Thursday, October 16th, 2008

McCain Lost Me

With watery red eyes that had him looking as if he’d just smoked a bowl of medical marijuana, Senator John McCain might have made me feel sorry for him.

I’m far from a conservative, as far as the suburbs of Honolulu are from the streets of Brooklyn. But this year I was willing to give John McCain a fair hearing. “Change is coming”, he had said in St. Paul and, weary of politics as usual, I was genuinely interested to see if he and the Republican Party were willing to back it up.

But last night I finally gave in. I broke. I was stomping around the house, scaring the kids, yelling at the radio and the television, and generally not digesting my dinner.

Here’s why. We’re now past silly season and into shitty season. Falling down in the polls like Michael Douglas, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin have gone negative, unleashing fear out of their little box of horrors.

McCain argued last night that he has “repudiated every time someone has been out of line.” But he continues to allow his VP nominee—someone CNN’s Leslie Sanchez once said was “a vice president for the rest of us”—to insinuate Obama is not like the rest of us. He continues to flog non-stories about ACORN, a federation of community organizations working for poor people led by a woman of color, and Bill Ayers, a former Weather Underground radical who now is a respected voice in education.

McCain and Palin are betting that those who believe Obama is Arab or Muslim—and please so what if he were?—will also be scared of community organizers in poor communities and communities of color who have registered over a million new voters. Just for perspective, the false registrations—which afflict every voter registration campaign—represent less than half of one percent of all the new registrations—a pretty good rate, if you ask me.

McCain and Palin are betting that those who believe Obama is down with terrorists—because he actually lived and went to school in Indonesia once and what’s up with that middle name?—are still scared of 60s activists who have become distinguished professors and respected community leaders focusing on improving education for poor, inner-city students. Why focus on the real issue of how to fix the educational system for the nation’s future, when you can draw people back to the spectacle of battles that are 40 years old?

Full disclosure: I’ve knocked on doors and phone-banked for ACORN. I’ve written the Afterword for Bill Ayers’ new book, and I was honored that he asked. So call me a domestic terrorist threatening to destroy the fabric of American democracy.

But I don’t think I’m alone.

Voter registration fraud doesn’t mean that Mickey Mouse will show up and try to vote on November 4th. Voter suppression, however, is an active Republican strategy that’s been in place since the 1964 Voting Rights Act expanded enfranchisement. Is there any wonder why election protection groups feel they need to be in communities of color, working-class people, immigrants, and not in, say, Salt Lake City?

And if we want to talk Bill Ayers, let’s start with education. Ayers has quietly done important work in Chicago and earned the respect of the best education leaders in the country, liberals and conservatives alike.

McCain, on the other hand, asserted last night that the country had finally arrived at equal access to education, apparently unaware that school segregation has climbed since the Reagan era to levels unseen since the eve of Brown vs. Board of Education.

In his effort to push vouchers, he confused them with charter schools and lied—with a big smile—about Washington D.C. superintendent Michelle Rhee’s position on them. McCain simply doesn’t seem to have as much knowledge or passion on education and higher education as he does about Obama’s supposedly scary relationships.

And here is the thing. No one really cares about my friend Bill Ayers and no one really cares about ACORN except for the right-wing nuts and racists in the party, the kind of folks who show up at rallies to yell “Kill him!” when Obama’s name is mentioned. Instead I think most voters, like me, want to know how the war can be ended, the economy be turned around, and the education system be fixed.

But McCain, despite his “I’m not George Bush” zinger, seemed more intent upon bringing back the ideas of the past. At times, he sounded like a GOP greatest hits compilation.

When the discussion turned to abortion, for instance, he said, “We have to change the culture of America,” he said. It was a conscious echo of Pat Buchanan’s famous 1992 culture war speech, the singular text of the right-wing backlash.

McCain tried to paint Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal, a throwback to the days when the elder Bush made Michael Dukakis ashamed of the “l-word”. And he revived Reagan-era disses—”class warfare” and “spreading the wealth”—to describe Obama’s economic plans.

Of course after four decades in which the wealth gap has yawned and a month in which government has set aside nearly a trillion dollars to bail out Wall Street, class warfare and spreading the wealth don’t sound so bad to lots of middle-class and working-class voters.

No, Senator McCain, you’re not George W. Bush. Yes, you’ve been a warrior and you remain ready to fight. But you don’t look like you’re fighting for the future. You look like you’re still fighting the past.

posted by @ 11:02 am | 1 Comment

One Response to “McCain Lost Me”

  1. colinresponse says:

    this post made my day, thank you brother jeff!


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