What if other countries mourned their national tragedies the way we do? The United States reads off the names of the dead during annual commemoration ceremonies and builds walls with names. Other countries have far bigger death counts, often due to us, but the scale of the carnage makes it impossible for them to wallow in such niceties.
During the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, I wrote a syndicated opinion column about John McCain, who then seemed likely to emerge as the GOP nominee. As Americans assess McCain’s life and legacy, this ten-year-old assessment still holds up. Bear in mind, this was written before some of McCain’s more egregious warmongering, such as his attempts to stir up U.S. military attacks against Iran, Syria and Russia, not to mention his decision to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Puffing Up John McCain, POW
by Ted Rall
February 5, 2008
“A proven leader, and a man of integrity,” the New York Post called John McCain in its editorial endorsement. “A naval aviator shot down over North Vietnam and held as a POW, McCain knew that freedom was his for the taking. All he had to do was denounce his country. He refused–and, as a consequence, suffered years of unrelenting torture.”
This standard summary of McCain’s five and a half years in the Hanoi Hilton, repeated in thousands of media accounts during his 2000 campaign and again this election year, is the founding myth of his political career. The tale of John McCain, War Hero prompts a lot of people turned off by his politics–liberals and traditional conservatives alike–to support him. Who cares that he “doesn’t really understand economics”? He’s got a great story to tell.
Scratch the surface of McCain’s captivity narrative, however, and a funny thing happens: his heroism blows away like the rust from a vintage POW bracelet.
In the fall of 1967 McCain was flying bombing runs over North Vietnam from the U.S.S. Oriskany, an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. On October 26, the 31-year-old pilot was part of a 20-plane squadron assigned to destroy infrastructure in the North Vietnamese capital. He flew his A-4 Skyhawk over downtown Hanoi toward his target, a power plant. As he pulled up after releasing his bombs, his fighter jet was hit by a surface-to-air missile. A wing came off. McCain’s plane plunged into Truc Bach Lake.
Mai Van On, a 50-year-old resident of Hanoi, watch the crash and left the safety of his air-raid shelter to rescue him. Other Vietnamese tried to stop him. “Why do you want to go out and rescue our enemy?” they yelled. Ignoring his countrymen, On grabbed a pole and swam to the spot where McCain’s plane had gone down in 16 feet of water. McCain had managed to free himself from the wrecked plane but was stuck underwater, ensnared by his parachute. On used his pole to untangle the ropes and pull the semi-conscious pilot to the surface. McCain was in bad shape, having broken his arm and a leg in several places.
McCain is lucky the locals didn’t finish him off. U.S. bombs had killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians, many in Hanoi. Ultimately between one and two million innocents would be shredded, impaled, blown to bits and dissolved by American bombs. Now that one of their tormentors had fallen into their hands, they had a rare chance to get even. “About 40 people were standing there,” On later recalled. “They were about to rush him with their fists and stones. I asked them not to kill him. He was beaten for a while before I could stop them.” He was turned over to local policemen, who transferred him to the military.
What if one of the hijackers who destroyed the World Trade Center had somehow crash-landed in the Hudson River? How long would he have lasted? Would anyone have risked his life to rescue him?
An impolite question: If a war is immoral, can those who fight in it–even those who demonstrate courage–be heroes? If the answer is yes, was Reagan wrong to honor the SS buried at Bitburg? No less than Iraq, Vietnam was an undeclared, illegal war of aggression that did nothing to keep America safe. Tens of millions of Americans felt that way. Millions marched against the war; tens of thousands of young men fled the country to avoid the draft. McCain, on the other hand, volunteered.
McCain knew that what he was doing was wrong. Three months before he fell into that Hanoi lake, he barely survived when his fellow sailors accidentally fired a missile at his plane while it was getting ready to take off from his ship. The blast set off bombs and ordnance across the deck of the aircraft carrier. The conflagration, which took 24 hours to bring under control, killed 132 sailors. A few days later, a shaken McCain told a New York Times reporter in Saigon: “Now that I’ve seen what the bombs and the napalm did to the people on our ship, I’m not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam.”
Yet he did.
“I am a war criminal,” McCain said on “60 Minutes” in 1997. “I bombed innocent women and children.” Although it came too late to save the Vietnamese he’d killed 30 years earlier, it was a brave statement. Nevertheless, he smiles agreeably as he hears himself described as a “war hero” as he arrives at rallies in a bus marked “No Surrender.”
McCain’s tragic flaw: He knows the right thing. He often sets out to do the right thing. But he doesn’t follow through. We saw McCain’s weak character in 2000, when the Bush campaign defeated him in the crucial South Carolina primary by smearing his family. Placing his presidential ambitions first, he swallowed his pride, set aside his honor, and campaigned for Bush against Al Gore. It came up again in 2005, when McCain used his POW experience as a POW to convince Congress to pass, and Bush to sign, a law outlawing torture of detainees at Guantánamo and other camps. But when Bush issued one of his infamous “signing statements” giving himself the right to continue torturing–in effect, negating McCain’s law–he remained silent, sucking up to Bush again.
McCain’s North Vietnamese captors demanded that he confess to war crimes. “Every two hours,” according to a 2007 profile in the Arizona Republic, “one guard would hold McCain while two others beat him. They kept it up for four days…His right leg, injured when he was shot down, was horribly swollen. A guard yanked him to his feet and threw him down. His left arm smashed against a bucket and broke again.”
McCain later recalled that he was at the point of suicide. But he was no Jean Moulin, the French Resistance leader who refused to talk under torture, and killed himself. According to “The Nightingale’s Song,” a book by Robert Timberg, “[McCain] looked at the louvered cell window high above his head, then at the small stool in the room.” He took off his dark blue prison shirt, rolled it like a rope, draped one end over his shoulder near his neck, began feeding the other end through the louvers.” He was too slow. A guard entered and pulled him away from the window.
I’ve never been tortured. I have no idea what I’d do. Of course, I’d like to think that I could resist or at least commit suicide before giving up information. Odds are, however, that I’d crack. Most people do. And so did McCain. “I am a black criminal and I have performed the deeds of an air pirate,” McCain wrote in his confession. “I almost died and the Vietnamese people saved my life, thanks to the doctors.”
It wasn’t the first time McCain broke under pressure. After his capture, wrote the Republic, “He was placed in a cell and told he would not receive any medical treatment until he gave military information. McCain refused and was beaten unconscious. On the fourth day, two guards entered McCain’s cell. One pulled back the blanket to reveal McCain’s injured knee. ‘It was about the size, shape and color of a football,’ McCain recalled. Fearful of blood poisoning that would lead to death, McCain told his captors he would talk if they took him to a hospital.”
McCain has always been truthful about his behavior as a POW, but he has been more than willing to allow others to lie on his behalf. “A proven leader, and a man of integrity,” The New York Post says, and he’s happy to take it. “All he had to do was denounce his country. He refused…” Not really. He did denounce his country. But he didn’t demand a retraction.
It’s the old tragic flaw: McCain knows what he ought to do. He starts to do the right thing. But John McCain is a weak man who puts his career goals first.
Later that year, I reminded readers that there was nothing honorable about the Vietnam War:
Every presidential candidacy relies on a myth. Reagan was a great communicator; Clinton felt your pain. Both storylines were ridiculous. But rarely are the constructs used to market a party nominee as transparent or as fictional as those we’re being asked to swallow in 2008.
On the left–OK, not–we have Barack Obama. “The best orator of his generation!” says Ed Rendell, the Democratic power broker who has a day job as governor of Pennsylvania. “The best orator since Cicero!” Republican strategist Mary Matalin swoons. No doubt, Obama reads a mean speech. Take his Teleprompter away, though, and the dude is as lost as George Bush at a semiotics class. Forced to answer reporters’ questions off the cuff, Obama is so afraid of messing up that he…carefully…spaces…each…word…apart…so…he…can…see…them…coming…wayyy…in…advance.
Still more laughable than the notion of Obama as the second coming of JFK is the founding myth of the McCain campaign: (a) he is a war hero, and (b) said heroism increases his credibility on national security issues. “A Vietnam hero and national security pro,” The New York Times calls him in a typical media blandishment.
John McCain fought in Vietnam. There was nothing noble, much less heroic, about fighting in that war.
Some Americans may be suffering another of the periodic attacks of national amnesia that prevent us from honestly assessing our place in the world and its history, but others recall the truth about Vietnam: it was a disastrous, unjustifiable mess that anyone with an ounce of sense was against at the time.
Between one and two million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans were sent to their deaths by a succession of presidents and Congresses–fed to the flames of greed, hubris, and stupidity. The event used to justify starting the war–the Tonkin Gulf “incident”–never happened. The Vietnam War’s ideological foundation, the mantra cited to keep it going, was disproved after we lost. No Southeast Asian “dominos” fell to communism. To the contrary, the effect of the U.S. withdrawal was increased stability. When genocide broke out in neighboring Cambodia in the late 1970s, it was not the U.S., but a unified Vietnamese army–the evil communists–who stopped it.
Not even General Wesley Clark, shot four times in Vietnam, is allowed to question the McCain-as-war-hero narrative. “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president,” he argued. The Obama campaign, which sells its surrogates down the river with alarming regularity, promptly hung the former NATO commander out to dry: “Senator Obama honors and respects Senator McCain’s service, and of course he rejects yesterday’s statement by General Clark.”
Even in an article criticizing the media for repeatedly framing McCain as a war hero, the liberal website Media Matters concedes: “McCain is, after all, a war hero; everybody agrees about that.”
I was 12 when the last U.S. occupation troops fled Saigon. I remember how I–and most Americans–felt at the time.
We were relieved.
By the end of Nixon’s first term most people had turned against the war. Gallup polls taken in 1971 found that about 70 percent of Americans thought sending troops to Vietnam had been a mistake. Some believed it was immoral; others considered it unwinnable.
Since then, the political center has shifted right. We’ve seen the Reagan Revolution, Clinton’s Democratic centrism, and Bush’s post-9/11 flirtation with neo-McCarthyite fascism. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of Americans–including Republicans–still think we should never have fought the Vietnam War.
“After the war’s 1975 conclusion,” Michael Tomasky wrote in The American Prospect in 2004, “Gallup has asked the question (“Did the U.S. make a mistake in sending troops to fight in Vietnam?”) five times, in 1985, 1990, 1993, 1995, and 2000. All five times…respondents were consistent in calling the war a mistake by a margin of more than 2 to 1: by 74 percent to 22 percent in 1990, for example, and by 69 percent to 24 percent in 2000.”
Moreover, Tomasky continued, “vast majorities continue to call the war ‘unjust.'” Even in 2004, after 9/11, 62 percent considered the war unjust. Only 33 percent still thought it was morally justified.
Vietnam was an illegal, undeclared war of aggression. Can those who fought in that immoral war really be heroes? This question appeared settled after Reagan visited a cemetery for Nazi soldiers, including members of the SS, at Bitburg, West Germany in 1985. “Those young men,” claimed Reagan, “are victims of Nazism also, even though they were fighting in the German uniform, drafted into service to carry out the hateful wishes of the Nazis. They were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.”
Americans didn’t buy it. Reagan’s poll numbers, typically between 60 and 65 percent at the time, plunged to 41 percent after the visit. Those who fight for an evil cause receive no praise.
So why is the McCain-as-war-hero myth so hard to unravel? By most accounts, John McCain demonstrated courage as a P.O.W., most notably by refusing his captors’ offer of early release. But that doesn’t make him a hero.
Hell, McCain isn’t even a victim.
At a time when more than a fourth of all combat troops in Vietnam were forcibly drafted (the actual victims), McCain volunteered to drop napalm on “gooks” (his term, not mine). He could have waited to see if his number came up in the draft lottery. Like Bush, he could have used family connections to weasel out of it. Finally, he could have joined the 100,000 draft-eligible males–true heroes, to a man–who went to Canada rather than kill people in a war that was plainly wrong.
When McCain was shot down during his 23rd bombing sortie, he was happily shooting up a civilian neighborhood in the middle of a major city. Vietnamese locals beat him when they pulled him out of a local lake; yeah, that must have sucked. But I can’t help think of what would have happened to Mohammed Atta had he somehow wound up alive on a lower Manhattan street on 9/11. How long would he have lasted?
Maybe he would have made it. I don’t know. But I do know this: no one would ever have considered him a war hero.
Personnel is policy, they say in Washington. The appointment of John Bolton as national security advisor is by far President Trump’s most dangerous decision.
When the president considers foreign policy, no one is closer to his ear than his national security advisor. He will discuss questions of war and peace with military generals and members of his cabinet, but when there’s a diversity of opinion, the views of a national security advisor can be determinative.
“Brent Scowcroft defined the role of the National Security Advisor (NSA),” wrote Stephen J. Hadley, former National Security Advisor under George W. Bush. “The only person to hold the job twice [under Ford and George H.W. Bush], Brent established the ‘Scowcroft Model’ for all who followed him in the job: Be an ‘Honest Broker,’ running a fair, transparent, and inclusive process for bringing issues to the president.”
John Bolton is not an honest broker. John Bolton cannot be an honest broker. No human being on earth is less qualified to be Donald Trump’s national security advisor.
Given the fact that Donald Trump already leans hard to the right wing of the Republican Party, and that his advisers are drawn from the extreme right as well, and “honest broker” national security advisor would by definition need to provide balance. Ideally it would come from the NSA himself. At minimum he would bring in people with opposing views. Bolton is congenitally incapable of either.
Bolton must be stopped.
His nomination does not require Senate confirmation. But there’s nothing preventing members of both parties from traveling to the White House to inform the president that Bolton is a nonstarter. Congress should have nothing to do with this president as long as this dangerous man is whispering sweet bellicose nothings into his ear.
If you haven’t been paying much attention, I don’t blame you for smelling a whiff of hysteria. How bad could this guy really be?
Bolton was the king of the George W. Bush-era neocons, a man who made Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz look like wimps. As Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, he remarked that it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the institution disappeared or, evoking the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the building housing UN headquarters were to lose a few floors.
These days Bolton is touting “regime change” against Iran. Evoking the same arguments he used to justify the invasion of Iraq, he paints dark portraits of North Korea selling or giving nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda or some other terrorist organization despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that there are any links for common ideology between the two. Just after Trump — correctly, in my view — announced that he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, Bolton wrote an opinion essay laying out the so-called “legal” argument in favor of a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that comes up between American and North Korean officials setting up the summit in May.
Most foreign-policy experts, most ordinary Americans, and most sane people generally agree that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a military, political, economic, and propaganda disaster for the United States and the world. We were not “welcomed as liberators.” The war was sold (in large part by Bolton) based on the lie that the U.S. knew that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (they didn’t have them so we know that “knowledge” was a lie).
Anti-Americanism increased, as did terrorist attacks and the appeal of terrorist organizations that targeted Americans. Thousands of American troops were killed, tens of thousands wounded, and millions of Iraqis died because of the war. Billions of dollars were squandered and oil prices went up, not down as the neocons had hoped and expected, because of the resulting instability. Perhaps most damning of all, the long simmering Sunni-Shia divide widened into a gaping chasm that continues to chew up the Middle East in places like Yemen.
No one was more in favor of that war than John Bolton. For that reason alone, he’s unqualified to provide foreign policy advice to anyone more important than a small marsupial. But Bolton is more than just a warmonger — he’s a stupid warmonger. Which is why he still can’t accept the fact that he screwed up.
“I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct,” he told The Washington Examiner in 2015. “I think decisions made after that decision were wrong, although I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces. The people who say, ‘Oh, things would have been much better if you didn’t overthrow Saddam,’ miss the point that today’s Middle East does not flow totally and unchangeably from the decision to overthrow Saddam alone.”
“I think the Iraqi people would be unique in history if they didn’t welcome the overthrow of this dictatorial regime,” Bolton bloviated in a breathtakingly embarrassing 2002 interview. “And Iraqi opposition leaders of a variety of positions and views are discussing now what will happen after Saddam Hussein. I expect that the American role actually will be fairly minimal. I think we’ll have an important security role. I think concluding the destruction of the weapons of mass destruction themselves will be important.”
Wonder if the families of those dead and injured American soldiers think their role was “fairly minimal.”
I tell you what, John: you go and find those weapons of mass distraction and we’ll let you be national security advisor.
(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) brand-new book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
What if Hillary Clinton had won 114,000 more votes in four key states? Or, what if she’d picked up the two to three percent of the vote she lost because Bernie Sanders’ supporters sat on their hands on election day? She’d be “Clinton 2” or “Clinton 45” or “the second President Clinton” — and the world would look very different.
In terms of personnel and therefore policy, a Clinton Administration II would look and feel like a mash-up of Obama’s third term and a throwback to figures who populated her husband’s White House during the 1990s. Having moved to the right since Bill’s first term, progressive figures like then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich would be out in the cold. Rahm Emanuel and Timothy Geithner could expect cabinet offers. So could some Bush-era neo-cons like Robert Kagan.
Hillary didn’t promise much change to domestic policy during her campaign. Her biggest proposal was to spend $275 billion on infrastructure, which would have left us $1.3 trillion short of what’s needed. Not that she could have gotten it through the Republican Congress.
The alternate presidential history of 2017 differs most significantly in two respects: foreign policy, and tone.
Clinton’s liberal supporters always glossed over her long history of hawkish, arguably far-right, approaches to military matters. Those who mourn her loss to Trump today have completely forgotten that she convinced Obama to back military coups against the democratically-elected leaders of Honduras and Egypt. She also successfully advised advised Obama to arm and fund radical Islamist militias in Syria and Libya, plunging two modern Muslim countries into civil wars that have reduced them to failed states. Clinton’s famous cackle after a U.S. drone blew up Libyan ruler Moammar Khaddafi’s convoy, leading to his being sodomized by bayonet on video, is terrifying.
“It’s impossible to know which national security crises she would be forced to confront, of course,” Micah Zenko speculated in Foreign Policy in July 2016. “But those who vote for her should know that she will approach such crises with a long track record of being generally supportive of initiating U.S. military interventions and expanding them.”
Two months later, another FP writer penned an astonishing look behind the Kremlin walls at the thinking of top Russian officials worried about the U.S. election: “Moscow perceives the former secretary of state as an existential threat… That fear was heightened when Clinton surrogate Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, recently accused Putin of attempting to rig the U.S. election through cyberattacks. That is a grave allegation — the very kind of thing a President Clinton might repeat to justify war with Russia,” wrote Clinton Ehrlich.
Would Hillary’s tough talk have triggered World War III with Russia by now? Probably not. But it’s not impossible — which shows us how far right she stands politically on the use of the force.
More likely and thus more worrisome, Hillary might have leveraged the current U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan into attacks against neighboring Iran. “I want the Iranians to know, if I am the president, we will attack Iran” if Iran were to attack Israel — even if there were no Congressional authorization or a clear and present danger to the U.S., Clinton said in 2008. “And I want them to understand that… we would be able to totally obliterate them [to retaliate for an attack on Israel].” Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has a real military and thus a real ability to defend itself — which would mean a long, costly and possibly unwinnable war.
The one arena where most people agree that President Clinton would have been better than President Trump is presidential tone. Yes, “she does yell into microphones and speak in an overly enunciated voice—two factors that may make her seem abrasive.” But this is a woman whose campaign assigned 12 staffers to compose a tweet; they went through 10 drafts over 10 hours. There wouldn’t be any Trump-style 3 a.m. Twitter diarrhea coming out of a Clinton White House.
When George W. Bush was president, there wasn’t one morning I didn’t regret that Al Gore wasn’t there instead. Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. He might not have gone into Afghanistan either. Unlike pretty much every other president, he cared about the environment.
There isn’t a single moment I miss President Hillary Clinton, though. Trump is a disaster, a real piece of crap. But everyone knows it. Because Trump is so loud and stupid and cruel and greedy and corrupt, all liberals and not a few conservatives clearly discern the true nature of his administration, and of the system itself.
If Hillary Clinton were president, the left would still be just as asleep as it was between 2008 and 2016. First woman president! Aren’t we just the best.
Meanwhile, the drones fire their missiles and U.S. troops and spooks prop up tyrants, and the filthy rich rake in their loot.
Trump gives us clarity. That is no small thing.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Military spending is the biggest waste of federal taxdollars ever. Both political parties are equally complicit.
The militarism scam is the best-kept secret in American politics.
When you think about it — but no one in the halls of Congress ever does — it’s hard to think of a country that has less to fear than the United States. Two vast oceans eliminate our vulnerability to attack, except by countries with sophisticated long-range ballistic missiles (5 out of 206 nations). We share long borders with two nations that we count as close allies and trading partners.
Historically, the U.S. has only faced an invasion once, by the British during the War of 1812. (There have been other minor incursions, by Mexico during the 19th century and the Japanese occupation of two remote islands in the Aleutian chain during World War II. The Pearl Harbor attack was a raid, not an invasion.)
Objectively, we have little to worry about beside terrorism — and that’s a job for domestic police and intelligence agencies, not the military. Yet a whopping 54% of discretionary federal spending goes to the Pentagon. The Bush Administration put the Afghanistan and Iraq wars “off the books” of the Pentagon budget. And that’s not counting interest on debt or benefits paid out for old wars. We’re still paying $5 billion a year for World War II. We’re still paying off beneficiaries for the Civil and Spanish-American Wars!
The U.S. accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population. We account for 37% of military spending worldwide, equal to the next seven countries (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, Japan) combined. (And the U.S. sells a lot of hardware to most of those countries.)
Russia spends roughly a tenth as much on defense as the U.S. And they have a lot more (and twice as much territory) to defend against: NATO/American missiles to their west in Europe, a southern border full of radical Islamists in unstable countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Afghanistan a stone’s throw away, historical regional superpower rival China next door. Despite its relatively small defense budget, Russia somehow manages to soldier on.
No matter how you look at it, America’s military budget is due for a haircut. If it were up to me, I’d scale quickly down to the Russian level, pro rata for square mileage — lob 95% of this bloated $600 billion a year monstrosity right off the top. But even a less radical budget cutter could do some good. A 10% cut — $60 billion a year — would buy universal pre-school or allow half of America’s four-year college and university students to have free tuition.
Insanely, we’re going the opposite direction.
President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion — roughly 10% — per year.
Republican hypocrisy is brazen and obvious. Most are channeling Dick Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” to justify huge tax cuts to rich individuals and big business. “I’m not the first to observe that a Republican Congress only cares about the deficit when a Democrat is in the White House,” the economist Alan Krueger says. But even the most strident deficit hawks, though uncomfortable with the tax cuts, have no problem whatsoever with Trump’s proposed hike in military spending.
“Any time we spend more money — even if it’s for something that we need — we need to cut spending in a corresponding aspect to the budget,” says Rand Paul. Slashing other, more needed programs — which is pretty much anything other than the military — is what passes for sanity in the Republican Party.
No one is proposing zero increase, much less a cut.
If anything, the Democrats are even worse. Democrats have promised a fierce Resistance to Trump and his works. But their oft-stated resolve is noticeably absent when it comes to He-Who-Must-Be-Impeached’s lust to jack up a crazy-ass defense budget that doesn’t have much of a justification to exist at all.
“This budget shifts the burden off of the wealthy and special interests and puts it squarely on the backs of the middle class and those struggling to get there … Democrats in Congress will emphatically oppose these cuts and urge our Republican colleagues to reject them as well,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Notice what’s missing? Like other Democratic leaders, Schumer’s beef is with Trump’s proposed cuts to the arts, EPA and other domestic spending, and the tax cuts. He doesn’t say boo about the defense increase.
As usual, Bernie Sanders was better than other Democrats. But even he didn’t explicitly reject the idea of a military increase on its face.
As we move past Memorial Day — the holiday when we remember the war dead, the vast majority who died not to defend America but to oppress people in other countries who never posed a threat to the United States — we should reconsider the assumption that all military spending is good spending.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
She’s ahead in the polls by roughly three to four points. Given her opposition, however, Hillary Clinton ought be doing a lot better than that.
Consider Clinton’s structural advantages over Donald Trump.
Whereas top Democratic Party officials are so supportive of her that they even cheated to defeat her primary opponent, hundreds of leading Republicans – including the speaker of the house and the last two presidential nominees – have declared war against him. She’s been wildly outspending him in televised political advertising. She has campaign field offices in most counties; he doesn’t have any in most states. The news media despises him.
Then consider her personal advantages.
Trump is a novice, never having run for political office. She has served in the cabinet, presented herself for the Senate twice, run for president, weathered countless scandals and political storms. Whereas he rants and raves incoherently, her experience has taught her how to debate, crisis manage, issue sound bites, and carefully calibrate her every phrase for maximum impact and minimum risk. His main advantage is the perception of authenticity – and it’s a big one, having gotten him where he is now – but it has come at a huge price as all his years of running off at the mouth on and off camera are coming home to roost weeks before election day.
Donald Trump has infuriated more than half the voters: women. He has insulted one out of 10 male and female Americans: Latinos, some of whom are registering to vote just to cast a ballot against him. And let’s not forget Muslims.
Given all that, why is he doing so well? Why is she doing so badly – or more accurately, so not well?
Part of Hillary’s problem is personality. Truth be told, she really isn’t “likeable enough.”
“The vote for president is a ‘feel’ vote,” Chris Cillizza wrote in The Washington Post. “Do you think this person is someone who understands you and the problems (and hopes and dreams) you have for yourself and your children?” Polls have consistently shown that most Americans think she doesn’t.
It’s not all sexism: Clinton yells into microphones and overly enunciates. Her voice is objectively irritating. Then there’s her incredibly ugly, unbelievably hideous wardrobe: it’s hard to like someone who makes your eyes burn.
But let’s face it. Hillary Clinton, probably like you and definitely like me, can’t do anything about her personality. At 68, that stuff is baked in. Still, there’s a lot she could do to close the deal against Donald Trump — to widen her within-the-margin-of-statistical-error lead to a chasm, the insurmountable landslide that her institutional and other advantages would have guaranteed a better candidate.
It’s about policy, stupid.
Recommendation #1: Guarantee Bernie Sanders a high-profile position in the cabinet. (She should have made him vice president, but it’s too late for that.)
Even after the Democratic convention in which Sanders endorsed her, more than a third of Bernie voters – roughly 1/6 of the electorate – still weren’t behind her. Annoyed that Clinton didn’t grant any significant concessions to the party’s progressive base, many of them will vote for Jill Stein or stay home. I’ve been prognosticating about American politics for decades, and I’ve never been more certain of a prediction: a firm guarantee that Bernie Sanders will have a seat at the table for the next four years would singlehandedly put an end to Trump’s chances.
Recommendation #2: Promise to be a one-term president.
One thing that drives voters crazy is politicians who spend most of their time in office weighing every decision against their future reelection campaign. Nothing would do more to allay voters’ worries that she is a slave of her Wall Street masters than to turn herself into a lame duck on day one — and free herself of the burden of worrying about 2020. Anyway, Hillary Clinton is old and not in the greatest of health. Can anyone really imagine her finishing out the presidency at age 77, the same age as Ronald “Alzheimer” Reagan?
Recommendation #3: Turn her weaknesses into strengths by promising to finish her own unfinished business.
One of Hillary Clinton’s biggest weaknesses is her support of NAFTA and other job-killing “free trade” deals. Since she can’t run away from her record, why not embrace it by calling for a major national jobs retraining and financial assistance program for people who lose their jobs to globalization, as well as a $25/hour minimum wage? Similarly, her awkward reluctance to concede that Obamacare is too expensive should be replaced by an acknowledgement of what everyone already knows – the Affordable Care Act should have at least included a “public option” – and a promise that she will add one in January. She could also claimed that she learned a valuable lesson from her email scandal; she could promise to be the most transparent president in history by putting a live camera in the oval office and the cabinet, and promising not to conduct government business (other than national security matters) in private.
Recommendation #4: No more optional wars.
You know you’re on the wrong side of an issue when Donald Trump is the calm reasonable one. On foreign policy, Hillary Clinton has quite the reputation as a warmonger. She voted for wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, even though neither had anything to do with 9/11. As Secretary of State she encouraged President Obama to finance the Islamist fundamentalists who turned Libya and Syria into hell. Now she’s saber-rattling with Russia. Americans hate these endless wars. And militarism does us a lot more harm than good. Hillary Clinton should issue an October Surprise: if elected, she should say, she will never deploy American military power anywhere on earth other than to directly defend the American homeland.
I know she probably won’t take my advice. But here’s the thing: she’ll win if she does.
To my many friends and readers who plan to vote for Hillary Clinton: please stop bullying me.
Also please lay off other people, progressives and liberals and traditional Democrats and socialists and communists, citizens who identify with the political left, who plan to vote for Dr. Jill Stein or stay home.
I’m not going to vote for Donald Trump. I agree with the mainstream liberal consensus that he should never hold political power, much less control over nuclear launch codes. He’s dangerous and scary. But that doesn’t mean I have to vote for Hillary Clinton.
So I won’t.
- The main reason that I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton is the same exact main reason that I’m not going to vote for Donald Trump: I don’t vote Republican. Being age 53, Nixon was the first president I remember. Hillary Clinton’s politics (and her paranoia and insularity) remind me of Richard Nixon’s. I can’t bring myself to think of a Democrat as someone who solicits millions of dollars from Wall Street or votes with crazy Republicans (like George W. Bush, whose stupid wars she aggressively supported) to invade foreign countries just for fun. She plays a Democrat on TV, but we know the truth: she’s a Republican.
- I’m anti-political dynasty. There should be a constitutional amendment banning anyone related by blood or marriage to a former president from running for the presidency.
- There’s a big difference between an impressive resume and a list of accomplishments. Hillary has the former, not the latter. I hold her resume against her: she has held tremendous power, yet has never reached out to grab the brass ring. As senator, her record was undistinguished. As Secretary of State, she barely lifted a finger on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, contributed to the expansion of the Syrian civil war, and is more responsible than almost anyone else for destroying Libya. What she did well she did small; when she went big she performed badly.
- #MuslimLivesMatter. More than a million people died in Iraq. She voted for that. So she isn’t, as the current Clinton campaign meme goes, merely a “flawed” candidate. Voting for the violent deaths of over a million people, and the maiming of God knows how many more — when there was no reason whatsoever to think Iraq had WMDs — is not an “oops, my bad” screw-up. Those were real people, real human beings, and they’re dead because of her. You don’t get to soak your hands in that much blood and just walk away, much less into the White House.
- She still hasn’t made an affirmative case for herself. By clinging to President Obama, she’s running as his third term. The standard way to pull this off is to present yourself as new and improved: the old product was great, the new one will be even better. Her campaign boils down to “I’m not Donald Trump.” No matter how bad he is, and he is awful, that’s not enough. Watching her in the first presidential debate, at the beginning when Trump was besting her over trade, I kept asking myself: why doesn’t she admit that the recovery is good but has left too many Americans behind? Why hasn’t she proposed a welfare and retraining program for people who lose their jobs to globalization? A week later, the only answer I can come up with is that she has no imagination, no vision thing.
- She has made no significant concessions to the political left. Frankly, this makes me wonder about her intelligence. Current polling shows that the biggest threat to her candidacy is losing millennial, working class, and Bernie Sanders supporters to the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson. She would not have this problem if she’d picked Sanders as her vice presidential running mate. Even now, she could bag the millennial vote by promising the Vermont senator a cabinet post. Why doesn’t she? For the same reason that she won’t embrace the $15-an-hour minimum wage (she gets $225,000 for an hour-long speech but wants you to settle for $12) — she’s a creature of the corporations and therefore the political right. She’s not one of us. She doesn’t care about us.
- My vote is worth no less than the vote of someone who supports a major party nominee. So what if the polls say that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be elected president? Why, based on those polls, should I strategically vote for someone whose politics and personality I deplore? By that logic, why shouldn’t they change their votes to conform to mine? I have my vote, you have your vote, let Diebold add them up.
I don’t have a problem with you if you plan to vote for Hillary. This year is the best argument ever for lesser evilism. But the fact that we are selecting between two equally unpopular major party presidential standardbearers indicates that the two-party system is in crisis, if not broken. We need and deserve more and better options. The only way to get them is to start building viable third parties — voting for them, contributing money to them. What better time to start than now?
Anyway, there’s absolutely no way that my refusal to vote for Hillary will put Donald Trump into the White House.
How do I know? Arithmetic. The closest state margin in an American presidential election was four, in Maryland in 1832. Like you, I only get one vote. Whatever I do can’t and won’t change the result.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form.)
Against the wishes of her New York Democratic constituents, Hillary Clinton voted with Senate Republicans to invade Iraq. (It was a pivotal vote. Without Democratic support, George W. Bush’s request for this war of aggression would have failed.)
Humayun Khan, 27, was an army captain who got killed during that invasion.
Eight years later, the dead soldier’s parents appeared at the 2016 Democratic National Convention — not to protest, but in order to endorse one of the politicians responsible for his death: Hillary Clinton.
Even more strangely, Clinton’s opponent Donald Trump is the one who is in political trouble – not because Trump sent Khan to war, but because Trump committed a relatively minor slight, especially compared to the numerous outrageous utterances to his name. Trump didn’t denigrate the dead Humayun Khan. Nor did he directly insult his parents. Lamely trying to score a feminist point concerning radical Islam, Trump insinuated that Mr. Khan didn’t allow Mrs. Khan to address the crowd because as a Muslim, he doesn’t respect women.
Let us stipulate that no one should impugn the courage of the war dead. (Not that anyone did here.) Let us further concede that Donald Trump is a remarkably tactless individual. Those things said, the Khan controversy is yet another spectacular example of the media distracting us with a relatively minor point in order to make a much bigger issue go away.
A week ago corporate media gatekeepers managed to transform the Democratic National Committee internal emails released by WikiLeaks from what it really was – scandalous proof that Bernie Sanders and his supporters were right when they said the Democratic leadership was biased and had rigged the primaries against them, and that the system is corrupt – into a trivial side issue over who might be responsible for hacking the DNC computers. Who cares if it was Russia? It’s the content that matters, not that it was ever seriously discussed.
Now here we go again.
Hillary’s vote for an illegal war of choice that was sold with lies, was a major contributing factor to the death of Captain Khan, thousands of his comrades, and over a million Iraqis. Iraq should be a major issue in this campaign — against her.
Instead, it’s being used by his parents and the Democratic Party to bait Donald Trump into a retro-post-9/11 “Support Our Troops” militaristic trap. Khan, you see, was “defending his country.” (How anyone can say U.S. soldiers in Iraq, part of an invasion force thousands of miles away where no one threatens the United States, are “defending” the U.S. remains a long-running linguistic mystery.)
“Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son ‘the best of America,’” Khizr Khan told the convention. Unfortunately, the moniker can’t apply to once-and-possible-future-first-daughter Chelsea Clinton, who never considered a military career before collecting $600,000 a year from NBC News for essentially a no-show job. But anyway…
“If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America,” Khizr Khan continued. The cognitive dissonance makes my head spin. Obviously, Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims is racist and disgusting. Ironically, however, it would have saved at least one life. If it was up to Donald Trump, the Khans would still be in the United Arab Emirates. Humayan would still be alive. As would any Iraqis he killed.
“Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution?” asked Khizr, who is originally from Pakistan. “I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.” A good question. While we’re at it, however, where does it say in the U.S. Constitution that the president can send troops overseas for years at a time without a formal congressional declaration of war? Where does it say that the United States can attack foreign countries that have done it no harm and have never threatened it?
As you’d expect Trump, he of little impulse control, has handled this about as poorly as possible. Asked about Khizr Khan’s remark that Trump hasn’t made any sacrifices, he idiotically attempted to compare his business dealings with the death of a son. Still, you have to grudgingly admire Trump for fighting back against a guy you are officially not allowed to say anything mean about.
It has been widely remarked, always approvingly, that this year’s Democrats have successfully appropriated images of patriotism and “optimism” – scare quotes because this is not the kind of actual optimism in which you think things are going to actually get better, but the bizarro variety in which you accept that things will really never get better so you’d might as well accept the status quo – from the Republicans. This is part of Hillary Clinton’s strategy of taking liberal Democrats for granted while trying to seduce Republicans away from Trump.
The Khan episode marks a high water mark for post-9/11 knee-jerk militarism.
Even the “liberal” party whose sitting incumbent two-term president captured the White House by running against the Iraq war demands that everyone fall to their knees in order to pay homage to the “good” Muslims — those willing to go to the Middle East to kill bad ones.
Next time you see a panel of experts discussing a foreign crisis, pay attention: does anyone argue against intervention? No. The debate is always between going in light and going in hard: bombs, or “boots on the ground.” Not getting involved is never an option. As long as this militaristic approach to the world continues, the United States will never have enough money to take care of its problems here at home, and it will always be hated around the world.
Most Americans believe the Iraq war was a mistake. Who speaks for us? No one in the media. And no one in mainstream politics.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His new book, the graphic biography “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” is now available.)
The media went crazy over false reports that Bernie Sanders supporters threw some chairs at a Democratic convention in Nevada. They deplored the burning of Make America Great Again hats at a Trump rally. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton personally destroyed several Middle East nations…yet the media doesn’t have anything to say about that.