By Dave Lindorff
Sen. Barack Obama scored big in the Invesco Stadium last night with
an acceptance speech that managed to do everything that the political
operatives, pundits and critics had argued he’d have to do: It was at
once impassioned, full of actual policy plans, and aggressive in its
attack on John McCain, his Republican opponent for the presidency.
But the speech also raises some important questions. Biggest among these was Obama’s continued insistence that he will expand
the military and, instead of bringing the troops home from Iraq, will
shift at least some of them to Afghanistan where he’s calling for an escalation
of a war that seems doomed to failure. The expansion of the military
that he is proposing, furthermore, would be unrelated to the
Afghanistan conflict, and is of a more long-term nature, suggesting
that Obama is envisioning even more future conflicts.
That in itself is disheartening and represents a failure of vision,
but it also begs the question of how he can hope to achieve any of his
major domestic goals, if he is intent upon increasing the already
$600-billion Pentagon budget further. The reality is that he cannot.
Until Obama and Democrats acknowledge that the US cannot continue to be
the new Rome, with 800 bases scattered around the globe, and with a
foreign policy that is based on gunboat diplomacy, any high-minded talk
about national health care, universal college education or even pre-K
education, or a crash program to combat climate change is simply hot
air and wishful thinking.
Perhaps most Democrats and progressives will be willing to ignore
this internal contradiction and failure of vision on the part of the
Democratic candidate, and will enthusiastically support his campaign.
Perhaps many independents too will not dig too hard into the numbers
and will go for the softer part of his message—that the country has
been misled and divided for eight years and that we need to come
together, and that America is “better than” the America of George Bush
and John McCain.
But now McCain has tossed a monkey wrench into the Obama campaign
strategy, with his selection of Sarah Palin, the new governor of
Alaska, as his running mate. Palin, unlike McCain, is a genuine
maverick—a woman who defied her party, running in the Republican
primary against a seated Republican governor, Frank Murkowski, and
defeating him, and then going on to win the governorship handily, a
woman who personally turned in her own party chairman and her own
party’s attorney general on ethics violations, forcing both to resign,
and who has gone on to make a reputation as a corruption fighter,
mostly against members of her own party’s entrenched political
establishment. Palin will be appealing to many women and men who backed
Hillary Clinton and who remain bitter about her defeat. Married to a
native Eskimo, and with four mixed-race children, she can expect to
appeal to many non-white American voters, on whose support the Obama
campaign is counting.
Her candidacy, a bold stroke by McCain, will also pose tactical
problems for Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden. If she plays the
traditional vice presidential candidate role of attack dog, Obama as a
man, and especially Biden, as a gray-haired older white guy, will have
to be careful about how they counter-attack. There is a strong sense
across the country that it is unseemly for men to attack women, at
least in the same manner that they might attack another man. Some women
who otherwise might back Obama, could rise to Palin’s defense if
attacks on her are perceived as sexist or bullying.
The Obama/Biden campaign has avenues of attack available to it.
Palin is an ardent anti-abortionist and a fundamentalist Christian who
opposes gay marriage. She is also weak on the environment, backing more
drilling in the Arctic Refuge in a state where the evidence of the
terrifying impact of climate change and the continued reliance upon oil
is already everywhere, in the form of drowning polar bears, drunken
forests, receding glaciers and sinking villages being swallowed up by
Still, Palin has demonstrated that she’s a gold-star campaigner,
handily winning over a majority of the voters of a very
libertarian-minded and macho state despite her anti-abortion stance.
The one big plus for Democrats in the Palin nomination is that it
completely undermines McCain’s biggest campaign theme to date: that
Obama is too young and inexperienced to serve as president. Given that
McCain is turning 72 today, and that he is entering an age bracket,
even before assuming office, that actuarially puts him at risk of
death, particularly given his poor health record to start with (two
bouts of melanoma included), it has been repeatedly argued that voters
will pay close attention to whether his vice presidential pick would be
ready to take over in the event of his dying or having to leave office
mid-term. If McCain is saying that Palin, whose resume is even thinner
than Obama’s, and who is even younger than Obama, meets that standard,
he cannot with a straight face, argue that his rival does not.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His
latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006).
His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net