Election day is a week from Tuesday and according to some polls released today (October 26) the race is tightening.
I suppose I should have expected it, but it has taken me somewhat by surprise. The Republicans -- or, should I say, the McCain campaign -- is out of ideas and has BEEN out of ideas since forever. While some of the minutae of the current GOP platform may vary slightly from what the current administration has offered us, what McCain and Co. are proposing is more of the same.
I find myself in kind of a strange position. Back in February, I -- an independent -- registered as a Republican on Super Tuesday for the specific purpose of voting against our former governor -- Mitt Romney.
This meant voting for McCain, even though I went into this campaign season liking Rudy Guiliani very much, partly because I love New York and love the way he helped clean it up; and partly because I thought he handled himself magnificently on Sept. 11, 2001. But I soured on him rather quickly once I started listening to him, and by February figured the best of a bad lot was McCain.
John S. McCain, I figured, was the one Republican I could stomach in the White House if my guy -- Obama -- couldn't survive the primaries. So, logic dictated I throw a little support his way just in case.
That was in February. Hillary took Massachusetts (which I figured would happen) and Romney won the GOP side. But that was bascially his last, and maybe even only, hurrah. He flamed out soon afterward, and by March McCain's nomination was a foregone conclusion ... pretty remarkable for someone who'd been so dismissively written off only six months earlier.
So there's my reasoning ... and I'm sad to admit it now. I have been proven wrong. McCain's election would not be in the best interests of the United States of America. His ideas are old, terribly shopwarn, and they're proven failures based on what has happened, both over the the last eight years and the last eight weeks. Worse, McCain seems to be the same type of angry reactionary who ruled the White House for the previous eight years ... shoot first, ask questions later. Though hee likes to say he's a maverick, McCain -- just by his termperment -- would have fit in very well with the angry reactionaries in the Bush administration.
Then, there's the matter of Sarah Palin, who -- I'm sure -- is a nice woman who could, someday, command quite a presence on the national stage. But not now. Not even close. And McCain took what is already a ridiculously politically expedient process and multiplied it Times Ten with this selection.
Not that Joe Biden is any prize. And unscripted Biden is a terrifying thing. As someone on Bill Maher's show said last Friday, "he's on the 10-yard line. All he needs to do from hereon out is show up." Instead, he plants this SEED in people about the bogeyman terrorists launching some kind of horrendous attack on the country to "test" Obama.
Of course, that's exactly what the bogeymen did with George W. Bush. And maybe Biden's biggest mistake here was to remind people what an abject failure Bush's response to the test was ... how he completely fouled things up beyond repair with his response. His type of hot-headed, incendiary response was exactly what Osama Bin Laden wanted, and Bush was either too stupid or too stubborn (or both) to see it.
But at least Biden had something tangible -- both in terms of politics and experience -- to offer the Obama ticket. I'm still trying to figure out what it is Palin offered -- unless it's an infusion of youthful vigor to detract from the rapidly-aging McCain.
This is a roundabout way of talking about Barack, because right off the bat, Obama gets points for at least being sober and rational in judgment. His reasons behind selecting Biden were sound and mature. He understood the politics of Biden's campaign ... and he understood that good leadership involves surrounding yourself with people whose opinions and expertise you respect, even if you're not the best of friends.
On the other hand, McCain's apparent reasons for picking Palin -- she's a woman (and could sway disaffected Hillary voters), she's young ... and evangelical to boot -- seem a bit more reckless.
Let's examine the "experience" factor. Experience in presidential politics is overrated -- unless it's YOU who are running ... and YOU have the glittering resume. George H.W. Bush had a glowing resume, both in diplomatic, executive and intelligence circles. You name it, 41 did it. He was head of the CIA, head of the GOP National Committee (a position he held at the time of Watergate), a U.S. Representative ... and vice president. I'd imagine he knew where every lever of power was, and how to push it when he had to.
Yet, he was a one-term president who couldn't parlay a legitimate accomplishment (the 1990 Desert Storm war) into four more years. And why not? Because for all his experience, he couldn't control the lunatic fringe of his own party. He tried. He came into office -- despite the brutally dirty campaign against Michael Dukakis -- with a reputation of being a genial country club Republican. But it did seem that George I lacked the backbone to stand up to the nut jobs in his party ... and by trying (and failing) to accommodate them, he not only lost THEM, he lost the middle, too.
I have no love for Ronald Reagan, but one thing I'll give him: He kept those nut jobs at arm's length. And for all his bluster, he actually governed from the center a lot more than people think.
With few exceptions (Ed Meese, Casper Weinberger), he employed pragmatic people who understood that to actually get things DONE you had to throw a few bones to the opposing party. He lost it late in his second administration when the combination of being a lame duck and -- just a personal opinion -- the beginnings of the Alzeimers reduced his effectiveness. But for all I didn't like about him ideologically, he knew how to communicate with people AND understood how to work with people with whom he had political disagreements.
He also understood the prudence of cutting your losses. When those Marines were blown up in Beirut, he didn't allow the rest of them to stick around so they could get killed too. He got the hell OUT of there and didn't worry about this "saving face" nonsense that has us still in Iraq now.
I thought George H.W. would be something like that, and while he wasn't my guy, I wasn't depressed for a month when he got elected (partially because I wasn't all that fond of Michael Dukakis either). But H.W. couldn't take the heat when the nut jobs started in on him -- even with a 90 percent approval rating (after Desert Storm). He tried to win these people over, and on election day, they couldn't get to the polls fast enough to vote for H. Ross Perot. That's gratitude for you.
It's important to understandn this, because when it was George W's turn, he learned his lessons. There was no way he was going to get outflanked by the Republican right. So he invited them all to the table, where they controlled him instead of the other way around. I seriously doubt George W. Bush ever HAD a policy he could call his own. Anything he got, he got from the wignuts with whom he surrounded himself ... Henry Kissinger refugees like Cheney and Rumsfeld, who itched to be back in power after eight years of Bill Clinton.
These are the people to whom McCain -- the so-called "maverick" -- sold his soul to get the nomination.
But as I say, experience ONLY counts when it's YOUR GUY who has the experience. In 2000, George Bush's only real military experience was in finding ways to avoid showing up for his Army Reserve commitments. So you never heard the Republicans talk about it. In 2004, John Kerry -- recipient of multiple medals in Vietnam -- was reduced to defending himself against scurrilous charges that he'd fabricated his record.
But all of a sudden, in 2008, we have a genuine war hero on the ticket ... and all of a sudden the ONLY criteria for holding the Oval Office is ... you guessed it ... experience. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what McCain endured in Vietnam. I can't imagine how he got through it, and I'm sure that in many ways it hardened him. But at the same time, I know lots of Vietnam vets who came back from the war permanently scarred. Some of them have overcome those scars; others, sadly, did not ... and sunk into lives of drug addiction and mental illness, and, in a few cases, died tragically prematurely as a result.
I'm not suggesting John McCain is afflicted with either the diseases of addiction OR mental illness. But the pendulum does swing so wildly on these issues that the experiences of being a POW, or having been wounded in battle, make up no more than a portion of your overall resume. The Republicans proved this in 2004 when the voters rejected John Kerry. So it's disingenuous for them to use it now as a reason to vote FOR McCain.
The next item to examine is McCain's record as a U.S. Senator, which, on average, would appear to be ... well ... average. He's done some good things. But he's also managed to get his name associated with one of the bigger scandals in modern Senate history ... the Keating Five.
The Republicans love to run against big government. Bush campaigned in 2000 as being an outsider ... a stranger to the Beltway. McCain's been a U.S. Senator for more than 20 years. His name has appeared on one of the biggest scandals the senate has seen in that time ... the Keating Five.
While his record as a senator doesn't DISQUALIFY him from being president,it, in and of itself, doesn't uniquely QUALIFY him either. Like his military service, it's certainly a FACTOR in the overall judgment of him, but there's nothing there the jumps up and says "Damn, we HAVE to vote for this man."
Again, going back to George W. Bush ... he campaign on being anti-Washington ... NOT part of the Beltway crowd. Why? Because he argued -- and not incorrectly, either -- that to be a part of the solution, you cannot be a part of the problem.
If the legislature is bogged down in petty partisanship, then the only logical thing to do is get new people in there who aren't so married to the old ways of doing things that they've become obstructionist. Right?"
Shouldn't logic, then, dictate that the most qualified person to be president is the LEAST qualified in terms of legislative tenure? Wouldn't a person not so thoroughly entrenched in the legislative morass that has affected politics since the first Clinton administration be more prone to see things differently than one who's been part of the problem for over 20 years?
Obama has been a senator for only four years -- hardly enough time to be an entrenched member of the club. So in a curious way, his LACK of experience actually plays to his favor.
But there are other reasons to support him. Unlike Al Gore and Kerry before him, Obama has a pulse. He has passion. He has ideals. He has noble goals. And he's black.
Wait. Stop. You're reading this, and you're saying "Ahhhh, that's it. he's voting for Obama because he's black." And you're right. I am. But please, let me explain.
You can thank Robert Wohl for what's about to come next. Wohl has a couple of HBO specials called "Assume the Position," that are both hilarious and illuminating. In the second one, his opening bit talks about the presidents, and the total lack of diversity that runsn through all 43 of them. As he says, "for such a diverse country ... not a whole lot of it up there, is there?"
Yes, that's a funny observation ... but it's also a very sad reality. This country grew to be the giant it is on the backs of ethnic immigrants who came over here and did all the heavy lifting that made us kings of the Industrial Age. And they have been poorly represented in the White House. With the exception of Dwight D. Eisenhower (German-American) and John F. Kennedy (Roman Catholic) the overwhelming preponderance of presidents have been White Anglo Saxon Protestants (including the current one).
Barack Obama represents the HOPE, at least, that the next president will have the ability -- and curiosity -- to see the whole picture from a different template. I'm confident, given Obama's basically sober, measured and moderate nature, that this is NOT a man who's going to give away the store, open up the borders and let ALL the illegals in carte blanche (even if his distant aunt lives here illegally), or strip off his mask someday and become the modern-day Karl Marx.
But I AM confident that Barack Obama will see situations differently, see them from a fresh set of eyes, and perhaps react accordingly. I hope he does. We need to at least CONSIDER the possibility of taking a different road to get where we want to go. The one we're on is leading nowhere.
I also think Barack Obama, as person who has spent considerable time overseas, and in lands not always friendly to the United States, will bring a sensitivity about our place in the modern world that this administration simply does not possess. And not only does the Bush administration not possess this sensitivity, it don't WANT to. The Bush people don't care.
In fact, one of the gripes I HAVE with George W. Bush is his complete LACK of sensitivity about how we're perceived abroad. He -- and his followers -- think this a non-issue. I beg to differ. Countries act, and react, toward us based on what they SEE, and PERCEIVE ... not by what we TELL them. And they SEE what we do from a much different perspective than we do, and that has as much to do with the propaganda OUR government disseminates as it does the usual mistrust that exists between the U.S. and its enemies.
There's no better example of how destructive that mistrust can be than the sight of airplanes loaded with innocent people careening into buildings loaded with MORE innocent people. It takes an awful lot of hatred and resentment to whip yourself into the type of frenzy that would allow you to even CONSIDER doing something like that ... let alone carry it out. You don't just wake up one morning and decide to kill 3,000 people who have done absolutely nothing to you. You have to be so blind with hatred and zealotry that you'll kill ANYBODY for the advancement of your cause.
I'll grant you some of that is because of the indocrination that the radical muslems who pulled this off received in their native countries. But the Bush administration never seemed interested in identifying the catalyst ... what set these people OFF? Simple chemistry. You can mix up a bunch of chemicals in a test tube, but ONE of them has to act as a catalyst for there to be a reaction.
What was the catalyst? And what did our insistance on starting a war in the middle of that cauldron do to the cauldron ... both in the short and long term?
I'm hoping Barack Obama will be more of a soothing, sobering element on the world stage than George W. Bush was ... and I'm afraid I see John McCain as being cut out of much the same cloth as the current president.
We have also had the bonus -- sad though it may have been -- of seeing how both men would react to a crisis. Witness McCain's reaction to the Wall Street meltdown vs. Obama's.
McCain tried to inject himself into the process and ended up being party to making the situation worse. Obama -- who had no power beyond his seat in the U.S. Senate (same as McCain) stepped back and let the people in charge do their jobs. I don't think it's a coincidence that Obama's position in the polls took a huge leap after that. People saw that Obama has a cool head while they saw McCain as a glowering, angry man willing to elbow his way into the spotlight, even if he doesn't belong there.
Obama also came up with one of the better lines when he said "people expect their presidents to be able to do more than one thing at a time." It wasn't as good as "I can see Russa from my house," perhaps, but good enough.
I don't think Obama is perfect. I don't see him as being "the messiah," and nothing aggravates me more than the GOP taunting that Obama's supporters are hero worshipping of that they've had the wool pulled over their eyes.
I admit the country is taking a big risk in turning to him ... but I think the same thing about McCain too ... except I think it's a bigger risk. He's come across as angry, bitter, and caustic on the stump this fall, and I think this country has been run from anger now for eight years ... and all you have to do is look around to see how corrosive that anger has become. I look forward to someone a bit more dispassionate and introspective ... and less ready to come out swinging without examing the situation first.
Some of the anti-Obama swill has been nothing more than coded racism -- especially the efforts to hang Rev. Jeremiah Wright around his neck. I certainly don't AGREE with the reverend, and it would probably be a cold day in hill for me to get up and say "God DAMN America" in front of a church full of people. But if I did, I'd be appalled if someone tried to indict every OTHER person in the church because of what I said. That's dangerously close to McCarthyism, only there's the extra-added tinge of racism in there because of the anger --unique, in many ways, to African-Americans -- that Wright was expressing.
Similarly, the whole ACORN nonsense is just that ... nonsense. This was just a case of the loser pulling out all the stops. McCain took out all the guns, and started firing into the crowd, hoping that one of the bullets hits a vein or an artery. Again, even if ACORN's methods completely lacked ethics, there's no evidence that Obama, or any of his staff, put ACORN up to commiting voter fraud. And I doubt there will eve BE proof. However, there IS the fear that this is a Rovian Republican attempt to lay the groundwork for enough challenges to REALLY gum up this election ... perhaps as payback for the Florida challenge of 2000.
I have my concerns about the issue of Bill Ayers, however. I don't think Obama's a terrorist, and I don't think he condones, or ever condoned, blowing up buildings as a way of airing political grievances.
But at the same time, either he should have known, or someone should have told him pretty damn quick, that Bill Ayers would be a good guy to steer clear of, especially if he had political aspirations down the line.
I can also certainly understand McCain's desire to hammer away at this, too. I'm sure his reasons are aren't merely political. I'd image they're bitterly personal -- and I have no problem with that. While Ayers was blowing up buildings, McCain was a guest at the Hanoi Hilton. And if I were him, it would gall me, too, that Ayers had anything at all to do --however minor -- with springboarding Obama's political career.
But honestly, similar to the Rev. Wright issue, this doesn't mean Obama is sympathetic to terrorists -- either domestic or foreign. You DO run across a lot of people over the course of a political career. You're often forced to rub elbows with some unsavory people (I'm sure McCain has too), and seeing as Obama was eight years old when the Weathermen were blowing up buildings, perhaps he really DIDN'T grasp the full significance of what Ayers and his cohorts did in the 60s.
It's the same thing with the SDS. I know what the group DID ... but beyond the usual suspects, I couldn't name five other people associated with the group. So someone with an SDS past could come up to me and wine me and dine me, and get me to intercede on their behalf, and unless I have the presence of mind to vett them on the spot, I wouldn't know .
I'm comfortable that Bill Ayers, today, is nowhere near Obama's campaign. I am confident Barack Obama has more brains than that ... even if he might not have known the full extent of Ayer' radicalism back when he was looking for people to help him get his state senate campaign off the ground in Chicago.
McCain's run a weak campaign. It's been rightly ridiculed as ineffectual, especially when someone such as Sarah Palin can go into a militantly red area of the country and talk about being with "real Americans," as if the rest of us are impostors. In response to Obama's position on taxes, McCain could do no better than to concoct a senario unique to him ... meaning he constructed a hypothetical containing ONLY that which he desired to include. He called this hypothetical "Joe te Plumber," even though the person in question was neither a Joe nor a licensed plumber.
It's difficult to disprove hypotheticals because to do so you have to inject "facts" into the scenario that -- as they used to say on Perry Mason -- are not not in evidence.
This is eerily similar to Reagan's much-ballyhood "Welfare Queen" (whom he also pulled out of thin air).
These anecdotal figures are nothing but condescending and insulting, and the fact that McCain actually scored some points with this pathetic attempt at distortion says more about us, as an informed electorate, than it does about him.
Barack Obama brings a breath of fresh air to a political system that is growing so polluted that it's bordering on toxic. He brings intelligence into a White House that hasn't had any in the past eight years. And of the two candidates, let it also be known that while McCain talks a good game when it comes to old-fashioned American values, HE'S the one who left his wife for another woman while Obama's the one who -- as far as anyone knows -- has a solid, loving marriage.
I don't mean to sound as if that's the only criteria for being president, but since the Republicans would like you to think they've cornered the market on morality, we DO need to bring this up.
Please. Cast your vote for Barack Obama tomorrow and let's turn the page and move on from these last very ugly, divisive, eight years.