And Everybody’s Shouting, 'Which Side Are You On?'
It is the nature of our fortnightly meetings here that I must sometimes anticipate what will be even as I work toward our mutual understanding of what is (this newspaper venue being obviously and inherently ephemeral), using the tools I have accumulated through experiences and intentions that were not adequate even when new. You may read this once before throwing it away; many purchasers of the paper will not grant me even that. I write Monday or Tuesday, anticipating where we may find ourselves on Thursday's publication date. Today I guess what may obtain as I take up this task next, two weeks hence.
Unless he is assassinated (possible), or the Republican election chicanery that characterized the last two presidential elections also subverts this one (certainly they shall try), or an "October Surprise" more unnerving than the recent banking scare and raid on the Treasury is arranged (a new war, a suddenly hotter old war, a real or manufactured attack on "The Homeland" or "Our Brave Troops" by "Terrorists", "Enemies Of America" or unspecified "Forces Of Evil"), Mr. Barack Obama will be elected President of the United States on Tuesday, the fourth of November.
This will represent a considerable improvement over the embarrassing little loser we (by which I mean you, since I have never voted for a winning candidate for that office) elected, then elected again because we were scared and we got stupid and we lost our reason and our sense and our sense of proportion. Obama will be a better choice than would John McCain. Voters in nearly every state will reach, have reached the same conclusion. Alaskans, gun nuts, Christians of the more fervent and fundamentalist stripe, oil drillers and men who are inordinately moved by the admittedly considerable charms of vapid beauty queens will vote gladly and proudly for Mr. McCain. Some Republicans will do so unhappily, grudgingly, somewhat shamefacedly. Many will vote instead for Obama, and he will be elected.
John McCain has proved to be a terrible candidate. I think he is not worse than Rudy Giuliani would have been (excitable, crazy, dangerous), or than Mitt Romney would have been (dull, shallow, empty, boring, trite, dangerous in a less interesting way than Rudy), but he is bad in such an open, amateurish, public, bumbling way that most Republicans I know just shake their heads and grimace. Some dutifully put up their tacky little lawn signs, but their hearts are not in the game.
McCain would be a bad president. He would, of course, be a better one than President G. W. Bush, but, really, who wouldn't? Somewhere between the gas tax holiday and "Drill, Baby, Drill" most voters discerned how little his candidacy offered. His selection of the pretty but pretty stupid Ms. Palin secured the wavering Jesus vote and sent the balance of the country back to the debates and the endorsements and the ads for another look at young Mr. Obama.
Now, I have detailed my disappointment with Barack Obama here before. Briefly, for new members of our meeting, I list some. He spoke against the Iraq war, as represented, and subsequently, as a Senator, where his vote mattered more than his speeches, he voted to fund it, its blood and fire and torture and illegal, immoral indecency, time and time again. He advocates escalating the war in Afghanistan and expanding it into Pakistan (if necessary over the objections of that country's leaders or its people.) He is a booster of ethanol fuel, the ridiculous program that spends about a gallon of petroleum fuel to produce a gallon of corn or soybean fuel, in the process eroding farmland, raising food prices, and enriching Illinois corporations contributory to his campaign. He speaks well of the scam that is "clean coal."
Likewise, he thinks we need more nuclear plants, even though those of us not courting voters and counting on contributions from that industry can see that technology is uneconomic (witness Maine Yankee Atomic Power plant, closed because it did not pay), the fuel enrichment process is polluting and wasteful of energy, the industry requires the public shoulder its enormous insurance risk, and there has been and will be no solution to the issue of centuries-long safe waste disposal.
His health care proposal does not eliminate the insurance companies that are, by their nature, and because of their inefficiency, obfuscation and profits, the greatest impediment to universal and affordable and rational distribution of the medical arts in America. He proposes instead (as does McCain) a few convolutions and some manipulations and much business as usual, but lambastes McCain for proposing that employer-paid insurance be taxed as income, an idea eminently fair and reasonable to anyone (millions of us) not covered by that obtuse and arbitrary system.
He said he would not vote for the FISA domestic spying bill. He said he'd filibuster it if it contained retroactive immunity for the telecom giants that gave up your phone calls to the CIA. It did. He voted for it. Then he said it contained adequate safeguards and he was satisfied. I'm not satisfied.
A friend of mine used to tell me frequently and vehemently that we would not begin to have good candidates and better presidents until we had public financing of elections. The influence of money, he said, must be drained from the system. Obama calculated he could make greater headway in the race with more money and a few less principled voters. And I guess he was right, because he's swimming in money, polluting the airwaves with advertisements, and my friend doesn't so much bother me these days with odious comparisons between those noble candidates willing to live on limited public funds (such as, surprise!-John McCain, Republican) and the sold-out types with open-ended lines of credit from God-knows-who-or-what.
But vote for him, if you like. Please. He will be a better president than Bush. Better than McCain. Likely no worse than Bill Clinton was. But I see plenty of evidence that he will be as willing to triangulate as any Clinton was, and more willing and even eager to compromise, water-down and avoid. We do not need a man or woman whose intention is to "cross the aisle." After eight years of Bush and Cheney, and Clinton's terms of happy-talk Republican-lite, and the forgettable Bush-Quayle era (yes, even Dan Quayle was brighter and better qualified than Sarah Palin, I'm saddened to say), and all the damage old Twenty-Mule-Team-Reagan did while we were mesmerized by his smooth reading of his well-rehearsed lines-after all that-we could use a leader, not a compromiser.
Vote for Mr. Obama. Understand, though, that he will have no money with which to implement the programs he promises, having been among the majority of Senators who though it imperative that we quickly, with little debate and apparently not much consideration of alternatives, mortgage the country so that Wall Street's pain could be lessened by the application of a poultice of seven hundred billions of our dollars (a sum raised by another hundred billion or so through the addition of several "sweeteners" designed to bring on board otherwise reluctant Senators and Congressmen.)
And he wants another three divisions of our young men and women because "The Right War" is in Afghanistan (the country, the terrain, the enemy that defeated the British and the Russians before us), not in Iraq.
Some of my essays, after their short lives here, are republished at the excellent website CommonDreams. A few weeks ago the good persons who manage, produce, edit, moderate that site (www.commondreams.org) presented a rare editorial. They said that, despite Obama's imperfections and timidity and apparent willingness to back away from fundamental progressive principles, he was the better choice and we should vote for him. I would not argue with that analysis. But then they advised that, after he is elected, we, the voters, have a duty to keep pressuring, cajoling, demanding, petitioning, praying for him to engender and fight for the honest, forthright, humane, liberal ideals so many Americans believe in but so very few politicians will fight for. To this, I object.
Our duty is to be decent, honest, informed citizens. We have the right to be presented with candidates worthy not only of the offices they seek but also of the faith and trust of those who would elect them. It is a tough enough job keeping the kids off the streets and out of jail, putting a fresh bowl of food in front of the dog each morning and paying the oilman and the electric company and the bank each month; we should not have to baby-sit our president or write letters to our miscreant, money-loving, influence-peddling, self-aggrandizing representatives on every issue. The Republicans and the Democrats do not give us worthy candidates.
The larger newspapers and the television networks and those professors and pundits who tell us how we should think aver that part of America's greatness is its two-party system. This amazes me. The two parties continue to exacerbate our problems. The two-party system contrives only choices between terrible and perhaps not-so. We spend more, we get less, and Larry Craig may or may not have wiggled his toes at a cop stationed in the next stall, eating donuts with his pants around his ankles for his whole shift, just on the off-chance that a Senator might happen by with lovin' on his mind. Give me another half-dozen parties. Give me more and better candidates. In the meantime, enough of you will vote for Obama to return the control of the White House to a mainstream version of the powers that be. Dick Cheney can ooze back to the private sector and G. W. will be relieved of the terrible burden of pronouncing English words in public.
I'm not much worried about terrorists. I have no money in obscure investment vehicles. Tax my non-existent, unaffordable insurance all you like. But I am scared. I'm always scared when the whole great mass of us lines up behind one idea or one project or one charismatic personality. These passions always disappoint and sometimes take us terribly wrong.
I heard on Public Radio this evening an interview with author Michael Pollan, who has written an open letter to the candidates asking them to reorder our agriculture policy toward local, sustainable, less fuel-intensive, pesticide-rich food production. Asked if either had contacted him. He said, no, not directly. One campaign did ask if he would reduce his eight thousand word proposal to "one or two pages" so the candidate could get the high points without the burden of actually reading all eight thousand words. To his great credit, I think, he refused. If he could have said what he wanted to say in one or two pages he'd have done so.
I have an idea which candidate didn't care enough to even address the important ideas Mr. Pollan essayed. That the other, better candidate, better man, almost certainly better president wanted the Reader's Digest Condensed version says much, I think, about how thin and sad our choices, our public life, our country have become, how far we have slipped and how much farther yet we may fall.
Good night. Good luck. Thank you for your attention to my eighteen hundred words.