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Sunday, June 29, 2008

On the Press' Love Affair with McCain

Loving John McCain

By Eric Alterman & George Zornick

This article appeared in the July 7, 2008 edition of The Nation.

June 19, 2008

AP Images

Like the vast majority of our 300 million or so fellow citizens--but unlike most of the elite political reporters covering the presidential campaign--your authors have never had the pleasure of meeting Arizona Senator and Republican presidential nominee John McCain. We've never sat with him in a semicircle on the red velvet couches of the Straight Talk Express downing Dunkin' Donuts and participating in endless bull sessions that long outlast our store of questions. We've never talked strategy openly with McCain and his advisers over drinks and dinner, or been fed information to use against his opponents. Perhaps even more regrettably, we have not enjoyed the pleasure of joining our media colleagues for a sunny afternoon, chez McCain, "swinging lazily back and forth on a tire swing strung up under a massive sycamore tree in a quiet Arizona canyon, the sound of a gushing stream nearby," as the candidate, according to Newsweek, "carefully monitor[ed] giant slabs of pork ribs on a smoking grill."

We've enjoyed him on The Daily Show, admired his courage in Vietnam and imagine we understand his appeal. Perhaps if we had all spent more time hanging, we would appreciate the senator's company, his hospitality and his eagerness to speak his mind in our presence as so much of the MSM has. It is even possible that we would call him John when speaking with him. And let's be honest, we cannot be certain that, were he still running against George W. Bush, we would not fall into the habit of referring to the McCain campaign as "we"--as in, "I hope we kill Bush"--which apparently happened with some frequency during McCain's unsuccessful 2000 run.

But even though we might be taken with McCain personally, we would like to think that we would resist the urge to offer the sort of spontaneous testimonials to his character that have gushed from the pens of so many MSM journalists. These would include calling McCain "a cool dude" (Jake Tapper, Salon); "an original, imaginative, and at times inspiring candidate" (Jacob Weisberg, Slate); "a man of unshakable character, willing to stand up for his convictions" (the late R.W. Apple Jr., New York Times); "a man of intelligence, honor and enormous personal and political courage" (Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek); "blunt, unyielding, deploying his principles.... What he does do is what he's always done, play it as straight as possible.... The maverick candidate still" (Terry Moran, ABC News's Nightline); "worldly-wise and witty, determined to follow the facts to the exclusion of ideology...willing to defy his own party and forge compromise...pragmatic in the service of the national interest...rises to passion when he believes that America's best values are at stake" (Michael Hirsch, Newsweek); "kind of like a Martin Luther" (Chris Matthews, MSNBC's Hardball); "the perfect candidate to deal with what challenges we face as a country" (Mika Brzezinski, MSNBC's Morning Joe); "rises above the pack...eloquent, as only a prisoner of war can be" (David Nyhan, Boston Globe); "the bravest candidate in the presidential race" (Dana Milbank, Washington Post); "an affable man of zealous, unbending beliefs" and "the hero [who] still does things his own way" (Richard Cohen, Washington Post); and who, in "an age of deep cynicism about politicians of both the rare exception who is not assumed to be willing to sacrifice personal credibility to prevail in any contest" (David Broder, Washington Post).

Believe us, we could go on (and on and on...). Suffice it to say that no candidate since John F. Kennedy, and perhaps none since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, has enjoyed such cozy relations with the press. In his book Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News, Tucker Carlson explains the source of many journalists' attraction to the Arizona senator: "McCain ran an entire presidential campaign aimed primarily at journalists.... To a greater degree than any candidate in thirty years, McCain offered reporters the three things they want most: total access all the time, an endless stream of amusing quotes, and vast quantities of free booze." Ryan Lizza, reporting for The New Yorker from the current Straight Talk, notes the dichotomy of McCain's press-friendly campaign style and that of his opponents: "The Democratic candidates rarely speak to the traveling press. McCain not only packs his bus with reporters (whom he often greets with an affectionate 'Hello, jerks!') but talks until the room is filled with the awkward silence of journalists with no more questions." Lizza also notes that the "chumminess" between the campaign and the reporters has almost no boundaries. Questions of strategy--even media manipulation--are discussed openly with reporters present, and "McCain's senior advisers dine almost nightly with the people covering the candidate."

The degree to which members of the press find all this irresistible is evident by the confessions that reporters have occasionally offered in public; confessions that have few, if any, precedents in recent political history. For instance, Charles Lane, writing in the October 18, 1999, issue of The New Republic, admitted, "I know it shouldn't be happening, but it is. I'm falling for John McCain." His declaration followed that of Michael Lewis, who, in the same magazine, compared his feelings to "the war that must occur inside a 14-year-old boy who discovers he is more sexually attracted to boys than to girls."

The "Never Mind" Syndrome

McCain flatters the press in other ways as well. For instance, he is particularly adept at embracing reporters' romantic notions of themselves as tough-minded, hard-charging opponents of power, particularly conservative power. After facing questions from the late Tim Russert, host of NBC's influential Meet the Press, he opined, "I just had my interrogation on Russert.... It's a good thing I had all that preparation in North Vietnam!" One can hardly imagine what it must have been like for McCain to endure what he did as a POW in North Vietnam, but it's hard to believe that it is an appropriate metaphor for taking questions about his main opponent in the Republican primary such as this: "Is Governor Romney waving the white flag?... Is Governor Romney suggesting surrender?"

And then there's the special treatment, given no other American politician, to allow McCain to make his case to the public. When Media Matters conducted a study of Sunday-morning network guest lists, it discovered that the most frequent invitee during the nine-year period of 1997-2005 was McCain, who had appeared 124 times--over 50 percent more than his closest competitor. What's more, not only was he the most frequent guest, he was the most honored. McCain was accorded eighty-six solo interviews. The runner-up in this solo interview sweepstakes was former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, with just forty-five. As Senate minority leader, Daschle was the highest-ranking official in his party; McCain, who was on the outs with the leadership of his party for much of this period, was the leader of nothing but himself. In fact, during the early period of Bush's presidency, before--apparently--he decided that he wanted to be the Republican nominee for President in 2008, McCain often represented the Democratic position on questions about taxes and political reform.

McCain's legendary diversionary walks from the path of the Republican straight-and-narrow so impressed his friends in the media that they appeared to have passed a secret law among themselves never to refer to the senior Arizona senator without also using the word "maverick." As David Brock and Paul Waldman demonstrate in their book Free Ride, the words "maverick" and "McCain" appeared within ten words of each other 2,114 times in 2000, a practice that has continued to the present at roughly the same rate.

On issue after issue, and from every side of the journalistic political spectrum, a campaign of deception and distortion has helped to ensure that McCain's extreme positions and politically inspired flip-flops remain far from the consciousness of the average voter. Just as the media-promoted notion that George W. Bush was the kind of guy with whom one might enjoy a few beers managed to obscure the predictable catastrophes that lay in store for this nation once he became President, so too can the deep-seated media denial of McCain's extremist policies and addiction to political expediency mask the fact that his victory in November would result in a continuation--and even, in some instances, an expansion--of the very policies that have brought the nation to the brink of irreversible disaster.

According to an extensive Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken in early May, only 27 percent of voters have positive views of the Republican Party, the lowest level for either party in the survey's nearly two-decade history. A clear majority of voters in the same survey said they wished for a Democratic President. And yet, in what the Journal reporters termed a "remarkable" finding, McCain remained in a dead heat with Obama and Clinton in head-to-head match-ups. The authors' explanation: "McCain's image is trumping negatives such as the war and the economy." More recent polls continue to show McCain running well ahead of any generic "Republican" candidate. It's true that before the Rev. Jeremiah Wright became the most famous man in America, coverage of Obama had been extremely favorable. And McCain's easy ride has seen some speed bumps in recent weeks, regarding both his army of conflicted lobbyists/advisers and a poorly received speech on the night Obama clinched the Democratic nomination. But decades of devotion to McCain's causes and character are not likely to be erased overnight, even in the event of an unlikely U-turn on the part of most of the MSM.

Indeed, the effects of past coverage can be discerned in the results of another survey released in May, by the Pew Research Center, which found that most voters described McCain as "a centrist whose views are fairly close to their own." These voters might as well be visiting Casablanca for the waters. McCain calls himself a thoroughgoing conservative, and he's got the statistics to prove it. He has voted with his party almost 90 percent of the time this term, which puts him ahead of twenty-nine other Republicans, including his Arizona colleague Jon Kyl, who ranks second in his party's leadership. According to VoteView, McCain's voting record in 2005-06 would place him second in the contest for America's most conservative senator in the 109th Congress and eighth in the 110th Senate. McCain supported Bush in 95 percent of his votes in 2007 and has managed to achieve a perfect 100 percent score so far in 2008. But voter ignorance in the case of the "real McCain" is hardly the fault of the voters. They are simply consuming news reports from media that refuse to take McCain's politics seriously.

Examine McCain's position on any given question and compare it with the press coverage of that position. Again and again, you will see that many of the most admired and respected reporters in the business are not merely "in the tank" for McCain; they are practically unpaid members of his campaign staff.

Media love for John McCain manifests itself in myriad ways; sometimes it involves inventing facts, other times simply ignoring inconvenient ones. For instance, we learn from Media Matters that McCain made an April 1 appearance at elite Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, during his "biography" tour. But when CNN reported on the visit four days later, Jim Acosta failed to mention that McCain happened to be a graduate of this very same (very expensive) boarding school. Similarly, on the April 18 edition of The Situation Room, an onscreen chart showed McCain's income to be significantly lower than that of Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton when combined with the income of their spouses. However, the chart did not include any income earned by McCain's spouse, Cindy, whose inherited beer-distributorship fortune is estimated to be valued in nine figures.

Such indulgences pale, however, in comparison with the lengths to which many are willing to go to portray McCain as the kind of hero they apparently wish he would be. Consider the question of whether the United States should employ torture against its prisoners. The liberal New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes rapturously of McCain's opposition to the Bush/Cheney endorsement of illegal methods of physical pressure on prisoners because, he asserts, "There was nary a vote in the Republican primary to be gained by opposing the waterboarding of swarthy Muslim men accused of terrorism. But Mr. McCain led the battle against Dick Cheney on torture, even though it cost him donations, votes and endorsements." Kristof maintained his unwavering admiration although he was forced to mention just a few paragraphs later that the very same John McCain dropped his opposition to waterboarding because "with the arrival of the primaries, he has moved to the right on social issues and pretended to be more conservative than he is." This argument is echoed by that of another liberal pundit, Jacob Weisberg, who, in a piece subtitled "Psst... He's Not Really a Conservative," instructs voters that when considering a vote for McCain, it is necessary to "discount his repositioning a bit."

In fact, it's going to take more than "a bit" to get McCain's positions anywhere near the values and policies Americans consistently say they want from their President, much less to where McCain-smitten pundits pretend they already are. As Kristof discovered when trying to paint his profile in courage, almost everything that caused so many pundits to lose their heads and hearts to McCain during his first campaign has been jettisoned in the interests of securing the nomination of a party that is demanding--and securing--his fealty to one extremist position after another. In the same column in which Kristof lauds the pro-torture McCain for opposing torture, for instance, he also lauds the anti-immigration candidate for being pro-immigration. He writes, "Then there's immigration. While other Republican candidates revved up the mobs by debating how high a limb is optimal for hanging illegal immigrants, he patiently explained that it's a complex problem with unsatisfying solutions, including creation of a path to citizenship for illegals." Yet McCain has jettisoned this position too. To be fair, Kristof may have been confused by the bewildering manner in which McCain repudiated himself. Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, McCain asserted that "on the issue of illegal immigration, a position which provoked the outspoken opposition of many conservatives, I stood my ground aware that my position would imperil my campaign." Having done so, however, he apparently decided that his integrity had overstayed its welcome, and in that same speech promised his erstwhile adversaries that "only after we achieved widespread consensus that our borders are secure would we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law and does not encourage another wave of illegal immigration." This directly contradicted the principle of the bill he wrote with Senator Ted Kennedy, which would have provided a path to citizenship for many of the roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants in America. Somehow McCain paid virtually no political price for this Olympian flip-flop. It wasn't merely that MSM pundits preferred to give him a pass; many refused to recognize it at all. Nearly a month after the CPAC speech, the Los Angeles Times wrote that McCain's advisers "believe his work on the controversial immigration legislation that included a path to citizenship for many of the nation's illegal immigrants will provide an inroad to Latino voters."

This "never mind" syndrome regarding McCain is pervasive. Take tax policy. The old McCain of "maverick" lore was lionized in the MSM five years ago for his refusal to support his party's misguided $1.35 trillion tax-cut package and cut dividends and capital gains taxes. McCain said, "I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans who most need tax relief." In 2005 he was one of just three Senate Republicans to vote against additional tax cuts for corporate America; today the same senator who opposed these cuts thinks they should be extended through 2010. Conservatives had once again claimed this maverick's scalp. As Grover Norquist, president of the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, reportedly boasted, "It's a big flip-flop, but I'm happy that he's flopped."

In addition, McCain called for the repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax and the reduction of the corporate income tax rate from 35 to 25 percent. According to the calculations of the Tax Policy Center, the overall cost over a period of ten years would amount to $5.7 trillion in revenue, or more than three times the cost of the Bush cuts. Aside from the havoc these policies would wreak with an already out-of-control deficit, they would prove even more regressive than those instituted by the Bush Administration. At a moment when working people's wages and salaries make up the lowest share of the nation's gross domestic product in more than sixty years, McCain's tax policies would, if enacted, deliver 58 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, compared with the current code, which tops out at a mere 31 percent of benefits going to the same fortunate few. Yet McCain is still accorded the "maverick" label. (After the primaries, McCain moderated his tax policies a bit and walked back a few provisions, including a new proposal to reduce, but not repeal, the AMT; his current plan would give 39.5 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent and would create $4.1 trillion in lost revenue over ten years. We note that President Bush enacted a much larger tax cut than what he campaigned on in 2000, so it is no simple task to predict what a President McCain would propose).

Flip-Flop Free Pass

It is a challenge to find an issue on which McCain has stood his ground in the face of opposition from his party's extremist establishment. "How about abortion?" you ask. Well, speaking to the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle in August 1999, McCain explained, "Certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America" to be subject to "illegal and dangerous operations." And McCain today? "I do not support Roe v. Wade--it should be overturned." McCain says he favors a rape and incest exception for abortion prohibitions, but his party's platform refuses to allow for any such exceptions. If the candidate plans on fighting to get this restrictive party plank changed, however, he has kept that information secret so far. What's more, McCain has voted for every one of Bush's judicial appointments, all of whom oppose a woman's right to choose. What about gay marriage? In 2006 McCain was one of only seven Republican senators to vote against the Federal Marriage Amendment; two years later he told Chris Matthews, "I think gay marriages should be allowed" when states decide to legalize gay unions. Today McCain not only opposes gay marriage but favors denying benefits to unmarried couples, period.

McCain's addiction to politically convenient flip-floppery is even evident regarding the issue with which his "maverick" reputation is most closely associated--political reform. Recall that much of McCain's reputation as a reformer derives from the partnership he forged with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold to try to reform the nation's campaign finance laws. He did so, he said at the time, out of a sense of remorse over his involvement with the "Keating Five," when he helped himself to free flights on Charles Keating's jets and asked regulators to go easy on the corrupt financier during a period when his wife happened to be Keating's investment partner. McCain received an Ethics Committee reprimand, and he has consistently pointed to his regret over his role in the scandal as his primary motivation for his commitment to the issue, over the objection of many in his party.

That's the theory anyway. And it is one so widely accepted by McCain's fans in the mainstream media that many do not feel an obligation to examine McCain's behavior anymore to determine whether he bothers adhering to the laws he wrote. Time managing editor Richard Stengel, for instance, explains that "McCain is so pure on this issue, ever since the Keating Five when he saw the light.... McCain has toed the line about lobbyists, about campaign fundraising."

In fact, McCain's devotion to remaining within his much-proclaimed ethical guidelines is a far murkier matter. It's not just his close friendship and professional relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, revealed by the New York Times, that causes so many titters--it's that McCain flew on the private jet of Iseman's client Lowell Paxson and repeatedly carried out legislative favors on his behalf. Paxson wasn't the only client of Iseman's who appeared to get special attention from McCain; the Times documented other instances where legislation introduced by McCain dovetailed with key priorities of other companies, in the telecommunications and cruise ship industries, represented by Iseman's firm--all of which contributed tens of thousands of dollars to his presidential campaign.

No less significant, candidate McCain has taken advantage of loopholes in the laws he has written and lax enforcement by an understaffed Federal Election Commission (FEC) to subvert the intended purposes of the laws. The old John McCain championed legislation that would require presidential candidates to pay the actual cost of flying on corporate jets and to pay charter rates when using such jets rather than cheaper first-class fares. The purpose was to try to reduce the power of jet-wielding lobbyists and enforce a sense of fairness. But how did McCain behave when the issue arose in his campaign? A New York Times investigation recently revealed that he availed himself of a jet owned by a company headed by his wife. He was able to do this without technically breaking the law only because the law makes a specific exception for planes owned by a candidate or his family (or by a privately held company they control). The FEC has sought to close this loophole, but its new rules have been prevented from going into effect, as the White House has refused--until recently--to appoint a sufficient number of commissioners to allow their approval. So while McCain may be technically within the letter of the outdated law, he is purposely undermining its spirit. What's more, these financial shenanigans are hardly consistent with the response he gave when asked by a reporter whether he planned to rely on his wife's wealth to help out with the campaign. "I have never thought about it," he told the Arizona Republic. "I would never do such a thing."

Such actions are of a piece with a campaign that is dominated by lobbyists to a degree unmatched by any other candidate for President this year. McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles Black Jr., was until recently chair of one of Washington's most powerful private lobbies, BKSH and Associates, whose clients include AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and US Airways--not to mention a string of dictators with shady human rights records, from Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. In addition, his top economic adviser, former Senator Phil Gramm--who wrote the McCain campaign's banking policy--was, until April 18, registered as a lobbyist for UBS, the international banking giant deeply involved in the subprime housing market crisis. And on down the line in the McCain campaign it goes, with almost all the top positions occupied by the very people whose influence he claims to want to curb. And yet, despite a series of forced resignations over embarrassing conflicts of interest, the media narrative continues untouched by truth. Writing in the Washington Post in May, longtime editor David Ignatius praised McCain because he "has actually fought the kind of bipartisan battles that Obama talks about--from campaign finance to climate change to rules against torture--and he has the political scars to prove it."

In early June, Times reporter Charlie Savage revealed another crucial McCain flip-flop: as recently as January, McCain said he opposed George W. Bush's unconstitutional wiretaps on American citizens, explaining, "I don't think the President has the right to disobey any law." But as with so many of McCain's more moderate positions, that was then. Today, according to his top adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain has decided that "neither the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001."

Misreading Iraq

The pattern of media misrepresentation of McCain's record extends into the area of his alleged expertise, foreign and military policy, as well. Once again, the norm among those charged with interrogating the candidate and passing this information along to the public is simply to offer up a mixture of awe and praise at the candidate's prowess. NBC political director Chuck Todd does not think it matters much whether McCain bungles a question on foreign affairs because, as he explains, "He's got enough of that in the bank, at least with the media, that he can get away with it." And Fox News anchor Brit Hume was speaking for many when he announced, on behalf of himself and his colleagues, "We all" agree that McCain has understanding and knowledge of world affairs. Newsweek's Evan Thomas has gone so far as to grant McCain special permission to say things that mere mortals, or people bogged down by reality or fairness, cannot. "McCain has a license to use words that the rest of us could not.... I mean, he can be pretty out there, using words like 'surrender,' because who is really going to question John McCain?" he explains.

Given this all but unchallenged media narrative, it can be an astounding experience to scrutinize McCain's record of judgment in the harsh light of history. For instance, before the Bush Administration embarked on its disastrous course in Iraq, McCain promised that a successful US invasion would "serve as a counterpoint to the state-directed Arab media's distortion of the Palestinian conflict." He told CNN viewers on September 12, 2002, that he was "very certain that this military engagement will not be very difficult" and, a month later, that "success will be fairly easy." When asked by Chris Matthews in March 2003 whether the Iraqis would treat Americans as liberators, McCain answered, "Absolutely, absolutely." In light of these and other such predictions, it is difficult to imagine just what the editors of the Washington Post were thinking when they instructed readers, "Whatever your position on the war, then or now, Mr. McCain deserves credit for foresight and consistency about how the war should have been waged."

Perhaps these writers and editors were crediting McCain with views he never had and statements he never made. This turns out to be a common practice within the MSM. During a March 28 interview with Senator Chuck Hagel, Charlie Rose informed viewers that McCain "early on call[ed] for the firing of [former Defense] Secretary Rumsfeld." Two days earlier, on MSNBC Live, chief Washington correspondent and host Norah O'Donnell informed viewers that McCain had "called for Don Rumsfeld's resignation." Earlier in the month, on March 5, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger told viewers of The Situation Room that "McCain has said over and over again, you know, 'I would have fired Donald Rumsfeld'.... He called for him to be fired the Senate." Alas, though McCain did, like many conservatives, criticize Rumsfeld on occasion, he most definitely never called for the Defense Secretary to resign. Just hours before Rumsfeld's "resignation" was announced, in fact, McCain was asked by Fox News's Shepard Smith, "Does Donald Rumsfeld need to step down?" McCain's answer: it was "a decision to be made by the President."

When members of the media do report McCain's misstatements on foreign policy, they tend to discount them, apologize for them or explain what the senator undoubtedly "meant" to say. When, during a March 18 press conference with reporters in Amman, Jordan, McCain falsely insisted that Iranian operatives were "taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder termed the quote a "momentary confusion." Jake Tapper postulated "jet lag." But as the folks at noted at the time, during a short burst of media coverage over the controversy, McCain had made the same misstatement to nationally syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt in a March 17 interview, saying, "As you know, there are Al Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they're moving back into Iraq." As media scholar Jay Rosen pointed out, McCain made this false claim four times, although Gen. David Petraeus had refuted it. (One Weekly Standard blogger insisted that McCain was correct, apparently overruling Petraeus, along with pretty much the rest of the world.)

And this was hardly the only case in which McCain's understanding of what was happening on the ground in Iraq was at odds with reality as the rest of the world understood it. Appearing on Fox News Sunday on April 6, he insisted that the violence in Basra had ended when Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr declared a cease-fire. This was, he argued, demonstrable evidence that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government was gaining ground. "I don't think Sadr would have declared the cease-fire if he thought he was winning. Most times in history, military engagements, the winning side doesn't declare the cease-fire. The second point is, overall, the Iraqi military performed pretty well.... The military is functioning very effectively," said McCain. The only problem with this assertion was that it contradicted just about every news report from the region; it was the Iranian government, together with members of Maliki's government, that pleaded with Sadr to cease military operations.

McCain also recently misstated the number of US troops in Iraq, saying on May 29 that "we have drawn down to pre-surge levels." The military, in fact, is two full brigades above the pre-surge levels. Recall that in 2003, then-Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean made a similar misstatement on Meet the Press about the number of active-duty US troops and was widely excoriated; a representative criticism came from MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle, who said Dean's interview "resembled the sound and the sight of a man crashing his candidacy into a bridge abutment." But McCain largely escaped such damnation.

Amazingly, while McCain claims to base his presidential campaign on his ability to secure "victory" for America in Iraq, reporters have so far paid precious little attention to the contradictions his statements and policies embody. Despite the desire of roughly 65 percent of Americans to withdraw from Iraq within the year, according to poll after poll, McCain believes it would be "reckless," "morally reprehensible" and an "unconscionable act of betrayal." His plan essentially amounts to much, much more of the same. He proposes yet another increase in the number of American troops on the ground, by extending combat tours and accelerating the deployment of troops. McCain also proposes yet another counterinsurgency strategy--instead of clearing areas and then retreating, he suggests keeping American forces in every cleared area. This plan, if successful, would demand more troops, and it is difficult to imagine just how he intends to recruit them in a period when all the military services are well below their goals for even routine recruitment and are being forced to take ever larger percentages of felons, non-high school grads, older and older soldiers, the mentally unstable and many in other categories who would not have been allowed to enlist in the past. (The United States currently has approximately 155,000 troops stationed in Iraq and another 35,000 or so in Afghanistan.)

Even in the unlikely event of the achievement of his goals for Iraq, McCain appears to have no intention of leaving that nation to develop on its own without permanent US military bases and a heavy footprint of US troops. (This is indeed the most charitable interpretation of McCain's comments that he would have no objection to US troops remaining in Iraq for "a hundred years.") Such a prolonged occupation would necessarily drain billions, if not trillions, from the US Treasury, but McCain offers no more guidance about the source of the funding for his expanded war plans than he does about its recruits. In February, he responded affirmatively when asked on ABC's This Week if he was a "'read my lips' candidate, no new taxes, no matter what." Pressed further by George Stephanopoulos, McCain insisted there were no circumstances under which he would raise taxes.

The Myth of the Bull Moose

With a lifetime score of 24 percent by the nonpartisan environmental group the League of Conservation Voters, McCain has an anti-environmental bent that stands in stark contrast to what Americans say they want from their next President. It's true that he has asserted the "facts of global warming demand our urgent attention," which is more than most in his party will admit. But his plans to address the crisis do not demonstrate much urgency. What's more, a cornerstone of McCain's environmental plan is the $3.7 billion of giveaways he would shower on the nuclear energy industry. The plan, while wildly expensive, is unlikely to reduce American carbon emissions significantly, since it envisions the building of just three new plants--plants that have proven nearly impossible to build anywhere in this country in recent decades. (As Christian Parenti recently reported in these pages, "a 2004 analysis in Science by Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow, of Princeton University's Carbon Mitigation Initiative, estimates that achieving just one-seventh of the carbon reductions necessary to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at 500 parts per billion would require 'building about 700 new 1,000-megawatt nuclear plants around the world.'") And while nuclear power is extremely risky and expensive, McCain rules out subsidies for far cheaper and more environmentally friendly forms of energy. Nuclear energy aside, he explains, "I'm not one who believes that we need to subsidize things. The wind industry is doing fine, the solar industry is doing fine," he told an interviewer.

Then there are the so-called "social" issues. It's not just that McCain's strong antichoice position is out of step with that of most Americans. No less worrisome are his close ties to some of the most radical leaders of the Christian fundamentalist movement. McCain has repeatedly attempted to distance himself in a vague and imprecise fashion from the more extreme statements of the Catholic-hating, Hitler-admiring Pastor John Hagee, whose support he had previously worked so hard to earn. He was also forced to distance himself, quite belatedly, from the support he had so energetically pursued from the Rev. Rod Parsley, who has called hate crimes legislation a "deceptive ploy of [the] liberal, homosexual agenda." Parsley has also advocated criminal prosecution of adulterers, compared Planned Parenthood to the Nazis, and refers to Islam as an "anti-Christ religion" and to the Prophet Muhammad as "the mouthpiece of a conspiracy of spiritual evil." Before May, when McCain finally repudiated Parsley (together with Hagee), he told reporters that he felt "honored" to be associated with "one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide." The number of flip-flops--indeed, back flips--McCain has performed with regard to his party's intolerant Christian fundamentalist base resists easy calculation. Recall that in 2000, when faced with religious-right attacks on his campaign, McCain labeled Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance" and "corrupting influences on religion and politics." This time around, he happily went to kiss the late Reverend Falwell's ring with a speech at Falwell's Liberty University.

Let's take a moment to sum up: the anti-torture candidate supports torture. The pro-immigration candidate opposes immigration. The candidate who opposes tax cuts for the rich supports them. The pro-campaign finance reform candidate has a campaign that is run almost exclusively by lobbyists, and exploits loopholes in the law to skirt spending limits--even the laws the candidate wrote. The candidate who opposes "agents of intolerance" in the Republican Party embraces them. The candidate with the foreign policy experience frequently confuses Sunnis and Shiites and misreads Iranian influence in the region, but is proposing permanent war. The candidate who claims to be a fiscal conservative wants to bust the budget. The candidate who claims to take global warming seriously does not want to take any serious action to address it.

In light of this evidence--as well as much, much more that space does not permit discussion of here--it is difficult not to conclude that the figure with whom so many mainstream journalists are infatuated is largely an invention of their collective imagination, one they often admit they love not because of what he says and does but because they--as with George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin--can discern what lies in his heart. Recall that the liberal Nicholas Kristof professes to admire McCain because the candidate "truly has principles that he bends or breaks out of desperation and with distaste. That's preferable to politicians who are congenital invertebrates." This is a view echoed by New York Times Magazine political correspondent Matt Bai, who explains, "Like every politician I've known, McCain will sometimes surrender to the cheap ploy or prevarication when the moment demands it, but it is often with a smirk or a wince, some hard-to-miss signal that he knows he's up to no good."

Perhaps the most impressively convoluted defense of McCain comes from Slate editor Jacob Weisberg. In his April 2006 article "The Closet McCain," Weisberg attacks those of us on what he calls "the literal-minded left" for getting "McCain all wrong." His history, his voting record, his speeches, his promises constitute merely what Weisberg terms "a stratagem--the only one, in fact, that gives him a shot at surviving a Republican presidential primary." The real McCain, he promises, will come "roaring back" once he dispatches the distasteful process of "building bridges to Bush and the evangelicals." On what does Weisberg base his self-confidence? "If you watch closely, you still catch plenty of signals that the old new McCain isn't dead, just hiding out. He continues to take on the president and his own party where it matters to him, on the use of torture in the war on terrorism and on immigration, where he sponsored a bill with Ted Kennedy to allow millions of illegal immigrants to become citizens."

Of course, McCain has disowned those positions together with almost everything else with which Weisberg credits him. But not to worry, Weisberg promises. "The Bull Moose has temporarily turned into a performing elephant. But the Moose will be back--around March 2008."

Here it is, summertime already, and we are still waiting. But be patient, dear reader. After all, when was the last time bigfoot reporters and pundits steered you wrong by advising you to ignore significant policy differences between two candidates and the two parties they represent and to trust instead in the steady "determination" and heartfelt "moderation" of a Republican candidate for President?

About Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is also "The Liberal Media" columnist for The Nation, a senior fellow and "Altercation" weblogger for Media Matters for America, (formerly at in Washington, DC, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, where he writes and edits the "Think Again" column, a senior fellow (since 1985) at the World Policy Institute at The New School in New York, and a history consultant to HBO Films.


About George Zornick

George Zornick is a New York City writer

Progressives for Obama

Tom Hayden, Bill Fletcher Jr., Danny Glover & Barbara Ehrenreich

All American progressives should unite for Barack Obama. We descend from the proud tradition of independent social movements that have made America a more just and democratic country. We believe that the movement today supporting Barack Obama continues this great tradition of grassroots participation, drawing millions of people out of apathy and into participation in the decisions that affect all our lives. We believe that Barack Obama's very biography reflects the positive potential of the globalization process that also contains such grave threats to our democracy when shaped only by the narrow interests of private corporations in an unregulated global marketplace. We should instead be globalizing the values of equality, a living wage and environmental sustainability in the new world order, not hoping our deepest concerns will be protected by trickle-down economics or charitable billionaires. By its very existence, the Obama campaign will stimulate a vision of globalization from below.

As progressives, we believe this sudden and unexpected new movement is just what America needs. The future has arrived. The alternative would mean a return to the dismal status quo party politics that has failed so far to deliver peace, healthcare, full employment and effective answers to crises like global warming.

During past progressive peaks in our political history--the late thirties, the early sixties--social movements have provided the relentless pressure and innovative ideas that allowed centrist leaders to embrace visionary solutions. We find ourselves in just such a situation today.

We intend to join and engage with our brothers and sisters in the vast rainbow of social movements to come together in support of Obama's unprecedented campaign and candidacy. Even though it is candidate-centered, there is no doubt that the campaign is a social movement, one greater than the candidate himself ever imagined.

Progressives can make a difference in close primary races like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Oregon and Puerto Rico and in the November general election. We can contribute our dollars. We have the proven online capacity to reach millions of swing voters in the primary and general election. We can and will defend Obama against negative attacks from any quarter. We will seek Green support against the claim of some that there are no real differences between Obama and McCain. We will criticize any efforts by Democratic superdelegates to suppress the winner of the popular and delegate votes, or to legitimize the flawed elections in Michigan and Florida. We will make our agenda known at the Democratic National Convention and fight for a platform emphasizing progressive priorities as the path to victory.

Obama's March 18 speech on racism was as great a speech as ever given by a presidential candidate, revealing a philosophical depth, personal authenticity, and political intelligence that should convince any but the hardest of ideologues that he carries unmatched leadership potentials for overcoming the divide-and-conquer tactics that have sundered Americans since the first slaves arrived here in chains.

Only words? What words they were.

However, the fact that Barack Obama openly defines himself as a centrist invites the formation of this progressive force within his coalition. Anything less could allow his eventual drift towards the right as the general election approaches. It was the industrial strikes and radical organizers in the 1930s who pushed Roosevelt to support the New Deal. It was the civil rights and student movements that brought about voting rights legislation under Lyndon Johnson and propelled Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy's antiwar campaigns. It was the original Earth Day that led Richard Nixon to sign environmental laws. And it will be the Obama movement that will make it necessary and possible to end the war in Iraq, renew our economy with a populist emphasis, and confront the challenge of global warming.

We should not only keep the pressure on but also connect the issues that Barack Obama has made central to his campaign into an overarching progressive vision.

  •The Iraq War must end as rapidly as possible, not in five years.

All our troops must be withdrawn. Diplomacy and trade must replace further military occupation or military escalation into Iran and Pakistan. We should not stop urging Barack Obama to avoid leaving American advisers behind in Iraq in a counterinsurgency quagmire like Afghanistan today or Central America in the 1970s and 1980s. Nor should he simply transfer American combat troops from the quagmire in Iraq to the quagmire in Afghanistan.

 • Iraq cannot be separated from our economic crisis.

Iraq is costing trillions of dollars that should be invested in jobs, universal healthcare, education, housing and public works here at home. Our own Gulf Coast requires the attention and funds now spent on Gulf oil.

 • Iraq cannot be separated from our energy crisis.

We are spending an unheard-of $100/barrel for oil. We are officially committed to wars over oil supplies far into the future. We instead need a war against global warming and for energy independence from Middle Eastern police states and multinational corporations.

Progressives should support Obama's sixteen-month combat troop withdrawal plan in comparison to Clinton's open-ended one, and demand that both candidates avoid a slide into four more years of low-visibility counterinsurgency.

The Democratic candidates should listen more to the blunt advice of the voters instead of the timid talk of their national security advisers. Two-thirds of American voters, and a much higher percentage of Democrats, oppose this war and favor withdrawal in less than two years, nearly half of them in less than one year. The same percentage believe the war has had a negative effect on life in the United States, while only 15 percent believe the war has been positive. Without this solid peace sentiment, neither Obama nor Clinton would be taking the stands they do today.

Further, the battered and abused people of Iraq favor an American withdrawal by a 70 percent margin.

The American government's arrogant defiance of these strong popular majorities in both America and Iraq should be ended this November by a powerful peace mandate.

The profound transition from the policies of the past will not be easy, and fortunately the Obama campaign is lifted by the fresh wind of change. We seek not only to change the faces in high places, however, but to save our country from slow death by greed, status quo politics and loss of vision. The status quo cannot stand much longer, neither that of politics-as-usual nor that of our security, energy and economic policies. We are stealing from the next generation's future, and living on borrowed time.

The Bush Administration has replaced the cold war with the "war on terrorism," led by the same military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned against. The reality and public fear of terrorism today is no less real than fear of communism and nuclear annihilation a generation ago. But we simply cannot continue multiple military interventions in many Muslim countries without increasing the vast number of violent jihadists against us, bleeding our military and our economy, becoming more dependent on Middle East oil, creating unsavory alliances with police states, shrinking our own civil liberties and putting ourselves at permanent risk of another 9/11 attack.

We need a brave turn towards peace and conflict resolution in the Middle East and the Muslim world. Getting out of Iraq, sponsoring a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, ending alliances with police states in the Arab world, unilaterally initiating real energy independence and moving the world away from the global warming crises are the steps that must be taken.

Nor can we impose NAFTA-style trade agreements on so many nations that seek only to control their own national resources and economic destinies. We cannot globalize corporate and financial power over democratic values and institutions. Since the Clinton Administration pushed through NAFTA against the Democratic majority in Congress, one Latin American nation after another has elected progressive governments that reject US trade deals and hegemony. We are isolated in Latin America by our cold war and drug war crusades, by the $500 million counterinsurgency in Columbia, support for the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela and the ineffectual blockade of Cuba. We need to return to the Good Neighbor policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, policies that rejected Yankee military intervention and accepted Mexico's right to nationalize its oil in the face of industry opposition. The pursuit of NAFTA-style trade policies inflames our immigration crisis as well, by uprooting countless campesinos who inevitably seek low-wage jobs north of the border in order to survive. We need balanced and democratically approved trade agreements that focus on the needs of workers, consumers and the environment. The Banana Republic is a retail chain, not an American colony protected by the Monroe Doctrine.

We are pleased that Hillary Clinton has been responsive to the tide of voter opinion this year, and we applaud the possibility of at last electing an American woman President. But progressives should be disturbed by her duplicitous positions on Iraq and NAFTA. She still denies that her 2002 vote for legislation that was called the war authorization bill was a vote for war authorization. She now promises to "end the war" but will not set a timeline for combat troop withdrawal, and remains committed to leaving tens of thousands of counter-terrorism troops and trainers in Iraq amidst a sectarian conflict. While Obama needs to clarify his own position on counterinsurgency, Clinton's "end the war" rhetoric conceals an open commitment to keep American troops in Iraq until all our ill-defined enemies are defeated--a treadmill that guarantees only the spawning of more enemies. On NAFTA, she claims to have opposed the trade deal behind closed doors when she was first lady. But the public record, and documents recently disclosed in response to litigation, prove that she was a cheerleader for NAFTA against the strong opposition of rank-and-file Democrats. The Clintons ushered in the Wall Street Democrats whose deregulation ethos has widened inequality while leaving millions of Americans without their rightful protections against market shocks.

Clinton's most bizarre claim is that Obama is unqualified to be commander-in-chief. Clinton herself never served in the military, and has no experience in the armed services apart from the Senate armed services committee. Her husband had no military experience before becoming President. In fact, he was a draft opponent during Vietnam, a stance we respected. She was the first lady, and he the governor, of one of our smallest states. They brought no more experience, and arguably less, to the White House than Obama would in 2009.

We take very seriously the argument that Americans should elect a first woman President, and we abhor the surfacing of sexism in this supposedly post-feminist era. But none of us would vote for Condoleezza Rice as either the first woman or first African-American President. We regret that the choice divides so many progressive friends and allies, but believe that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be a Clinton presidency all over again, not a triumph of feminism but a restoration of the aging, power-driven Wall Street Democratic hawks at a moment when so much more fresh imagination is possible and needed. A Clinton victory could only be achieved by the dashing of hope among millions of young people on whom a better future depends. The style of the Clintons' attacks on Obama, which are likely to escalate as her chances of winning decline, already risks losing too many Democratic and independent voters in November. We believe that the Hillary Clinton of 1968 would be an Obama volunteer today, just as she once marched in the snows of New Hampshire for Eugene McCarthy against the Democratic establishment.

We did not foresee the exciting social movement that is the Obama campaign. Many of us supported other candidates, or waited skeptically as weeks and months passed. But the closeness of the race makes it imperative that everyone on the sidelines, everyone in doubt, everyone vascillating, everyone fearing betrayals and the blasting of hope, everyone quarreling over political correctness, must join this fight to the finish. Not since Robert Kennedy's 1968 campaign has there been a passion to imagine the world anew like the passion and unprecedented numbers of people mobilized in this campaign. For more information, go to

About Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden is the author of The Other Side (1966, with Staughton Lynd), The Love of Possession Is a Disease With Them (1972), Ending the War in Iraq (2007) and Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader (2008). more...

About Bill Fletcher Jr.

Bill Fletcher Jr. originated the call for founding "Progressives for Obama." He is the executive editor of Black Commentator, and founder of the Center for Labor Renewal. more...

About Danny Glover

Danny Glover, a longtime human rights activist and internationally recognized actor, is the chairman of the board of directors of TransAfrica Forum. more...

About Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of Nickel and Dimed (Owl),

March 24, 2008

Costa Rica and Obama

The Obama Appeal in Costa Rica


Robert Newby

Some may have noticed that updates to the blog have been a bit slow lately. I just spent two weeks in Costa Rica. Being there put me outside the loop in a couple of ways: access to the news cycle was limited by no access to daily papers and the Internet was very slow. Access to U.S. news was Fox News 24/7 and the network broadcast feeds from the Denver. The flooding in Iowa and the Midwest was a disheartening story. But imagine in the second and third week of June the Ski Train running from Denver to the snow

More to the point, while there is lot to be learned about Costa Rica as a travel destination, I was most struck be the enthusiasm there for the candidacy of Barack Obama. I usually wore some Obama paraphernalia, usually a baseball cap but often a t-shirt. I was not always conscious of what was provoking smiles but it would become clear when out of their mouths were words like “Obama, si!!!” or “We like Obama”

Even though Costa Rica is one of the more well-off countries in Latin America, its level of development means that the standard of living for its people leaves many desperate. The Central Pacific Region is quite remote from the nation’s cultural and political center, San Jose. Being remote, however, has not kept the news of Obama from either the Costa Ricans or the tourists.

The enthusiasm for Obama in Costa Rica was amazing. Being greeted with a smile was commonplace, even from people who said nothing. At the condominiums where we stayed were these two older white couples from Indiana. They were farmers who have visited this condo near Quespos every year for ten years. The spokesperson for the group stated his approval for Obama but he seemed to be a Republican. I queried whether or not Obama would win Indiana. He said he didn’t know but that Indiana was a Republican state. My response was an assertion that Obama going to take Indiana. He said:

“I agree. I think he will. I think he is going to take all 50 states.”

I later found out that for the primary he had been a Hillary supporter. He wanted to better understand the tensions between African Americans and the Clintons. I explained that some unwitting comments distorted what the Clintons may have intended. He seemed satisfied and assured me that he believed Obama would take them all.

Our tour guide for the Manuel Antonio National Park was very interested in U.S. politics. He was no casual observer. His mother is Cherokee and his father a Costa Rican. Though born in the States, he has lived in Costa Rica for the last 30 years, since he was 15. His 10-year son who lives in North Carolina joined us. Talk about an eagle-eye? Fauna, no matter how well disguised, this kid would point them out. His father, the tour guide was a real Obama supporter. He loved Jeremiah Wright and he thought Rev. Pfleger deserved an Oscar. He understood the impolitics of it all but those were his memorable moments. Understand also the only 24/7 U. S. news is Fox News.

Many of the American tourists were also high on Obama. I saw several Obama t-shirts, which was in itself heartening. The area is run amuck with backpackers. Manuel Antonio is for young people. At the Internet café, apart from Skype conversations, and being startled by the loss of Tim Russert, news was often some Obama update. At a popular restaurant, there was this shout from across the room from this one young 20 something wearing a University of Washington t-shirt, "Right on, Obama!” He went on to say, “My brother moved to Chicago to work for him."

A visit a bit north along the coast to Jaco, the enthusiasm for Obama remained. At a souvenir shop the owner wanted me to know that “Obama is the best.” She went on to say, “I want you to know the young people really like him. He is going to win. He’s going to win because the young people like him. I mean the white young people!!! He will be better for all of us.”

Apart from the Americans, many of Costa Rica’s tourists are Europeans. The International appeal of Obama was in the air. They all seemed to be pulling for Obama. As I was going through security in San Jose on my return, this shout came out "Right on Obama! We have got to get him… no, you have got to get him elected. I can't vote for him. I am Canadian!"

An interesting political side note: a popular restaurant and bar is El Avion (“The Plane”). The plane, including its hull, is themed around the C.I.A. plane piloted by Eugene Hasenfass that was shot down by the Sandinistas during the Contra Affair. The food was very good and the view is great No doubt a part of Obama’s appeal in the region is America’s imperial history.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Novak on the Rise in "Obamacons"

Two Big Obamacons?

By Robert Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- What is an "Obamacon?" The phrase surfaced in January to describe British Conservatives entranced by Barack Obama. On March 13, the American Spectator broadened the term to cover all "conservative supporters" of the Democratic presidential candidate. Their ranks, though growing, feature few famous people. But looming on the horizon are two big potential Obamacons: Colin Powell and Chuck Hagel.

Neither Powell, first-term secretary of state for George W. Bush, nor Hagel, retiring after two terms as U.S. senator from Nebraska, has endorsed Obama. Hagel probably never will. Powell likely will enter Obama's camp at a time of his own choosing. The best bet is that neither of the two 2000 and 2004 supporters of President Bush will back John McCain in 2008.

Powell, Hagel and lesser-known Obamacons harbor no animosity toward McCain. Nor do they show much affection for the rigidly liberal Obama. The Obamacon syndrome is based on hostility to Bush and his administration, and revulsion over today's Republican Party. The danger for McCain is that desire for a therapeutic electoral bloodbath can get out of control.

That danger was highlighted in a June New Republic article on "the rise of the Obamacons" by supply-side economist and author Bruce Bartlett, a middle-level official in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. He expressed "disgust with a Republican Party that still does not see how badly George W. Bush has misgoverned this country" -- echoing his scathing 2006 book, "Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy." While Bartlett says, "I'm not ready to join the other side," his anti-Bush furor characterizes the Obamacons.

The prototypical Obamacon may be Larry Hunter, familiar inside the Washington Beltway as an ardent supply-sider. When it became known recently that Hunter supports Obama, fellow conservatives were stunned. Hunter was fired as U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief economist in 1993 when he would not swallow Clinton administration policy, and later joined Jack Kemp at Empower America (ghostwriting Kemp's column). Explaining his support for the uncompromising liberal Obama, Hunter blogged on June 6: "The Republican Party is a dead rotting carcass with a few decrepit old leaders stumbling around like zombies in a horror version of Weekend With Bernie, handcuffed to a corpse."

While he never would use such language, Colin Powell is said by friends to share Hunter's analysis of the GOP. His tenuous 13-year relationship with the Republican Party, following his retirement from the Army, has ended. The national security adviser for Ronald Reagan left the present administration bitter about being ushered out of the State Department a year earlier than he wanted. As an African-American, friends say, Powell is sensitive to racial attacks on Obama and especially on his wife Michelle. While McCain strategists shrug off defections from Bruce Bartlett and Larry Hunter, they wince in anticipating headlines generated by Powell's expected endorsement of Obama.

While Powell may not be a legitimate Obamacon because he never was much of a conservative, that cannot be said for his close Senate friend Hagel. He has built a solidly conservative record as a senator, but mutual friends see no difference between him and the general on Iraq, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, George W. Bush and the Republican Party. In a speech today (Thursday) at the Brookings Institution, Hagel was expected to urge both Obama and McCain to reach out to each other. At the least, Hagel is not ready to strap on armor for his longtime political ally and office neighbor, John McCain.

Published reports listing additional Obamacons do not add up to tides of conservative Republicans leaving their party. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker is a Democrat who entered government in the Kennedy administration. Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams (an African-American) leads me to believe that he has no intention of endorsing Obama. Conservative author Richard J. Whalen is for Obama because he sees a dead Republican Party, but he also was for John Kerry in 2004.

Nevertheless, Obamacons -- little and big -- are reason for concern by McCain. It also should cause soul-searching at the Bush White House to ponder who made the Republican Party so difficult a place for Republicans to stay.

Copyright 2008, Creators Syndicate Inc.

Maulana Karenga On the Obama Nomination

Obama’s Nomination: The Meaning and Measure of the Historical Moment

Dr. Maulana Karenga

The difficulty of defining and understanding the meaning and measure of a given historical moment lies not only in the complexity and sheer number of factors which shape it, but also in the power and penchant of the established order for interpreting each meaningful historical moment in the most shamelessly self-referential and self-congratulatory way. The presumptive nomination of Barack Obama for president by the Democratic Party is clearly a historical moment of considerable meaning, but it is neither God-sent nor conclusive proof or automatic promise of significant social or systemic change. Even if Obama is also elected, it will not come without customary center-seeking and constituency-pleasing compromises which will tend to run counter to the original promise of real change as already witnessed. And perhaps, it will even carry with it results of greater benefit to the established order than to those who seek and struggle to change it.

Indeed, the established order has already begun to advertise Obama’s nomination itself as iron-clad evidence of the end of racism and the beginning of a new era; compelling proof of the possibility of unlimited upward movement and an unimpeachable testimony and testament to the
superior character of U.S. society. So before the media’s customary mystification of the historical moment and allied “expert” analysts define the achievement and interpret its meaning in the image and interests of the established order, it is important to offer a more critical, correct and multidimensional understanding of its meaning and measure.

Indeed, this is truly a significant multifaceted moment of history which like a newly cut gem offers numerous aspects and insights of possibilities and problems from various vantage points. It is clearly a shared moment for all progressive people, especially people of color within this country and the world who see in this not only a symbol of success, but also, and with young people, a real reason to hope and cooperatively work on projects of common concern and common good in the world. The campaign and an allied movement offer an opportunity for us
and peoples around the world to move beyond war and the worship of wealth, build peace, practice sharing resources instead of resource robbery, establish justice for all people, repair the planet and leave a life-enhancing legacy for future generations.

It is obviously a bittersweet moment for the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, former minister, father-mentor and advisor to Obama, and a man of heavy weight and worth in society and the world, and for his church, Trinity United Church of Christ, source of the Obama family’s spiritual and
moral grounding and social and political coming-into-being who now cannot welcome him in triumph. For the media miscast Rev. Wright as the man who would sink Obama’s post-racial ship, wreck it on the rocks of the racial fears of Whites, and by not showing appropriate remorse for talking Old Testament talk of social justice and judgment in the midst of “New Times” talk of being blessed by seeking Caesar’s riches and respect.

Moreover, it is an ambivalent moment for White power holders, those addicted to racial deference and privilege, and those who never had to really share wealth and power. They support Obama’s providing a moral mask and message to involve youth, reinvolve the disaffected and present a new face to the world in the midst of the country’s moral, financial and political decline in the world, but they are apprehensive about unintended consequences.

It is certainly a fear-and-loathing moment for racists and the rightwing, some of whom who not only cling in bitterness to racialized religion and guns as alternative gods, but also hold desperately to a “master” narrative which requires White supremacy as an article of faith, a fact of politics and a certainty of daily life. And finally, it is an unfinished moment for all of us who appreciate the moment, but know the difference between symbol and substance, between a man and a movement, and between change of administration and change of the way wealth, power and status are shared and distributed in this country and the world and thus the resultant need for the continuation and intensification of struggle.

It is clear that above all, this is a special moment for Africans, especially African Americans, bringing them a profound sense of victory and vindication. It represents victory first in their serving as the indispensable element and firmest foundation in the bringing of this moment into being. For if they had not turned away from the early advice of many Black leaders who urged allegiance to the Clintons and instead closed ranks (95%) around Obama he could not have and would not have won as was clear from South Carolina on.

It is victory also in that it represents a notable marker on the long road to freedom, justice, equality and shared power in spite of the ruts and road blocks in the way, not only to the White House, but also in the conduct and shaping of our daily lives. Thus, praise is due here not to
society for its claimed available opportunities, but to Black people who carved out of the hard rock of racial and social realities, space to build, grow and achieve in and who showed the will and did the work to overcome all kinds of obstacles and make varied and unbelievable gains
in spite of the lack and limitations of claimed opportunities by others.

Finally, there is a sense of victory in seeing this nomination and anticipated election as a person and people’s move thru history from the lowest position in society to holding its highest office. And in this they find a sense of vindication, a justification by history and heaven; a clearing away of racist claims of defect and deficiency and the reaffirmation of our dignity and identity as African people.

But it is also a moment of great meaning for Black people because they see it as one of their own who has chosen and been chosen to bring a new politics to the country and hopefully the world. And in the spirit and historical tradition of our ancestors like King, Bethune and Malcolm, we
thus must not accept an assignment as socially unacceptable relatives, relegated to silent support and subject to sermons and lectures on right living by candidates to make Whites feel comfortable and correct in their stereotypical assumptions. On the contrary, we must act as we are, central not only to the campaign, but also to any serious reconception and reconstruction of this country in the interest of human good.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, Professor of Africana Studies, California State University-Long Beach, Chair of The Organization Us, Creator of Kwanzaa, and author of Kawaida and Questions of Life and Struggle: African American, Pan-African and Global Issues, [ and].

Unite for Change

Clinton, Obama: So happy together
By: Carrie Budoff Brown
June 28, 2008 12:20 AM EST

UNITY, N.H. — At a rally staged in a field of wildflowers, in a town so small that some residents of this state had never heard of it, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton attempted to show Friday that if they could put months of divisive campaigning behind them, so too should their supporters.

The joint appearance under a strong summer sun capped a choreographed six-hour trip that started in Washington with a kiss between former rivals on an airport tarmac and ended in a rural New Hampshire outpost that attracted a crowd larger than the population of the town.

Shortly after 1 p.m., Obama and Clinton emerged from Unity Elementary School, flanked by photographers who captured them smiling and strolling their way to the gathering of more than 4,000 people. When it was time for their introduction, Obama worked the line first and she followed.

It took three renditions of U2’s “Beautiful Day” for them to make it to the stage.

From the name of the town to their complementary wardrobes (his blue tie matched her pantsuit), the day was a harmonious and near-flawless public reconciliation after the most hard-fought primary campaign in a generation.

“Unity is not only a beautiful place as we can see, it’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it?” Clinton said as soon as she stepped to the microphone. “And I know when we start here in this field in Unity, we’ll end on the steps of the Capitol when Barack Obama takes the oath of office as our next president.”

Obama returned the praise, saying more than once that he needs her and former President Bill Clinton on his side.

“I’ve admired her as a leader, I’ve learned from her as a candidate, I am proud to call her my friend,” he said, “and I know how much we’ll need both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton as a party and a country in the months and years to come.”

Obama and Clinton met Friday in front of the cameras at Reagan National Airport, where their motorcades arrived simultaneously. He pecked her on the cheek and they boarded his campaign plane, sitting together through the flight. On the hour-long bus ride from the airport to Unity, the senators reminisced, said David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist.

“It was very warm,” he said.

On stage, Clinton didn’t break her smile when the crowd chanted “Yes we can,” Obama’s signature call. And Obama egged on an audience member who yelled, “Hillary rocks.”

“She rocks,” Obama repeated. “That’s the point I’m trying to make.”

But if there was unity on stage, it wasn’t uniform throughout the crowd.

Two women held “Hillary for President” signs above their heads during the speeches. One of them, who stuffed bits of napkins into her ears while Obama spoke, intermittently yelled out her disapproval: “We want Hillary!”

Other women admitted to heavy hearts about the outcome. They came to Unity from Pennsylvania and Connecticut and Vermont to watch her body language and to hear her words. They were looking for clues that she’s moving on, so they can, too.

“I’m disappointed that she was not the candidate,” said Mary Ann Allsop, 51, a resident of Concord, N.H., who said she almost wore her “Hillary” button. “I still think she should have been.”

When asked whether she would vote for Obama, Allsop considered the thought for a few minutes before replying yes.

Clinton attempted to reel in the disaffected.

“To anyone who voted for me and is now considering not voting or voting for Sen. McCain, I strongly urge you to reconsider,” she said.

She encouraged her supporters to join Obama “to create an unstoppable force for change we can believe in.”

“I know that he’ll work for you,” Clinton said. “He’ll fight for you, and he’ll stand up for you every single day in the White House.”

The reunion of two political titans could not have been staged in a more secluded spot — in a town with no stop lights, one general store and residents who prize the isolation. The biggest event of the year is a festival with a cast-iron skillet toss. The honorary mayor, Ken Hall, wore a pair of suspenders and new sneakers he bought for the occasion.

“I am a life-long Republican, and I voted for Sen. McCain,” Hall said. “But I may be part of this change.”

By Wednesday night, the owner of the general store, Will’s Place, had resorted to chasing TV reporters out of the parking lot because they were scaring away his regular customers.

“People move here because they like their privacy,” said Cheri LeMere, 39, a clerk at Will’s Place for 11 years. “I can’t see someone living here who wants to be noticed.”

The Obama campaign picked Unity for its name and its dead-even results in the primary: Clinton received 107 votes, as did Obama. Someone in New Hampshire brought the town to the attention of campaign manager David Plouffe, and aides fixated on making Unity the site of their premier unity event — despite the extraordinary logistical hurdles.

The campaign created a rally site out of an elementary school field by trucking in bleachers, American flags and giant letters that spelled “UNITY.”

The 4,000 people who showed up were bused from remote locations. They began arriving at dawn, and it took hours to transport everybody to Unity and hours more for them to make it back to their cars. The lines were long for the security searches, the food truck and the porta-potties.

They came and stood for hours under a scorching sun for different reasons.

Some wanted to witness history. Some wanted closure, and others wanted a glimpse of Obama, their choice from the start. Like the more than 300 journalists who decamped here, they looked for body language and other hints of whether Obama and Clinton's chemistry is real, whether unity is possible between these former competitors.

Miren Etcheverry, 53, a former Hillary supporter who still wishes she had prevailed, said she was slowly converting.

“On a scale of one to 10, I’m a six and a half,” she said, “and rising.”

© 2008 Capitol News Company,