Friday, 17 October 2008

Mikes letter from America #10

Republicans: racist, crazy, and losing

Amid the wreckage of the U.S. economy, John McCain’s election hopes also seem to be collapsing into rubble. It seems hard now to believe that, just over a month ago, McCain was ahead in the polls, boosted by the selection of a dynamic younger running-mate in Sarah Palin (not that it’s hard to be younger or more dynamic than John McCain). Now, it’s true that McCain was barely ahead, and that the ‘Palin bounce’ soon disappeared when people realized she was ultra-conservative and crazy as hell. But what has really done for McCain and the Republicans is the economy’s latest lurch into the abyss. Try as they might to spread the blame (e.g., by accusing the Democrats of making it too easy for poor people and minorities to get mortgages) the Republicans cannot avoid the fact that it was their policies of deregulating the banking system, rewarding Wall Street, and pushing wages down so low that working people had to go into debt to survive, that got us into this mess. What was once a razor’s-edge contest now looks like a potential landslide, with Obama’s poll lead into double digits. Of course, the Republicans will try to steal the election by forcing African Americans off the electoral register, but they will be hard pressed to overturn a deficit of up to 14%. Worse news yet for the Republicans is that Obama leads not only in crucial swing states, but also in states such as Virginia which the Democrats have not won in over 40 years.

In this situation, the McCain camp are desperately trying to distract voters from the economy by resorting to personal smears against Obama, often voiced by Palin, who plays the role of attack-dog while leaving McCain to appear decent and reasonable. So Palin unearthed an old non-story about Obama’s supposed ‘terrorist’ links to an aging 60s radical in Chicago. Bill Ayers, a former member of the ‘Weather Underground’, was involved in bombing the Pentagon in 1972, in protest against the Vietnam War. His two-pound bomb killed nobody, while millions were killed in the war which Ayers opposed. Decades later, having renounced armed actions, he became a well-respected campaigner for school reform, and briefly sat on the same education committee as Obama. Palin defines this as Obama ‘palling around with terrorists.’ But of course, such nuances are not the point – the point is to get the words ‘Obama’ and ‘terrorist’ into the same sentence, preferably including Obama’s middle name Hussein, add the comment that ‘he’s not one of us’, and let the audience take away the message ‘Obama = Muslim = terrorist = Black.’ The real danger of this kind of rhetoric is shown by the kinds of comments shouted by McCain-Palin supporters at rallies when Obama’s name is mentioned: ‘terrorist’, ‘treason’ and even ‘kill him.’ At one of McCain’s cozy ‘town hall meetings’, the Republican candidate was embarrassed when a woman questioner said she didn’t trust Obama because ‘he’s an Arab.’

None of these tactics are working, however, as the economy dominates every political discussion. Ironically, Obama is benefiting from a real sense of class anger that the Democrats have done nothing to encourage. In fact, Obama and the Democratic leadership (along with McCain and the Republican leaders) in Congress supported the highly unpopular ‘bail-out’ plan, which the public rightly viewed as rewarding Wall Street’s irresponsible behaviour by giving the bankers hundreds of billions of dollars of tax-payers’ money. When the initial version of the bail-out was defeated in Congress, the opposition was written off by political pundits as an extremist alliance of right-wing Republicans and left-wing Democrats, bolstered by the ignorant public’s failure to see just what a good thing the bail-out package really was. In fact, both sides of the house were reacting to public pressure, as millions of voters bombarded their congressmen with angry phone calls and emails. There were also small but highly significant demonstrations by unions, in Washington, in New York (where trade unionists marched down Wall Street) and in towns across the country. The victory was temporary, as Congress passed a revamped version of the bill the following week, but it shows what can be achieved. As for Wall Street, it celebrated its salvation by suffering record losses.

There are tough times ahead, as the credit crisis turns into a global crisis of capital. Obama’s support for the bail-out is a warning that the Democrats still broadly accept the priorities of the free market. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that nobody believes the free market works anymore, but neither major party will come out and say it. There is a consensus among the leaders of both parties that the best way to get out of the crisis is to hand over billions to those who got us into it. If Obama wins we should (if I may paraphrase Churchill on a socialist blog!) ‘allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing’, but then go down to our local union or community organization and knuckle down to the hard work of resisting those who want to make us pay for their crisis.