Saturday, June 7, 2008

In November, the Choice Is Simple: Empire or Republic.

Forget the party labels, forget the names, forget the issues; this November the choice for the American people is pretty simple and stark: Empire or Republic. That’s right; when the American people go to the polls in November, they will be choosing between the further consolidation of militarism and empire, as exemplified by John McCain and his policies, and the arduous job of trying to reign in the centrifugal forces which have spun the Republic close the point of no return.

If the victory of Barak Obama over Hillary Clinton can be boiled down to one single issue, it is the standing of the two candidates on the decision to go to war in Iraq that has made the crucial difference. In essence, Obama owes his victory to the anti-war movement, whose litmus test has been the 2002 joint resolution that opened the path for George W. Bush to initiate hostilities towards Iraq, and which didn’t waver in the face of the various controversies that Obama faced during the primary season. What this means is that Obama can count on a pretty solid group of voters spanning from the anti-war left to the libertarian Ron Paul right whose common goal is to reign in the most blatant imperial tendencies which have been destabilizing the world and the United States both politically and economically in the last half a century.

It is no secret that today, the military-industrial complex, has become the most powerful special interest group in American society. As a matter of fact, it is very hard to really understand its full weight given the secrecy that surrounds anything that has to do with the military. Neither the people, nor the Congress fully grasp the pervasiveness of what President Dwight Eisenhower described as “the huge industrial and military machinery of defense”. More than forty years after Eisenhower’s farewell address the military-industrial complex has reached the level of a state within the state, with it’s own distinct laws and regulations, accountable to no one but the executive.

With over 3,500,000 U.S. troops and more than 737 military bases spread in more than 130 countries around the world, one could easily say that the United States has been an empire for quite some time, but the choice that the American people face today is still quite fundamental in this regard. For the first time in the more than one hundred years of American empire building, the American people will have a say by electing a candidate that could be held accountable by its anti-empire building base.

The American people, after all, have never reaped the benefits of the American empire with the exception of being able to join the armed forces, now the largest entitlement program on earth, and exchange their free will for steady pay, good housing, free medical benefits, education or, basically, the very things that Republican politicians so assiduously impute as the shortcomings of the European-style democracies. But the bulk of the benefits of empire end up, by design, in the coffers of multinational private defense corporations whose sole purpose, as stated in their charters, is to maximize their profit no matter what the consequences are for the nation and the world.

John McCain is, by all counts, the poster boy for the military-industrial complex and his election will further embolden the Pentagon and possibly seal the fate of the Republic. While it’s true that American foreign policy has been largely indifferent to party affiliation up until the Clinton presidency, the actions of the Bush presidency have finally shed whatever was left of the “good empire” narrative that has permeated American foreign policy discourse since its inception. And it is for this reason that John McCain makes no qualms about the need to continue down the path set by the Bush administration of total disregard of the rule of law both nationally and internationally.

Barak Obama, on the other hand and by virtue of his constituencies, represents that portion of the American electorate that still believes, albeit more and more naively so, that all is not lost; that security and freedom are not antithetical and that to allow for one to trump the other is to admit that the founders of the American Republic were not that smart after all. It will be very hard for Obama to deliver on the hopes of his supporters given how entrenched the military-industrial complex is today, but it is something that must be done if we want to even begin to think of how to allocate and prioritize our resources in a manner that is humane and that can address the most pressing problems our world is facing.

The unofficial nomination of Barak Obama as the candidate of the Democratic party for the U.S. presidency, and the outpouring of international support for this victory are a sure sign that we may be ready for a decisive shift in the way we set our priorities both domestically and internationally. And while the road ahead will be bumpy and full of unexpected twists and turns, a new direction in the way America conducts itself in the world can be set. Ultimately, it is up to Obama to keep faith to his promises, but, if elected, his base will have the important task of holding him accountable so that the hopes for a better and peaceful tomorrow won't be misplaced.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The End of the Political Religious Right

Last week’s rejection by John McCain of two of his most coveted religious endorsement is an example of the unintended consequences of the conservative smear machine. With Fox News at its helm, the conservative smear machine pounded on the relationship between Rev. Wright and Obama until it practically became the channel's only newsworthy item. Little did they know that the more they hammered, the more McCain’s endorsements by the religious right would also come under scrutiny by the other cable news channels.

Back in 2000, the religious right had shunned Senator John McCain by rallying behind George W. Bush thus sealing the nomination in his favor. This year, it was clear once again that the religious right preferred Mike Huckabee over McCain, and once McCain became the presumptive nominee he was faced with the possibility that the religious right could desert him in November. Because of its inherent dogmatism, the religious right is not prone to support the “lesser of two evils” in a general election, and it is with this understanding that John McCain actively sough and got the endorsement of two of their most radical preachers: John Hagee and Rod Parsley.

McCain’s lovefest with the religious right was short lived and the relationship turned sour once more after Hagee’s and Parsley’s outrageous statements came under media scrutiny in the aftermath of the Rev. Wright hoopla. Once it was clear that the endorsements of these two preachers were becoming more and more a liability, John McCain had no choice but to rejected them. Unfortunately for McCain, by seeking and then rejecting Hagee’s and Parsley’s endorsements he has sent a clear signal to the political religious right that as much as he needs their support he’s not one of them.

Today, after having gone full circle, John McCain has managed to alienate one of the most important Republican constituencies. But the consequences of his rejection of the endorsements of Hagee and Parsley could go far beyond this election cycle. The fact that any word uttered by a preacher associated with a political candidate has now become a matter of legitimate media scrutiny can only spell disaster for the religious right. Preachers in the vein of Hagee and Parsley are no fans of compassion or inclusiveness and thus they will be wary of endorsing politicians for fear of being exposed for the bigots they are. They will also steer clear from endorsing candidates who seek their support only for political reasons for fear of being rejected at a later date.

Republican candidates will also be very careful before they seek the endorsement of controversial religious figures. In the age of You Tube, there could always be someone who is holding onto something controversial to be released at a later time. All this to say that the extent of the blowback from the ill advised conservative smear campaign of Rev. Wright might have turned what used to be a highly coveted prize for Republicans into a political liability.

The failure of the Republican smear machine to foresee the unintended consequences of their campaign against Rev. Wright says a lot about the short sidedness of the religious right which is in turn exemplified by the failed policies of George W. Bush. Galvanized from seizing the White House for two elections in a row, preachers such as Hagee, Parsley and Falwell had become more outspoken with the belief that their old testament rhetoric was ready for prime time. Unfortunately for them, the vast majority of the American people have not bought into their Manichean fervor as seen by the dismal approval rating of George W. Bush.

The unintended media spotlight that the Rev. Wright controversy has shone on John Hagee and Rod Parsley has forced them to retreat from the political arena and find refuge in the shadows where they had been relegated before the election of George W. Bush. And if these events can be of any indication, it may very well be the beginning of the end of the political religious right.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hillary Clinton: the Bicycle and Video Game Thief

I’ve been forcing myself to give Hillary Clinton the benefit of the doubt but after her victory speech in Kentucky I am afraid my patience has run out. Let me start by making one thing absolutely clear: the only way Hillary Clinton could even think about winning the nomination is to get the delegations of Florida and Michigan seated as is and to take the fight to the Convention. Her claim to the popular vote is simply bogus, since we don’t know how many people voted in many caucus states, and that’s all she’s got.

The first thing that struck me about Clinton’s hubris is what she said in regard to the number of delegates needed to win the nomination: “Neither Senator Obama nor I has won the 2,210 delegates required to secure the nomination.” Required by whom exactly? Until the Democratic Rules & Bylaws Committee changes the rules on May 31st, the official DNC delegate number requirement is 2,025. Under exactly what authority is she making this claim? Nobody's but her own.

Clinton doesn’t stand a chance at winning the nomination. She and her supporters claim that there is still a possibility in the mathematical realm. Of course there is, but there is a difference between “can” and “will” (a nuance that also applies to her campaign slogan). This is how people are enticed to play the lottery: “you never know.” Yes, you do know. You can win, but you won’t because the chances of victory are so infinitesimal that they are not even worth considering. And this brings me to the second thing that struck me from her speech last night.

If Hillary Clinton knows (as she does) that she won’t win the nomination, why is she still running? Why is she misleading her supporters saying that she can win when she knows she won’t? Why does she continue to ask for money? What are her aims? No one knows but her. But there is one thing I do know: Hillary Clinton should stop bragging about “Dalton Hatfield, the 11-year-old from Kentucky who sold his bike and his video games to raise money to support [her] campaign.”

Dalton Hatfield is just one kid, and I applaud his commitment to the Clinton campaign, but does he know that Clinton won’t win? Right, not can’t, but won’t. Did his parents tell him that? Did Hillary Clinton tell him that? Of course not. And how many kids like Dalton are going to be pushed to emulate him and donate their bikes and video games to Clinton? How many single mothers will be compelled to donate money to her campaign instead of putting food on the table under the illusion that their candidate could still win?

Clinton should be straight with her voters and tell them the truth, instead of continuing to ask kids like Dalton to give up their toys for the lost cause of a candidate whose net worth is over 100 million dollars. And if people decide to keep giving her money after that, that’s their prerogative. What will she do next, ask retired people for their social security checks? There is something very wrong and immoral about this, and the only logical explanation I can think of, is that Hillary Clinton is simply a petty bicycle and video game thief.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Obama's Road to the White House

By taking George Bush and John McCain head on in the national security debate, Barak Obama is clearly emerging as one of the savviest politicians in recent history. I must admit that it was kind of fun watching Bush and McCain reacting like deer in the headlights as they were trying to figure out what hit them. Even the media has had a hard time keeping up with Obama’s unexpected moves, which goes to show that he has a much deeper understanding of the political arena than his opponents are ready to admit.

In a way, Obama is like a young, and agile boxer touting a slow, over the hill champ whose only chance of winning the match is a well placed knock out punch. So far, Obama’s agility and unpredictability has allowed him to deflect and sometimes utilize whatever is thrown at him to his own advantage and by doing so, he has shown the American people that a different America is possible, and that a young politician such as himself can indeed take on the entrenched Washington consensus and prevail.

The recent tit for tat on national security between Obama and Bush-McCain is a clear case in point. National security has been in the Republican domain for quite some time and for reasons that are not self evident, the Republican Party has cemented itself as the champion of national security. In election after election, the Republicans have been able to put the Democrats on the defensive whenever the issue comes up. But things may very well turn out differently this time around given Obama’s strategy to take the issue on early in the game.

By forcefully and successfully rebutting Bush’s allegations of appeasement Obama has taken the hubris of the Bush Administration and turned it onto its head by calling the Republican tough posturing for what it is: empty rhetoric without results. And while this has been clear to the American people for quite some time, the Democratic party and its leaders had yet to muster the political courage and confront the Republicans the way the junior senator from Illinois did: by showing Bush what it means to “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.”

Obama and the Democrats understand that the Democratic Party currently stands with the American people on every single domestic issue. But instead of taking the safest route, which is to run on historically strong Democratic issues, Obama is beginning to show a much bolder strategy that is taking the Republicans, the media, and some Democrats by surprise. With his offensive this early in the race Obama has sent a message to the Republicans that he is not afraid to take them on their turf. And this was so unexpected, that it has forced McCain to side with Bush against the reality of the recent overtures of his own Administration towards North Korea.

It is within this context that we can now begin to understand the general strategy of the Obama campaign. On issue after issue, from the decision to bypass the West Virginia and Kentucky primaries, to the “now you see it, now you don’t” flag pin, it is clear that Obama is toying with the conventional wisdom in a sort of game of cat and mouse. Instead of following in the footsteps of previous Democratic candidates and carefully tiptoe around opinion polls, Obama has taken his political game to a whole new level where nothing is taken for granted and where everything is up for grabs.

The Republicans are beginning to sense this as they desperately try to prop up Clinton against Obama. Never mind that it was only two months ago when they were doing exactly the opposite, convinced, as they were, that Obama could be used as a spoiler against Clinton. But now that they have the Obama iceberg in full sight, reversing the engines won’t accomplish much. At this point, their only hope is for Hillary Clinton to carry her quest for the nomination to the convention, or something tantamount to her political suicide.

Given what’s at stake in this election it would be hard to believe that Clinton’s sense of entitlement would be blind to the point of jeopardizing the very real prospect of a Democratic controlled government with all that it entails. After all, an Obama victory would simply mean business as usual unless he can keep his promise and change how business is done in Washington.

He is on a good start.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

And the Winner Is: John Edwards

The political significance of yesterday’s endorsement by former presidential candidate John Edwards goes well beyond the 19 delegates he carries. As a matter of fact, his timing couldn’t have been more precise. Edwards was able to score an important victory in regard to the direction of the Democratic party as it gears up for the general election. In a way, even though he was forced to withdraw his candidacy once it was clear that the corporate media was not going to give him an equal opportunity given his populist message, he came out as the real winner in the titanic battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

It seemed clear to me that both Obama and Clinton understood that Edwards’ endorsement would come with a high price tag. After all, both Clinton and Obama represent the centrist current of the Democratic party and, for this reason, it is no surprise that they are the last two candidates left standing. With a pattern all too familiar to the American people, these almost politically indistinguishable candidates began battling each other over issues of no consequence to the voters: flag pins, pastors, race, and gender; and while Obama has been leading Clinton by over 100 delegates for the past few weeks, he has been unable to shake Clinton off his tail and begin to emerge as the clear and undisputed nominee.

Clinton’s 41 point win in West Virginia this past Tuesday helped to further solidify the media’s short “short term memory” narrative of Obama as the candidate unable to win over white blue collar workers. Under such circumstances, Obama had an important and uncomfortable choice to make: stay the course and risk taking the battle to the Convention floor (something that would practically guarantee a loss in November), or give into John Edwards’ demands and bring on board the one ex-candidate who is still getting a sizeable chunk of the vote at the ballot box (7% in West Virginia).

The timing of Edwards’ endorsement couldn't have been better as it overshadowed Obama's somewhat embarrassing loss in West Virginia. And aside from confirming Obama's maneuvering capabilities this decision has finally shown that he is capable of doing what he’s been claiming to be best at: negotiating. He set aside some of his nebulous rhetoric, which had been causing him some trouble with part of the Democratic base, for Edwards’ clear and unequivocal stand on health care and poverty. Edwards, on the other hand, was wise to wait for a clear winner to emerge instead of blindly throwing his support behind Clinton (which seemed likely at some point) thus ensuring that if the Democrats win in November, he will be a major force in shaping the policies of the next presidency.

All in all, it’s a big win for Obama, Edwards, and why not, Clinton as well. It goes to show that Clinton’s tenacity has paid off by forcing Obama to espouse some of the ideals of the progressive wing of the Democratic party which are still resonating in the ballot box months after John Edwards decided to withdraw his candidacy. Edwards’ side of the bargain was to soften some of his rhetoric towards corporations but it’s only a matter of time before the Democratic base catches up to it.

Hopefully, by 2012.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Clinton and the Rule of Law

For the past couple of weeks, I was amongst those Obama supporters who was trying to mend with Clinton supporters. I strongly believed that Clinton would, after WV, begin to prepare for a graceful and honorable exit which would be carried over the remaining contests. After all, Obama has almost secured the nomination as he leads Clinton by every single available metric.

With her speech in WV, Clinton clarified her position in regard to the rules of the Party. Before and after the primary, Clinton and her surrogates, went all the way in what should be rightfully called a disregard of the internal rule of law of the party. Basically claiming that the rules must be changed, that the millions of voters who have already voted don’t count, and that the elected pledged delegates don’t count either.

What seems to only count for Clinton is the popular vote of some but not all contests (after all many caucus states don’t divulge their numbers) and the superdelegates. This is because those are the two only metrics that she can hope to change in her favor.

While it is true that Clinton and her surrogates have stopped the direct attacks on Obama, they have not stopped (and actually increased) their attacks on the Party’s rules and regulations as well as the will of the majority of its voters thus far.

The Clintons and their surrogates keep moving the goalpost as they see fit and they must have a lot of clout within the upper echelons of the party since no one (where are you Howard Dean?) is telling them they should stop their extralegal attacks on the Party’s rules and regulations.

On Meet the Press last Sunday, talking about the FL and MI delegations, Terry McAuliffe said that "the rule is 50 percent" and that he would be content with 50% of the delegations from those states seated. Now, two days later, they want 100% of the delegates seated as is, even though Clinton herself said back in December, that these primaries "will count for nothing".

Their rationale is that we need 50 states in November but they don’t seem to care about the fact that they might end up with 25 states if they keep pushing their unorthodox efforts and drive away a large chunk of Obama supporters in the process.

Since there is no logical explanation for Clinton’s refusal to play by the rules, the only possible explanation is that what we are witnessing is a pure and simple coup attempt by the Clintons and their surrogates. Now that they cannot win by the rules that they themselves have helped to lay out and that they have accepted at the beginning of the process, they feel it’s ok for them to demand that the rules be changed as they see fit in order to make the math work in their favor.

They now claim that they could win the popular vote but what they are not saying is that they are only referring to those states that hold primaries. Clinton knows very well that some caucus states don't release their popular votes results so, while with one hand she acts as the champion of democratic voters by demanding that FL and MI be seated, on the other hand she is openly trying to disenfranchise the voters of those states where caucuses are held.

Clinton has already passed the point of no return by openly declaring that the number of delegates needed to win the nomination (2,025) is null and void and that the new number should be 2,209. By doing so, she has done great damage to the integrity of the primary process. Clinton and her surrogates have clearly espoused the belief that the end justifies the means and they will not stop their attempts to win the nomination at all costs.

And so we find ourselves in this Orwellian land of double speak where Clinton pretends to be the champion of democracy and the popular vote while she’s openly and directly undermining the democratic process since her only path to the nomination is for the superdelegates to overturn the the will of the pledged delegates.

Clinton has taken a very dangerous route because if she believes that the Obama supporters will sit idly by and let her destroy the integrity of the electoral process of the Democratic party she’s highly mistaken. This was supposed to be the year of the Democrats, the year when the people throw out the Republicans because of all their failed policies. Instead, because of the thirst for power of one person, we are more and more likely to witness a civil war within the Party that will cripple it for years to come.

Way to go Mrs. and Mr. Clinton.