Sunday, October 26, 2008

I miss Dennis and George

Eleven days out from the election and all the polls are showing an electoral blowout for Obama. This is a first in my life. I cannot ever remember my candidate in any presidential election having this kind of lead, or any lead at all for that matter. Not that I take any comfort in the fact. Polls are not infallible and Rethuglicans are capable of all sorts of mayhem and chicanery in the few days left before the close of voting. I’ve been on the losing end of most presidential elections since I began voting so I long ago abandoned premature hope for a favorable result. I wanted very much to hope for Al Gore and John Kerry. Had I allowed myself that illusion I would have been even more disappointed than I actually was at the result. The best I will ever feel before Election Day is apprehension. 2008 will be no different.

2008 will be no different for another reason. I don’t expect anything to change. Even a President Obama will govern on behalf of the National Security State where America’s energy and resources build arms and project power throughout the world at the expense of most Americans and the world at large. A President Obama will indulge the public’s belief that America has the right and duty to continue a vastly wasteful and consumptive economy on our own terms, deploying our military to secure that right now that we no longer have the economic muscle to purchase that right (at least as long as China continues to fund our adventures). A President McCain will be little different, just far more belligerent.

If Obama wins I will entertain a vague hope that he will appoint some decent judges at all levels of the federal courts, demonstrate some empathy toward the majority of Americans on the wrong end of the wealth divide and be marginally less aggressive in his intercourse with foreign nations but I certainly won’t bank on those results. I know he will be better than John McCain, who has been the handmaiden of the National Security State his entire career. His only claim to iconoclasm was that he did not care what the Rethuglican base thought; his wealth and POW experience gave him the option not to care. Until it wasn’t enough and he caved to them in his desperate campaign for an office that he considers his by divine right.

Maybe I’ve just seen so many elections and no visible change in this nation’s trajectory. I missed voting in the 1968 election but it was a time when I believed we could actually create a popular mass movement to de-militarize America and the world. Eventhe disastrous consequences of that election (seven more years of war, Cambodia, my own personal ass under fire) didn’t destroy that hope. George McGovern’s radical challenge to the war machine four years later is still the high water mark of my youthful optimism. Certainly, no candidate since has offered me the same sense of possibility. His landslide defeat gave me pause but within two years Richard Nixon was driven from office by a wave of public anger and indignation. Jimmy Carter’s victory in 1976 further encouraged my hopes but his presidency did nothing to fulfill them. No candidate since has offered me anything and I’ve come to expect nothing.

Even if I were to suspend my beliefs and indulge in hopeful illusions, the prospects for real change do not survive a close look at the people advising Obama. Alexander Cockburn chronicled Obama’s surrender to the Owning Class in The Nation*. Listen to Obama’s foreign policy advisors and you will hear little that is different from the aggressively militaristic policies that have kept America in a state of perpetual war for six decades.

Don’t get me wrong, I very much want Obama to win—and win big. I would love to see a landslide that buries the Rethuglican fundamentalists once and for all. But I don’t see much coming of it. Maybe I am completely wrong; Obama will be the change agent this nation so desperately needs and will bring some sanity, restraint and responsibility to our national polity. I would welcome the opportunity to say I was wrong.

Back when the nomination was still up for grabs, Dennis Kucinich asked many of the right questions about economics and foreign policy and was roundly dismissed as far left. His questions and radical ideas (“radical” is not an epithet to me; it’s derived from the Latin word for root; a radical proposal addresses root causes, not mere symptoms) gave the campaign the only dose of alternate thinking I ever saw. I don’t know if he would make a good president—his previous executive experience did not go too well. He saved Cleveland’s public electric utility which in these days of high energy costs is a welcome bargain. But his refusal to sell off the utility at the demand of the city’s creditors (read: Owning Class) he ensured municipal bankruptcy and his own defeat. At least he was asking the right questions, then and now.

Lord knows, Americans need to be asking all kinds of hard questions. Kucinich was on the right track even if it took him nowhere. Of course, if you honestly look where conventional wisdom is taking this nation, you will see it is also headed nowhere.


* Subscription only. Or so they say. I am a subscriber to the dead tree version but their website registration process will not recognize me. If I ever get in, I'll see if I can link to the entire article. In the meantime, you can probably find it at a library.

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