Marathon man: for McCain, a final burst of enthusiasm

It seems fitting that John McCain woke up Sunday morning in a hotel populated with lanky runners getting ready to run the city’s marathon. This weekend was the very last mile of the presidential marathon, a race we’ve all been running so long we can’t remember what it feels like to walk.

To hear the senator’s campaign tell it, McCain is precisely where he wants to be in the final stretch. Never mind that Barack Obama is up ahead and sprinting.

“We think we can catch this guy,” said McCain adviser Mark Salter, sipping coffee during a smallish rally Saturday in Perkasie, Pa. He described his boss as upbeat.

“At the very end of the marathon, you get your second wind,” said McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, in one of the campaign’s two comedic appearances this weekend — the unplanned one. (McCain appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” while Palin was punk’d by a Canadian comedian pretending in a phone call to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy.) [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — John McCain’s willingness to fight a dirty campaign has been taken as indicative of his ruthless determination to win, but to my eye that determination has never been clearly evident. The tactics he has employed seem to say less about his core drives than they do about the lack of imagination in those around him.

When McCain says he’s exactly where he wants to be — fighting from behind — I take him at his word. He is far more comfortable as the underdog and the maverick than he is in coming out on top. When it came to being the scrappy fighter, McCain played the role while Hillary Clinton was the real thing.

Look at McCain on Saturday Night Live. He is more at ease standing next to Tina Fey than he is with his actual running mate.

Is this a man fighting for his political life? Far from it. It seems much more like a man who is quietly comfortable about returning to the Senate. Having given up on the sprint, his attention rests on the possibility of his post-defeat political resurrection.

Obamacon Jeffrey Hart

TDR: Is the Obamacon movement a product of the perceived failures of the Republican Party among certain conservatives?

JH: Yes.

TDR: Then Obama is in the right place at the right time?

JH: Yes. I had a discussion with Milton Friedman once. Milton always liked to start up arguments, and he almost never won them. We got to the pure food and drug act: too much regulation was his take, if you put out a bad product people won’t buy it, but what about if someone sells ketchup that has botulism in it? Milton says you can sue. But not if you’re dead of course. So that’s an argument he didn’t win. This is the position the Republican Party finds itself in.

TDR: When did you start supporting Senator Obama?

JH: He first attracted my attention, and everybody’s attention, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where he made a speech that was really stirring. Then I began to pay attention to him; this guy was a comer. The way Harold Ford of Tennessee is a comer too; he was beaten by the Republican slime machine in Tennessee. They used a racist ad about him, but he is as smart as Obama is.

As the race for president developed, I saw Obama down in Lebanon; he has both a charismatic personality and high intelligence. We face complicated problems particularly with the economy and foreign policy. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very complicated, relations everywhere are complicated: you have to be smart to figure this stuff out, and he’s smart. He’s much smarter than McCain, and McCain also has the Bush ideology. So it was no contest for me between Obama and McCain…

TDR: Do you think that Iraq is the most important issue in this election?

JH: Well, all the assumptions that inform the Iraq invasion are typical of misunderstood social realities, I think. Look at Iraq, at National Review or The Weekly Standard or all those papers that promoted the invasion—I never heard the word Sunni, Shiite, or Kurd in their editorials. It is tough to reconcile these factions in Iraq, if not impossible. I don’t think you have to be as vicious as Saddam, he was running a Sunni government, but to represent a minority in a country is difficult. You probably need a strong leader to rule Iraq, but until they have a looser federation, real problems will continue to plague the country.

TDR: So considering the importance of Iraq, how would you respond to those who suggest that Barack Obama lacks the military credentials that McCain possesses?

JH: You don’t need a military background. Lincoln had only sketchy experience of military action, in a war against the Crow Indians. But he was a great war leader, he was a very bright and very eloquent man, highly intelligent. McCain’s war experience is not a foreign policy credential: he bombed North Vietnam, and the only North Vietnamese he saw was when he was in prison. I don’t see that, as you know, war experience. It’s parachuting into a lake and flying a plane. [continued…]

The opening Obama saw

A good politician triumphs by adapting to the times and taking advantage of opportunities as they come. A great politician anticipates openings others don’t see and creates possibilities that were not there before.

John McCain might have been the second kind of politician, tried to be the first and enters Election Day at a steep disadvantage. Barack Obama certainly seized the opportunities created by President Bush’s failures and the country’s profound discontent, which only deepened after the economic crash. But by creating a new social movement, new forms of political organization, and a sense of excitement and possibility not felt in politics for three decades, he is bidding to become one of the country’s most consequential leaders. [continued…]

The test

In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Frances Perkins, his Secretary of Labor, to draft a plan that might help Americans escape poverty in old age. “Keep it simple,” he told her. “So simple that everybody will understand it.” On August 14, 1935, after bargaining in Congress, Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act at a White House ceremony. The law “represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete,” the President said. He continued:

    It is a structure intended to lessen the force of possible future depressions. . . . It is, in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.

Roosevelt hoped that the elderly would also receive health insurance; Congress balked. It took thirty years—until July 30, 1965, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare bill—to protect older Americans from the ravages of sickness as well as poverty. These were Democratic initiatives, but they gradually became national compacts: Ronald Reagan defended Social Security, and George W. Bush expanded Medicare. They, too, came to recognize that a sound system of social insurance enabled by government makes capitalism and its splendid innovations (the iPhone, the Cartoon Network, the Ultimate Fishing Tool, etc.) more balanced and sustainable.

Last week, the Department of Commerce reported that the economy is shrinking. Almost certainly, the United States has entered its twelfth official recession since Roosevelt’s death. Most of the past eleven recessions have been short and mild, in part because of the “automatic stabilizers,” as economists call them, created by New Deal-inspired insurance and regulatory regimes. The current financial crisis, however, has already proved so severe and so volatile that it has smashed or bypassed a number of important shock absorbers. Some economists fear that this downturn may therefore be atypically long and painful.

The country is fortunate in one respect: the sudden buckling of financial safeguards has put just about everyone in touch with his inner New Dealer. [continued…]

America’s outcast Muslims

American Muslims have been called the “outcasts” of this presidential election. Muslims themselves have told the media that Islam is being treated as “political leprosy”, a “scarlet letter”, or the “kiss of death”. In Pittsburgh, a city with a large Muslim population, the Guardian team heard sentiments like these when we attended a lecture by the writer and political analyst Raeed Tayeh titled Are Americans Obsessed with Islam?, followed by a panel discussion involving local community leaders and advocates.

One of the few comprehensive surveys (pdf) of Muslim voters in the United States was produced two years ago by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). While they are a diverse community, American Muslims overall tend to be young, well educated, professional, middle-class, and family-oriented, and differ in their degree of religious observance. Muslims are also somewhat more likely than Americans in general to vote regularly, fly the US flag and do volunteer work.

Most importantly for this election, CAIR’s demographic research found that American Muslims were concentrated in 12 states, including the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Michigan, where they ran from about 3 to 7% of the population. In the survey, 42% of respondents said they were Democrats and just 17% identified themselves as Republicans, while 28% said they did not belong to a political party. This reflects a dramatic turnaround in the past decade: in 2000, George Bush won an astonishing 72% of the Muslim vote, based on some combination of his social and fiscal conservatism, perceived openness on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and deliberate outreach to the Muslim community. By 2004, with the “war on terror” and the war in Iraq under way and civil liberties in a shambles, the numbers were more than reversed, with some 90% of Muslim voters choosing Kerry. [continued…]

Why we need to call a pig a pig (with or without lipstick)

In 1944, a young British writer named Eric Blair sent the publisher Jonathan Cape a manuscript for a novel-length parable about the rise of Stalin. The book had already been rejected by one editor for its inflammatory content. Cape also declined. While he personally enjoyed the manuscript, he wrote, he believed it was “highly ill-advised to publish at the present time.” Perhaps Blair might have better luck were he to change the identity of the main characters? “It would be less offensive if the predominate caste in the fable were not pigs,” he wrote. Blair finally found a publisher, and the book, “Animal Farm,” released under Blair’s pseudonym, George Orwell, became a bestseller. But the experience proved instructive. The next year, in the essay “Politics and the English Language,” he wrote that degraded, unclear language was both symptom and cause of the decline of contemporary culture and political thought. “One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end,” he wrote. In other words, it’s important to call a pig a pig.

Since its publication in 1945, “Animal Farm” has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, and become a standard text for schoolchildren, along with Orwell’s other dystopian vision of the future, “1984.” But it is the writer’s essays on the importance of clear language and independent thought that make him relevant. Consider this, from “Politics and the English Language”: “The word Fascism has now no meaning except insofar as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’ The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another … Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.” Substitute “anti-American” for “Fascism,” and you’ve summarized the tenor of much of the public conversation regarding the current election and the war in Iraq. “We’re so saturated in media today that anyone who is following it is bound to think, ‘This is terrible language; what are the effects of these clichés on my mind?’ ” says George Packer, a staff writer at The New Yorker who has edited two new collections of Orwell’s essays, “Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays” and “All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays.” “God knows, I’ve wanted to use that essay as a purgative. Orwell tells you how to cut through the vapor and get the truth and write about it in a way that is vigorous and clear. Those skills are particularly necessary right now.” [continued…]

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