Those were the words that Army lawyer Joseph Welch finally hurled at Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1954 televised Army-McCarthy hearings, and within moments the gallery in the Senate hearing room erupted in applause.
But it wasn’t just the gallery. Americans, uncertain how to deal with the smears and lies McCarthy had been spewing for four years, finally could cheer that someone was standing up to the demagogue from Wisconsin. With the hearings televised and McCarthy’s tactics exposed to the public in full force, Welch’s words would be a turning point, a sign that the lies and the fear-mongering would end. A nation intimidated by a larger-than-life, swaggering McCarthy saw him diminished, a bully cut down to size and outed as the small man he truly was. McCarthy soon slinked away, discredited, a shameful episode in our nation’s history coming to a bittersweet close.
John McCain’s serial lies about Barack Obama may not rise to the drama of an Army-McCarthy hearing, and they may not go down in history as emblematic of this moment in history, but in many ways they’re as poisonous and corrosive to our democratic system. If McCain’s strategy of bald and blatant lying is the only means to get elected president in this country, then truth no longer matters in our politics and campaigns are reduced to who will most loudly and shamelessly exploit dishonesty to win the White House.
No matter what you think of McCain – whether you admire his life story or support his proposals or wholeheartedly agree with his political philosophy – his shameless and brazen lying throughout this campaign, seemingly unencumbered by conscience and principle, are simply inexcusable.
The McCain lies seem to multiply by the day. In one ad, he says Obama favors “comprehensive sex education” for kindergartners; the truth is that Obama supports young kids learning how to protect themselves from sexual predators. In speeches, he repeatedly says that Obama will raise taxes on middle-class Americans; the truth, as documented by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, is that Obama will actually cut taxes for Americans earning up to $250,000 per year, and his tax cuts for the vast majority of us, those making up to about $110,000 per year, would far exceed what McCain would give back.
McCain and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, have dissembled repeatedly about her record, most notably on her claim that she opposed and killed the infamous Bridge to Nowhere and fought earmark spending, when in fact she enthusiastically supported the bridge when running for governor, accusing “spinmeisters” of distorting the project’s virtues, and when governor she accepted the money originally earmarked for the bridge and used it for other projects. She also fibbed on where she’s traveled overseas, lying about visiting Iraq and Ireland, perhaps to obscure her near complete lack of exposure to cultures abroad.
McCain has run various ads – including the notorious Lipstick on a Pig accusation – that falsely and outrageously accuse Obama of sexism and simply lie about the facts. And in what may have been the boldest and most cynical lie of all, the campaign ran an ad using the credibility FactCheck.org, a trusted fact checking site sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, to accuse Obama of sliming and spreading false information on Palin when in fact FactCheck.org said nothing of the sort. FactCheck.org, almost indignant that its credibility had been exploited to promote a lie, responded that McCain’s ad is “particularly egregious” and “goes down new paths of deception.”
There are others, and they’re detailed in great depth on the Internet. As the normally staid and by-the-book Associated Press said, “Even in a political culture accustomed to truth-stretching, McCain's skirting of facts has stood out this week.” Yes, Obama has stretched the truth at times – for example, taking out of context McCain’s statement that we might have to be in Iraq for 100 years. But whatever ethical lines Obama has toed in no way compare to the stunning, shameless, and serial lying that John McCain has committed repeatedly in this campaign. To paraphrase the famous line used in Vietnam about destroying a village in order to save it, McCain is willing to destroy the truth in order to win this election.
All of this brings us back to Joseph Welch and the Army-McCarthy hearings. Obama has disputed every one of these lies, as has the press, but it’s an article of faith in communication studies that lies have a way of sticking if they’re stated often enough, and earnestness is no defense against repeated and bald-faced lying. What McCain seeks to do is create distrust of Obama, to make us feel anxious about Obama – and since the behavioral response to anxiety and distrust is avoidance and doubt, then McCain will have succeeded in distancing Americans from Obama’s character, candidacy, and anything he has to say.
At the same time, no matter how successful McCain’s strategy may be, there’s a part of us that knows McCain is lying, just as Americans knew that McCarthy was ruining lives and reputations even if they stayed quiet about it. What Americans were waiting for back then, and what might work right now, is the type of indignation that Welch communicated – an indignation that broke through the lies, crystallized public discomfort, and bared McCarthy’s demagoguery for all to see. McCarthy simply seemed far smaller after Welch took him on.
So imagine Obama turning to McCain in their debate, a glint of anger and disgust in his eyes, listing all the lies thrown his way and saying with a simple but heartfelt passion: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
That might be the game-changer of this election.
At the recent Republican nominating convention in St. Paul, Gov. Sarah Palin made a point of charging that Democrats were condescending toward small-town Americans and that soccer moms were Republican pit bulls who wore lipstick. Palin eats moose burgers, the hamburger of Alaska, and it seems to have turned her into a barracuda, which is, I guess, the pit bull of the sea.
Her rhetoric – mostly the product of talking-point speech writers, of course – drew on one meaning of "elitism": snobbery. Democrats, she insinuated, were snobs because they believed they were intellectually superior to those who were the salt of the earth – the small-town, average American who prays to the Lord, loves sports, spurns nuanced and complex thinking, embraces toughness in foreign policy, and pursues victory in sports and war.
Speaking just before Palin, Rudy Giuliani, the keynoter and former mayor of the Big Apple (ironically, the very seat of cultural elitism), made roughly same argument in his comments about Democrats' alleged condescension toward small town mayors.
On September 4, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, speaking outside the House of Representatives chamber, claimed that Barack and Michelle Obama were members "of an elitist-class [of?] individual that thinks that they're uppity." Westmoreland later explained that he didn't know that "uppity" was, historically speaking, a racially-charged term aimed at African Americans who were trying to rise above their "proper station." "I’ve never heard that term used in a racially derogatory sense," Westmoreland said. "It is important to note that the dictionary definition of ‘uppity’ is ‘affecting an air of inflated self-esteem – snobbish.’ That’s what we meant by uppity when we used it in the mill village where I grew up."
The assumption in all this elite Republican spin – we are told by the pols and the political pundits – is that the snobbery argument will appeal to key constituencies in the Republican "base." It seems, or it is assumed, that more grassroots Republicans in the Republican base than grassroots Democrats in the Democratic base resent people who are uppity, who don't share their values, beliefs, and lifestyle, who hate Fox News but love the "liberal media," and who live in San Francisco. It doesn't seem to bother the base that John McCain and his wife own seven to ten houses and that Cindy McCain wears $300,000 ensembles of designer dresses, watches, shoes, and diamond necklaces, or that both McCains have been members of the wealth-and-power elite for a long time.
This is the "culture war" strategy all over again: the Democrats are not like us, and they're also unpatriotic. Therefore, don't pay attention to the other kind of elitism – the elitism of power and wealth. It is no coincidence that most of the corporately powerful and financially wealthy people in America choose to belong to the Republican Party. Their diversionary strategy can be traced to Know-Nothings, Southern planter race-baiting, and George Wallace's brand of populism. It was perfected in Richard Nixon's hard-hat, Southern, and POW strategies, which Ronald Reagan and Karl Rove subsequently carried on with great success. McCain and his new running mate have no compunctions about trying to make it work again.
Every four years around this time we see a column or two from college and university presidents rightly bemoaning the problem their students face and calling for reform. One such piece appeared recently in the Washington Post, written by Oberlin College president Marvin Krislov, who actually offered some constructive changes that would allow students to establish temporary residency in their college towns for the purpose of voting.
But if colleges really want to do something about it now, they have an option right at their hands: schedule their fall break around Election Day, giving students off the weekend before the election all the way through the day after. Call it a civic break rather than a fall break. Students who are still registered where their parents live can then travel home to vote. And it would also free up this generation to volunteer during those precious few days before the election and help their candidates get out the vote.
College and university leaders who bemoan the obstacles to civic participation and point the finger at arcane voter registration rules may be right in theory. But until those rules have changed, theory won’t get students to the polls. Giving them time off from class will.
Let’s give young people a break to vote this year.
Yet here's what she said when running for governor of Alaska -- when she bashed congressional critics of the Bridge to Nowhere and came out firmly on behalf of that project.
This is from the Ketchikan Daily News, October 2, 2006: "'I'm hearing from a lot of Southeast residents who believe that maybe they haven't been given their due respect,' she said. 'Part of my agenda is making sure that Southeast is heard. That your projects are important. That we go to bat for Southeast when we're up against federal influences that aren't in the best interest of Southeast.' She cited the widespread negative attention focused on the Gravina Island crossing project [Bridge to Nowhere]. 'We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative,' Palin said."
And this from the Ketchikan Daily News, August 9, 2006: "Support from other Americans and Alaskans is needed also to move forward with the proposed bridge between Revillagigedo and Gravina islands, she said. 'People across the nation struggle with the idea of building a bridge because they've been under these misperceptions about the bridge and the purpose,' said Palin, who described the link as the Ketchikan area's potential for expansion and growth.... Palin said Alaska's congressional delegation worked hard to obtain funding for the bridge as part of a package deal and that she 'would not stand in the way of the progress toward that bridge.'"
Was she really an opponent of the bridge, as she claimed? Or is she puffing up her resume and shading the truth? I report, you decide.
We are supposed to be shocked that John McCain has so many houses he can't remember off the top of his head how many he actually has. Please. People who run for president tend to be wealthy.
We are also supposed to be shocked that he may have married for money. This so contravenes our democratic sensibilities that we cannot admit to ourselves even in a quiet moment that marriage is about anything other than love. Get over it, folks. You and I may have married for love. Most presidents haven't.
George Washington, out searching for a wife, did not just happen to marry the richest woman in Virginia. James Buchanan did not just happen to go after the daughter of the richest man in Pennsylvania. Abraham Lincoln did not just happen to marry one of Springfield’s few aristocrats. James Garfield did not just happen to marry the daughter of the founder of the college where he was a teacher. William McKinley did not just happen to marry the daughter of the local newspaper publisher. Franklin Roosevelt did not just happen to marry Teddy Roosevelt’s niece. John Kennedy did not just happen to marry a beautiful aristocrat. Lyndon Johnson did not just happen to court the daughters of three of the richest men in his part of Texas. Things like this don’t just happen.
Fact: Most presidents married up––or married someone who could do their career some good.
Fact:: No presidents married beneath themselves. If, like Warren Harding and Franklin Roosevelt, they happened to fall in love with someone who was beneath them, these women were kept on the side as mistresses.
These are distressing facts for a democratic nation to have to confront. We prefer to think that our presidents emerged from a log cabin in their youth, scrambled up the greasy pole of life all on their own, and then rose to stunning heights of power through the strength of their character. It's a lovely story, one that we can convince ourselves is true because we lack a history of hereditary kings, about whose ascendance there cannot be a smidgen of sentimental democratic posh. If only it were true.
So John Kerry married a Heinz, and John McCain wed a beer heiress. So what? If a disqualification for the presidency is to be social ambitiousness we shall have to rewrite history. If in our more democratic age we insist that from this day henceforth we shall only consider as potential leaders those who married for love we shall soon run out of candidates.
It's all so much nonsense. Do we think that people running for president are like the stars we see on the cover of Teen Magazine who confess that their one true desire is to find a soul mate, whether this person be rich or poor, pretty or ugly? These are childish illusions. And the sooner we part with them the better.
We care of course about their marriages because we are human beings and cannot help measuring presidents by the same yardstick with which we measure ourselves. This is a mistake. They are not like you and me, in the main. No normal person would put themselves through what presidents have to. Ambition defines them in a way we can hardly fathom.
We do not want to believe they marry for money or position because we retain the republican's simple faith that power should be thrust on leaders by a willing public and never be sought after. This too is an appealing story to a democratic people. It is also hogwash. I know of no president who won a place in society without making the most careful of calculations.
I find myself amused by the debate therefore about McCain's houses and his wife's wealth. It would seem that we are still so wedded to the myths of American democracy that we cannot imagine for a moment the calculations that go into a successful rise to the top. What McCain's marriage to Cindy says about him, I'm not sure; maybe he married for love, maybe he married for wealth, who knows? Maybe he himself isn't sure. But what our reaction to his marriage says about us is all too clear.
But there’s true method to their madness -- and it's completely counterintuitive and contrary to conventional political wisdom. The genius is in the text message announcing the choice. What they’ve done, effectively, is build up not only suspense but probably the most massive list of cell phone numbers ever accumulated in a political or, for that matter, a marketing campaign.
It’s the triumph of new media over old, and here’s why: texting may be the key to Obama’s get out the vote strategy in November, and by amassing so many numbers of core Democrats, the campaign must figure that this vice presidential trick may ultimately translate to higher turnout of Obama voters in the fall. So they gambled -- less mainstream media coverage in August, more new media voters in November. What the Bush 2004 campaign showed was that mobilizing the base and getting them to vote may have made the critical difference in its margin of victory. Only this time, if the Obama strategy works, it won’t be evangelicals flocking to the voting booths but rather younger, urbane, and technologically savvy voters spurred on by a sophisticated text messaging campaign. Time will certainly tell, but this may be yet another example of the political paradigm shift effected by the rise of new media.
Enter Milbank and his searing, snide column about Obama today (July 30). If Milbank is any indication of media zeitgeist, and for many reasons I think he is, then Obama better watch his back. The media are about to trip him up.
What Milbank wrote, essentially, is that Obama has gotten too big for his own good. Obama, in Milbank’s eyes, has an inflated self-image and a vain, narcissistic streak. He’s become a self-referential candidate, someone who thinks he is the movement that will lead him to the White House. “Barack Obama,” Milbank writes, “has long been his party's presumptive nominee. Now he's becoming its presumptuous nominee.” As Milbank describes it with his journalistic sneer, Obama orders up teleconferences, travels “in a bubble more insulating than the actual president’s,” and feels “confident enough” to give political advice to foreign heads of state.
He then offers up a devastatingly egotistical quote from Obama, likely taken out of context as is often the case with the press: "This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for," Obama apparently said in a talk with Democratic members of the House. "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."
The first media draft on Obama’s overseas trip was awe and admiration – for the flawlessness of the imagery, the presidential qualities that Obama displayed, the message that he can lead America and the world in perilous times and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with foreign leaders.
But now a second draft is being written, and it oozes with media resentment – that Obama is presumptuous, egotistical, infused with moral vanity and deep self-importance. For the press, the overseas trip now fits a pattern of arrogance, audacity, and hubris that they increasingly see as characteristic of Obama. Filled with their own self-importance, the media feel a need to humble him.
John McCain will certainly fuel this emerging media narrative, and he has every interest in doing so. The McCain camp first tried to define Obama as a flip-flopper, but that didn’t work. Now they’re suggesting that Obama has no values other than a belief in himself and his own ambition. With the media beginning to pick up this theme as well, the Obama campaign better take note. That could be the Swift Boat frame of the 2008 election.
Barack Obama knows this perhaps better than anyone in politics today, and nowhere was it more evident than in his recent speech before 200,000 cheering Germans in Berlin. What Obama did, quite brilliantly, was conjure up the three most consequential American presidents of the modern era – Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan – and in doing so he connected his candidacy to them and made it easier for Americans to swallow their doubts and imagine him as president.
The Kennedy association is quite straightforward – the massive Berlin crowd and the soaring appeal to our ideals. Obama then borrowed from Reagan’s famous “tear down this wall” plea when describing “new walls” – political, ethnic and religious walls – that “divide us from one another.” Said Obama, “These now are the walls we must tear down.”
His Roosevelt allusion was equally powerful – right from FDR’s Four Freedoms speech in January 1941, in which Roosevelt described a world built on “four essential human freedoms,” freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Here’s how Obama put it in his speech: “What has always united us – what has always driven our people; what drew my father to American’s shores – is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.”
Not once did Obama mention any of these three presidents in his speech. But like the ghosts of presidents past, they were present throughout.
So Obama, through imagery and association, placed himself in the tradition of three larger than life presidents. Berlin was the perfect setting because it was the locus of history for so much of what these three presidents represented. For his European audience, associating with Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Reagan made perfect sense. But that audience was far less important than the audience over here – the voters Obama wanted to reach with the warm glow of historic presidencies.
Obama is a smart, thoughtful, strategically brilliant politician, fully qualified to be president for some, not so for others. As with so much in politics, the question of whether he’s experienced enough to be commander in chief is an emotional one, often in the eye of the beholder. Obama’s Berlin speech struck a chord of history that he hoped would resonate with those persuadable voters who may be intrigued by him but still see him as a risk. Time will tell if whether it was enough to allay those doubts.
I never saw Clemons's subsequent blog in which he reported that Obama had indeed visited Europe as a young man. But I just came across it. Here.
At the time I posted my blog entry on the subject I was assured by Obama supporters that it didn't matter if Obama had visited Europe or not. I thought this was an untenable position. I still do.
In the primaries, although many left liberals and social democrats opted for Kucinich’s radicalism or Edwards’ populism, both candidates came up short. Moreover, Edwards and Richardson did not achieve much traction when they promised immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
Suppose during the first four years of an Obama presidency we achieve a national health-care program, withdrawal from Iraq, progressive Supreme Court appointments, reinvigoration of the government’s regulatory agencies, a serious energy program, and the weakening of the power of corporate lobbyists—all of which appear to be quite possible. By 2013, we would be comparing his program to the New Deal and the Great Society (By the way, does he have a catchy name for that program yet?), neither of which completely satisfied the party’s left- wing supporters then--and now.
The reason: these are the only two states that divide Electoral College votes according to congressional districts. Nebraska has five and Maine has four Electoral College votes, which means there are three congressional districts in Nebraska and two in Maine. The statewide winner gets two votes automatically, but the winner of each district gets that district's vote.
McCain should win Nebraska easily, but Omaha – the population center of the 2nd congressional district – has the state’s highest concentration of Democratic voters and Obama seems to be showing strength there. Note that Obama has a major ad buy underway blanketing 18 states, and it’s probably no coincidence that Omaha is one of his target markets. The situation flips in Maine, where Obama should carry the state and win the Portland-based 1st district handily, but he may not be as strong in the more rural 2nd district. It’s not as likely as Omaha, but it’s still in play.
So let’s run this thread a bit. Suppose the 2004 map stays stable with four exceptions: Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado flip to Obama, and New Hampshire – the state McCain likes to call his second political home – switches to the GOP. The result? An Electoral College tie. Thus Omaha, or possibly the second district in Maine, could become the kingmaker.
Other variations make this scenario possible. Consider what may happen in two of the most disgruntled Midwestern states. Michigan has voted Democratic in the last four elections, and Ohio has gone Republican in the last two elections and in seven out of the last ten, shifting blue only with Carter in 1976 and Clinton in both of his campaigns. But voter discontent is high in these two states, with the GOP very unpopular in Ohio and the once-celebrated Michigan governor a bit more wobbly with the voters these days.
So let’s say McCain snatches Michigan’s 17 electors but Obama counters with Ohio’s 20. If New Hampshire goes red but Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada (with its swelling Democratic voter rolls due to an influx of Latinos and Californians) switch to blue, McCain would win 270 to 268 – unless Omaha moves that one Nebraska vote to the Democratic column, meaning an Electoral College tie. That would throw the election to the newly-elected House of Representatives, with each state delegation getting one vote, which at this point would favor the Democrats (the Senate would then select the Vice President, with each senator getting one vote, and if the House is somehow deadlocked, the newly elected Vice President would become acting president – so if Hillary Clinton is Obama’s VP, that’s how she could become President of the United States).
These scenarios become even more bizarre if, as many project, Obama may well gain a solid popular vote victory. Remember, Bush won 13 southern states by 6 million votes in 2004, and since he won the entire country by 3 million votes, then Kerry won the 37 remaining states and DC by 3 million votes. So let’s say Obama – with higher African American and youth turnout as well as a bump in independent voter support – increases the margin in these Kerry states. Let's also say that the surge in African American voters helps him shave by half the GOP margin of victory in the South. All that adds up to a potential Obama edge of perhaps one or two million voters, if not more. He’ll have added all these voters, and he'll have won a convincing popular vote victory. But if the mischievous Electoral College ends in a tie, once again we would be embroiled in a national drama over the process by which we elect our president.
What would the national polls look like now had the Democrats nominated John Edwards and the Republicans Mitt Romney?
Would sexism in the media have been a campaign issue had Diane Feinstein or Nancy Pelosi been Obama’s chief competition?
This November, the Bradley factor may be less important than the Palmer factor, referring to the two especially admirable African-American presidents on “24,” the tv series that conservatives like Rush Limbaugh admire because it proves, week after week, that torture works. (Yeah, I know I posted this some time ago but no one seemed to notice.)
Were Democrats so happy to regain the White House in the nineties that they ignored the occasional legitimate muck raked up by the “Great Right Wing Conspiracy” as well as some of the Clintons’ lame excuses and obfuscations?
Democrats are always threatening to move to Canada if the Republicans win the presidency. Where will Republicans, who despise socialized medicine, threaten to go?
Will it ever be possible to figure out a way, acceptable to the major parties, the Supreme Court, and the electronic media that live off the advertising, to shorten the primary season?
How does McCain get away with comparing U.S. troops stationed in Germany, Japan, and Korea with the prospect of a long-term occupation of Iraq?
If I were the Democrats, I would saturate the airwaves with brief ads showing clips of McCain and Bush glad-handing with the simple phrases “Had Enough” or "Four More Years” the only text.
If I were the Republicans, I would------Hey, wait a moment, why should I give them any ideas?
In my previous post I offered five possible VP candidates beyond the usual suspects of Clinton and Edwards – Jim Webb, Ed Rendell, Ted Strickland, Claire McCaskill, and my wild card choice, Tom Brokaw. A couple of other names are worth mentioning.
One is Senator Joe Biden, a press favorite who’s genuinely liked in Washington. He certainly would bring foreign policy expertise, and he won’t be afraid to fire back at GOP attacks on Obama’s national security bona fides. Biden has a tendency to run at the mouth, and he can’t promise any battleground state, but he wore well during the primaries and enjoyed the conventional wisdom status of everyone’s second choice.
General Wesley Clark is another interesting option because, like Biden, he can help inoculate Obama on the national security issue. He also was a strong Hillary supporter – as was Rendell and Strickland – so he might help build some important party bridges. He also has a gruff appeal that might resonate with Hillary’s blue collar base. But he, too, can’t deliver a big state, and he was underwhelming as a presidential candidate in 2004 even though the trumpets blared and the chattering class bayed when he announced his candidacy.
One name that’s been on the rise is former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, who’s been in Obama’s corner for a while, which counts for something. Nunn was a pro-defense and moderately conservative senator, which may make him appealing to that elusive blue collar constituency. Being slightly more hawkish may serve to reassure some voters and buffer Obama against GOP criticisms. Obama is also trying to move Georgia into the undecided column, particularly with its large number of African American voters and the fact that the campaign has identified about half a million blacks who still haven’t registered to vote. So if Nunn can deliver white Georgians, then it potentially upends all the old electoral assumptions and creates a huge advantage for Obama. But Nunn is an uninspiring speaker, he’s been out of politics for a while, and it’s not clear how well Obama’s progressive supporters would welcome him.
Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine are also mentioned – but as governors with little national experience they lack gravitas at this point in their careers. Kaine has the new battleground state of Virginia as his selling point, but he brings much less to the table culturally and politically than his fellow Virginian Jim Webb.
As for crossing the aisle and choosing retiring Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, he’d have to make a strong pro-choice statement and adopt a number of Democratic positions that he’s previously opposed even to be considered. But he does have some blue collar appeal, and he’s been moving toward the middle in recent years. As a Vietnam veteran and fervent opponent of the War in Iraq, he’ll happily take on his former friend John McCain. Apparently, Hagel’s wife has donated to Obama’s campaign.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would also be an interesting choice. As a former Democrat and Republican and an extremely popular mayor, he would help appeal to independents and confirm Obama’s message that he wants to unite and work across the aisle. Bloomberg is a social liberal, a fiscal moderate, and a political reformer, and his background as a successful businessman and politician confers on him instant credibility. Bloomberg would also prove magical with Jewish voters, some of whom – especially the elderly – are skittish about Obama’s candidacy. That might put Florida back in play, which McCain is counting as solidly in his column. The billionaire Bloomberg also comes off as a regular guy, taking the subway to work, which might have resonance with middle class and blue collar voters. The downside is that he went all out supporting George Bush in 2004, hosting the Republican convention and enabling the GOP’s use of September 11 as a campaign prop, and memories from that election are still raw and fresh.
When John F. Kennedy offered the job to Lyndon Johnson, whom liberals perceived as a corrupt (Landslide Lyndon), conservative, closet segregationist beholden to Texas oil and utility interests, the Michigan delegates came close to walking out of the convention, but they reluctantly stayed on and helped win their state for Kennedy while Johnson did the same in Texas.
More important, aside from the Bush-empowered Dick Cheney, recent vice presidents generally accepted their meager assignments like good team players—think of, Johnson, Humphrey, Agnew, Ford, Rockefeller, Mondale, Bush I, Quayle, and Gore . They may not have been happy about their lot but they understood the relationship of the vice presidency to a warm bucket of piss. And sometimes, of course, presidents have given their vice presidents important special tasks such as, for Hillary, gulp, health care.
But what about Obama’s promise of a new political era? How could he share a ticket with one of the most skilled and cynical practioners of the old politics? Yet, among those most prominently mentioned as plausible vice-presidential candidates, Hagel, Nunn, Rendell, Strickland, and Webb are quite traditional politicos.
It is true that no vice-presidents ever brought along a potentially meddlesome presidential spouse. That’s a no brainer. When John Paul Stevens retires from the Supreme Court, Obama could nominate Bill to replace him guaranteeing that he would be kept busy and out of the way. It may sound like an unusual career move but we do have the William Howard Taft precedent.
Given what Obama will soon face from the Republicans and their lethal 527’s—the Islamic radical, American-flag hating, Farrakhan admiring, Israel bashing, misogynistic appeasing elitest who did not serve in the military and who will not be ready at 3 in the morning—he will need all the votes he can muster from traditional Democratic constituencies. And that is where Hillary comes in, in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, even Florida, as Obama sprints to the finish line. What’s the down side?
Once upon a time American politicians were not always so eager to have the clergy involved in politics. A number of antebellum state constitutions banned active ministers and priests from holding political office. This ban had its roots in the rejection of state-sponsored religion, particularly in the former colonies where the Anglican Church had been strong. It was reinforced in the late antebellum era, at least in a few places, by the association of the antislavery movement with some northern ministries.
In parts of the North, the antipathy that many mainstream politicians had for evangelicals pushing issues like temperance was quite high in the 1840s and 1850s. Of course, the efforts by some northern evangelicals to increase their political influence in the face of such antipathy was one factor in the creation of the Republican Party.
A ban on active clergymen holding office would be unconstitutional today, and rightly so. More practically, truly enforcing such a ban—and I’m not sure that one was ever put to the test—would require government to figure out just who is or who isn’t an active minister. That might even be harder to figure out than whether or not some bloggers are journalists.
Still, religion is not going to leave the current campaign. The recent California Supreme Court decision on gay marriage has energized many conservative Christians who are part of the Republican’s base. Whether the issue will have the same traction this year as in 2004, I doubt, but on balance it is still likely to help McCain some, if only by getting some of those Republican evangelicals who are suspicious of him to vote anyway.
It’s certainly true that running mates have only a limited impact on voter behavior, so perhaps we pay far more attention than is merited. Richard Nixon was elected twice with Spiro Agnew being only a heartbeat away, and George H.W. Bush succeeded in 1988 even though Dan Quayle made the proverbial deer in the headlights look qualified. In 1996, Jack Kemp’s vigor wasn’t able to overcome the image of an aging and out-of-touch Bob Dole, and in 2000 Joe Lieberman’s moral posturing couldn’t distance Al Gore enough from the Clinton scandals.
At the same time, vice presidential choices are important as part of the overall message a campaign wants to communicate. Ronald Reagan had no great affection for George H.W. Bush, but selecting Bush said to the country that Reagan was willing to build bridges to the moderate wing of the party. Bill Clinton said no to choosing an older wise man for his number two and instead went for Al Gore, another forty-something boomer at the time, in large part because he wanted to send a clear message of generational change. George W. Bush turned to Dick Cheney as a way to deepen his gravitas and boost his military bona fides.
So who will best personify messages that Senators Obama and McCain want to communicate? For this posting, I’ll offer a few thoughts on Obama’s choice. McCain will come soon.
Let’s assume that Obama won’t go with John Edwards, who wasn’t able to deliver his home state in 2004 and as a former losing vice presidential candidate doesn’t really fit into Obama’s message of change. Let’s also assume that Hillary Clinton would prefer not to be number two after imagining herself for so long as number one.
That still leaves some interesting choices.
Mention number one is first-term Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. Here’s a Vietnam War veteran, outspoken, working class populist, a former Republican who served as Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan. He has a son serving in Iraq, but he’s a leading opponent of the war. The pluses here are big: military credentials, bipartisan background, middle-American identity, early foe of Bush's Iraq policy, and very popular in what may be one of the most critical battleground states in this fall’s election, Virginia. Negatives? He’s not a great stump speaker, and some see him as a loose cannon.
Second is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, highly popular in a critical battleground state, former mayor of Philadelphia where Democrats have to run up big margins, an excellent campaigner, and a high-profile Hillary Clinton supporter, which would be a sign that Obama is willing to forgive, heal, and unite. Rendell, like Webb, exudes middle-class populism – he’s a bit rough around the edges, but that’s a good message for Obama who comes off as so well tailored that it’s sometimes hard for working families to relate to him. He’s also former chair of the Democratic Party and has friends in every corner of the country. Downsides? Rendell is Jewish, so the question is whether the country would be ready for a black-Jewish ticket.
Third is Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, who’s said he’s not interested but won’t be able to tamp down speculation because of the one neon word in front of his name, Ohio. But it’s more than Ohio that makes Strickland appealing. Strickland is a former minister who’s a moderate with considerable crossover Republican appeal, support from law enforcement organizations, and a strong favorable rating from the National Rifle Association. He even kicked off his gubernatorial campaign with ads quoting the Bible that played on Christian radio stations. And he’s a high-profile Clinton supporter who many credit for helping her win the Ohio primary. For an Obama strategist looking to neutralize the Rev. Wright imagery and all the radical associations that Republicans will try to attach to Obama, Strickland is a compelling candidate. But he’s not a national name, and despite serving in the House of Representatives for six terms, he has little foreign policy experience.
Fourth: Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri, a plain spoken politician in the Show Me State tradition of Harry Truman. A former prosecutor who upset an incumbent Republican senator in 2006, McCaskill seems comfortable in her own skin, which translates well on TV, yet she’s about as far from slick as Truman was. McCaskill brings some message intangibles that could help Obama – there’s a “one of us” authenticity that comes through when she talks, and with three kids and four stepchildren, she fits right in with the working class kitchen table political conversation that Obama has yet to penetrate. Her candidacy might also stir excitement among women let down by Clinton’s defeat, and she could put the key battleground state of Missouri in play. What works against her? She’s been a senator two fewer years than Obama, and despite serving on the Armed Services Committee, foreign policy depth is lacking. There are also reports of some ill-will between her and Hillary Clinton. She’s also a pro-choice Catholic who favors stem cell research, which reflects what most Catholics think, but it did generate some controversy last year when the local diocese pressured her daughter’s Catholic high school to withdraw an invitation to McCaskill as their graduation commencement speaker.
My sleeper candidate is … Tom Brokaw, the 67-year old former NBC news anchor whose name came up in 2004 and in many ways would be an ideal running mate. I know, I know, it’s unlikely, and Brokaw has all but made his Shermanesque statement denying interest. He also has zip, zero political experience, though to some that’s a positive. But he’s known to have an intense interest in politics, and a few years back the writer Mickey Kaus reported that Brokaw has in the past toyed with the idea of running for president. In the Seventies and Eighties, we used to hear Walter Cronkite’s name floated every four years, and for the same reason Brokaw would be such a good candidate: we trust him. So think of what he would bring to Obama: complete validation from one of the most admired and respected men in America, a brand steeped in the patriotic Greatest Generation culture that would help Obama against McCain, knowledge of and familiarity with all foreign leaders and American influentials, and an ability to communicate core issues in ways that relate to voters. If one of Obama’s main weaknesses is the lack of comfort, trust, and familiarity people have with him, Brokaw would be a one man seal of approval.
Here is my contribution:
To some extent I deal with the issue of fascism and the New Deal in my book FOR THE SURVIVAL OF DEMOCRACY: FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT AND THE WORLD CRISIS OF THE 1930s. Sure, there are superficial resemblances. The early New Deal may look like an attempt at an American version of the European corporatist state, an entity often identified with fascism. New Deal work relief programs sometimes appear to have a rough similarity. Compare, for example, the Civilian Conservation Corps to the Nazi youth work camps, or the American public works programs to Hitler's. Or the upsurge of patriotic nationalism in America to German or Italian nationalism. Roosevelt himself could at times seem dictatorial, and he may well have taken office with a sense that the United States needed strong leadership and organization of the economy vaguely along corporatist lines.
But enough! We can only go so far with this, and it is not much of a distance.
Germany and Italy were fundamentally authoritarian societies; the United States was liberal-democratic to the core. Moreover, it seems to me that the corporatist state (of which one could find many traces in the democratic Great Britain of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain) does not constitute the "essence" of fascism. As others have pointed out, fascism is a fuzzy theoretical concept, but about all versions have a few things in common--hyper-nationalistic and racialistic imperatives, contempt for democratic government and liberal values, exaltation of an absolute leader, and respect for brute force. To put not too fine a point on it, fascism in the 1930s was more about rule by thuggery and gangster values than about "corporatism."
The counter-example of the United States is telling. The New Deal failed miserably at controlling the economy, and at bringing economic recovery. A relatively small amount of PWA spending went to the Navy, but in the main the Roosevelt administration was unsuccessful (to the extent it even tried) at building up the armed forces in the manner of Hitler and Mussolini. Mainstream American nationalism during the 1930s was centered on liberal and democratic values and heavily stimulated by revulsion against Germany and Italy. Its major strains revived the reputations of such heroes as Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln while celebrating America as the democratic land of the free.
As for Roosevelt himself, he made mistakes, overreached for power at times (court-packing and his original executive reorganization plan), and erred grievously in his insistence on attempting to prosecute Andrew Mellon for income tax evasion. In such instances, he was slapped down, either by Congress, or in the Mellon case by a grand jury that refused to indict. That said, compare Roosevelt's popular leadership style to Hitler's or Mussolini's, and we are down to a creature that resembles a 10th cousin several times removed. True, he and Hitler used radio effectively, but the style and content bear little resemblance.
The New Deal had no black shirts or brown shirts terrorizing opponents, no system of arbitrary arrests and concentration camps, no identification of national greatness with foreign expansion and conquest. Roosevelt accepted the norms of democratic politics, however much he may have chafed under them at times.
Finally, a word about John Garraty's important and much-misunderstood article on the New Deal and Nazi Germany. Garraty's work was pioneering and suggestive--a major piece to my mind. At about every third or fourth paragraph, however, he made it clear that he was not accusing Roosevelt or the New Dealers of dictatorial ambitions. He fully understood that the resemblances he addressed were issues of technique and style rather than substance. It is worth rereading even by those of us who got that point the first time around, and should be mandatory for those who have not.
Alonzo L. Hamby
There are a lot of issues related to this that I would love for the presidential candidates to address. One is the ghastly behemoth that the Department of Homeland Security has become.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the DHS structure and where detainees fall within it.
First there is the opening statement of purpose:
Homeland Security leverages resources within federal, state, and local governments, coordinating the transition of multiple agencies and programs into a single, integrated agency focused on protecting the American people and their homeland. More than 87,000 different governmental jurisdictions at the federal, state, and local level have homeland security responsibilities. The comprehensive national strategy seeks to develop a complementary system connecting all levels of government without duplicating effort. Homeland Security is truly a “national mission.”
Now here is the list of what they call ”department components.” This includes 16 centers, offices, directorates, and other organizational types, including FEMA and the Coast Guard. The largest of these is the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (ICE)
Here is the ICE’s (their acronym) statement of purpose:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is responsible for eliminating vulnerabilities in the nation's border, and with economic, transportation and infrastructure security.
The ICE organization is composed of four law enforcement divisions and several support divisions. These divisions of ICE combine to form a new investigative approach with new resources to provide unparalleled investigation, interdiction and security services to the public and our law enforcement partners in the federal and local sectors.
The ICE has eight “offices.” One is the Office of Detention and Removal Operations. Here is the description for it:
The Office of Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) is responsible for promoting public safety and national security by making certain through the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws that all removable aliens depart the United States.
How We Work
DRO makes use of its resources and expertise to transport aliens, to manage them while in custody and waiting for their cases to be processed, and to remove unauthorized aliens from the United States when so ordered.
Here is their first semi-annual report on their compliance with detention standards, that came out May 9. From now on, each semi-annual report will cover half of their detention facilities, so that all have an annual report. As of 2008, ICE funds over 35,000 bed spaces in over 300 facilities ranging from local jails to centers such as the one discussed in the Washington Post article.
Perhaps it is not so strange that in an organization this large, that something so trivial as health care for its detainees has been lost in the shuffle. After all, is one of the presidential candidates likely to bring this up as an issue? Would any elected official take the effort needed to let the people near the top of the bureaucracy know that someone with a bit of power actually cares about these people?
And in the absence of such concern, and given the amount of lobbying and petitioning each part of the DHS engenders, how concerned can people at the top afford to be?
2. fig. To come or bend down, so far as a particular action is concerned, from one's position of dignity or pride; to stoop voluntarily and graciously . . .
It is hard to remember that condescension once had a positive political meaning. In the colonial and revolutionary era, it indicated the ability of someone of higher class to communicate with his inferiors by carefully lowering his demeanor in a way that suggested a meeting of spirits without suggesting equality. It was an art that upper class men prided themselves on and, for a time, was openly respected by their inferiors.
Jacksonian white male democracy tossed overt condescension out of political life. All white guys were equal and no politician should forget it. However a modified version slipped back in on the stump because most people wanted their presidents to be of the people but superior, too. So candidates ate barbecue, kissed babies, and otherwise recognized the equality of the voters, while trying to exude that certain something that evoked superiority and leadership.
Tree stumps gave way to stages, radio microphones, TV cameras, and YouTube, but this modified form of condescension—to demonstrate equality while somehow evoking superiority—remains a challenge for presidential candidates. All must condescend, and it seems possible that Barack Obama might fail to win the presidency not because he condescends, but because he does it badly while John McCain does it well. And Clinton? See below.
An example of McCain's artful condescension is his barbecue for reporters back in March. Now we all know that reporters are as low a class as there can be, and McCain showed his superiority when he sent reporters to the back of the bus (oops, that’s plane) when they denied him proper deference by reporting his questionable monetary connections.
But McCain knew that this could not remain the state of things. The reporters had to be made to feel that they had his confidence again. So he threw them a barbecue. The press felt so much better, and since they were there, McCain got a great story that reinforced his wider reputation as a Man who knows how to season his baby back ribs.
But effective condescension is not simply a matter of what to say or do; it is a matter of what not to say or do. And the first rule is—you are always on stage. Our Founders understood that. By the time of the revolution, George Washington was known for his self-control in all settings. His superiority at this won him the respect of his social peers and social inferiors. He rarely if ever misstepped. He knew that he was always on stage and that his reputation rested on playing his part superbly.
The second rule, which is particularly true today, is that when one condescends it must be with that most consummate sort of acting, in which the audience forgets that a performance is taking place. McCain probably really does like to barbecue. That made his act much easier.
A corollary to that rule is that one should not use a photo op to condescend unless one looks the part. John Kerry never should have gone hunting, even if he could “break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat”. It's not simply the skill, but the image of skill, that matters.
And Hillary Clinton. How did she go from the It Takes a Village schoolmarm to a candidate who has made a strong appeal to many working class voters? As this article shows, she has made here economic message truly the centerpiece of her campaign in a year in which people are scared.
Also, time has helped. While she stakes her claim to experience in part on her time in the White House, she has used the intervening years to redefine herself in a way that is congenial to her public personality. Instead of being the schoolmarm b-tch who knows more than you do, she is now the tough b-tch who will fight for you.
This was smart. She wasn’t going to get rid of the “B” image, so to a far greater extent that I would have thought possible, she has turned it to her advantage. She has distanced herself from the most debilitating aspects of her former image as a feminist know-it-all, demonstrated her martial leadership, and constantly acknowledged the concerns of her people. That is a time-tested way to condescend effectively.
So can Obama win? Sure. Here’s my advice, for whatever its worth. First, forget bowling. It wasn’t a Dukakis tank moment, but most of the time presidential candidates should be seen doing things well or not be seen doing things at all.
Second, and much more seriously, keep on message about reconciliation. That’s an unusual path for a presidential candidate to take, and it does distinguish him in a manner that evokes superiority.
Third, he needs to follow Clinton and show that he really will fight for a better economy. There is no necessary contradiction between that and a new politics.
Finally, he should not try to be what he cannot pretend to be. He’s never going to be one of the guys or gals in the diner. That’s not his sort of condescension. But millions of guys and gals in those diners really want a better politics. He needs to remember—or at least to artfully show—that what he is fighting for is their wisdom and their dreams and not just his.