[OPE] James Carville and the presidential race

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Wed Sep 10 2008 - 16:19:53 EDT

James Carville, an otherwise intelligent commentator on public affairs, writes that the nomination of Mrs. Sarah Palin is basically "a gimmick", a vote pulling stunt. He concludes:

If the Republicans wanted a vice-pre­sident who favours teaching creationism in public schools, who denies the science of global warming, who op­poses not only civil unions but also benefits for same-sex couples and who has been more than cosy with an Alaska secessionist party, they got what they asked for. But a person capable of leading our military on day one? In the run-up to his selection, I made a bet that my fel­low crapshooter, Mr McCain, would shock us with his choice . He did. But he also gambled away one of his party's surest advantages in the process. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/96432678-7e84-11dd-b1af-000077b07658.html

But this kind of FT rhetoric is mistaken, on at least two counts. Firstly, Mrs Palin wasn't McCain's own original idea, it was his campaign manager's idea. NYT reports in detail:

"They didn't seriously consider her until four or five days from the time she was picked, before she was asked, maybe the Thursday or Friday before," said a Republican close to the campaign. "This was really kind of rushed at the end, because John didn't get what he wanted. He wanted to do Joe or Ridge." In the final stages, two Republicans familiar with the process said, Mr. McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, emerged as a key advocate for Ms. Palin. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/02/us/politics/02vetting.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

Secondly, WHO SAYS that the vice president has to lead the military from day one? This is rubbish. Formally, the function of the vice president is replace the president on the event of his or her death, resignation or incapacity, or substitute for the president when he is too busy with other stuff, for example attending funerals in his place in official capacity. The Vice President in the US is also the president of the Senate who can break tied votes, and presides over and certifies the official vote count of the US Electoral College. The US Constitution formally assigns NO other specific executive functions to the Vice President, and the Vice President does not have to swear an oath of office. The salary is $221,000.

So at most you could really say that if Mr McCain was elected, and he went limp for some reason, Americans would be running for their godfearin' Mom from Alaska. Only then would Mrs Palin have to mother the ship of state herself, and face the military. In reality, who happens to be the figurehead doesn't really matter in substance, since the the content of the real work is done by others anyway, and you can divvy up the tasks in all sorts of ways.

The real challenge for Mr Obama is to define the meaning of American progress clearly.

Anyone knows America is in a mess, and that this mess gets exported all around the world, causing serious mayhem everywhere. If the American government thinks it can carry on like it has done under Mr Bush's administration, people in the rest of the world think: "we can do this too". What's good for the goose, is good for the gander, you reinforce a certain goosy style of doing things, and then things go wrong in places like Georgia too, to mention a recent example. Anyone knows what the policies of Mr McCain - a self-confessed war criminal who got a whole wad of medals for flying a few times over Hanoi, and luckily survived a disastrous and tragic botch-up on an aircraft carrier - are: a gun-toting, yee-haw imperialism at home and abroad, hurting the very working class whose votes he's trying to pull with warm fuzzies. That is the real political con job, not Mrs Palin, who is at least a woman with balls for taking on the job, with her kids to look after and all.

America may be a mess, but in the mess, there is also progress and new thinking. Necessity is the mother of invention, to coin a phrase. To get out of the mess, Americans have to set priorities, but they cannot very well set priorities if the very meaning of progress is just a vague notion about "what it would mean to be nice to people". In that case you don't even know what to aim for, other than terrorists under the bed. Everybody knows that real politics is not simply about being nice. Tough choices have to be made, and you cannot please everybody. But you can be a tribune of the will of the people, and honestly tell it like it is.. That is why Mr Obama's challenge is not to moralise, but to set a good constructive example, and define realistically what is possible, what it means to make progress, what the road ahead is, and what steps can be taken to get there. I think he can do that.

In his convention speech, Mr Clinton emphasized "leadership", and expressed his wish that America should regain world leadership. His speech on the whole was creditable (it actually mentioned the working class for once) but as per usual it contained crucial ambiguities. World leadership in what sense? As Mr Brzezinski put the matter, "world leadership, or world domination"? In world war two, the Americans came to rescue Holland from the Germans, and they thought they could do it by parachuting in behind enemy lines to seize a bridge over the river Rhine. British Lieutenant-General Browning, deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, spoke drily to Montgomery before the operation. "I think we may be going a bridge too far." he said. Indeed, the Americans overfreached themselves, they were beaten back by fierce German fire.

A movie was later made about it, "A Bridge Too Far" (starring Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliott, Elliott Gould, Edward Fox, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Kemp, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Liv Ullmann, Maximilian Schell, Hardy Krüger and Ryan O'Neal among others. The music for the film was scored by John Addison, who was a soldier with the British XXX Corps during Operation Market Garden.

In the same way, world domination is a "bridge too far" for America. You can't dominate the world, if your own home is a mess, I can vouch for that. You can participate in the world, but not dominate it. If you had really conquered yourself, your home would not be a mess in the first place.

Of course that analogy breaks down, to the extent that in the end, in the world war no one cared anymore about any bridges or anything, the Germans were simply driven out of Holland with massive and superior military force. But the very fact the analogy breaks down, also refers us something important, namely that in the Bush era, militarism and military thinking about "who is the enemy out there" has increasingly substituted for good politics that actually resolves serious problems the world faces, based on what the majority really wants and needs. If America votes for Mr McCain, it is a vote for militarism, it is saying that the only thing we can imagine is that a soldier with a Mom can hold society together. That is precisely the kind of thinking we have to get away from, somehow.

In the Bible, you can read how Abel sold his birthright to Cain for a mess of pottage. In the Genesis story, Cain and Abel were the first and second sons of Adam and Eve, born after the Fall of Man. Just to jog the memory, here's a version of the murder story:

Adam knew his wife Eve intimately, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. She said, "I have had a male child with the LORD's help." Then she also gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel became a shepherd of a flock, but Cain cultivated the land. In the course of time Cain presented some of the land's produce as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also presented an offering - some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you furious? And why are you downcast? If you do right, won't you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it." Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

The Koran tells the same story from another angle (just as in the press reports these days, you get different reports from different journalists):

But recite unto them with truth the tale of the two sons of Adam, how they offered each a sacrifice, and it was accepted from the one of them and it was not accepted from the other. The one said: I will surely kill thee. The other answered: Allah accepteth only from those who ward off evil. Even if thou stretch out thy hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand against thee to kill thee, lo! I fear Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Lo! I would rather thou shouldst bear the punishment of the sin against me and thine own sin and become one of the owners of the fire. That is the reward of evil-doers. But the other's mind imposed on him the killing of his brother, so he slew him and became one of the losers. Then Allah sent a raven scratching up the ground, to show him how to hide his brother's naked corpse. He said: Woe unto me! Am I not able to be as this raven and so hide my brother's naked corpse? And he became repentant.

Seems like the Koranic story is more of a thriller insofar as it's not clear who is really killing whom, and who is Cain and who is Abel is more in your own perception (in itself a radical idea).

But anyway, do we really want a rerun of the Biblical or Koranic story? In that case, we might as well start reading Edgar Allan Poe. Presumably that is not what the Holy Books ask us to do with our lives. Life was meant to be more than a meditation on horror, useful as it might be. We would be looking only looking backward, whereas we ought to be looking forward. But what is there to look forward to, if we don't even believe anymore that progress can be made, if we can no longer sense progress?

As a Dutch socialist, it's not my beef to whinge and whimper like the American Left does about Mr Obama catching a sidewind in the polls; if I was them, I would be taking the candidates seriously, and presenting the alternative to their arguments. But it is my beef, if Dutch citizens kill or get killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dutch workers lose their jobs because of American financial fraud, and Dutch pensioners don't get their money because of American stuff-ups.

It is not the task of Abel to murder Cain because God tells him to, in this day and age, but to show he is more able. And he is, I'm convinced of that.


Sweet loretta martin thought she was a woman
But she was another man
All the girls around her say she's got it coming
But she gets it while she can
Get back, get back.
Get back to where you once belonged
Get back, get back.
Get back to where you once belonged.
Get back loretta. go home
Get back, get back.
Get back to where you once belonged
Get back, get back.
Get back to where you once belonged.
Get back loretta
Your mother's waiting for you
Wearing her high-heel shoes
And her low-neck sweater
Get on home loretta
Get back, get back.
Get back to where you once belonged

- The Beatles, "Get Back"


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Received on Wed Sep 10 16:25:59 2008

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