McCain is not Leading, He’s Dissembling

September 25, 2008

There is simply no rational basis for believing that McCain’s latest hijinks are performed in good faith.  McCain is trying to leverage his declining political position by grandstanding on the national economic crisis.

Yesterday Obama called McCain in the morning with a proposal to join together in a statement about the economy, a statement of unity in righting the course.  Six hours later McCain called back to agree on the concept, then less than an hour after that McCain announces that the campaign is suspended so that he can attend to the national crisis.  He says that he is telling the president to call a meeting.

Characteristically he did not check with anyone about this, at least apparently no one outside his campaign; he just made another snap decision. (After all the Sarah Pallin blind leap turned out favorably, that is until her first interview.)   No one seemed to know what to make of McCain’s latest wild gamble and there was widespread fear that he would set negotiations back by dragging the campaign into the middle on-going negotiations.

It is hard to imagine how McCain’s presence — with him desperately needing to seem presidential — could have a favorable influence on the week-long negotiations over the economy, particularly when absolutely no one views him as having expertise in the area and he has no leadership role in this arena.  How could it help but turn the discussion toward partisanship?  Harry Reid upon hearing McCain’s announcement told him not to come.

Two huge questions emerge from this puzzling behavior.  First, if McCain really believes in good faith that the presidential candidates ought to suspend their campaigns to devote attention to Washington D.C. business, why did he not mention this when he and Obama talked about Obama’s idea to issue a joint statement on the economy?  After all he was going to call a press conference right after hanging up.  The press conference was more like a slap in Obama’s face than an expression of willingness to work together toward a common goal.

Second, if the situation is one that cries for McCain’s presence in Washington, why had he not spoken to anyone in Washington about it?  You would have expected a leader to have covered the groundwork and to have established how he could help and what he would do in advance of a declaration that the campaign for the presidency was being suspended.  Instead everyone was caught by surprise and many urged him not to come to Washington.  This is a very unusual brand of leadership.

In this instance McCain seems to be willing to risk progress in the resolution of a bailout for a chance at regaining a lead in the polls.

Democrates Capitulate: Agree to Retroactive Immunity

June 20, 2008

Democrats, according to Russ Feingold capitulated to Republicans and agreed to grant telecoms retroactive immunity and to expand authority for warrantless wiretap. Democrats appear to have lost a campaign issue with this and conceded to an unpopular position held by the minority party. It is very hard to imagine how this could have happened. This does little to avoid the image of the Democratic Party as a directionless whimp, lacking any sort of strength of leadership.

The Climate Security Act: Where are our Leaders?

June 6, 2008

The Senate could not muster the votes to block a filibuster of the Climate Security Act and with that Harry Reid took the bill off the floor, ending any realistic prospect of passing the first global warming legislation of note.

To some degree this fate is a product of the polarized atmosphere, not just in our Congress, but throughout the country. With roughly 80% of our senators claiming to be creationists (who tend to disregard scientific conclusions), the “base” oriented Republicans could not accept the bill without risking the alienation of critical constituents, including powerful utility companies. (This is the reason that McCain distanced himself from the bill after sponsoring it’s predecessor six years ago.)

On the other hand the bill’s heavy backing of the nuclear industry alienated many environmental groups and several senators in favor of legislation addressing global warming risked alienating environmental interests for backing the bill as it was presented on the floor.

Before it became the captive to various interest groups Congress was regarded as a sort of milieu of compromise. Congressional leaders were people who could get deals done through astute negotiations and compromise. Now, with the various rating systems which rate according to yes or no votes on designated bills, the notion of succeeding through compromise is being replaced by evaluation according to the zealous advocacy of special interests. This is a good example of how the people fare in such a system.

The Bill for National Service

June 3, 2008

As we all know the Iraq War was carefully orchestrated.  The McClellan book calls attention to the propaganda campaign that preceded the war and continues throughout the campaign.   The historical precedent that was probably examined for the use of media for manufacturing consent to the war, or the appearance of consent, was the Spanish-American War.

At the same time, great effort was made to create a situation in which Americans would not be affected by the war; it would be nothing more than a television program here, with the media there tightly controlled.  For the first time in history taxes were reduced as a war was launched.  Mercenaries were hired to conduct much of the war.  The economy here  benefited by the extensive us of contractors, formerly called war profiteers.

The military even manufactured stories to create warrior icons, insulting the family of Pat Tillman (which still fighting to get to the truth of the coverup) and embarrassing Jessica Lynch, who gave one of the most moving speeches imaginable to Congress when she disclaimed the lies that had been concocted about her.  This was all part of an effort to re-engineer many of the social influences that contributed to the anti-war movement that brought an end to the Viet Nam War.

Perhaps the most significant factor in boosting the anti-war movement of forty years ago was the draft.  College age men were forced to go to war, excluding people such as those comprising the current administration who exploited privilege or exemptions from service.  Others went to Canada, prison or became conscientious objectors.  The fabric of society was torn by the appropriation of people to fight the war.  When the war affected the lives of most people here, there was a great deal more concern about it and the reasons for it.  The volunteer army circumvents much of this.

Congressman Rangel is concerned that the volunteer army is disproportionately composed of the poor and people of color, people who do not have a strong voice in politics.   Congressman McDermott wants a system where people will care about policies that result in the deaths of huge numbers of innocent people.  Last week two independent surveyors estimated that over 1,200,000 innocent people have been killed in Iraq.  In propaganda jargon this is “collateral damage.”

The founding fathers were quite aware of the damage to the society that could be done by an unpopular war.  So they sought to built into their government’s framework structure that would avoid such a possibility.  One measure was to forbid a standing army.  This has gone into the historical dustbin.  Another was to give Congress the duty of appropriating money for any war.  James Madison in the Federalist Papers thought that this measure assured that there could never be an unpopular war in the United States.  We have seen this aspect of governmental checks and balances fail.

Jim McDermott and Charles Rangel have sponsored a bill that is intended to create a structural impediment to unpopular war.  Like the architects of the Iraq War, they used the Viet Nam War experience as a guide.  Their bill will institute a two year period of national service, military or other service.

The bill would require people between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service of some sort for two years.  McDermott at a speech at the University of Washington characterized the bill as an attempt to re-invest democracy in our society (where service is not born disproportionately by lower economic groups) and create a sense of community in the country.