Category Archives: presidential politics

The Candidate Formerly Known as “Maverick”

Four years ago, the Republican hatchet squad took a nuanced remark by John Kerry about his voting record on the Iraq war and labeled him “flip-flopper.” Thus was born a nasty, schoolyard name-calling attack against Kerry that was used in advertisements, Republican talking points, and by right-wing (and even mainstream) hacks throughout the fall of 2004. It was used by John McCain himself, in attacking Kerry.

Last night, Kerry delivered a speech last night at the Democratic National Convention — one that had to have felt a little like payback for those 2004 attacks. The subject was: the flip flops of the candidate formerly known as “Maverick.”

Here we are four years later, and as much as the wishful thinking of the Republican machine hopes that the Democrats (and the American public) might not have noticed, Senator McCain has become quite the adept flip-flopper. And I’m not referring to nuanced and reasoned policy shifts or voting. I mean ham-handed, in your face, wholesale change of political personality. And John Kerry was the perfect person to make that perfectly and explicitly clear.

Kerry gave us the whole laundry list of the flip-flops, big-time flip flops of the candidate John McCain. Maverick? McCain? No way! No more! No how!

“To those who still believe in the myth of a maverick instead of the reality of a politician, I say, let’s compare Senator McCain to candidate McCain,” began Senator Kerry, just warming up.

  • “Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once denounced as immoral.
  • “Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain’s own climate change bill.
  • “Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Sen. McCain wrote.

“Are you kidding? Talk about being for it before you’re against it.” Zing! You’ve gotta love it, Kerry using the Republican’s own words against him. That had to feel like the sweetest moment of the evening for Kerry. And a line he’s probably been aching to use for months, if not years.

“Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself,” continued Kerry, firing with particular precision. Just where does candidate McCain stand on the policies of Senator “Maverick” McCain, hmmm?

“And what’s more, Senator McCain, who once railed against the smears of Karl Rove when he was the target, has morphed into candidate McCain who is using the same Rove tactics and the same Rove staff to repeat the same old politics of fear and smear.”

And don’t tell me that both McCain and Obama are using dirty tactics. That’s simply a moral relativism that doesn’t wash. McCain and his team strike fear by insinuation, using Obama’s unique background to suggest he may not be quite as American, not as patriotic, as McCain.

Obama’s commercial about McCain’s houses (called by some an attack) is relevant, because it shows him to be out of touch economically with middle class America. Anyone who can’t remember how many houses they own (even if they’re owned by a spouse) may not feel the pain of many Americans (no matter how many years he may have spent in the Hanoi Hilton).

But Kerry went on to remind us all that it’s not necessarily how many years experience you have (after all, Cheney-Rumsfeld is about as experienced as you get in a foreign policy team). It’s all about judgment; keeping cool in a crisis and surrounding yourself with people who will disagree and debate; argue, and keep you from the arrogance that the presidency can bring to bear. Ideologues make bad foreign policy, as we have seen.

And that’s not all. Kerry also made the point that all along the way, from September 11, 2001, to today’s foreign policy decisions, Obama has been right. McCain has been wrong. “Time and again,” Kerry said, “Barack Obama has seen farther, thought harder, and listened better. And time and again, Barack Obama has been proven right.”

The Rove-Bush-McCain machine will try to tap in to fear; the Obama campaign will give us a vision for the future. Voters will have to decide for themselves to whose voice they will listen.

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John McCain, Rod Parsley and the Politics of Hate

A conspiracy of “international bankers” was responsible for the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, and a host of other ills. Who said that? And who are those “international bankers,” anyway?

I just spent the last ten minutes watching a YouTube video of a well-known Christian preacher and “moral compass” of a particular presidential candidate spew forth with incendiary words — words of a “Christian patriot” that sent chills down my back. As his fiery rhetoric spewed forth about the “international banking conspiracy” and its manipulation of financial markets, I physically recoiled at the all-too-familiar code words that hearken back to the darker side of history and into hateful anti-Semitic diatribes like Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Words that can be found on neo-fascist and “Christian patriot” websites cultivating hate and suspicion of Jews, Muslims, and other minorities. And who said these words? Shouted them in a packed-to-the-gills church? His name is Rod Parsley, and he is head of the World Harvest Church.

This is what one presidential candidate said of this man, introducing him at a campaign event event just a couple of months ago: “I am very honored today to have one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide… thank you for your leadership and your guidance. I am very grateful you are here.”

Who would say such nice things about a hate-spouting preacher? None other than John McCain, presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Backtracking later, McCain insisted that he didn’t mean that Parsley was his (McCain’s) spiritual guide; just a spiritual guide — drawing a distinction between his relationship with Parsley and Barack Obama’s with the Reverend Wright. But, if not his own, then just whose spiritual guide might Parsley be? Much was made at the time on the Internet, on the mainstream news, and in other corners of the political world of the difference.

But never mind the “a/his” controversy. I’m much more concerned that McCain has called this guy anyone’s moral compass at all. And a “great man.” Like John Hagee, another of McCain’s spiritual soul mates, Parsley uses the international money-lenders diatribe to great effect as thousands of rapt congregants hang on his every word, every week.

And even though Parsley may prefer euphemisms and code words about Jews, he uses outright incendiary language speaking about Muslims. In his book Silent No More Parsley says: “The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion (Islam) destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.”

As I consider Parsley’s rhetoric, I wonder then, for whom McCain believes the Reverend Parsley is a “great man” and “moral compass.” Did he mean for this country? Because if so, we’re in a whole lotta trouble. Is this the direction McCain wants the country to travel? Really? Or was McCain simply pandering to the right? I only imagine what the reaction would have been if Obama introduced his old pastor as a “great man” and “moral compass” in the heat of this presidential campaign.

Interestingly, much has been made of Obama’s “choosing” Wright as his pastor. Obama has explained himself well, and has called Wright’s heinous remarks for what they are. McCain can choose to associate himself with a lot of different campaign and spiritual advisers along his presidential trail. And he has chosen to embrace hate-mongers like Parsley. Where’s the moral outrage for that? Where’s the 24/7 coverage of that? Those are my questions for the day.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending Reverend Wright. There should be no place for him within Obama’s political framework. He is an old and bitter man who, now retired, has found new (and more public) pulpits from which which he can spread his bitter and cynical hatred. And he is no less to be disparaged and denounced than Rod Parsley and others like him, with his talk of America’s destiny to squash Islam and rid the world of Muslims. To quote Shakespeare: “a plague o’ both your houses.”

On Patriotism and lapel pins

There have been two time periods in my life during which I wore an American flag pin on my clothing. The first was back when I was in high school.  In protest of the Vietnam War, I wore an American flag pin upside down, a symbol of distress.  I wore it along with other buttons, badges and pins, including my home-made “I am an effete intellectual, nattering nabob, snob for peace.” (It repeated the unforgettable adjectives for war protesters uttered by that paragon of virtue, Vice President Spiro Agnew).   My wearing of the upside down flag pin got me kicked out of typing class during a mid-term exam, which resulted in my only “D” during my high school years (not that there were so many “A’s” either.)

 

The second time I wore an American flag lapel pin was in the days after 9/11.  Bound together as a nation, facing a national tragedy, we were united across political, social and generational lines in our collective grief, not just that 3,000 innocent people had been intentionally and brutally murdered, but that our country could be attacked like that, so easily, on a cloudless September morning.  Powerless to do anything individually except watch “breaking news” coverage and talk about it among our friends, we banded together under the flag, wearing it proudly, as sign that, despite our differences, we were all Americans, and, in this at least, we were unified.

 

Everyone was wearing them: liberal, conservative, independent, rural Americans, big city Americans.  We needed to show the world that we stood together, and wearing a flag pin—a sign of unity under the principles that have bound us since our founding—was a very visual way to do that.  I stopped wearing the pin when the flag began to stand, not for the principles that make our country great, not the least of which is freedom of speech, but for a view of patriotism that has more to do with the flag and allegiance than to the ideals behind it.

 

People seem to use those little flag pins to express their patriotism.  Fine.  No problem with that. But does not wearing one mean that you’re not patriotic?  And by whose definition?  Is it the unwavering support of an administration regardless of what it doing in our name?    When patriotism comes to mean silent acquiescence and not thoughtful consideration, we have gone astray of the ideals of our nation.  When questioning the validity of a policy is labeled unpatriotic; when exposing the lies told by an executive branch run amok with delusions of absolute power is deemed subversive under someone’s ideas of “national security;” when questioning the continuation of a dubious and ill considered war is deemed to somehow being unsupportive of the soldiers on the front (when in fact the opposite may be true), we are weakened as a nation for the suppression of necessary debate.   

 

The flag does not stand for blind allegiance, and it does not replace (by a long shot) the urgent need of everyone to understand (to the best of their knowledge) the issues, all sides, and judge—and question.  Our flag stands for the healthy skepticism for government power and wisdom, and certainly not for the notion that our nation is run by an all-powerful executive branch with the other branches in existence to support and cheer lead.  It stands for the Constitution—that body of laws  and principles that govern  and define us.

 

Patriotism is certainly not defined by the wearing of a lapel badge (more than likely manufactured in China) American flag.  And to ask, (as one questioner asked during last week’s ABC democratic debate) whether Barack Obama “believes in the flag” does nothing but show the ignorance (yeah, call me an elitist) the of the questioner.  Believing in the “flag” doesn’t mean believing in a piece of metal affixed to a blazer.  Was she really questioning whether Obama believed in our country?  Questioning his patriotism?  She said she was not; what, then was she calling into question because Senator Obama does not happen to wear a flag lapel pin?  The flag is merely a symbol, meaningless except for what it represents—“liberty and justice for all.”  The Bill of Rights: free speech, right to assemble, due process, habeas corpus.  That’s what the flag stands for.  Believing in the flag means supporting the government when it is right, and having the courage to criticize and otherwise speak out when it is not.  It sometimes means being a cheerleader, but so often means being a opponent, although the former is a far easier variety than the latter.

 

Upon reflection, I wonder if I shouldn’t re-pin the flag pin on my lapel. Affix it with the appropriate dash of righteous indignation, refusing to allow the far right to hijack very notion of patriotism, and its most visible symbol.   Or maybe design a new lapel pin—a miniature of the US Constitution, with its oversized “We the People…”  To me, that’s really what we’re protecting…and what we stand for:  for ourselves and as a symbol for the rest of the world. 

Gotcha Politics and Sound-Bite Journalism

“Gotcha” politics has got to go.  And I think that time is here and now.  I want to thank George Stephanopoulos (who has, in my humble opinion, lost all credibility as an intelligent political voice), Charlie Gibson (who never really had it) and ABC for making it possible. 

Finally, we are having a debate about debate; about political discourse and about the media’s coverage of politics via soundbite, innuendo and a series of “gotchas.”  Last night was, perhaps, the tipping point; the straw that broke the camel’s back.  A ninety minute debate and for the first 45 minutes, not one bit of policy was discussed.  Not one merest suggestion of an issue was raised. 

Call me an elitist, but to question Barack Obama as to whether he “believes in the flag,” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean) would be insulting, if it weren’t so ridiculous.  That Obama chose to actually answer showed him to be a man a lot more tolerant than I would have been.  (Beside the fact that I’m not a man.) 

This country is in an endless and fruitless war.  This country is in a recession; threatening to veer into the sort of stagflation I remember when I was just getting out of college in the late seventies.  Global warming is breaking off big chunks of ice fields (and George Bush’s plan is to begin to cut emissions in 12-15 years-that is, after they’re allowed to peak in 10 years.)  Our cities’ infrastructures are crumbling and our military is stretched too thin; Iran continues its nuclear program and in Afghanistan, the Taliban grow more powerful (hey, I thought we won that war) with each passing week.  And the media want to talk about David Ayers, a 60s radical.  Hey, Congressman Bobby Rush was a 60s radical too.  And former Tom Hayden.  Even Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (he, the son of Richard J– who helped all hell break loose in 1968 at the democratic convention) thinks its ridiculous to bring up William Ayers, who is a professor at the University of Illinois.

But yesterday, Obama countered.  He called this for what it is; and for what it is not.  The time has come, he said to talk about substance.  The post-debate coverage has been less about who said what, or who did what, than the substance of the questions themselves.  And I say it’s about damn time.  Criticism of Stephanopoulos, Gibson by people like Tom Shales, <i>Editor and Publisher </i> and others in the media and public life have dominated the discussion.

Last night Obama made a surprise appearance on the <i>The Colbert Report,</i> placing the word “distractions” on Colbert’s “on notice” board.  Distractions like the trivial questions coming from the real issues, when the issues are as serious as they are in this election, are not useful and are examples of lazy journalism. I’m not saying ONLY policy issues should be discussed; and character is an important thing to examine.  But when “journalists” insist on spending 75 percent of their coverage on distractions, and not at taking a hard look at the differences between the candidates (including the differences between the two democrats and John McCain) they are doing us all a disservice. 

So, maybe, finally, in the aftermath of the ABC debate, the main stream media are put on notice to discuss issues; real substance.  Not whether a candidate “believes” in the flag.  The stakes are too high to do otherwise.