VOICES | Obama and McCain are players; the election for president is about us


The polls are now calibrating the presidential election as a dead heat, or approaching that. The fallout on the eve of the conventions is predictable: The wingnuts are gloating, and Democrats are blaming each other.

With the country in the midst of a massive economic breakdown, high prices, millions of lost homes, schools impoverished, pensions facing liquidation, low-income taxpayers bailing out bankers and hotwired Wall Street speculators, with China flourishing on clouds of American debt and the Republican presidential candidate exploring the lively prospect of more wars, it is a fairly legitimate moment to ask:

What’s happening?

Why is America considering putting the keys to power back into the pockets of the same criminal gang that has systemically raided the public treasury of trillions of dollars over the last eight years, exported millions of jobs, hidden corporate profits, brazenly enriched the rich, stomped on the working class, lawlessly thumbed its nose at the American Constitution and needlessly killed thousands of America servicemen and women in a bloated campaign for empire and legacy.

A reasonable response to that question is to return to the wisdom of Thomas Frank. Frank is the nimble grassroots philosopher whose “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” just a few years ago gives us most of the answers. Whole packs of Americans had voted themselves into bankruptcy and voted their kids out of quality education and health care by endorsing the Bush presidency.

The Democrats should write a two-page synopsis of Frank’s conclusions and substitute it for the party platform that nobody reads. It might explain why millions of Americans at this very moment are seriously planning to vote against what may be their one and last chance to work themselves out of the swamp they recklessly chose four and eight years ago.

EVERYBODY who feels pain or political anxiety in America today should read that synopsis. In fact, Frank provides one himself on the web:

“What explains the dysfunction at the dark heart of our politics?” he asked.

You can see some of the answers in the political ads of the season. The Republicans laughingly have transformed themselves, Frank tells us, “into a brawling, beer-drinking buddy of the working man…George W. Bush sticking up for the ‘regular Americans,’ or the army of pundits who have written so eloquently about the humble folk of “the red states.”

You canproduce your own tally sheet of the harvest of that self-destructive behavior at the polls of four and eight years ago, what Frank calls the sappy stuff coming out of the right wing foundries of the last 20 years:

“Privatization. Deregulation. Monopolies in every industry from banking to radio to meatpacking. The destruction of the welfare (safety nets). The beatdown of the labor movement. The transformation of the Midwest into the rust belt. And, shimmering in the heavens above all this, the rise of the new plutocracy, a class of overlords…”

That is basically where we are in America today. If the Democrats want a short form question to put to the voters for the next two months, it’s here:

“Is this what you want?”

Many of the victims of that institutionalized greed and ruthlessness were those working and farm folk who said they’d be damned if they were going to vote for the Eastern elitists and tree huggers who, they are told incessantly by the talk shows’ right wing mouthpieces, are the ones who run the Democratic Party.

That is not the answer they’re likely to give when the pollsters ask them why they want to vote for John McCain. McCain, they say, is a patriot. The other guy isn’t. The other guy is, well, not us. Not real American. So that’s who and what the election, they say, is about.

That is the line. Most of the controlled electronic media has bought it into it. McCain is basically a human weather vane, blowing harmlessly in the breeze unless the talk gets to war, when he becomes Oliver North and Douglas MacArthur with a hand mike, ready to charge all available hills. Yesterday one of his flip answers seemed to put him on the side of renewing the military draft.

Nobody talks much about it. It’s just McCain. But election is supposed to be all about Obama. How are the Democrats (and, incidentally, millions people who once represented the common sense wing of the Republican Party) going to steer the country off that crazy road that is seriously described by the Rovian manipulators as America’s route to peace and prosperity.

The first way for Americans who really want to win this election for Barack Obama is to get over the myth that the election is about Barack Obama. That is exactly the campaign strategy being pursued by the people who want to beat him. So he’s Obama the Untested. Obama the Unpatriot. Obama with relatives in Africa. Obama who sounds too smart to be president.

But in the real and larger canvas of the future of this now-disoriented country, the election is really not about Obama. It is first about (a) the country itself (b) the lives and futures of the people in it and (c) you.

This election is about taking the country out of the hands of the corporate and political manipulators who have made a caricature out of the American idea, who in their obsession with power have trampled the hopes and lives of millions of vulnerable people. These are people who have respected and revered a country for nurturing their dreams and has honored their faith and energy and commitment..

These people have been systematically exploited and deceived. Their trust and genuine devotion to the country have been perverted by their deceivers. How? We return to Thomas Frank. “On closer inspection the country we have inhabited for the last three decades seems more like a panorama of madness and delusion…of sturdy patriots reciting the Pledge while they resolutely strangle their own life chances; of small farmers proudly voting themselves off the land; of devoted family men carefully seeing to it that their children will never be able to afford college or proper health care; of hardened blue-collar workers in Midwestern burgs cheering as they deliver up a landslide for a candidate whose policies will end their way of life.”

This could happen again in November. But there’s an antidote derived from one of the oldest mantras in politics. In a close race the folks who work hardest, run the phone banks 24-7 and show up massively on Tuesday usually win.

Stand on the sidelines and wring your hands, you lose.