A Month Later… The Campaign
With McCain and Palin plunging in the polls which now give Obama-Biden a 6-7 point edge, Sarah Palin has taken the even lower road of her traditionally gutter politics, resorting to red-baiting – the kind of guilt-by-association smears which have long been a part of the American political tradition, especially since the McCarthyite period of the 1950s (although it began much earlier). Both in California and here in Colorado yesterday, Palin began a campaign to associate Obama with Bill Ayres, a former SDS Weatherman from Chicago who, with Bernadine Dorn, remains active in radical fringe politics in Chicago.
It turns out that Ayres and Obama served on some community boards together and on occasion found themselves on the same panels. Hardly the stuff to make such noise about but as the purpose of guilt by association charges is to cast credibility shadows over candidates Palin has decided to get as much mileage out of this as possible. She’s building on the fact that in his memoirs, Ayres makes not much of his distant association with Obama.
Ayres’ politics have moderated considerably over forty years. He’s written a few book on public education and has remained active – if somewhat obsolete – in Chicago politics. Dorn, who does not seem to have learned much from her 60s-70s political experiences, now a professor, has been able to maintain a bit of a media presence for no good reason I can tell. She often appears with a number of other washed out, burnt out left overs of the sixties and seventies – Kathleen Cleaver, Ward Churchill and Company, and others all of whom didn’t organize very much in their day but knew how to play the media well enough. They still do.
Gutter Politics Again
I would be surprised if the Obama-Ayres connection gets much traction and will sway voters much.
It is a terribly warn out tactic. Ayres wasn’t particularly important or influential in his Weatherman days and thus, to make a case of the connection requires exaggerating his role in the movement at that time (and that of the Weathermen). He’s gone on to do some interesting local organizing in Chicago and his writings on the challenges of teaching in the Chicago public school system are worth reading. Anyhow that isn’t the point. The point is to link Obama in whatever way possible with Osama Bin Laden and terrorism. The attempts have been ludicrous – the attacks on his former minister, the fact that his middle name is `Hussein’, his tangential relationship in Hawaii with an organizer from the Communist Party USA, and now making noise about Ayres.
Just the crudest form of gutter politics now based upon the latest style of American racism: anti-Arab and anti-Islamic racism, which permeates the national political scene. Of course it’s quite a stretch to connect Ayres to Osama Bin Laden. But, based upon the logic that all terrorist roads lead to the Saudi construction multi-millionaire, Republican strategists are confident that simply the accusation of such links will take away votes from Obama in swing states. They are banking on historical precedent, with a deep faith in the political stupidity of the American people to believe anything they hear. And even if the American people don’t believe every lie Palin tells, it will have an impact, due to some confusion among voters who are simply not sure how to separate fact from fiction. That is the main goal. It is not necessary to prove the point, merely to create enough doubt so as to influence voting patterns. ie…Obama might not be a Moslem because his middle name is Hasan..but then again, why would he have such a middle name? (A common middle name in Africa).
Palin’s role since her coming out party at the Republican Party Convention has been two fold – first to take the attention off of McCain’s sagging image and to create the impression that Obama is running against Palin and not McCain. This approach worked for a while but appears to be losing traction. Secondly it was to launch the kind of racist personalized attack against Obama that McCain would like to do himself but has been advised not to. So Palin becomes, as it has been described, `McCain’s pitbull.’ She gives the impression to every rightwing Christian fundamentalist bigot in America that they too have a chance to reach high office in America at a time when the `Blacks’ are taking over. The message, even before Palin opens her mouth (for the campaign’s sake she’s better off not doing that) is: “look what we’re losing – people like me – white working class Christians – and look what we’re gaining `a black whose middle name is Hussein and who pals around with bomb-throughing radicals. ” In other words, in that great Republican tradition, her candidacy plays primarily – no uniquely – on fear.
The Functional Idiot Syndrome
And for a while it looked like the strategy just might stick. After all, look at the warm welcome that the country and the media gave early on to Palin’s nomination, energizing the Republican religious conservative base. As for `historical precedent’ – the pace setters in this respect include Ronald Reagan, Dan Quayle, and of course our current disaster, George Bush. If people with such low intellectual thresholds could reach the highest two offices of the United States, why not Palin, who rivals Quayle in coming as close to a functional idiot as any figure in modern American political history?
As she tries to connect with America’s working people in order to peel off some of those `Reagan Democrats’ for McCain, what I find most striking about Palin is her great sense of pride and confidence in her own ignorance. In her recent debate with Joe Biden she basically showed, once again, that given the opportunity to give `a heavily rehearsed performance’, she has what it takes to throw out one-liner, excelling at reading other people’s scripts. As the Financial Times aptly put it “With more `darn it’ and `say it ain’t so, Joe’ quips in 90 minutes than has been heard during the entire campaign, the Alaska governor’s folksy showing put an end to the the media’s `Palin death watch’.
McCain’s `Palin Horse Stumbles’
Perhaps she got a little bump, but all the same, Palin’s star is falling and fast and her popularity appears to have been short-lived. As that happens, McCain’s chances of riding the Palin horse to victory evaporate before our very eyes and will continue to do so as John McCain has proven himself to be little more than Palin without boobs – a shallow, right wing politican, a militarist of the first order without much knowledge of foreign policy (like Bush), a man with an explosive temper who really doesn’t have very many ideas of his own and has proven something of an embarrassment whenever he’s been carted out to defend himself. In short – a lightweight who will, like Bush be something of a front man for policy makers behind the scenes, the Cheneys of the future.
A number of factors come into play – among them the weakened position of the Christian fundamentalist right whom she represents combined with the bigger issues – the unknown dimension of the ever-deepening financial crisis (despite the bailout) and although McCain and the Republicans would like to argue otherwise – what continues to be a failed policy in Iraq, the virtual collapse of the US backed government in Afghanistan, the burgeoning crisis in Pakistan and the inability of the Bush Administration to make any progress whatsoever on resolving the Israeli Palestinian crisis.
Will Americans Vote Against Their Class Interests Again?
One of the great successes of the Republicans since Ronald Reagan has been to get the American people to vote against their own class interests. My speculation is this results from the fact that the united States, is/was the most powerful economy in the world where, even the situation of the working class and poor has often been much better than that of people in other countries. It is not that the economy did not count, it simply did not count for as much and people could be peeled off to vent their anger on this or that exotic issues (gun control, abortion, Israel, charter schools). Of course some of that continues, but as the economic crisis deepens it appears that more and more it will take center stage in the minds of people.
The fact of the matter is the McCain-Palin campaign is going poorly on every count. Short of funds McCain had to pull campaign resources out of Michigan. Worse states that looked `in the bag’ – Florida and Indiana – are no longer in that category. Likewise in North Carolina, Virginia and here in Colorado McCain’s support appears to be slipping. The rise in unemployment with 159,000 Americans losing jobs last month didn’t help him either. But nothing hurt him more than his completely inept handling of the financial crisis. The realities of American life are wiping the smirks off of McCain and Palin’s faces and the fears that many had of a McCain-Palin Administration no longer seem so dire.
Let the McCain-Palin crumbling begin…if only so we can concentrate on how little an Obama-Biden Administration will be able to accomplish (but with a little more elbow room for us to maneuvre in)