A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Historic Candidacy, The Histrionic Shmucks

Let's cut to the chase:

The Republican and “Independent” worthies who spoke at their convention–Joe Lieberman, Fred Thompson, Rudi Guliani, Sarah Palin and John McCain–are supposed to be leaders. The same is true of Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama.

Leaders are supposed to set standards and examples. They are supposed to be the best of what our politics has to offer, not the worst. Until somebody is finally elected President, those nationally televised conventions, viewed by forty million plus people, are the major place for leaders to set examples for everybody, no matter what their party.

When you read the actual speeches of those Republican leaders, and even more so when you look at the recorded broadcasts, it is perfectly clear that they regard Barack Obama the man with personal comtempt and disdain–not mere disagreement with his words or his views.

We can put the evidence on the table. This is the sum total of the remarks of Joe Lieberman, Fred Thompson, Rudi Guliani, Sarah Palin, and John McCain about Barack Obama:


Sen. Obama is a gifted and eloquent young man who can do great things for our country in the years ahead. But eloquence is no substitute for a record — not in these tough times. In the Senate he has not reached across party lines to get anything significant done, nor has he been willing to take on powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party.

To deal with these challenges the Democrats present a history making nominee for president. History making in that he is the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for President. And we need a President who doesn’t think that the protection of the unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade

They’re both good and patriotic men with very different life experiences that have led them to this moment of shared history. On the other hand, you have a resume from a gifted man with an Ivy League education. He worked as a community organizer. What? He worked — I said — I said, OK, OK, maybe this is the first problem on the resume. He worked as a community organizer. He immersed himself in Chicago machine politics.

Then he ran for — then he ran for the state legislature and he got elected. And nearly 130 times, he couldn’t make a decision. He couldn’t figure out whether to vote “yes” or “no.” It was too tough. He voted — he voted “present.”

A few years later — a few years later, he ran for the U.S. Senate. He spent most of his time as a celebrity senator: no leadership, no legislation to really speak of. His rise is remarkable in its own right. It’s the kind of thing that can happen only in America. He is the least experienced candidate for president of the United States in at least the last 100 years….

They would have acted in their self-interest, and they would have changed their position in order to win an election. How many times have we seen Barack Obama do this? Obama — Obama promised to take public financing for his campaign, until he broke his promise. Obama — Obama was against wiretapping before he voted for it.

When speaking to a pro-Israeli group, Obama favored an undivided Jerusalem, like I favor and like John McCain favored. Well, he favored an undivided Jerusalem — don’t get too excited — for one day, until he changed his mind. Well, I will tell you, if I were Joe Biden, I would want to get that V. P. thing in writing.

Let’s look at what Obama did. Obama’s first instinct was to create a moral equivalency, suggesting that both sides were equally responsible, the same moral equivalency that he’s displayed in discussing the Palestinian Authority and the state of Israel. Later — later, after discussing this with his 300 foreign policy advisers, he changed his position, and he suggested the United Nations Security Council could find a solution.

Apparently, none of his 300 foreign policy security advisers told him that Russia has a veto power in the United Nations Security Council. So — so he changed his position again, and he put out a statement exactly like the statement of John McCain’s three days earlier. I have some advice for Senator Obama: Next time, call John McCain.

No, we tend to prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco. I’ve noticed a pattern with our opponent, and maybe you have, too. We’ve all heard his dramatic speeches before devoted followers, and there is much to like and admire about our opponent.

But listening to him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored twomemoirs but not a single major law or even a reform, not even in the State Senate. This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word “victory,” except when he’s talking about his own campaign.

But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed, when the roar of the crowd fades away, when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot; when that happens, what exactly is our opponent’s plan? What does he actually seek to accomplish after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet?

The answer — the answer is to make government bigger, and take more of your money, and give you more orders from Washington, and to reduce the strength of America in a dangerous world. America needs more energy; our opponent is against producing it. Victory in Iraq is finally in sight, and he wants to forfeit. Terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay; he wants to meet them without preconditions. Al Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.

Here’s how I look at the choice Americans face in this election: In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers, and then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change. They are the ones whose names appear on laws and landmark reforms, not just on buttons and banners or on self-designed presidential seals. Among politicians, there is the idealism of high-flown speech- making, in which crowds are stirringly summoned to support great things, and then there is the idealism of those leaders, like John McCain, who actually do great things.

My fellow citizens, the American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of personal discovery. This world of threats and dangers, it’s not just a community and it doesn’t just need an organizer.

Finally, a word to Sen. Obama and his supporters. We’ll go at it over the next two months. That’s the nature of these contests, and there are big differences between us. But you have my respect and admiration. Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other. We’re dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal and endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights. No country ever had a greater cause than that. And I wouldn’t be an American worthy of the name if I didn’t honor Sen. Obama and his supporters for their achievement.”

Now do you see anything in this but personal disrespect for Obama the man, decorated with a little pro forma “We’re all Americans together” like you would put Happy Birthday on a layer cake?

The head of the McCain/Palin campaign was quoted as saying that this campaign was about “character” not “issues”. What else can such a statement mean other than this: we will denigrate our opponent’s character in any way we can, and refuse to address in any way at all what he actually has to say?

How else can you describe this attitude toward Obama other than personal contempt?

For some reason his adversaries always imply, and seem to act as if, he has no right to even be running at all, or to do anything in his campaign such as travel abroad and meet the people whom he might have to deal with as President.

He speaks intelligently, directly, clearly, and without equivocation, even if he says things you do not agree with. But, for some reason, his adversaries seem to go out of their way to suggest that he shouldn’t even be speaking at all, that it is somehow “entertainment” when Obama does it.

As far as I can see, this is not a matter of John McCain being a better choice, it is not even a matter of John McCain being an overwhelmingly better choice. It’s not a matter of John McCain whatever.

It is that Barack Obama shouldn’t be there at all.

Why shouldn’t he be there? Why shouldn’t he do these things? He’s a family man with family values, a member in good standing of the Illinois bar, a man who has given his time to help those who need it, a United States Senator who is even on the Foreign Relations Committee, and he’s even a Christian man of faith.

There is only one possible reason that I can see why anyone would imply that Obama doesn’t have the right to run for President. And that is because of his race.

When Republican politicians talk about Obama’s “inexperience”–in the way that is overtly insulting and contemptuous, like the direct quotations from their convention speeches, they mean he is Black.

When they talk about his “elitism” and his “celebrity”–in the way that those speeches are overtly insulting and contemptuous–they mean he is an uppity Black.

When they denigrate his personal “community service”–in the way that those speeches are overtly insulting and contemptuous–they mean that it was done among people who are poor and Black.

Even if they believe the things they say about him, there is no excuse for the way they choose to say it, or the tone in which they say it. None.

This calumny was not kited out on the spur of the moment by overwrought and crazed political bloggers or their commentors, nor by disaffected and savage political commentators, nor by news media that have an agenda to defeat either slate of candidates. And such insult, such contempt, was not a matter of an offhand remark made in a moment of ill timed levity, of which anyone is capable. It was deliberate, cold-blooded, without moral scruples, and was systematically put into major political speeches meant to be heard by millions of people.

Supposedly these are the best and most responsible people in the Republican party speaking to the American public, and the best policies and political philosophy the Republican Party has to offer.

Now my adversaries may deny it to me. Or they may even deny it to themselves. But every African-American in this country knows this to be the case. They have watched code words like this being thrown at their most prominent men and women for the last thirty years–or just about the time we all agreed, for politeness sake, to refrain from the words that these euphemisms encode.

Personally, I was no more enthused in the primaries when the Clintons began to use encoded attacks on Obama’s character than I am about the current ones. In fact, Obama’s victory itself gave me far less joy than Clinton’s ignominious defeat precisely because she chose to make those attacks.

So pleased me greatly that the McCain people recycled Hillary’s attacks on the air during the Democratic convention and made it abundantly clear to all Democrats just how much it is bad politics when Democrats campaign that way.

I am under no illusion that, today at least, that John McCain and Sarah Palin aren’t in the lead from their convention bounce. They are.

But I am also under no illusion that the reason for this is the cold-blooded, systematic character assassination that occurred at their convention. For if John McCain had such overwhelming merits to be President as a “maverick” and a tortured prisoner of war, why would they need to attack Obama’s character at all?

So if John McCain happens to be defeated, it will please me far more than if Barack Obama is elected.

I don’t want anyone who tries win through such character assassination to lead either my party, or my country. Barack Obama has deliberately avoided doing such things to John McCain. And it is perfectly clear that he thinks such personal respect for an adversary is a more important thing than winning elections. So do I.

Here's the evidence once again:


Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we’ll also hear about those occasions when he’s broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record’s clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. Sen. McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than 90 percent of the time?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change. The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives — on health care and education and the economy — Sen. McCain has been anything but independent. Now, I don’t believe that Sen. McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would he define middle class as someone making under 5 million dollars a year?

I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as president of the United States.

Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last 30 years, and John McCain has been there for 26 of them. In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Sen. McCain took office.

When John McCain said we could just “muddle through” in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11 and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the gates of hell — but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain. But what I will not do is suggest that the senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and patriotism.

So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a red America or a blue America – they have served the United States of America.

So I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

Do you see anywhere that Barack Obama has treated John McCain with anything less than respect for his seniority, his service, and his sacrifice. Do you see anything in these words that is not simple, if strong, disagreement with what his opponent thinks and says?

This means that I can vote for Obama with a clear conscience, whether he wins or loses. After the way she campaigned, I could not have voted for Hillary Clinton with a clear conscience, nor could I vote for John McCain with a clear conscience.

Obama is a man worthy of respect because refuses to let go of respect for others when he is called to give a public accounting of himself. He is also worthy of respect because he is man enough to admit error, even when it is to his disadvantage, as in the case of the success of the Iraq “surge”. And he is worthy of even more respect for his courage to admit it on the air, on Fox News, to a man, Bill O’Riley, who is probably the most hostile interviewer you could find for him.

If anybody ever runs across an instance where either John McCain, Sarah Palin, Joe Lieberman, Fred Thompson, or Rudi Guliani have done anything even remotely resembling this, drop me a line or a link.

Try as I might, based on reading what they said at their convention, I could not tell you if there was anything Joe Lieberman, Fred Thompson, Rudi Guliani, Sarah Palin, and John McCain thought more important than winning elections.

If I’m wrong, well, I’m wrong. I’ve been wrong before. And, luckily, I’m not running for President so it doesn’t matter that much whether I’m right or wrong.

But if I’m right, none of us should have a clear conscience.

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