More and more, the media seems especially enraptured with political candidates whose policy positions are vague to the point of being nonexistent. It helps if you are somewhat good-looking, young, and have a certain charisma if you want to appeal to today’s journalists. But no one cares about what you want to do to actually help people.
“Too soon!” That was a standard response to my criticisms of John McCain following his death.
My cartoon and social media posts reminded readers that McCain had volunteered to bomb innocent civilians in an illegal war of aggression to prop up a corrupt and reviled regime at the time of his capture. The real heroes of the Vietnam War were the tens of thousands of draft dodgers forced to give up their lives to flee to Canada and the many conscripted veterans who came home appalled by what they saw and did and spent the rest of their lives fighting for peace.
McCain, on the other hand, learned nothing from his experience. He never met a war — or a possible war — he didn’t like. McCain voted for war against Afghanistan and Iraq. He criticized Bill Clinton for limiting his war against Kosovo to airstrikes; he wanted ground troops too. He supported arming the Islamist jihadis in Syria and Libya, expanding the civil wars there. He threatened war against Iran. He sabre-rattled against Russia. North Korea and even China were in this deranged right winger’s sights.
These were not minor failings in an otherwise distinguished life. They were defining acts that erased the myths on which McCain built his career — his military service and his “maverick” persona. The war he fought in was disgusting and now widely considered a mistake. McCain was a run-of-the-mill right-wing Republican warmonger. His straight-talk shtick was fake as hell.
Media accounts sanitized the myriad of very bad things McCain did throughout his life. So I did my part to help counter the tsunami of BS.
“Do not speak ill of the dead.” This dictum, attributed to the 6th century BCE philosopher Chilon of Sparta, may be appropriate at your uncle’s funeral; who wants to hear that the dead man’s widow discovered foot-fetish websites in his browser history?
Public figures are different.
In cartoons and the written word I have attempted to counter the fulsome praise that followed the deaths of people like Ronald Reagan. I wasn’t trying to be mean to Nancy Reagan. Though I doubt she read my work.
Reagan hurt and killed a lot of people. As much as Reagan’s admirers didn’t enjoy my reminders that he (we believed at the time) murdered Moammar Gaddafi’s daughter or that he didn’t care about victims of HIV-AIDS, Americans who lost friends and relatives to the “gay plague” deserved to be acknowledged in assessments of Reagan’s life and legacy. The media pretended Reagan’s crimes never happened. I corrected the record.
The “too soon” and “can’t you wait until the body is cold?” arguments fall flat. What better time to point out and discuss a dead leader’s flaws than the time immediately following their death? That’s when obituaries appear, the eulogies are said and the nation is focused on the issues and policies they affected and effected. A few weeks later, no one cares.
Presumably referring to himself, former president Theodore Roosevelt argued in a 1910 speech that men of action — those “in the arena” — matter and their critics do not.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” Roosevelt said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Soaring oratory! But self-serving and obsolete.
If effort and taking chances is all that matters when assessing a person’s life, the firefighter who enters a burning house to save a baby has no more worth than the serial killer who sneaks inside to kill it. Hitler and Stalin and Osama bin Laden all had grand visions they strove valiantly to turn into reality. They were daring. They achieved. They counted, but so what?
These days it’s the “timid souls” who stand aside, keeping mum while the mass media wallows in sordid orgies of mawkish praise for problematic figures like Reagan and McCain. Adding perspective and nuance to assessments of mass adulation requires courage. In this age of relentless propaganda and unmitigated BS, the critic is in the arena just as much as a dead senator.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
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.
Originally published at ANewDomain.net:
Conservatives have been spoiled. For at least as long as I’ve been alive – I’m 51 – right-wingers have scarcely had to break a sweat in political debates. Until recently, all it has taken to reduce a liberal to a blubbering, conceding mess was a cheesy ad hominem attack.
You hate the troops!
You hate the cops!
Why do you hate America so much?
Though undeniably tentative and fragile, there are indications that the Right’s reign of terror in public discourse may come to an end someday.
A case in point is President Obama, whose first six years in office were characterized by relentless timidity even when he enjoyed amazing poll numbers and control of both houses of Congress. After the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in November 2014, he was expected to follow the liberal Democratic tradition of accepting that the Republicans should get their way on everything because that was obviously the will of the American people.
Instead, he inaugurated his lame-duck final couplet with aggressive moves on immigration reform and, last week, normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba, both through executive action. Republicans howled – but nothing happened. To the contrary, Obama seems more powerful than ever.
Some sort of turning point in the ideological zeitgeist seems to have been reached with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s appearance on “Meet the Press” two weekends ago. Blisteringly belligerent as usual, Cheney didn’t even try to appeal to logic or reason while defending “enhanced interrogation techniques” under the Bush Administration in the wake of the Senate torture report.
“Torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11,” Cheney said.
For many years after September 11 attacks, this was the kind of off-the-cuff mindfart that progressives and Democrats didn’t know how to counter. (No, that’s not torture. That’s tragedy.) Anything that harkened back to 9/11, no matter how irrelevant or stupid, was rhetorical kryptonite to liberals who didn’t want to appear weak in the War on Terror.
Cheney caught the worst of it, but standard Republican talking points and rhetorical style took a beating over the last week on a number of issues.
Arizona Senator, Vietnam POW and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain reacted to the alleged hack of Sony Entertainment by the North Korean government in his standard bellicose way, declaring it “an act of war.” An act of war, naturally, calls for a military response. The declaration by President Bush that 9/11 was an act of war, for example, prompted Congress to authorize the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by a nearly unanimous vote. (Which worked out splendidly!)
Interestingly, McCain’s ferocity fell largely upon deaf ears. More in touch with ordinary Americans was President Obama, who countered that the hackers had actually carried out “an act of cyber-vandalism that was very costly, very expensive.”
In a sneak preview of the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, likely contender and Florida Senator Marco Rubio catered to part of his Greater Miami constituency of Cuban exiles by calling for the continuation of the half-century-old trade blockade of the Caribbean island. “I don’t care if the polls say that 99% of people believe we should normalize relations in Cuba,” he said. It’s not quite that extreme yet, but most Americans do support Obama’s decision to recognize the end of the Cold War 23 years after the fact.
Rubio’s rhetoric was met with a yawn (and lucky for him). Obama’s actions are largely seen by the political class as a fait accompli, all over but the shouting at passport control in Havana.
This is a remarkable transformation. Twenty or even ten years ago, any Democrat who had endorsed, much less carried out, such a move would be deemed to have committed political suicide. Republican talk radio would have screamed that it was un-American, procommunist, and treasonous. Sure, they’re saying the same thing now, but no one cares because, well, it’s stupid.
Of course, it would have been stupid back then. The difference is, people can see that now.
Then, in New York City, there was Saturday’s shooting of two police officers as they sat in their patrol car in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, apparently by a deranged man with a long criminal record. New York’s new mayor Bill de Blasio, a progressive Democrat whose political allies don’t include top NYPD figures, took a blast of heat from police union leaders, one of whom spat that de Blasio has blood on his hands. (Apparently he drew a straight line between the shooter’s post-Ferguson/post-Staten Island anti-cop rants on Instagram and the mayor’s revelation that he tells his biracial son to be careful when he encounters police officers.)
To be sure, de Blasio is having trouble with the NYPD — but this kerfuffle is nothing close to the existential crisis a liberal Democratic mayor in the same pickle would have had to endure just a few short years ago. Most New Yorkers recognize that this is police overreach. A few weeks after New Yorkers of all races reacted with disgust to a grand jury decision not to indict the Staten Island police officer who murdered Eric Garner on video, not even the cold-blooded assassination of two cops on the streets of Brooklyn erases that memory or allows a return to the Giuliani years, when cops could do no wrong in the eyes of officialdom. If the mayor tells his kid to watch out for the cops, who can blame him?
So what has changed?
It might be a bona fide political shift from right to left, but that’s not my take. What we are seeing, I suspect, is popular exhaustion with right-wing talking points and bullying rhetoric. There’s a certain point at which repetition stops working and becomes annoying – and it feels like that’s where we’re at.
In the future, if conservatives want to be taken seriously, they’re going to have to go back to the old William F. Buckley days and attempt to construct calm, logically reasoned arguments in favor of their ideas. Name-calling and appeals to rank emotionalism aren’t cutting it anymore.
Originally published at ANewDomain.net:
A long-awaited report on torture under the Bush administration has just been released – sort of. Actually, it’s just the 600-page “executive summary.” The full 6,000 pages remains classified. Still, it’s making big news, and for good reason: it’s the first official attempt by the political class to walk back some of the most extreme American responses to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. If you’re not like me, you haven’t been following the ins and outs of the torture debate since the very start. But I have, so I’m here to tell you what you need to know over the water cooler.
Not that much. The CIA already admitted that it had subjected three detainees – men suspected of terrorism but never formally charged under American law, kidnapped and brought to so-called “black sites” (CIA secret prisons around the world, in countries like Romania and Thailand) – to waterboarding, which is a form of simulated drowning widely considered to be torture under international law. Due to the new Senate report, we know that it happened to a lot more than just these three men. But that doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows the CIA.
They’re liars. They’re spies. Same thing.
Most of the other revelations were previously leaked, including the use of threats to the lives of detainees’ wives and children, and of the use of a power drill during at least one torture session. Why is the media treating this stuff as new? After years of cuts in newsrooms, young journalists simply don’t remember this stuff or weren’t around when it happened.
What will happen as a result?
That’s hard to say, but probably nothing much.
US President Barack Obama set the tone back in early 2009, shortly after taking office, when he said that it was his inclination to look forward, not backward, by which he meant that the United States shouldn’t wallow in the past sins of the Bush administration by looking at torture and holding those responsible for it accountable. Backpedaling on that policy would open all sorts of cans of worms for him and his administration, setting the stage for unknown repercussions. Politicians rarely do this voluntarily. Don’t expect any calls for Bush-era torturers to be prosecuted, much less for the high-ranking officials, including former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and VP Dick Cheney, to be investigated.
So torture is pretty much a thing of the past, right?
Although Obama says the United States no longer tortures, there is nothing that has happened under his administration that would prevent a future president from authorizing torture again. Obama has never canceled or declared null and void the shoddily worded and legally dubious legal opinions issued by the Bush White House’s Office of Legal Counsel, which means that the legal infrastructure authorizing so-called “harsh interrogation techniques” remains in place. Which is why Obama used very lawyerly, very weasely words in his 2009 statement: “after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques…” The word “some” wasn’t an accident.
Even now, many of the abuses that took place at places like Guantánamo under Bush have been moved to more discreet locations such as a new expanded post-Guantánamo detention center for detainees held at Bagram airbase north of Kabul, Afghanistan. One of the reasons that Obama moved detainees from Cuba to Afghanistan was to be able to torture them more discreetly and deny them access to their lawyers, who were far more easily able to fly to Cuba.
Also, under the Obama rules, only the US military is specifically prohibited from torturing detainees. The CIA and other agencies in the so-called intelligence community still enjoy carte blanche. And Appendix M of the Army Field Manual still allows torture under Obama.
There’s a reason the Senate report doesn’t cover the period beyond 2009.
But now that people know the truth, aren’t they going to get mad and demand action?
Maybe, but there’s no reason to believe that now. The fact is, Americans have known for 12 years through one report after another, many of them filed by this reporter, and have chosen to either ignore the issue, shrug it off as a necessary way to extract information from terrorists who mean to attack the homeland, or outright applaud it as vengeance against those who mean us harm. True, Americans are much calmer now than they were in 2001 and 2002, but once a country has accepted a behavior as normal, it’s very hard for it to reconsider that and achieve a different political consensus. Also, there’s no evidence that there is widespread disgust among the public for torture. Earlier this year, a poll found that 68% of Americans approve of torture depending on the circumstances.
Still, you cynical bastard, isn’t this report better than no report at all?
Yes. The truth is always a good thing. There’s no way for a country to begin a journey toward redemption until it starts to acknowledge its sins. Speaking of which, don’t take Sen. John McCain too seriously. He talks a good game about torture now, but when he had the votes to pass a bill that would have banned torture, he succumbed to pressure from the Bush White House to remain quiet when the president issued a “signing statement,” stating that the US government would ignore the law.
Women of a certain age are thrilled by the prospect of a possible President Hillary.
Over-50 females are so overjoyed that one of their own might finally achieve the nation’s top political post — better two centuries late than never — that they’re willing to overlook the former First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State’s not-so-minor defects.
Like her very long resume, minus significant achievements. Like the blood of a million Iraqis dripping off her warmongering claws. (She voted in ’03 for a war she ought to have known would soon become unpopular. What was she worried about? That New Yorkers, liberal as they come, wouldn’t reelect her in ’06?) Like the ugly optics of America’s first woman president having to be a former First Lady because we can’t find a woman who made something of herself on her own merits. Like the nasty truth that, aside from her chromosomes and body parts, she’s not one of them at all — just another slimy influence peddler. Not to mention, she doesn’t stand for anything, or have a vision that differs from the status quo.
For the rest of us, a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign is an incredibly depressing thought.
Starting with her much-vaunted Inevitability. Doesn’t anyone remember that we went through this in 2008? Democrats didn’t want her then; we don’t want her now. Can’t we do better than this tired old warhorse?
When I see Hillary’s chipmunk-cheeked countenance, I see old. Part of this is primal physicality, the sexist social conditioning that says guys age more gracefully than women. (How much you wanna bet that’d be the opposite under matriarchy?) But Hillary is actually old: she’ll be 69 on Election Day 2016. Her supporters point out that that’s the same age as Reagan when he took office. Considering the fact that the Gipper went senile in office, they might want to hush up.
More than calendar years, Hillary is spiritually old. She’s a throwback to another time, one that’s never coming back.
Like Reagan, Hillary Clinton is a cultural hiccup. Disconnected. Passé.
Post-Obama, who for his many shortcomings managed for a time to project a youthful vigor, an elderly President Hillary would mark a grim, dutiful restoration, a political return to the 1970s and 1980s, when she toiled as a talented if sketchy corporate lawyer. She harkens to the presidency of her husband, a conservative who banished liberals from the Democratic Party, severing the last connection between Washington’s political classes and the people they were supposedly sent to serve, never to be seen again after post-9/11 Bush went insane right-wing and Obama codified and expanded it all.
I don’t mind that she stayed married to Bill after he cheated on her. What’s unforgivable is that she stayed married to him after he destroyed American politics.
I hate Hillary — if you think about the million Iraqis she voted to kill, how can you not? — yet I don’t feel contempt for her.
What I feel is bored.
Bored, tired and sad. We have so many pressing systemic problems (economic decline, endless war, national purposelessness); is it really possible we’re going to have to endure another four-to-eight years of a presidency that doesn’t even try to address what ails us?
Because, let’s face it, there is no universe in which a President Hillary kicks ass. There is no chance, not even a remote one, that she is interested in decisive action on climate change (her “plan”: hope for young people to form a “movement“), bold moves to reduce unemployment or raise wages, putting an end to NSA spying on Americans (she’s in favor of it), or slamming the breaks on Washington’s kneejerk reaction to anything that happens overseas: blow it up (she’s really in favor of war).
You only get one thing by electing a President Hillary: a first woman president.
An old, tired, unimaginative, uninspiring, boring, useless, first woman president.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
The USA Freedom Bill was presented as a means to rein in some of the NSA’s privacy violations. But when the Obama Administration asked nicely, a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans agreed to make the reform toothless and thus worthless. Who said bipartisanship was dead in Washington?
The Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Phil Robertson Racism Trials
Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Phil Robertson have more in common than dumb opinions about blacks. They’re examples of working classism at work.
The billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, the grazing fee refusenik Nevada rancher and the hillbilly patriarch in the TV reality show “Duck Dynasty” are bit players in a familiar drama.
After being embraced by the establishment — right-wing Republican politicians and media figures in the case of the last two, the NAACP for the former — their not-so-previously-secret racism exposes itself through their big mouths. After which said establishment proclaims shock and surprise, runs away screaming, and gets rid of their once-favorite racists faster than a chick-turned-chicken after Easter.
The racism trifecta is very 2014, but there’s nothing new about this overall dynamic.
The Reverend Jeremiah Wright was so close to the Obamas that he officiated their wedding. However, when Wright’s sermons criticizing American foreign policy came to light during the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama quit his church and publicly insulted him.
Unlike Sterling, Bundy and Robertson, Wright’s controversial comments came from the Left of the corporate “mainstream.” As a progressive, Wright identifies with African-Americans, the poor and working class.
Nevertheless, it was the same basic theme in action: an establishment figure defining himself as “mainstream” by ostracizing an erstwhile ally, one who is identified with or as a member of the working class.
Sterling and Robertson are both very wealthy; by most measures, Bundy is rich. Culturally, however, Bundy the rancher and Robertson the redneck automatically go into the outsider box along with their hick accents. Ditto for Sterling, née Tokowitz, a self-made man who hustled in the trenches as a crass L.A. divorce lawyer—and offended polite society by slutting around with hookers and age-inappropriate courtesans.
Only in America can you be worth a billion bucks yet still be classified as white trash.
Even if your accents are northeastern and your diplomas issued by the Ivies, political identification with the plight of the underclass makes you a target for the first-we’re-friends-next-not-so-much rug-pull.
Also in 2008 and also in reaction to attacks from the right, Obama shunned former leftie activist Bill Ayers — formerly a member of the revolutionary Weather Underground in the late 1960s — and disavowed their previous interactions in local Chicago politics. Obama’s campaign strategists believed it was important for a candidate who sought to become the country’s first black president to reassure the white power elite that he was one of them, or at least not enamored of the underclass whose wrath they reasonably feared, and so were quick to jump at the chance to exploit Ayers and Wright to achieve double “Sister Souljah moments.” (More on Souljah below.)
Obama’s Republican rival that year, John McCain, similarly embraced “Joe the Plumber” as an embodiment of salt-of-the-earth America, taking the Ohioan on the campaign trail with him. Inevitably, their public bromance soured, and McCain distanced himself after his working-class buddy turned out to be a bit of a liar concerning his tax status, a gun nut and, well, just too lumpen to establishment tastes. (Joe’s 2012 assertion that Germany’s Jews were doomed by gun control under the Third Reich is a classic example of widely-believed historical manure.)
It isn’t necessary for the establishment big-shot to personally know his working-class-identified victim in order to betray her. All that’s needed is to point out someone with dangerously antiestablishment ideas and smear her for personal gain.
Sister Souljah, the hip-hop artist and author after whom the term “Sister Souljah moment” was coined, got lambasted by Governor Bill Clinton during the 1992 primaries for musing: “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?” Clinton, who played golf at a no-blacks-allowed country club, played the punk card, opting to beat up someone who couldn’t hit back: “If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black,’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech.” The media didn’t give Souljah a platform to reply.
Souljah’s career foundered for years as a result, but Clinton—personally suspect by major donors and the political class because he’d grown up poor, and continued to exhibit picayune tastes in such signifiers as fast food and big-haired Arkansan women—won the White House, where he used his power to push through NAFTA, the WTO and other free trade agreements that decimated workers.
In 2000, GOP primary contender John McCain shot for the ultimate Sister Souljah moment by saying: “Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.”
Farrakhan and Sharpton were identified with black militancy; Robertson and Falwell were leaders of the Christian evangelist movement, which was predominantly poor and working class. In U.S. corporate politics, defending the downtrodden—whether progressive or reactionary—is defined as “extreme” and bizarre.
Even family isn’t exempt from working classism. As President, Jimmy Carter—former governor, agribusiness entrepreneur and Naval Academy graduate—distanced himself from his brother Billy, targeted by the press as a hard-drinking embarrassment.
Why do the 31% of Americans who self-identify as working class put up with working classism?
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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Hillary is the talk of 2016. Will she run? According to the pundit class whose water cooler speculation gets repackaged as “conventional wisdom,” the nomination is the former First Lady’s for the asking. Following a coronation that saves her cash and bruising primary battles, it’s currently hard to conjure a Republican who can stop her from taking the general election too.
But to paraphrase a recent viral music video, there’s one thing that no one knows:
What would President Clinton II do?
I posed this question to “Ready for Hillary,” the main pro-Hillary Super PAC. “Ready for Hillary focuses on grassroots organizing, not policy,” replied Seth Bringman. “Policy decisions would be up to the campaign if Hillary runs, which we are certainly encouraging her to do. We amplify the causes Hillary is advocating for and spread the word to our more than one-and-a-half million supporters. We have done so when Hillary spoke out on immigration reform, health care, voting rights, unemployment insurance, and the government shutdown.”
Given that the pre-primary season doesn’t begin for another 18 months, it’s a little early to expect a fully fleshed-out policy platform from a probable candidate. But HRC isn’t a fresh young thing. She’s been kicking around politics for decades — so it’s more than a little strange that neither her fans nor her enemies has a clue what she’d do about a host of issues.
Long before 2000, Al Gore’s longstanding interest in climate change signaled that the environment would have been a priority in his administration. Beginning with his testimony in the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings, John Kerry’s career path predicted a preference for diplomacy over war. On the other hand, it was similarly clear long before 2008 that a John McCain Administration would have been belligerent and quirky, featuring occasional alliances of convenience with Democrats.
So, what about Hill? The only agenda item anyone could have reasonably predicted was a revival of HillaryCare — which is now basically Obamacare. The biggest arrow in her quiver is gone.
Ready for Hillary says it has raised $4 million from 33,000 donors during 2013. That’s a lot of money. You’d think the donors would know what they’re buying, but if that’s the case, they’re keeping it to themselves.
Hillary leads every poll of the Democratic field for 2016. But why? What is it about her that makes some liberal voters swoon?
I combed the Internet looking for signs of something approximating a political agenda. I pushed out the following question to social networks: “Support Hillary for 2016? Can you tell me what she would DO?”
The closest approximation to an answer came back: “She would be the first woman president.”
Yeah, we knew that — but would she be a first woman president who fires drones at wedding parties, or a first woman president who pushes for a $20/hour minimum wage, or a first woman president who continues the first black president’s policy of not using government to try to create jobs? Would she be a first woman president who closes Guantánamo? Would she be a first woman president who continued NSA spying on Americans? Would she be a first woman president who adds a public option to the Affordable Care Act?
As far as I can tell, the (Democratic) arguments for Hillary boil down to the following talking points:
- Unlike Obama, who let himself get rolled by the Republicans, Hillary is tough and battle-tested. She’s a good negotiator.
- She’s an experienced manager. “Ready on day one,” she argued in 2008. She knows everyone and everything in government.
- Like her husband, she’s somewhat more liberal than Obama.
- She’s pre-disastered, thus electable. If there were any more Travelgates, Whitewaters, etc., the media would have uncovered them by now.
These are personality traits, not prescriptions for America.
Hillary Clinton isn’t a candidate — she’s a brand. She doesn’t offer a set of ideas; she projects a vague sense of competence that feels absent in the current White House. (Didn’t she used to hold some kind of big job in that place?) Despite having held high posts in government, she can’t point to a single major legislative or ideological achievement — but that doesn’t matter to her supporters.
Mostly, Hillary represents the potentiality of a historical symbol: first woman president. As soon as she takes the oath of office, her campaign’s biggest goal, shattering the ultimate political glass ceiling, will have been achieved.
If this feels familiar, it should. Senator Barack Obama was Clinton in 2006 and 2007, projecting calm after long post-9/11 years of jittery Bushisms, with a light resume that served as a blank slate, allowing people to project their hopes and ideals upon him. In the end, all that mattered was the beginning: winning as a black man. For the Obamabots, all that followed — protecting Bush’s torturers, the bankster bailouts, the drones, the NSA — was beside the point of their politics of identitarian symbolism.
What will happen to the long-term unemployed under Hillary? If 2008 serves as a guide, the 2016 campaign will pass without Americans much talking or thinking about such questions.
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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM