comparable to the 2004 and 2000 benchmarks.  I would reject this for two reasons.  First, this is a narrow sampling of benchmarks.  If all are truly equal, and things are consistently bad, let's include 1992, let's use 1980 and 1976.  Perhaps even 1968, 1960, or 1932!  These benchmarks can give the broad view that Stewart is suggesting, but with a more reasonable understanding of politics.

The second reason is the one that interests me more.  It is the idea that even though Sen. John McCain is trying to do his best to be George W. Bush Revisited, Sen. Barack Obama certainly cannot be Sen. John Kerry or Vice President Al Gore.  A more apt political comparison would be Govs. Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter, whose campaign staff were from outside of Washington.  Or perhaps John F. Kennedy, who is known for having both a "typical" staff and trusted confidants that could tell him the truth.  This is not what Gore and Kerry had in their campaigns.

But neither is really the reason things are different this time around, and why many things don't seem better.  Yes, there is a back-and-forth.  There is a "my opponent says this, but..." case--but we are naive (or stupid) if we think that will change.  No, what is different is difference between logic and hyperbole, critical thinking and shouting, cogent arguments and lies.  This is the state of the campaign.

To be fair, things don't look different.  But perhaps that has nothing to do with the candidates or our reality.  Perhaps it has everything to do with the way we are covering things today, and what today means when it becomes yesterday.  With Stewart's harping on things not being different, he is trying to absolve himself of that responsibility for shaping how we perceive current events.

I like him.  I think he's hilarious.  I think he covers things the way I wish the network news teams would.  I think he seems to be unafraid to tell the truth when it needs to be told.  But I don't think he pushes the line.  His cynicism betrays the current arrangement.  As I said in the previous post, McCain/Palin have given up lying and moved into reality-fabrication.  They are not only saying something that isn't true, but creating a frame that is incredibly dangerous.  They are pushing a worldview that has a dangerous endpoint that can only lead to violence or sedition.  They have gone way past the line of acceptability and moved into the mad dogs of our past like the segregationist's run for the presidency through fear and racism.  They are adopting a platform that isn't merely racist and bigoted, but one that encourages hatred.

John Stewart is not picking up on this reality.  No one else is either, but we have come to expect more from him.  We have come to expect wisdom and clarity of vision.  We have come to expect truth-telling in the face of adversity.  And yet, silence.  Actually, worse than silence.  He is belittling this American moral crisis by simply suggesting that things haven't improved from 2004 or 2000.  No, they haven't, but a true moral crime is being committed on the American people: we are being stripped of decency.  For the love of God, McCain and Palin are tacitly endorsing assassination and mob 'justice' against a supposed terrorist sympathizer!  That is what there words imply.

But then again, we're all cynics now.  We had big hopes in the early 90's and Bill let us down when he made us parse the word "is".  When he tried to get out of lying about sex, joining Pres. Nixon in the Hall of Shame.  We think that all politicians are of equal 'bad'.  We say they both take money from evil corporations (even when the ratio is 90/10).  We act as if it is all equal.  And we act as if we aren't complicit in defining "now".

When an employee screws up, you put a note in their file.  If they screw up again, you write them up.  Then, when they really screw up, when they cross the line, you have ample cause for firing them.  You don't overlook the little stuff and pretend the problem will go away.  McCain has messed up from day one and we have given him free passes every week. Now that he's gone too far, what are we to do?  We are implicated in 'the now' by what we failed to do yesterday.

Here's to hoping that our journalists take responsibility for themselves today.  That they take responsibility for how they cover the candidates and this election.  That they take responsibility for the way they shape our understanding of reality.  We can't keep relying on the American people's ability to spot a bad apple when they keep acting as if both are bad--or worse--that they are both edible.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

When Mudslinging becomes Hate Speech

Here is the frightening truth of what mudslinging from the right can mean: it might be more than just words.

I've blogged before about the impact of hate speech on TV, radio, and in books written by TV personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. These people speak about murder, rape, and other violent acts as hyperbole--as a means of expressing the size of their outrage.

Besides being crass, crude, and inappropriate for anyone on TV (the same TV that fears Janet Jackson's nipple), these statements are dangerous if we are to see even the slightest truth in them. When one talks about wanting to drag someone into the street and having them shot, isn't the impression that you actually do wish bodily harm on that person? Even if you aren't making a suggestion to anybody in particular, aren't you at the very least suggesting that "it would be nice if it happened"?

Now, I'm a fan of Keith Olbermann's special comments, and this one from Monday night was excellent:

Olbermann describes Gov. Sarah Palin, not just as someone living in a glass house, but pointing out that her own criteria for damning Sen. Barack Obama as a terrorist actually makes her one. In fact, it makes her more of one.

Olbermann further goes after the very fabric of her mudslinging. I almost wish that he had waited and read this article by Jeffrey Feldman about what Gov. Palin appears to actually being saying: that she wants a United States Senator to be brought up on treason and terrorism charges or that a civilian mob should kill him. Take your pick.

The truth is that there is really only one avenue for the way the McCain/Palin campaign is going. The nature of the rhetoric, the very substance of their attacks is to charge Obama as a dangerous enemy. The strategy appears to imply that they think that they can get on a transcontinental train, get off at some spot in the middle of the country and that the train won't keep going--and that they aren't responsible for its travel. Or, like the movie Speed, they've strapped a (figurative) bomb to a bus, set the trip at 45 mph and let someone else get in the driver's seat.

The violent rhetoric spoken with both a visceral and (attempted) authentic disdain for Obama and then later with a wink, a smile, and "You betcha", seem to be heard as marching orders. The recent shouts at rallies of "treason", "terrorist", and "kill him" are the obvious and natural outgrowth of the nasty, hate-filled stump speeches by McCain and Palin.

So what does this mean? What are we going to do about hate-speech masquerading as campaigning? What are we going to do that will prevent a future examination of the present that doesn't say "Didn't they see it? What's wrong with those people?" What are we going to do to prevent such terrible violence from becoming a reality?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

He's no maverick

Here's a great article from the New York Times about the orgin of the word "maverick" and the family name from which it is drawn.

By any definition, Sen. John McCain cannot be called a maverick.  And to consider Gov. Sarah Palin one is a bigger slap in the face.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The honesty-deficit and elections

In a college class on mass communication, I read about the 60/40 principle, which stuck with me. It goes something like this: Republicans and Democrats always debate about the effectiveness of welfare. Democrats support it while Republicans oppose it. To defend their positions, Democrats traditionally use a statistic that showed approximately 60% of all welfare recipients were off of welfare within a year. This is intended to prove that the average welfare recipient is not living on welfare forever. Republicans use a similar statistic that showed approximately 40% of all welfare recipients go off of welfare only to return within three years. This is intended to prove that welfare is abused. Like every other discussion, they aren’t arguing about the same thing: the Democrat is talking about the average person and the Republican is eager to pick out the exception to the rule. What it does highlight, however, is the honesty-deficit inherent in the discussion. Both parties attempt to paint a picture that benefits them. But this often leads to outright deception and obvious falsehoods.

You would have to go back to the late 1970s before you can find a president with real integrity. Pres. Jimmy Carter is known for his honesty and “plain-speaking” (before that became a euphemism for bad grammar) and the victim of this honesty-deficit. Modern political scientists suggest that he would have been a better president if he had lied to us, instead of telling us the truth.

Carter’s successors are all known almost as much for their fabrications as they are for any successes: Reagan (trickle-down economics, Iran/Contra), Bush I (“read my lips: no new taxes”), Clinton (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”), and Bush II (you know the list) all suffered and benefited from an honesty-deficit.

So here we are today: living with a standard that suggests that not only is lying a given, but it is acceptable. Not only is lying a better option than telling the truth, it is considered a mistake if you tell the truth. Yes, Clinton may not have been impeached if he hadn’t lied, but Bush did lie about much more significant matters and he remained in office.

That is why I find this election season so intriguing. Then Gov. George Bush got away with all sort of lies in the 2000 election because the media was enraptured with him and had it in for Vice President Al Gore (check out this Rolling Stone article). In 2004, we allowed lies to circulate because we decided that it wasn’t our job to disprove them, it was the candidate’s; so Sen. John Kerry fell victim to the blatant lies of the Swiftboat ads. This time, Sen. John McCain is using the same advisors (Karl Rove disciples) including Rove himself (while pretending to be an independent journalist for Fox) to run the most negative campaign in recent memory against Sen. Barack Obama. What is interesting about this is that Obama doesn’t seem to be “fast and loose” with the truth, he seems to be assessing the situation and describing it accurately. McCain, on the other hand, seems to be in an all-out lie mode. He puts out cheap, misleading, and downright lying ads and then pretends like he doesn’t know about them in public appearances. He makes cheap, misleading and downright lying statements in speeches all across the country and then pretends like he doesn’t know about it during the debates. During the debate, he tries to score political points with calculated deceptions, such as the tax-increase bogeyman, despite unanimous third-party agreement that Obama won’t raise taxes on the middle class. McCain even knows he’s lying.

This seems to create a certain level of cognitive dissonance: when one is accustomed to “small” lying from candidates and minor deceptions, we aren’t usually that trusting of our candidates, but we want to afford them some credence as experts. But what do we make of debates in which one is a truth-teller and the other is a liar? How do we deal with that? What seems surprising to me is that Gov. Sarah Palin seemed even more adept than McCain at lying in public. Her debate positions were truly indefensible and show an entire lack of credibility.

The question remains: what do we do with this honesty-deficit, and more, this honesty gap? How does a conversation with someone continue when they claim that 2+2=5? How does the media cover such a campaign as that? And how does the voter judge the suitability of a candidate when honesty is not ensured? For the sake of the country, shouldn’t we do more than call McCain on his lies, but instead demand honesty? Shouldn’t he be disqualified from consideration?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

We continue to fall for a racist frame

When Karl Rove whispered in Junior’s ear a few years ago “let’s run for president”, he did so with a particularly juicy strategy: recast the melting pot as a hyper-realized fragmentation set to go to war.  This strategy was much more subtle in 1994 as George W. Bush ran for governor and in his reelection campaign in 1998 (yes, the one in which he promised not to run for president in 2000).  We saw it in full-bloom, however, in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

This story has been well-covered, but hardly examined.  Just take a second to think about it.  Rove’s strategy was to cast southern and western white men with little education and blue-collar jobs as “the real America”.  The idea was that those people that live in cities (69% of the population) are fakers.  Minorities and women have evil agendas and are stealing the white man’s rightful place as king.  Education leads you to the dangerous place in which liberalism sounds pretty good.  White men unite!  We must take back our country.  This was the ideology in 2000’s “Who would you rather drink a beer with?” [preposition placement intentional] and the NASCAR dad phenomenon.  Both were euphemisms for southern, uneducated white men.

It was revised in 2004 to include women: remember the SUV-driving suburban soccer mom that was the target?  However, with the Islamo-fear machine and the culture war rhetoric, these further polarizations' true intent was to encourage white men to respond in a particular way.

So here it was, in late 2007, and the Republicans trot out the frame with all of their candidates flopping over each other in an attempt to seem more racist, angry, and vile than the sitting president: “I’ll keep Gitmo.”, “Well, I’ll double it!”, “Hey, I’ll triple it!”: and then at some point, it dawns on them: we’re taking on a white woman or a black man.  If we use our typical frame, people might actually see through it!  We’ll have to make it a little more subtle.

But really, there was no need: the media did it for them.  Raise your hand if you have heard the following statement from any number of network newscasts or read it in the paper somewhere: “Sen. Barack Obama has a white working-class male problem”.  No need to reference NASCAR dads, no need to talk about the “real” America: the media names the frame for them.

But here’s the real question and the underlying concept: Isn’t the white working-class male a small part of the electorate?  If Obama wins significant majorities of blacks (he will), women (likely), Hispanics (looking good), union workers (very solid), the proverbial ‘middle class’ voter (so far, so good), and even the wealthy (not out of the question!), why should he even bother taking a single white, working-class male?  Is that a notoriously powerful demographic collectively?

Secondly, “working-class” happens to be a strange euphemism.  It seems to imply labor that is traditionally middle class (manufacturing and agro-business) with lower-class pay and status.  It isn’t referencing the working poor that work 40-60 hours a week at minimum wage (a large percentage of our work force), but at the same time doesn’t seem to refer to labor unions or skilled tradespersons.  Perhaps it serves only as a proverbial representation: that auto mechanic that works on the corner with his four kids and has to pay medical insurance out of his pocket and all that he asks of his country is a little bit more of his paycheck in his pocket so that he can make ends meet.  Oh, and bomb the terrorists: he hates those guys.

Isn’t this mercurial concept of “working-class” not another way to say poor redneck?  Isn’t it another way to suggest that Barack Obama isn’t speaking for America if he’s got pretty much everyone on his side, just not the one demographic that matters: those poor white men?  Isn’t it another way of saying that every demographic of society is less important than the southern white guy—the “real” American?  Isn’t this the way of saying that Obama supports the terrorists if he doesn’t wear a flag pin, while Sen. John McCain’s wardrobe doesn’t matter?  Isn’t this just another way of excusing overt racism?

So here it is.  We have a black presidential candidate against a white one.  One is in his prime and the other is significantly past his.  One has spent the past year preparing and setting up a historic campaign with incredible infrastructure and planning and the other has spent the past year (or three) changing his position on every fundamental issue and reassuring his base that he’s one of them.  Both claimed to be above traditional politics (only one of them actually is) and yet we are still talking about a small cross-section of America: the “working-class white male” as if there’s a chieftain that has to ‘sign off’ on Obama!  As if white men get together in meetings to talk about whom they are going to endorse.  Of course I’m not allowed to go because I went to college—only the uneducated are allowed.  I don’t get to count in the white vote—I’m an elite.  Plus, I live in a city of over 100,000, so I’m not a rural voter, so that’s a second strike against me—a second way I don’t count

I thought about getting some statistics, poring through the census and finding numbers based on race and education, and it dawned on me: I don’t actually need them.  This concept is that obvious.  The middle class is a concept defined by percentage: the middle 50%.  According to the amorphous and changing definition of working-class, it excludes the top 75%, and since it isn’t really about “the poor”, then we can discount the bottom 25%.

Or let’s look at it another way.  Whites make up something like 55% of the population of the United States.  Roughly half of those whites are women, meaning all white men make up about a quarter of the population.  Again, not a majority by any stretch.  Now exclude those with a college education and/or live in cities and you approximate a seemingly insignificant demographic group.

And yet, that demographic group gets a veto power in the election?  Why this elevated status?  Why does Obama’s candidacy require this support at all?  The only minorities McCain has attempted to win over are Hispanics and women, both of whose support are compromised by his track record and his current behavior.  Doesn’t McCain need universal endorsement, as Obama appears to, or are uneducated white men the “trump” in the discussion?  Does McCain win the “trick” by getting the seeming endorsement of white men, while losing the vote of women, blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities?  And what about other designations, which include labor and management?  McCain is down 2-to-1 in active military personel, many of which come from this demographic that is McCain's "wheelehouse".

How is this not racism?  Why aren’t we attacking the network news for this overt racism, for framing the discussion in this way?  Why aren’t we calling for a campaign that, just once, doesn’t hold the southern, uneducated white man as the ‘real’ American, and instead embraces the incredible diversity of the American electorate?  Oh, that’s right.  Now we’re wondering how Jews in Florida are going to vote.  For a second there, I thought we had a shot to reverse this racist trend.