Just Who We Americans Are

News junkies get used to the whipsaw – things changing on a dime, the reversals no one expected, this surprise or that. Actually that’s what is addictive about being plugged into current events – you don’t know what’s coming next, and you can always glance at the cable news shows and see some noted expert sputtering as he tries to explain that things like this, whatever it was, just never happen. It is great fun, much like watching that football game where the team that had won nothing rises up and beats the champs with that long field goal as time runs out, or that baseball game where the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates win the World Series, beating the dreaded New York Yankees on a two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh and last game. Hey, it happens. So some people like sports for this sort of thing, and some watch American Idol or Dancing with the Stars – you get your satisfying surprises where you can. News junkies simply follow what’s happening in the real world, where the stakes are larger – the fate of the world and all that.

 

You never know. At one point it seemed certain that Hillary Clinton would face Rudy Giuliani for the presidency – both representing New York, so sort of a Sunway Series – but that didn’t work out. John McCain was dead the in water – his campaign over as seemed to be the consensus not long ago – staffers quitting left and right, no money left, McCain flying coach and carrying his own bags – but he rose from the dead and somehow won the nomination. And the personable young black man won the other nomination – a man possessed of enormous self-control, intelligence and warmth, amazing organizational skills, and raw political talent the likes of which no one had seen in many decades. And no one expected Sarah Palin. Where did she come from?

 

So you never know what to expect, and it’s not just politics – it’s even larger matters, like the world’s financial systems shutting down.

 

Actually, that’s not much fun to watch. Take Tuesday, October 21 – Fed Announces New Plan to Help Money Market Funds (a set-aside of five hundred forty billion dollars to assure all payments on short-term commercial paper and get things moving again), and then Stocks End Lower Amid Mixed Earnings Reports (the markets didn’t care, as key corporations are losing big money and very hard times are here, and things will surely get worse), followed by proof of that with Yahoo Firing 1,500 Workers; 3Q Profit Falls 64 Pct (more disaster), followed by Apple’s Profit Up 26 Percent On iPhone Boom (good news, but Apple offered no future guidance as Steve Jobs has no clue whether Apple will ever do that again), followed by Paulson Predicts Success in Overcoming Crisis (the Treasury Secretary saying thing will be fine, really). With amazingly accomplished friends losing secure jobs and the retirement account evaporating, this is no fun at all.

 

But the same day there were political surprises:

 

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has opened up a 10-point lead over Republican opponent John McCain two weeks before the November 4 U.S. election, according to Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on Tuesday.

 

The poll found 52 percent of voters favor Obama compared with 42 percent for McCain, up from a 6-point Obama edge two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported.

 

The 10-point lead is the largest in the Journal/NBC poll to date and represents a steady climb for Obama since early September, when the political conventions concluded with the candidates in a statistical tie, the newspaper reported.

 

And some of this has to do with how Sarah Palin has fallen – the negatives are way up. Forty-seven percent now view her negatively, up from the previous thirty-eight percent – and now fifty-five percent of voters say this woman is just not qualified to be president, up five points and now the majority view. McCain looks foolish, or mad, for foisting her on us.

 

Real news junkies would read the full NBC/Wall Street Journal poll (PDF format, if you care to do that), but for detail you can just go to the MSNBC account:

 

Now, Palin’s qualifications to be president rank as voters’ top concern about McCain’s candidacy – ahead of continuing President Bush’s policies, enacting economic policies that only benefit the rich and keeping too high of a troop presence in Iraq.

 

Respondents were read a list of things and were asked to pick the two that most concern them about McCain. Thirty-four percent named Palin, versus only 23% for the runner-up, which was that it seems likely he’d continue Bush’s policies.

 

Palin has become a greater liability for McCain than Bush. Who knew? Nominating her must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

 

Some still think that really was a good idea, like Grover Norquist:

 

McCain’s choice of Palin brought his polling numbers above Obama’s – until McCain endorsed the Bush bailout. Palin draws large crowds and has energized Reagan Republicans, gun owners, women and people of faith. Obama knows this and has his surrogates trashing Palin with a “sack the quarterback” strategy most recently joined in by Colin Powell. She is an asset and the most consequential VP candidate in a generation.

 

Is that so? And was the real problem McCain’s mistake in supporting saving the financial system? That’s not what the polls show – economic issues came in third as a big concern, what with weariness with all things Bush and Iraq. But the top issue is this woman and her lack of any substance at all. People aren’t stupid. They’ve seen her. They’ve listened to her.

 

But maybe these days substance isn’t the issue. Andrew Sullivan explains:

 

The concept of Palin as a marketing tool, as an emblem of pure content-free identity politics, is very powerful. You can see why on paper, Kristol loved her, the way he loved the concept of Iraqi liberation. The only trouble is the actual reality: the fact that she has no record to speak of, that what she has is dreadful, that she has no education, that she is a pathological liar, that she is a vicious hater of those unlike her, that she is a McCarthyite sans communism.

 

So Sullivan has an idea:

 

Next time, why not create an entirely CGI version of the neocon fantasy that is immune to reality? Think Angelina Jolie in Beowulf.

 

Give the CGI Palin even more massive boobs, longer legs, towering porn-style pumps, redder lipstick and real starburst potential. Program the CGI version with pre-packaged soundbites about patriotism and real America and freedom and whatnot. Palin has no specific proposals, but the CGI Palin would be able to go one step further and adopt whatever policies focus groups think are desirable. You can by-pass the press entirely, create a CGI propaganda machine, and eventually, construct your own CGI Fox News which simply broadcasts a CGI version of reality.

 

As long as the real world ceases to exist, bingo! And isn’t that what we have discovered is the core element of today’s GOP: pure fantasy?

 

Sullivan was referring to this – Angelina Jolie (digitally enhanced) in Beowulf. Is that what the Republicans have in mind?

 

No one is going there. Actually, given this detail from the parallel New York Times poll, people are laughing:

 

Mr. Obama’s favorability is the highest for a presidential candidate running for a first term in the last 28 years of Times/CBS polls. Mrs. Palin’s negative rating is the highest for a vice-presidential candidate as measured by The Times and CBS News. Even Dan Quayle, with whom Mrs. Palin is often compared because of her age and inexperience on the national scene, was not viewed as negatively in the 1988 campaign.

 

That’s cold, given Dan Quayle. You remember that man and his famous riff on the motto of the United Negro College Fund, that a mind is a terrible thing to waste – “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.”

 

Well, he tried.

 

But what is McCain to do now? You do recall that the McCain folks had this realization that Colorado, New Mexico, and Iowa are basically lost causes – the only path to winning the presidency is through turning a 2004 blue state red, and after abandoning Michigan the new target, or the only real target, will be Pennsylvania, even if that seems curious:

 

Despite polls showing him trailing Democrat Barack Obama by double digits in Pennsylvania, John McCain continued to treat the state as if the whole election depended on it.

 

Well, it does. Think 1960, Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the seventh game, the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and Bill Mazeroski coming to bat. Actually, Bill Mazeroski was the first guy up, so there weren’t two outs – but there are two outs for McCain.

 

The Washington Times explains in this item how McCain is working for an improbable Pennsylvania win by imitating Hillary Clinton, not Bill Mazeroski. She won that state’s April 22 primary by going for those uneasy with Obama for the obvious reason. The Washington Times gives us anecdotal information that this might work:

 

“‘I don’t think America is ready for a black president, and I’m planning on voting for Senator McCain this time,’ said the man, who refused to give his name but added as he walked away, ‘I’m not racist.'”

 

That’s one of the target voters. And there was the Democratic congressman from Johnstown, John Murtha, worried Obama might be in trouble in his district. He made those ill-advised statements about his part of western Pennsylvania being “racist” – later toning it down by saying his folks were only rednecks. So John McCain hauled off to Pennsylvania ready to capitalize on Murtha’s remarks.

 

It just didn’t work out that way. See the video:

 

I think you may have noticed that Sen. Obama’s supporters are saying some pretty nasty things about Western Pennsylvania lately. And you know, I couldn’t agree with them more. I couldn’t disagree with you. [short pause] I couldn’t agree with you more than the fact that Western Pennsylvania is the most patriotic, most God-loving, most patriotic part of America… this is a great part of the country.

 

David Kurtz comments:

 

You can see the glimmer of recognition of the flub, like he just chased Road Runner off the edge of the cliff. There’s the split-second decision to try to pull off a miracle escape. But his legs stop spinning and gravity takes over and from there it’s a long way down. For a guy who spent the last week reminding everyone he’s not Bush, that’s got to hurt.

 

Ah, McCain was having a bad day. And for those of us born and raised in Western Pennsylvania, saying that was the most patriotic, most God-loving, most patriotic part of America, seemed kind of odd. You drink your Iron City Beer and stare at the river and wonder what the hell you’re doing there. Sure, it’s sort of a compliment, but the man doesn’t live there. See Dennis B. Roddy in Slate with Swing-State Rednecks (“What Murtha and Obama get wrong about race and class in western Pennsylvania”) – of purely regional interest of course. But the item does take you back.


But the right-wing blogs are cheering McCain on, and James Wolcott reviews what they’re saying, opening with this:

 

As a scholarly observer of the lunar phases of rightwing blogdom, I take special interest and amusement in the occasional outbreaks of disco fever that rouse otherwise low-metabolic specimens into an arm-waving, tonsil-pealing, Kevin Bacon-in-Footloose electric boogaloo “Stand and deliver! Lock and load! I am Spartacus! Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy! Let’s Win This One for the Gipper! Remember the Alamo! Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead! Fuck, Yeah! Free Mumia! Wolverines!” war dance.

 

Wolcott is a lively writer.

 

And as you nurse your third mug of Iron City, in a dark bar festooned with Steelers and Pirates banners, wondering where your job went, there are some things that might bother you:

 

The Republican National Committee appears to have spent more than $150,000 to clothe and accessorize vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family since her surprise pick by John McCain in late August.

 

According to financial disclosure records, the accessorizing began in early September and included bills from Saks Fifth Avenue in St. Louis and New York for a combined $49,425.74.

 

The records also document a couple of big-time shopping trips to Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, including one $75,062.63 spree in early September.

 

The RNC also spent $4,716.49 on hair and makeup through September after reporting no such costs in August.

 

See Matthew Yglesias:

 

I’m a little bit surprised to learn that expenditures of that sort are legal. They appear on the disclosure forms, so apparently they are, but this seems to open the door to candidates using party committee money as a personal slush fund. Although now that I think about it, there was a story about John Edwards getting an expensive haircut that’s like a rounding error compared to Palin’s September hair and makeup expenses. The total bill is well over double the median household income in the United States.

 

That might not go down well in Uniontown or Butler.

 

But not to worry, the state Republicans have it covered:

 

The state Republican Party filed an injunction Friday against Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes and ACORN, alleging a fair vote on Nov. 4 is impossible because of rampant voter fraud. The injunction signals a step up in action against ACORN, which for weeks has been the recipient of attacks from the state GOP and John McCain’s presidential campaign.

 

At a press conference in the Capitol, state GOP Chairman Bob Gleason Jr. said the sheer number of registrations submitted by ACORN has overwhelmed many county election offices and the state department has not provided the local bureaus with enough support.

 

“I am not confident we can trust the results of this election,” Gleason said.

 

Got it? Move to have the Secretary of the Commonwealth nullify the election – problem solved. McCain might win it all – and we won’t have a President Obama… doing things.

 

Oddly, far, far away, across the stormy Atlantic, Boris Johnson, the Tory Mayor of London, endorsed Obama, of all things, suggesting too much had been done already:

 

However well-intentioned it was, the catastrophic and unpopular intervention in Iraq has served in some parts of the world to discredit the very idea of western democracy.

 

The recent collapse of the banking system, and the humiliating resort to semi-socialist solutions, has done a great deal to discredit – in some people’s eyes – the idea of free-market capitalism.

 

Democracy and capitalism are the two great pillars of the American idea.

 

To have rocked one of those pillars may be regarded as a misfortune.

 

To have damaged the reputation of both, at home and abroad, is a pretty stunning achievement for an American president.

 

McCain would be more of the same – so enough of that, not that a conservative Brit’s opinion matters. They’re sort of socialists after all, what with their nationalized health care and all.

 

We’re not like those folks, as, in the New Republic, Jonathan Cohn explains – “I would concede that America’s strong individualistic streak makes the country inhospitable to government activism, at least relative to Western Europe.”

 

Matthew Yglesias argues it isn’t that simple:

 

I think sometimes people are too quick to make concessions of this sort. It does seem to be the case that the Anglophone states have a systematically less expansive state in a way that makes it tempting to look for a cultural explanation. But at the same time, Canada and the UK have among the most heavy-handed government health care systems in the world. And when trying to understand why we differ so much from our Anglosphere cousins in that regard, I don’t think it’s very enlightening to talk about culture or individualistic streaks. FDR decided against making a big push for universal health care during the New Deal era not because of “individualism” but because of racism, it would raise a thicket of questions about integrating hospitals and so forth that he didn’t want to deal with. In later periods, efforts to create a universal health care system have been stymied by the institutions of American government which features a relatively large number of “veto points” at which organized interests can block legislative initiatives. If the United States had a Westminster-style political system we would almost certainly have implemented a universal health care program during one of our earlier periods of progressive ascendancy, the program wouldn’t have been dismantled.

 

In general, I don’t think people should overestimate the role of public opinion in constraining policymaking. People don’t generally have detailed opinions about policy issues, and politicians can “get away” with doing all kinds of stuff as long as it doesn’t wind up blowing up into some kind of obvious disaster down the road. By contrast, institutional factors create very real constraints on what people can do. A farm reform bill would need to go through the Agriculture Committees which are both chock full ‘o congressfolk who represent the beneficiaries of current bad policies. Consequently, nothing can be done. One could look at all the grain-fed beef we eat in the United States and conclude that our cultural proclivity for grain-fed beef is causing our agricultural policies, but that’s almost certainly backwards – people come to think of the results of longstanding policies as “normal.”

 

That’s interesting. Who we are, even in Western Pennsylvania, is just habit.

 

And see Steve Benen here:

 

If the available evidence is accurate, in about two weeks, Americans will help elect a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate, and possibly a Democratic president. A majority of the nation’s governors are already Democrats. Polls show fairly strong support for the policy agenda presented in the Democratic Party’s platform, including universal healthcare and ending the war in Iraq. Even on culture war issues, most Americans are pro-choice, support the separation of church and state, and are growing increasingly supportive of expanding gay rights.

 

Things do change, even if McCain is betting on them not changing. And Benen points to Newsweek and the Jon Meacham cover story – the idea there being that the United States is a “center-right” nation, and if Obama is elected, he’d better not forget it, or he’ll be in big trouble.

 

Everyone is talking about this item. Meacham popped up on the Colbert show and all that, but Benen is impressed with Media Matters’ Paul Waldman and Waldman’s take on this – “when Republicans make gains in federal elections, it’s perceived as evidence of a national shift to the right. When Democrats make gains, it doesn’t matter, because the nation still leans to the right. When Republicans win, it’s incumbent on Democrats to move to the center. When Democrats win, it’s still incumbent on Democrats to move to the center.”

 

But Benen likes that Waldman takes this a step further, as it’s all about George W. Bush and what Bush has done to discredit conservatism:

 

With the exception of a reduction in the size of government … conservatives got pretty much everything they wanted from George W. Bush. They got tax breaks for the wealthy, huge increases in defense spending, a bellicose foreign policy, two Supreme Court justices ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, a mania for deregulation of business, a Justice Department devoted to advancing the electoral interests of the Republican Party, a consolidation of power in the executive branch, lackadaisical enforcement of environmental regulations, constant efforts to undermine labor unions, and the list goes on and on. This administration has been conservatism in action, and the country couldn’t be more disgusted with the results.

 

Conservatives are increasingly sounding like they’re stuck in the 1980s, as they warn against the creeping tide of socialism and denounce Obama’s tax plan as “welfare.” You almost expect to hear John McCain take the stage to a pulsing Richard Marx tune, then start reciting lines from “Red Dawn.” It may have reached its apogee when, in her debate with Joe Biden, Sarah Palin quoted Reagan on the danger that if we’re not careful, one day we’ll be telling our children and grandchildren about a time when America was free. What was Reagan warning against in that quote? The passage of Medicare, one of the most successful and popular programs in U.S. history, brought to you courtesy of big-government liberals.

 

When conservatives take stands like these, so far from the American mainstream, the Beltway acolytes of the Church of Centrism never seem to mind. Will a GOP defeat be greeted with columns by Jon Meacham and his ilk instructing Republicans sternly that they need to abandon their ideology and move to the center, lest they permanently alienate themselves from the public?

 

Well, no – but of all the surprising turns for a news junkie, the idea that Meacham is dead wrong, supported by the evidence of all the polling, and the country just turned all FDR liberal, fine with the idea that this is our government and we can use it to fix things, is startling. It’s like that Mazeroski home run in the ninth. It makes you feel good.

 

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Just Who We Americans Are, McCain Bets It All On Pennsylvania, McCain's Last Stand, Murtha and Racists, Obama Pulls Ahead, Palin Sinks McCain, Pennsylvania as America. Bookmark the permalink.

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