GOP Swan Song:
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
The 'Joe the Plumber' story has unraveled, yet Senator McCain continues to make reference to what is, in fact, a mythical character. Sure, there is a Joe, but he is not what he described himself to be. This has been exposed. Yet, McCain continues to reference 'Joe the Plumber' as if to lend credibility to his story.
It would be easy enough to laugh off the story of a white man who would like to believe that he will, someday, be the person that he presented himself to be, but the story tells us as much about the consciousness of many middle income and working class whites as it tells us about the propaganda strategy of the political Right. It is not just that Joe the Plumber, aka Joe Wurzelbacher, aka Sam J. Wurzelbacher, is not the person that Senator Obama believed him to be. Wurzelbacher, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, seems to have 'high hopes,' that is, he is prepared to ignore his current situation of being a low to moderate income, working class, single parent who would benefit from Senator Obama's tax plan. Instead, he has embraced an identity that makes it easier for him to identify with the politics of McCain/Palin.
This incident highlights the desperate attempts by a section of the white working class to find some means to identify with a candidate who has a platform and approach contrary to their short and long-term economic interests. There are only three ways to pull that off, and Joe the Plumber found one: invent a new identity. A second way is to focus on issues that have little to do with one's living standard, i.e., so- called cultural issues. The third way is to simply acknowledge that one cannot vote for a Black man.
Yet the Joe the Plumber incident also tells us something about the messages being advanced by the Right, and specifically, by the McCain/Palin campaign. In a fit of desperation, the McCain/Palin campaign is suggesting that it does not matter whether or not Joe the Plumber is a myth. In fact, the McCain/Palin campaign has refused to acknowledge that the story is just this side of a hoax. Rather, they continue to reference this man as if his story is completely credible. In doing this, they raise, once again, the irrationalist side of their right-wing politics. In effect, the McCain/Palin campaign is saying that facts are irrelevant.
Wurzelbacher's aspirations speak to the dream of climbing the ladder of success and upward mobility, a dream that has proved to be a myth for many; a myth that has been preached to all citizens and residents of the USA, but absorbed largely by the white population. It is a myth that says if you work hard, you advance; if you are dedicated to your job, your living standard improves; and if you work hard and prove your value to the company (and to society) the living standard of your children will always be better than your own.
So, the question that arises is simple but profound: what happens when one finds out that this story line is true for only small numbers of people? There seem to be 2-3 answers. One can get angry and recognize that one has been hood-winked by the system and, as a result, turn on the system, i.e., move to the Left. In the alternative, one can feel betrayed and turn on those who one perceives to have been the source of the betrayal. Or, one can engage in fantasy, and pretend that one's current circumstances are only temporary, to soon be replaced by something a lot better.
Wurzelbacher is currently fantasizing, but this fantasy can easily morph into option #2, or the right-wing populism about which I and others have been warning. In either case, options #2 and #3 correspond to the message that sections of the political Right wish to advance. They say, in essence, that the only reason that you - the white worker or white small business person - are not succeeding has little to do with the system, but has to do with the 'other.' In the case of the current economic crisis, the problem for McCain and the Right is not the system, but a few greedy individuals. This is the sort of message that Wurzelbacher wants to hear. The message goes: there is nothing wrong with the system; there is nothing that should really stop him from becoming the person he wants to believe he can be; the only obstacles are some greedy, shady individuals, and, quite possibly, the tax plan of a Black man that allegedly might take money away from him...money that he does not currently possess.
The myth that surrounds Joe the Plumber is a powerful one. It is a myth that many people insist on believing despite a great deal of evidence that it is largely a fraud. Although whites have always had a relative advantage over people of color, this has never meant that whites automatically succeed or rise to the upper crust. Nevertheless, in challenging the myth, one is calling into question a belief system that so many people, particularly within white America, have grown to accept.
Senator Obama has described the current economic crisis as being far more than a crisis created by some individuals. He has pointed to the results of thirty years of deregulation. This is an important contrast with Senator McCain. Yet it is not enough. Wurzelbacher/Joe the Plumber, and others like him, deeply wish to believe the myth with which they have grown up. The myth in its entirety must be shattered. That can only happen by confronting the truth that the current economic crisis and the thirty plus year decline in the living standards of the average working person are not the result of some 'other', e.g., Jews, Blacks, minorities, immigrants, but, as I raised in my last commentary, are the result of a very amoral economic system.
[BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com, a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of the book, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA.]
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Photo: Hayden at Antiwar Action
Obama Has FDR's Gifts:
Oratory & Pragmatism,
But Can He Restore US?
By Tom Hayden
Progressives for Obama
The collapse of American finance capitalism, being an event beyond the control of Karl Rove and the Republican apparatus, may well be the decisive factor in electing Barack Obama president. Or so say the pundits. That analysis, however, underestimates the risks that lie ahead this final week before the election and the qualities of Obama's campaign that enable him to take advantage of this crisis.
Despite the biggest crash since 1929, the closeness of the election already suggests that a masked American racism is alive and well. The hidden racial factor is immeasurable, and the threats to Obama will increase as he nears the victory line. There will be nothing easy on Election Day, as polling places will surely be overwhelmed with voters.
If John McCain wins, yet another generation will learn the bitter lesson of our continuing prejudice. The neoconservatives will have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The lines will be drawn. A larger Democratic Congress will try to counterbalance McCain, at best plunging the country straight into the 2012 confrontation.
But Obama has the edge.
He continues to break all fundraising records, a bottom-up trend which began with the internet-driven solicitations for MoveOn.org and the Howard Dean campaign, estimated to be $230 million in 2003-2004. Meanwhile, a silent army of Obama volunteers is preparing a historic get-out-the-vote campaign. Their effort is qualitatively different than past operations, which mostly consisted of out-of-state staffers occupying a handful of battleground arenas, ignoring local groups, treating voters like consumers and packing their bags the moment the election was over. While the Obama campaign deploys paid staff, too, the difference is that they are judged by community-organizing standards, which means empowering neighborhood teams from the streets up, leaving a vast new resource in place after the election.
Obama's story of rejecting a Wall Street career for community organizing in Chicago resonates now more than ever. He has introduced the model of community organizing not only as an alternative campaign model but as an alternative career model.
This new generation of Obama organizers will become the source of social activism for decades to come.
If Obama wins, November will be a turning point in the past decade's struggle to make every vote count, and a culmin-ation of voter-registration campaigns begun many years ago in the Deep South, where today it is possible that Obama will win actually one or two states. Voter turnout will swamp the polling places. Election chicanery is thriving again. It will be a brutal and contested day.
Third-party voters could still throw the election to McCain. The 2004 margins in close states are instructive: Kerry won Wisconsin by 0.38 percent, New Hampshire by 1.37 percent, Pennsylvania by 2.5 percent; he lost Iowa by 0.67 percent, New Mexico by 0.79 percent, Ohio by 2.11 percent and Nevada by 2.59 percent. Obama is bettering Kerry's numbers in those states, but the race could tighten and boil down to third-party voters. If there is an Obama victory, countless tears will flow among people carrying the deep post-traumatic stress disorder of our generation. To those now filled with hope and those allowing themselves to hope again, defeat might be unbearable. On the day after, the work will begin anew for those who really want change in America. The current debate over Wall Street contains a populist streak but little progressive content. The initial $750 billion bailout package - now climbing toward $2 trillion - was a gift to those responsible for the crisis, with only modest regulatory conditions attached. We are very far from the "Green New Deal" that some dream about. Congress has not suggested transferring funds from the Iraq war to energy conservation and renewables.
It is difficult to imagine waiting until late January for a progressive reworking of the Wall Street package. Immediately after the election, Congress is likely to go into special session with a president-elect among the sitting senators. Anti-war and environmental forces need to make themselves heard in the din of debate. The paradox is that the time has come for economic democracy, just as its advocates have waned in influence and resources.
The stark fact is that the current bailout package will so strain the federal budget as to threaten the health-care and green-jobs agendas. Perversely, the good news is that the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other fronts will become increasingly difficult to fund as well.
The New Deal began slowly and gradually, with personal acts of belt-tightening. The most famous New Deal programs - the Wagner Act, Social Security, the Works Progress Administration - were formulated conceptually in the heat of subsequent struggle. When America turned leftward in a time of factory occupations and liberal congressional majorities, Franklin Roosevelt had the ability to devise pragmatic yet radical measures to restore stability by extending democratic rights.
Obama has Roosevelt's gifts of oratory and pragmatism, but as yet there is little movement and no threat on the streets, only a predictable sense of personal shock when Obama needs a public storm.
Unlike Roosevelt, Obama cannot implement a traditional Keynesian public works program without an environmental underpinning, a green-jobs program which is just now being formulated. And unlike Roosevelt, Obama cannot prime the pump with more expenditures on war. Iraq alone costs $11 billion per month that could be invested in domestic priorities. The contradiction in the Obama campaign is that he generates a new historical force from below while relying on a small coterie of inside advisers at the top, individuals who are trained to believe in military intervention and market-based economics. The Obama campaign method, which has generated a superior ground game, is about mobilizing voters, not about generating policy input from the bottom up into the debates among his circle of advisers.
While Obama's 300 national-security advisers include many critics of the Iraq debacle, none would describe themselves as anti-interventionist, not to mention anti-imperialist. Nor are any of his economic advisers proposing to scrap or fundamentally revise the corporate-based protocols of the World Trade Organization or the North American Free Trade Agreement. They cautiously avoid attacking Sarah Palin on global warming and polar-bear extinction, while dropping their opposition to offshore drilling and nuclear power as too much "baggage." These counselors could be the newest version of The Best and Brightest.
Obama showed he could dissent from this Democratic orthodoxy when he stood against the Iraq war when it truly was out of fashion. He may prove willing to reconsider whether Afghanistan and Pakistan are winnable wars in any moral or strategic sense, or whether they are driven too much by the Democratic fear of looking weak. He may be forced, like Roosevelt, toward Keynesian economics with green amendments from Al Gore.
But to revise his course in a progressive direction, he will need a movement, clear and passionate, on the inside and outside, transcending the quibbling cliques that proclaim themselves national progressive organizations. He will have to allow the movement that elected him an effective, independent voice in setting the policy agenda.
The Republican fallback strategy will be to foil Obama by mobilizing an extreme countermovement against his agenda. Only a stronger social movement, empowered by rising expectations, might save his presidency from the strain of military, economic and political stalemates and deliver on the promise of real change in America. Tom Hayden is a lifelong peace and human-rights activist, former California legislator, professor and author of more than 15 books. firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Cartoon: Faux News
By Menachem Rosensaft
"Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism."
While these words seem tailor made for the divisive rhetoric of the McCain campaign, they were actually spoken more than 58 years ago on the floor of the United States Senate by Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith from Maine in her historic repudiation of the vicious character assassinations hurled by Senator Joseph McCarthy against countless Americans. Speaking on behalf of herself and six other Republican Senators, she said that, "The American people are sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds lest they be politically smeared as 'Communists' or 'Fascists' by their opponents."
The more popular epithets emanating from present-day Republican apparatchiks and the other flacks associated with the 2008 McCain campaign are "terrorist," "Muslim," and "anti-American," but their intent is the same as the red scare labels used so effectively by their McCarthyite role models: to depict their political adversaries generally, and Barack Obama specifically, as somehow dangerous, subversive, even evil.
The following are only a few examples:
• Sarah Palin has repeatedly - and falsely - accused Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists." This charge is particularly reprehensible because both she and John McCain know full well that Obama only had, to use Colin Powell's description, a "very, very limited relationship" with Bill Ayers on the board of a respected Republican-funded educational foundation in Chicago, and that Obama has repeatedly referred to Ayers as "somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8."
• The Republican National Committee has been sending around a mailer with the image of what looks like a plane about to crash into a building and the menacing words "Terrorists - Don't Care Who They Hurt" on the cover. The inside of the mailer contains an oversized picture of Barack Obama and the words "Barack Obama. Not Who You Think He Is." When McCain was shown this brochure in Missouri earlier this week and asked if he was proud of it, he replied, "Absolutely."
• The McCain campaign and the RNC have launched a scurrilous automated telephonic robocall campaign charging "that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans."
• Craig S. MacGlashan, the chairman of the Sacramento Republican Party in Northern California, posted a photograph of Senator Obama alongside one of Osama bin Laden on his group's website with the explanation, "The only difference between Obama and Osama is B.S." and "Waterboard Barack Obama." (This material was removed from the website after protests from Democrats and Republicans, but MacGlashan has yet to apologize or retract his unsubtle message.)
• "Who is the real Barack Obama?" McCain asked at a rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on October 6th. When the crowd loudly and clearly responded, "Terrorist," McCain smiled and went on with his speech. He had gotten the reaction he wanted. McCain, his campaign and the RNC keep asking the rhetorical question, "Who Is Barack Obama?" in speeches and ads as a fear mongering tactic. Every once in a while, McCain pulls back and reprimands a supporter who has gotten his message, but these are the exceptions. On the whole, McCain and Palin seem to revel in their crowds' vehemence. Sarah Palin has never, not once, reprimanded any of her fans who shout "traitor" or "kill him" when she mentions Obama's name in her stump speech.
• Sarah Palin has referred to those parts of the country that support her and John McCain as the "pro-America areas of this great nation."
• Jeffrey M. Frederick, the Chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, has likened Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden in a pep talk to campaign volunteers, explaining that "Both have friends that bombed the Pentagon. That is scary."
• Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann first told Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball that she was "very concerned" that Senator Obama "may have anti-American views," and then went on to say that "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?"
• North Carolina Republican Congressman Robin Hayes from North Carolina told a crowd that "liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God."
• Marcia Stirman, the chair of the Otero County Republican Women in New Mexico, wrote in the in the Alamogordo Daily News that "I believe Muslims are our enemies," and that "Obama isn't a messiah or a Democrat. He's a Muslim socialist."
• Republican U.S. Senator Mel Martinez from Florida denounced Obama's economic policies as "Socialism, Communism, not Americanism."
Any one of these incidents, viewed in isolation, might be dismissed as an aberration. Together, they form a disquieting, unmistakable pattern.
Most recently, we also witnessed the McCain campaign's unseemly eagerness to promote the crude hoax that a six foot four African American attacked a white female volunteer. Even John Moody, the Executive Vice President of Fox News, was uncharacteristically suspicious. "If the incident turns out to be a hoax," Moody warned when the story first came out, "Senator McCain's quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting." Peter Feldman, the McCain campaign's Pennsylvania communications director, showed no such reticence when he urged at least two local Pittsburgh television stations, KDKA and WPXI, to feature a racially charged version of this train wreck, complete with fictional charges that the non-existent attacker had told the young woman that, "You're with the McCain campaign? I'm going to teach you a lesson," and that the backward "B" carved into her cheek supposedly stood for Barack. Much to the hapless Mr. Feldman's probable chagrin, it did not take long for the woman to confess that she had made the whole thing up, but by then, the Drudge Report and right wing radio talk show hosts had run with the sensationalist news flash.
Occasionally even the Republican trash machine realizes it has gone too far and they retreat a little. An email message from the Pennsylvania Republican Party's "Victory 2008" committee to Jewish voters in Pennsylvania that equated voting for Barack Obama with the "tragic mistake" of European Jews who "ignored the warning signs of the 1930s and 1940s" was repudiated by the state party, and the flack who had drafted the e-mail was fired because "he definitely went a little bit farther than the facts would support." Whew. We finally know the GOP's line in the sand. Comparing Obama to Osama bin Laden is ok, but summoning up Hitler is beyond the pale. Thank you so much for enlightening us.
In her 1950 Declaration of Conscience, Margaret Chase Smith said that "I don't want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny -- Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear." John McCain, Sarah Palin and the Republican Party have knowingly resurrected these demons with a vengeance. We must not, we cannot let them get away with it.
Menachem Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York City, is the Founding Chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors
Friday, October 24, 2008
to Vote for
By Eric Mann
Los Angeles Labor Community Strategy Center
For those of us who are in the Civil Rights, Immigrant Rights, Women’s Liberation, Environmental Justice, and Anti-War Movements, for those of us on the Left, the election of Barack Obama is of the utmost urgency. Voting for Barack Obama is not enough. In the next two weeks we need to put all our energy into getting out the vote to elect Obama and defeat McCain.
Because of his brilliant organizing, the possibility of an Obama victory is palpable. Because of the racism of this country and the strong reactionary elements of the general population, the threat of a McCain victory is only too real.
The stakes leave no room for passive support. The Republicans coalescing against Obama are carrying out a calculated strategy to preserve and extend the victories of Reagan and Bush. If it can be imagined, they intend to take the country even further to the right. They want to destroy what is left of democratic liberalism, destroy the Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements, destroy the Immigrant Rights, Women’s Liberation, LGBT, Anti-War movements, to destroy the Left.
To his credit, unlike Al Gore and John Kerry, Barack Obama is fighting back against the Right. Whether or not he cedes too much to them, which I believe he does, his election is a direct challenge to the neo-cons, the racists, and bellicose fascists who have controlled the White House, the media, and the political discourse in this country for decades. For all of us who consider ourselves “on the Left” and “organizers,” for those of us who have a base, for those of us who are working in low-income Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander communities and doing anti-racist work in white working-class communities—this is a turning point in history. We understand the stakes of a racist McCain victory only too well, and we are the ones who can be pivotal in turning the tide for Obama. It is time for the antiracist Left to show the muscle of our community organizing and put that energy into the Obama campaign for the next two weeks.
For some of us, we are already there. For others, you are needed. Obama needs and deserves our full support. As a strategist and tactician, you weigh all the arguments, all the options, but when the time comes, you must go into battle with great energy and enthusiasm. You must fight to win. Now is such a time.
We have to work for Obama’s election and fight to win. Right now the Obama campaign is calling for the most intense involvement by those of us who support his candidacy. Our job is very straightforward. The Obama campaign urgently needs us to contribute money, to phone bank, to protect the vote at ballot boxes where the Republicans will try to steal the election (that is, every ballot box), and to hit the ground in aggressive door-to-door organizing in swing states. For those of us who do not live in a swing state that means traveling to Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Colorado and other states where the margins are still too close to call.
I am an organizer, that is what I do. In this election, reflecting my own views on the subject, I am committed to working on two major campaigns.
The Strategy Center ’s No on the Six Campaign.This is a state-wide campaign in California that opposes six reactionary ballot initiatives. We are doing citywide lawn signs, on-the-bus organizing, phone banking, and precinct walking to defeat The Six. Two initiatives, Propositions 6 and 9, would further criminalize Black and Latino youth. Two bond and sales tax proposals, Proposition 1A and Measure R in Los Angeles County , would pass regressive taxes and bonds for pork-barrel, environmentally dangerous rail and highway projects that would further attack the funding for a clean fuel bus system, the centerpiece of our environmental plan. Two propositions attack LGBT people and women. Prop 8 tries to overturn gay marriage, and Prop 4 threatens women’s reproductive rights through the onerous requirement of parental notification for minors. I work for this campaign through the Strategy Center in a broad coalition with many other progressive, grassroots groups. See www.noonthesix.org
The Obama Campaign. I am working to elect Barack Obama president of the United States . I have attended a two-day training at Camp Obama along with 350 people in Long Beach , along with thousands throughout the state and tens of thousands throughout the country at similar trainings. Many people are going from California to Nevada , a neighboring swing state with five electoral votes, to turn out the vote for Obama. I am working with the phone bank team to make phone calls to Nevada to elect Obama. I will be spending the last long weekend of this month through Tuesday, November 4 splitting my time between the No on the Six and the Obama phone bank teams.
Here Are Ten Reasons to Turn Out the Vote for Barack Obama
1) Because Barack Obama is Black and qualified, Black and liberal, Black and can be elected the first Black president in the United States.
Obama is a Black man running for president in a white settler state. Regardless of how much or little he chooses to campaign on race or against racism—and in my view it is far more than some of his critics think—Obama is Black. Everyone knows he is Black and the Republicans are making it a referendum against Blacks and for white supremacy.
The election of a Black president in a country built on conquest and slavery is almost unimaginable. And it cannot be imagined without the foundational work of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr., Huey P. Newton, Malcolm X, and Rev. Jeremiah Wright; and it cannot be actualized after the election without the intervention of the Black radical and revolutionary perspective. Obama is running as a Black man at a time when one million Black people are in prison. He is Black at a time when the Black community is on the defensive and under siege, Black when many of its most gifted and dedicated organizers are tired, not discouraged, but exhausted from the assaults of the reactionary decades from Reagan to Clinton to Bush. Obama is Black as opposed to white, as in white supremacy, white racism, white chauvinism, white xenophobia, white fascism, white racist mobs, white McCain and white Palin.
Barack Obama is a Black Harvard graduate, a president of the Harvard Law Review, married to Michelle Obama, a Princeton graduate. They gave up jobs in corporate America to do work among the urban poor and working class. He is charismatic, a great debater, and a man of intellect. He is so much better qualified than John McCain that it is a testament to the racism of the U.S. that McCain is still in a close race. This is a white man who is clearly unhinged even in a prepared debate and has nothing to run on but the “Abuse of the Day” against Obama and his family.
Barack Obama is a gifted organizer who deserves the support of every dedicated organizer in the country. As a Black man in a white country, he out organized Hillary and Bill Clinton and their ostensibly unbeatable machine, a blow from which they may never recover. He is out organizing the Democratic Leadership Council, the anti-liberal caucus of Bill Clinton and Joe Lieberman that has dominated the Democratic Party since the defeat of Mondale and Dukakis. Obama has a very good chance of out organizing the entire white, Christian, conservative, aka fascist clique that has run this country since Reagan rose, Gingrich organized, Clinton capitulated, and Bush/Cheney took the dictatorship to its highest levels.
Electing a highly qualified, brilliant Black man against a Neanderthal white man is a major step forward in history and a high stakes fight that we need to be part of. It will be a major setback to the forces of white racism in the country and a real encouragement of the broad anti-racist coalition that is at the core of the Obama campaign. Let’s turn out the vote for Obama. Now.
2) Because a Black man is being attacked by a white lynch mob and we have to throw our bodies in front of them and beat them back.
The McCain/Palin campaign rallies are becoming Klan rallies. Shouts of “traitor,” “terrorist,” “treason,” “liar,” “Hussein” “kill him” and “off with his head” have rung from the rabid racists at McCain and Palin rallies. Palin whips them up and McCain sometimes doesn’t challenge them and sometimes goes through the motions, all the while praising them to the sky as “loyal Americans.” These are the very kind of people who have populated lynch mobs in the past. They are capable of carrying out their threats. What part of “off with his head” do we not understand?
If many in the Democratic Party in fact conciliate with this racism by refusing to call it by name, preferring to use the vague term “extremism,” Obama does not. At the last national debate he told McCain that some of his supporters have crossed a line by calling him a terrorist and proposing to kill him. McCain responded by saying how great and patriotic his supporters are. Do we really have to invoke King and Malcolm, Medgar Evers and Emmett Till, the Birmingham children and Bobby Hutton to understand that the assassination and lynching of Black people is deep in the DNA of white and U.S. culture and is a clear and present danger today?
John Lewis, the civil rights veteran from SNCC and now a U.S. congressperson from Atlanta saw it clearly,
“What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Senator McCain and Governor Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse. George Wallace [the racist governor of Alabama ] never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham , Alabama .”
We cannot stand by while a rabid white mob attacks a Black man screaming “Hussein, Hussein,” “the one over there,” “the F-ing Harvard Graduate,” “the uppity one,” “terrorist” and—we must take this very seriously—“kill him” and “off with his head.” The McCain forces are the forces of evil and must be defeated.
McCain and Palin should be under arrest for encouraging, inciting, aiding, and abetting, racist hate crimes. Let’s turn out the Vote for Barack Obama, Now.
3) Because there are differences of life and death significance to our communities between Barack Obama and John McCain.
Obama is advocating many positions that are conservative, and some, like his proposals to expand the war in Afghanistan and violate the sovereignty of Pakistan , that are reactionary. But there is still a profound Left/Right battle going, albeit within the confines of U.S. electoral politics and the two-party system in 2008. While he does not have a comprehensive progressive program, there are some key issues on which the difference between Obama and McCain are Black and white.
Let’s look at some of the real choices Obama is making.
* Economic Crisis, Housing Crisis. Obama has supported the $750 billion bail out for U.S. financial markets. This is a major setback for working people. He is now arguing, however, that now it is time to bail out not “Wall Street” but “ Main Street .” He is calling for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures by any bank or company that receives any U.S. government aid. Is that enough? Of course not, but he is the only candidate even talking about helping people losing their homes in the foreclosure tsunami. If such a moratorium is imposed, it can lead to far more stringent demands to extend and expand that moratorium. By contrast, McCain is talking about letting the free market run its course.
* Woman’s Right to Choose. Obama vigorously defends a woman’s right to choose. When asked in the last debate if they would make Roe v. Wade a “litmus test” in the selection of Supreme Court justices, both Obama and McCain, after considerable dancing, said yes. McCain said that he could not imagine a qualified candidate who would not want to overturn Roe v. Wade and Obama said he could not imagine a qualified candidate who would not defend a woman’s right to privacy—making abortion a right.
* Unions, Third World . McCain said free trade was great and accused Obama of holding up trade with Colombia . Colombia is governed by one of the worst military dictatorships in world, propped up by the CIA, the U.S. military, and cocaine traffickers. At this time, I do not assume Obama wants to dismantle Plan Colombia. If he does not, that will be a major post-election confrontation with him we will have to have. But Obama did say that he could not support trade with Colombia while its government was imprisoning and murdering trade unionists. This is significant. Obama has campaigned for the right to organize unions for workers in the U.S. and proposed laws to encourage those rights. While that in itself is major, there is no history I know of for a U.S. presidential candidate to openly expose the murder of trade union organizers in a country that is allied with the United States and to call for their right to organize against U.S. transnationals. In the middle of a high-profile nationally televised event, just the mention of trade unionists existing and being under attack in the Third World is a moment of rupture in the imperialist ideological sphere. By contrast, McCain is a union buster at home and a supporter of terror, torture, and the suppression of unions and the Left abroad.
* Equal Pay for Equal Work. Obama defends equal pay for equal work and McCain opposes it. In the final debate, Obama raised the example of a lawsuit filed by Lily Ledbetter, a woman who tried to sue her employer for paying her less for the same job that a male employee was getting paid more to do. Obama talked of working in Congress to extend the statute of limitations in Congress on her case so that it wouldn’t be dismissed. McCain snickered, What do we want to do, keep these cases going 20 or 30 years after the fact?
* International Relations. Obama talks about American exceptionalism, American power, and the “responsibility” of the United States throughout the world. In short, his view is imperialist and his objective is still U.S. world domination. But we should not underestimate what is at stake in his proposal for “unconditional conversations” with heads of states that the Bush administration has named in the “Axis of Evil.” Obama has held his ground on the importance of “conversations and negotiations” and has challenged the policy of sanctions and invasions. This is a clear signal to people in the Third World , and the European nations who disagree with the Bush doctrine. Under an Obama administration, there may be alternatives for people in the Third World to the decades of napalm, blockades, shock and awe, and invasions that they have suffered under Republicans and Democrats alike. Obama recognizes that the U.S. is a declining empire and is trying to signal that it can’t continue to throw its weight around in the failed policies, as he calls them, of Bush and McCain. Obama’s argument for greater use of negotiations and discussions—as well as some of his reservations about massive military deployments—is likely to reflect a tactical debate between pragmatic imperialism on his side versus neo-con messianic imperialism on that of McCain. Again, both share the imperialist goal of U.S. world domination and the control of the politics and economy of Third World nations.
But that is a split in the ruling class that is of great importance to anti-war, anti-imperialist organizers in the U.S. and to governments and movements in the Third World . Let’s be clear. McCain supports “the surge” and future unilateral military aggression. He talks always about the hard line and views the solution of every problem through a military lens. We cannot allow his unstable hand anywhere near the nuclear button.
I think that most Blacks, women, and trade unionists would argue there is a profound benefit for an Obama victory and a profound danger in a McCain election. I do not think that those who are working to overturn the right-wing clique controlling the Supreme Court that is ruling out of order every civil rights and civil liberties case will argue there is little difference between Obama and McCain. I think trade unionists in Colombia , militants and governments in Venezuela , Cuba , and South Africa , as well as those governments and NGOs who witness the daily bullying and dictatorial practices of the U.S. at the United Nations—all see a profound difference between the candidates and are deeply invested in an Obama victory and a McCain defeat.
Let’s turn out the vote for Obama, Now.
4) Because John McCain is a war criminal.
How do you think McCain ended up in a POW camp in North Vietnam in the first place? Did the North Vietnamese come to the Naval Academy to kidnap him? No, he was flying a mission over North Vietnamese territory, violating their sovereignty, dropping bombs on civilian populations in an attempt to destroy their power plants and utilities, impose terror from the air, and knowingly cause civilian illness, starvation, death and destruction.
McCain was part of a group of air pirates who flew missions of destruction over Vietnam . After already having bombed North Vietnam , as the L.A. Times reports, “In August 1967 the squadron he joined had destroyed a power plant in Hanoi . Two months later, the plant had been rebuilt and was back on the Navy’s sites. McCain begged for the mission. ‘The earlier raid was the pride and joy of the squadron. I wanted to destroy it again. I was feeling pretty cocky as well.’” He flew the mission and was shot down in his efforts to kill. He wasn’t feeling as cocky at that point. He was captured by the North Vietnamese. McCain is a war criminal for his actions; for he admits he begged for his mission and felt destroying the power plants of another country to be his “pride and joy.”
His actions stand in profound contrast to the millions of people in the U.S. who dedicated and, in some cases, gave their lives to end the war in Vietnam . He is a disgrace to the many GI’s who refused to kill civilians, to those who resisted the draft and risked exile and imprisonment, to those who joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and who testified in the Winter Soldier hearings (see Clay Claiborne’s film Vietnam: American Holocaust), and to the courageous veterans today who are speaking out against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The actions of the United States government, the U.S. Navy, and pilots of death and destruction like McCain led to the murder of three million Vietnamese civilians and one million combatants all trying to protect their country from a U.S. invasion. McCain was part of the force that inflicted poison gas, assassination squads, napalm, Agent Orange, rape, and premeditated murder against the people of Vietnam . The U.S. systematically committed crimes against humanity in Vietnam and John McCain was a willing, enthusiastic perpetrator. John McCain should be tried for war crimes in violation of the Nuremburg statutes.
Let’s turn out the vote for Obama, Now.
5) Because Sarah Palin’s election would turn the women’s movement on its head—Palin is a fascist, a racist, a white separatist, and a misogynist.
There is nothing funny about Sarah Palin. (Tina Fey’s brilliant parodies are the exception.) But do not laugh at Palin any more than you should laugh at Bush. She is not stupid. She is deadly serious, armed and dangerous. She is tied to extreme vigilante groups who want to secede from the United States because they feel it is too liberal and too multi-racial. She uses oil revenues to buy the loyalties of people in Alaska , tying their futures to the global warming that will in fact destroy Alaska and the planet.
She and McCain will cut social services, already hanging by a thread. They will ramp up the police state and the war on terror. She has broken with John McCain by proposing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage and is moving ever further to his right. Some speculate she is doing this out of a lack of discipline. Others think she wants to position herself even more strongly with the extreme Right base in case McCain loses and she wants to pursue other national elected positions.
She has drawn the fascist mobs to the campaign and operates in the tradition of reactionary demagogues Father Coughlin and Lou Dobbs. She is the hit person against Obama, the warm-up act for McCain that gets the white mob into a racist rage. She will support a police state and will lock us up without a second thought. And the talk of her being one 72-year-old’s heartbeat away from the presidency is not a joke. She may be a future president of the United States if we don’t defeat McCain.
Governor Palin believes a woman who chooses to have an abortion is a sinner, period. She believes that such is the case even if the woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy forced on her through rape or incest. She is an enemy of the movement for reproductive rights. Her message to desperate, working class women is that being a loyal wife is a woman’s best chance for escaping poverty, your subjugation is liberation. She appeals to misogynist men and assures them that their domination of the family is God’s will. While she has been able to get out of the house with five children to pursue a professional career, her gender politics will prevent most women from doing the same—locking women in the home as single parents or prisoners of their husbands—as she leads choruses of “Stand by Your Man.” Her election will be an attack of Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive rights, and women’s liberation.
Let’s turn out the vote for Barack Obama, Now.
6) Because the McCain campaign is an attack on the Left.
The McCain campaign wants to kill the Left in the U.S. and internationally, kill social security, the social safety net, and anything “social” including even the hope of social-ism. Obama is being attacked as an enemy because he is Black and because he is a moderate liberal. The attack on the Left broadly defined must be met by a counter-attack against McCain and for Obama in the last two weeks of this campaign.
Look at McCain’s targets:
* William Ayers, billed a “terrorist” by the McCain camp, worked against the war in Vietnam in which four million people were killed. Ayers is a symbol of the anti-war movement and its most militant wing.
* Reverend Wright. Reverend Wright is a respected theologian whose “crime” was saying that racism is “endemic” to the United States and that the U.S. sees the world through the eyes of an empire.
* ACORN is being attacked by the McCain campaign for registering Democratic-leaning voters. ACORN may have gotten some bad names in the voter registration process but none of those people could vote or be counted. By contrast, the Republicans prevent people from voting who are registered to vote, deny valid signatures and voters, and close down polling places in Black and heavily Democratic districts. They defy the electoral process and have stolen state and national elections.
* Socialism. McCain has begun attacking as “socialist” Obama’s efforts to make income taxes more progressive and to use some of the wealth to help the poor. McCain said, “At least in Europe the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives. They use real numbers and honest language.” McCain proposes cutting capital gains taxes and giving more subsidies to the rich.
Obama’s ties to Ayers were minimal and nothing to apologize for. His ties to Reverend Wright were profound and his disassociation from his mentor deplorable. Obama’s distancing himself from ACORN reflects weakness. But, as Reverend Wright pointed out, Obama is a politician running for office; he makes his tactical moves according to his strategic aim of getting elected. I wish that Obama would defend socialism but he is not a socialist and if he were, he would not be the Democratic nominee for president.
Whether or not Obama chooses to disassociate, denounce, or distance himself from the anti-Vietnam war movement, from the rhetoric and analyses of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements, from grassroots voter registration, and from socialism—those of us on the Left have our own interests in this election that include but also go beyond Obama’s objectives.
Whether Obama chooses to identify with or to renounce these connections, we on the Left need to grasp that these attacks from McCain are against us, not just Obama. If McCain is elected, what do we think he will do to those of us who fought against the war in Vietnam and are fighting to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq ? What will he do to those who will continue to speak and act against the endemic racism of the United States , or to those of us who would study and advocate socialist alternatives to capitalism? I fear for those on the Left who do not see the writing on the wall.
Let’s turn out the vote for Barack Obama, Now.
7) Because an Obama victory will be a defeat for the Clintons .
Hillary and Bill Clinton have been treacherous opponents of Obama. They are threatened by his possible victory and are doing very little to help him. At a white tie dinner John McCain told a great joke. He brought down the house when he observed, "Even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats, I can't shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me. I'm delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary!" Obama understood only too well the truth of that statement.
The Clinton ’s opened up the floodgates of racism against Obama during the Democratic primaries. I made the argument then that Hillary Clinton was forming a white bloc with John McCain to defeat Barack Obama. I wrote an article that documented this in great detail: Hillary and John: The White Bloc That Must Be Stopped.
Throughout Hillary’s campaign she argued that only she and McCain were qualified to be president and Obama was not. She ran that ridiculous ad campaign, “Who do you want to answer the phone at 3 in the morning?” She told the press that she and John McCain had the standing to be commander and chief and Obama did not. As she realized her dreams of victory were slipping away, her campaign reached its moral nadir. She told voters in Pennsylvania , West Virginia , and throughout the country that she did not think that “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans” would vote for Obama. Hillary and Bill Clinton have opened up the door for the racism of the McCain/Palin campaign, aiding and abetting their “dear friend” John McCain.
Hillary also made continued false claims that Obama was not supportive of women (meaning her). Only when it was absolutely clear she was losing did she come out as a born-again feminist, a white feminist, attacking Obama. In so doing she set the conditions for “her friend” John McCain to pick Sarah Palin to mine the anti-Obama sentiment Hillary had agitated among Democratic white women voters. Fortunately, Obama is winning more and more women voters. Needless to say these women include the Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Indigenous women among whom he is also polling strongly. Women recognize how important is his defense of choice and his support for equal pay, and they are impressed with the way he relates to the women in his life, a strong Black partner and his daughters.
The Clinton ’s, when they were in office, brought us the end of welfare, the Anti-Terrorism Act, the Effective Death Penalty Act, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. They typify cynicism and opportunism. Hillary has demanded the vice-presidency and now has demanded an appointment to the Supreme Court as the price of her jaded support. Obama has refused.
When Bill Clinton was on David Letterman, Chris Rock was also a guest. During Clinton ’s interview with Letterman he barely could say anything good about Obama and kept referring to McCain as “my friend” and “a war hero.” After Clinton left, Rock went off on him, “Is it me or does Clinton have a problem saying the name Barack Obama? He doesn’t get it, he keeps talking about Hillary. Hillary lost! Hillary lost. It wasn’t sexism. She ran against a Black guy nobody ever heard of and he beat her. She lost.”
If Obama wins in spite of the Clintons ’ treachery it will strengthen his hand against the Democratic Leadership Council that they control—the hard core of conservative center-right Democrats. It is good to see Hillary Clinton campaigning for Obama. She has no other choice. She too fears eight years of a McCain/Palin ticket and fears her own isolation in the Democratic Party. The Clintons are a Trojan Horse inside the Obama campaign. But Obama is beating the Clintons, Yes He Can. An Obama victory would weaken the Clinton oligarchy.
Let’s turn out the vote for Barack Obama, Now.
8) A victory for Barack Obama will usher in a revolution of rising expectations.
If Obama is elected he will do so with the support of 95% of the Black vote and the highest Black vote in U.S. history, along with enormous numbers of white, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous peoples. He will attract a very large and energetic white vote with a strong anti-racist orientation. He will win over the majority of young people who are more influenced by the victories of the Civil Rights Movement than the crimes of the Klan and the White Citizens Councils.
Listen to how in every talk, besides his recitation of the obligatory “the American people” a dozen times, he goes out of his way to say, “My election is for everybody. The red states and blue, for the middle class, for Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Indigenous peoples.” The mentioning of specific oppressed nationality peoples and cultures is in itself a major breakthrough in the public discourse of race in the country. Notice that the Republicans and most Democrats will never acknowledge that those communities even exist because to do so creates a momentary awareness that whiteness is not the norm, that whites are not the boss. It also creates support for group-specific demand development among oppressed nationality peoples.
After an Obama election the entire field of “community organizing” will get a major boost. I was there when Kennedy was elected and Johnson beat Goldwater. Those elections raised hopes that helped the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left and later the Black Liberation, Women’s, LGBT, and Environmental Justice Movements. Obama will have to decide, after he is elected, what policies he wants to carry out. If he betrays his best promises or carries out his worst, I believe he will receive significant organized opposition with demands that he change his policies.
I was also there when John F. Kennedy moved to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and tried to assassinate Castro. I was there when Lyndon B. Johnson initiated and then tried to disband the poverty programs, when Johnson escalated a genocidal war in Vietnam . These actions by Kennedy and Johnson led to more protests, not less. They led to the emergence of some very principled left liberal Democrats, and the radicalization of many formerly Democratic liberal students who came to see that more radical, structural, revolutionary change was needed.
I hope that Barack Obama understands that the U.S. is a declining superpower in a multi-polar world. I think he knows full well the economic crisis facing U.S. and world imperialism. I think he may propose a less bellicose and a less aggressive foreign policy if only to protect the system itself. Regardless, my argument is not that we work to elect Obama based on an ability to predict all of his actions or choices.
I think every successful organizer has to have an independent program and an independent grassroots base. I am part of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, and the Bus Riders Union. I work in alliance with thousands of grassroots groups reflected, in one instance, by the 12,000 social movement organizers who attended the first U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta in 2007.
I hope that Obama, as a former community organizer, will understand pressure from his left. Even if he does not always respond to our specific demands, it will be the job of the movements to assess his response and figure out our best tactics to win our demands.
I hope that we can make sure that Obama respects the civil rights and civil liberties of protestors and reigns in the campaign of terror against protestors by local police, the National Guard, and the U.S. military. An Obama administration cannot sanction the level of brutality and repression against demonstrators that the Bush police state has perfected. Under pressure from the Left, I believe he could expand civil rights and civil liberties and expand the rights of protest and demonstration, which in turn would help the movement further. Can I guarantee that? Of course not, but I do believe that the entire climate for anti-racist, anti-poverty, environmental justice, immigrant rights, anti-police state, anti-war organizing will be radically improved by an Obama victory.
Let’s turn out the vote for Barack Obama, Now.
9) Because I have faith in the Obama supporters, faith in the Black community, faith in the grassroots Left.
I spent a weekend at a Camp Obama training program in Long Beach and have since been going to phone bank at the local Obama headquarters. They are a wide variety of folk coming from many different points on the political spectrum. They are decent, hard working, motivated, and wonderful people. There is a movement atmosphere among the group. I was deeply moved by the 350 of us who came to the Obama training. We worked together from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in a very intensive organizer training program. On every break I asked people, What is the most important thing about an Obama victory for you? I was surprised by the number and diversity of answers. “Because he is so intelligent. I am sick of having a stupid president.” “He is the most ethical, the most humane.” “He will defeat Karl Rove.” “He is the most qualified Black man.” “Because he will help me not be ashamed to be an American.” “Because I was involved in the Civil Rights Movement and had lost hope. This brings me from ‘We Shall Overcome’ to ‘Yes We Can.’” “Because I want my children to see we can elect a Black president.”
Of the 350 people who attended, 100 were Black, 15 were Asian/Pacific Islander, 15 were Latino, and more than 200 were white. This election is drawing a line of demarcation among white people that is very profound—a civil war within a larger civil war, the anti-racist whites versus the racist whites. Just as in the Civil Rights Movement, a large anti-racist white bloc is consolidating itself as a critical ally of communities of color. Remember, these are white folk voting for a Black man for president of the United States . We should not underestimate the good intentions and high levels of activism and sacrifice of the Obama camp and their critical role in history in the years ahead.
The Black community
The Black community is driven like nothing I have seen since the March on Washington , the fight against segregation in the South, the fight against racism and police brutality in the North. The Obama Campaign has a mass character to it that is unprecedented in U.S. politics, having sprung from the traditions of Black protest, Black rebellion and Black organizing. In the past months I have spoken with many Black members of the Obama Campaign and the Bus Riders Union. Having grown up in Jim Crow segregation, many say how hard it is to believe that Black people could come from slavery to the possibility of electing the first Black president of the United States . While that makes them very hopeful, in the same sentence they also talk of wanting it so badly they cannot acknowledge it. They do not want to get their hopes up and let the white racist voters crush them. They fear something bad happening to Obama. They fear the white backlash and fear another set of hopes dashed against the rocks of racism by this country. They are working with all their heart and soul for Obama but do not want to acknowledge how much this election means to them because, if he loses, they don’t know if they can bear the pain.
There is no community stronger and tougher than the Black community. It has suffered more pain in America than at times is humanly imaginable. Today more than a million Black men are in prison and millions more are being hunted down by the police as we speak. And yet, the Black community has a power and resilience that is legendary, a long history of leading the anti-racist and Left movements in this country. Its capacity to recover and fight back is admired by friend and foe alike. Still, we cannot let a McCain victory happen, we just cannot. An Obama victory will raise the spirits and fighting capacity of the Black community.
There are some who worry that Obama will co-opt the Black community. They think that Black people who are against the growing police state or the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan will look the other way if those policies are carried out by Obama. Some have expressed a fear that Black people will protect and defend Obama in a way that brooks no criticism, giving him a free pass at a time of crisis. But while that is possible, it would contradict everything I have seen in 40 years of organizing. My experience says that it all depends on how you organize and how well you grasp and assert your own independence and initiative in the united front.
I have been in social movements that helped elect and then challenge mayor of Newark Kenneth Gibson, and Los Angeles mayors Tom Bradley and Antonio Villaraigosa. Obama is a brilliant organizer, a brilliant politician. He has his own program, his own priorities, and he will fight to win support for them. Cooptation is not the most helpful concept, taking the focus off our own role. Obama will do what he has to do. It is for those of us who are organizing in low-income communities of color, those of us who consider ourselves good strategists, good tacticians and organizers—it is for those of us who have a grassroots base to drive our own programs, our own demands, and to develop the tactical plans to win those demands.
After the election, in just two weeks, thousands of grassroots groups that have been working on life and death issues for decades will be in the much stronger position of being able to place their demands on a more receptive Obama presidency. As just a few key examples of structural demands we must raise:
* Dramatically cut the $400-billion military budget. Massively expand social services and direct transfers of money to the unemployed, the poor, and those facing foreclosures and evictions.
* Release the vast majority of the one million Black and 500,000 Latino prisoners incarcerated in the U.S. gulag. Provide humane treatment for those who remain, including plans for parole and rehabilitation.
* Remove all combat and occupation forces from Iraq and provide support for the self-determination of the Iraqi people. End the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan . End the military threats against Iran , and Pakistan .
* Provide free, safe, and legal abortions for women. Do not impose parental notification. Provide U.S. funds for birth control and sex education in the U.S. and Third World .
* Pass a new provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, strengthening Title VI, that will allow grassroots parties to sue government agencies over racial discrimination and to block federal funding to racially discriminatory projects based on disparate racial impacts.
* Stop the environmental disaster of “clean coal” ethanol and nuclear power. Dramatically expand clean fuel bus transportation and dramatically restrict the auto.
* Stop the ICE raids and surveillance on the 12 million immigrants in the U.S. Offer them amnesty. Take down the wall with Mexico .
* End the blockade of Cuba and stop U.S. subversion of the Venezuelan revolution.
* Support self-determination for the Palestinian people and protect their right to a viable homeland.
Those of us who see ourselves in a united front alliance with Obama and with his millions of supporters should carry out a policy of simultaneous alliance and challenge, defending his candidacy and challenging some of its key policies. The Right is like a pack of attack dogs. They will not stop even after Obama is elected. If they lose the election, they will begin attacking the Obamas the day they take office. They will try to subvert his presidency at every turn. We want to build an alliance with Obama against the Right, a united front against racism and fascism that never loses sight of our unities with him and with our stand against the barbarians at the gate. At the same time, we want to build stronger grassroots movements to his left that can carry out their own independent programs and tactical plans. For grassroots organizers we are working with millions of other Obama supporters who can be won to a broader progressive and Left agenda in the process of fighting for an Obama presidency. We need organizers who do not sit on the sidelines of history but see their participation in this historical battle as a major development that can expand the chances for more radical and revolutionary changes in U.S. society.
Let us be able to rejoice in an Obama victory and then face the inevitable challenges together. I am convinced that many of the people who are working so hard for Obama—who are making millions of phone calls, contributing their money, and going door to door for his election—will expect the most of him. They will not go quietly into the night if he betrays their trust. Obama has argued to his supporters that he expects us to keep up the organizing to keep him on track, that the role of those who work to elect him will be to organize to push him once he is elected. There are millions of people working their heart out for his election who will be there to take him up on his post-election offer.
Let’s turn out the vote for Barack Obama, Now.
10) Because it’s time to act. Here is what you can do.
There are at least four major ways you can take positive action in the next two weeks to elect Obama and defeat McCain:
* Contribute funds to the Obama Campaign. Over three million people have donated already. Obama raised $150 million in September from 632,000 people, an average of $86 per contribution. My wife Lian and I have contributed to his campaign and plan to do so again in the next few days. Whether you give $25, $50 or $100, consider that another 600,000 people will be doing the same. If we each do this, we can raise another $150 million in the next two weeks to elect Obama and defeat McCain. Last minute ads to counter last minute attack ads from McCain are needed and funds are essential. Every McCain ad is an ad against liberals, against the Left, against Black civil rights leaders, against socialism, against any progressive future.
* If you are in a swing state, plug into the Obama Campaign now. For the next two weeks, get involved with phone banking and precinct walking. On the weekends before the election and on Election Day, volunteer with Get Out The Vote (GOTV) operations.
* If you are not in a swing state, phone bank into swing states with your local branch of the Obama Campaign. Also consider volunteering to travel to your nearest swing state the last weekends before the election or whenever you can to go door to door turning out voters. The more experience you have, the better, but the Obama campaign is good at plugging you in.
* Become a poll worker. There are millions of people who will vote for the first time or vote after years of absence. The polls will be jammed. The Republicans will commit any crime under the books to deter voters in Democratic districts and Black voters in particular. We need election protection. People who have signed up as poll workers in L.A. are already saying that South L.A. and East L.A. are under-staffed. We can assume that communities of color will need special attention and that this is a critical job.
There is work to be done, and it is great to be an organizer, not a bystander. Obama is making history and so should we. It our job to be part of this historic movement and to come home with a victory in hand.
* * * *
A respectful acknowledgment of the historic presidential campaign of Congressperson Cynthia McKinney.
The candidate with whose views I most agree is former Congressperson Cynthia McKinney, a dynamic Black woman running on the Green Party ticket. I know many people of good faith and good politics who are working for her. I encourage them to carry out their plan to its fullest and wish her campaign the greatest success. She should be encouraged for what she is doing. At this point this is not the choice I am making in my own tactical assessment of the best way to confront racism and empire. When the election is over, whether Obama is elected or McCain, we all have to work together in a broad united front against the war in Iraq and racism at home. Any tactical disagreements on this election, no matter how profound, should not divide us in our broader long-term objectives. At the end of the day, we are sisters and brothers in the struggle.
[This article was written to encourage strategic and tactical discussions about the election. The author strongly encourages comments to be posted here at ericmannblog.blogspot.com ]
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Photo: 'Know Nothing' Revival? Pro-Palin Protester Making a Point
A Call to Take
By Sharon Martinas and Sabina Virgo
Oct. 20, 2008 - We are in an untested place in the United States. We face economic crisis, coupled with climate crisis, joined by a crisis of natural resources. Within that disturbing mix, a presidential election is but moments away.
With charges of 'socialist agendas' and 'terrorist associations' swirling around us, the right-wing has chosen this moment to increase division - and to raise the volume of American racism.
It is almost as if our own history is playing 'gotcha' with us. Almost as if the right-wing populism of the "Know-Nothing Party" of the 1800's, and the racism of the American Independent Party of 1968 (George Wallace for President) have both come back. And have jumped through time and found new life in the words of Sarah Palin and John McCain. It seems likely that if the Republican Party believes it is facing defeat in November, they will not go gently.
They have not, in any of their last eight years in office, been willing to listen to the voice of the people. On the contrary, based on their past behavior and (mis)use of power, it is reasonable to believe that they may use all resources available to them to retain state power. Voter suppression. Voter fraud. Fixed electronic voting. Institutional violence (the suppression of dissent) An October surprise.
The election is coming – and the use of some, or all, of the above may be only days away.
While we believe that the fight against institutional forms of electoral fraud and violence is of critical importance, we believe it is but one side of the struggle. The other side is the struggle against 'non-state' racist violence. That is the side not talked about much. But we believe that side to be vital– and we believe that it must be confronted directly, and challenged.
All of us know about the existence of disciplined, armed, white nationalist groupings in the United States. Although their names and belief systems are no secret to anyone, they get little media coverage (and probably want even less.) Based on what we know about them, it is highly unlikely that these 'non-state' forces will gracefully accept a change in governance led by a man of African descent.
We assume that the various Aryan Nation formations, along with their many brethren of other names, are looking with satisfaction at the response to Sarah Palin's rallies. We assume that the upsurge of racist reaction to the McCain-Palin rhetoric gives them hope for the future. We believe that they see this moment as an historic opportunity to both expand their reach and consolidate their base. And that point of view makes sense, because, in fact, their 'base' is being readied for them.
We have all heard about Sarah Palin's ability to 'energize the base', and we have seen what the empowerment of hate - what the stirring up of 'the base'- has already brought. To mention just one example: after McCain said that ACORN (an organization with chapters in communities throughout the country) was guilty of voter registration fraud and was "destroying the fabric of democracy in America", ACORN offices were broken into, and their staff received death threats.
This should not come as a real surprise to us. We have seen this kind of motion before in the United States. Mass violence and mob mentalities are not strangers to us. We all know something about what the empowerment of hate has led to: lynchings, church bombings, anti-immigrant violence, racist murders, murders of gay youth, clinic bombings, and drastic increases in domestic violence. Just for a moment, stop and think about what unchecked hatred has already brought to this country. And what it has brought within other countries. We believe that the examples we have mentioned prove not only that it can happen here, but that, in many ways, it already has.
It is unclear if the ACORN death threats are the work of already organized hate groups. Most likely, they are the work of the 'newly empowered base', just starting to feel its oats, and functioning on its own parallel track. But just as the economic, climate and resource crises joined and increased their impact, so may the new and the old forces of hatred and violence converge, each amplifying the strength and the acceptability of the other.
We are at a critical point in the United States. We believe that new opportunity exists for the racist underbelly of this country to gain momentum and power - opportunity for them to come out of the shadows and breathe the light of day. And we believe that this opening exists, in somewhat different ways, no matter who wins the election.
We are at a critical point in the United States. But we believe this to be true: that new opportunity exists for us as well - and that we are capable, both nationally and locally, of challenging racism (and racists) in our communities. We believe that in struggle, as in science, changing the momentum of an object is easiest in its earliest stages of motion. The faster the object moves, the more difficult it is to change its trajectory. History has already shown us what disaster the failure to act in time has brought to the nations and the peoples of our world.
We believe that if we are not already involved in this struggle, now would be a good time to engage. There are many ways we can do this. We can work with the many grassroots structures which were set up to support the candidacy of Barack Obama - and we can encourage them to support his Presidency by pledging to stay organized independently to fight any nativist/racist attacks.
Or, in a different reality, we could encourage those same independent groupings to stay organized and directly confront both the policies of a McCain/Palin (very) White House, and the racist activity that may follow that victory.
Or, we could join issue organizations within our communities and make the same pledge;
Or, we could work within specifically anti-racist national or local formations;
Or; we could form our own organizations or networks, should no appropriate ones exist where we live.
Whatever we choose to do, however we choose to do it, we can share our belief in the need to push back against racist speech or action wherever and whenever we see it. There are, most certainly, many ways of doing this work. Whether in person, on the phone, or on-line, we can share ideas with each other. We can share our experiences and our learning with each other. And as we all do our work, each of us will be helping to build a national movement to fight racism and racists. Please consider our thoughts. If you agree, act now. It really could happen here.
We welcome your comments.
[Sharon Martinas, San Francisco email@example.com Sabina Virgo, Los Angeles firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Full Text: Meet the Press Interview
TOM BROKAW: General Colin Powell, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
GEN. POWELL: Thank, thank you, Tom.
MR. BROKAW: We indicated in that opening, there is a lot of anticipation and speculation about your take on this presidential campaign. We'll get to that in a moment. But in your old business we might call this a tour of the horizon. Whoever's elected president of the United States, that first day in the Oval Office on January 21st will face this: an American economy that's in a near paralytic state at this time; we're at war in two different countries, Afghanistan and Iraq; we have an energy crisis; we have big decisions to make about health care and about global climate change. The president of the United States and the Congress of the United States now have the highest disapproval ratings that we have seen in many years. In all your years of public service, have you ever seen an incoming president face such daunting challenges?
GEN. POWELL: No. I have seen more difficult times in our history. I think about the early '70s when we were going through Watergate, Spiro Agnew, Nixon period, that was not a good time. But right now we're also facing a very daunting period. And I think the number one issue the president's going to have to deal with is the economy. That's what the American people are worried about. And, frankly, it's not just an American problem, it's an international problem. We can see how all of these economies are now linked in this globalized system. And I think that'll be number one. The president will also have to make decisions quickly as to how to deal with Iraq and Afghanistan. And also I think the president has to reach out to the world and show that there is a new president, a new administration that is looking forward to working with our friends and allies. And in my judgment, also willing to talk to people who we have not been willing to talk to before. Because this is a time for outreach.
MR. BROKAW: Given the state of the American economy, can we continue our military commitments around the world at the level that they now exist?
GEN. POWELL: We can. I think we have to look as to whether they have to be at that level. But we have the wealth, we have the wherewithal to do that. (Clears throat) Excuse me, Tom. We have the ability to do that. And so, first and foremost, we have to review those commitments, see what they are, see what else is needed, and make sure we give our troops what they need to get the job done as we have defined the job. We have that ability.
MR. BROKAW: If you were called into the Oval Office on January 21st by the new president, whoever it happens to be, and he said to you, "General Powell, I need from you your recommendation on where I begin. What should be my priorities?" Where would you start?
GEN. POWELL: I would start with talking to the American people and talking to the world, and conveying a new image of American leadership, a new image of America's role in the world.
The problems will always be there, and there's going to be a crisis come along in the 21st or 22nd of January that we don't even know about right now. And so I think what the president has to do is to start using the power of the Oval Office and the power of his personality to convince the American people and to convince the world that America is solid, America is going to move forward, and we're going to fix our economic problems, we're going to meet our overseas obligations. But restoring a sense of purpose, a sense of confidence in the American people and, in the international community, in America.
MR. BROKAW: What's not on the screen right now that concerns you that should be more prominent in the minds of the American people and the people running for president?
GEN. POWELL: I think the American people and the gentlemen running for president will have to, early on, focus on education more than we have seen in the campaign so far. America has a terrible educational problem in the sense that we have too many youngsters not finishing school. A third of our kids don't finish high school, 50 percent of minorities don't finish high school. We've got to work on this, and my, my wife and I are leading a campaign with this purpose.
Also, I think, the new president has to realize that the world looks to America for leadership, and so we have to show leadership on some issues that the world is expecting us to, whether it's energy, global warming and the environment. And I think we have to do a lot more with respect to poverty alleviation and helping the needy people of the world. We need to increase the amount of resources we put into our development programs to help the rest of the world. Because when you help the poorest in the world, you start to move them up an economic and social ladder, and they're not going to be moving toward violence or terrorism of the kind that we worry about.
MR. BROKAW: Well, let's move to the American presidential campaign now, if we can. We saw at the beginning of this broadcast a short tease of what you had to say just a month ago. Let's share with our viewers now a little more of Colin Powell on these two candidates and your position.
(Videotape, September 20, 2008)
GEN. POWELL: I'm an American, first and foremost, and I'm very proud--I said, I've said, I've said to my beloved friend and colleague John McCain, a friend of 25 years, "John, I love you, but I'm not just going to vote for you on the basis of our affection or friendship." And I've said to Barack Obama, "I admire you. I'll give you all the advice I can. But I'm not going to vote for you just because you're black." We, we have to move beyond this.
MR. BROKAW: General Powell, actually you gave a campaign contribution to Senator McCain. You have met twice at least with Barack Obama. Are you prepared to make a public declaration of which of these two candidates that you're prepared to support?
GEN. POWELL: Yes, but let me lead into it this way. I know both of these individuals very well now. I've known John for 25 years as your setup said. And I've gotten to know Mr. Obama quite well over the past two years. Both of them are distinguished Americans who are patriotic, who are dedicated to the welfare of our country. Either one of them, I think, would be a good president. I have said to Mr. McCain that I admire all he has done. I have some concerns about the direction that the party has taken in recent years. It has moved more to the right than I would like to see it, but that's a choice the party makes. And I've said to Mr. Obama, "You have to pass a test of do you have enough experience, and do you bring the judgment to the table that would give us confidence that you would be a good president."
And I've watched him over the past two years, frankly, and I've had this conversation with him. I have especially watched over the last six of seven weeks as both of them have really taken a final exam with respect to this economic crisis that we are in and coming out of the conventions. And I must say that I've gotten a good measure of both. In the case of Mr. McCain, I found that he was a little unsure as to deal with the economic problems that we were having and almost every day there was a different approach to the problem. And that concerned me, sensing that he didn't have a complete grasp of the economic problems that we had. And I was also concerned at the selection of Governor Palin. She's a very distinguished woman, and she's to be admired; but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made.
On the Obama side, I watched Mr. Obama and I watched him during this seven-week period. And he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this and picking a vice president that, I think, is ready to be president on day one. And also, in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor. I think that he has a, a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well. I also believe that on the Republican side over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party and Mr. McCain has become narrower and narrower. Mr. Obama, at the same time, has given us a more inclusive, broader reach into the needs and aspirations of our people. He's crossing lines--ethnic lines, racial lines, generational lines. He's thinking about all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values.
And I've also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Senator McCain has taken recently, or his campaign ads, on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about. This Bill Ayers situation that's been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign. But Mr. McCain says that he's a washed-out terrorist. Well, then, why do we keep talking about him? And why do we have these robocalls going on around the country trying to suggest that, because of this very, very limited relationship that Senator Obama has had with Mr. Ayers, somehow, Mr. Obama is tainted. What they're trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings. And I think that's inappropriate.
Now, I understand what politics is all about. I know how you can go after one another, and that's good. But I think this goes too far. And I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow. It's not what the American people are looking for. And I look at these kinds of approaches to the campaign and they trouble me. And the party has moved even further to the right, and Governor Palin has indicated a further rightward shift. I would have difficulty with two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that's what we'd be looking at in a McCain administration. I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.
So, when I look at all of this and I think back to my Army career, we've got two individuals, either one of them could be a good president. But which is the president that we need now? Which is the individual that serves the needs of the nation for the next period of time? And I come to the conclusion that because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities--and we have to take that into account--as well as his substance--he has both style and substance--he has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president. I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into the world--onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama.
MR. BROKAW: Will you be campaigning for him as well?
GEN. POWELL: I don't plan to. Two weeks left, let them go at each other in the finest tradition. But I will be voting for him.
MR. BROKAW: I can already anticipate some of the reaction to this. Let's begin with the charge that John McCain has continued to make against Barack Obama. You sit there, as a man who served in Vietnam, you commanded a battalion of 101st, you were chairman of the Joint Chiefs, you were a national security adviser and secretary of state. There is nothing in Barack Obama's history that nearly paralyze any--parallels any of the experiences that you've had. And while he has performed impressively in the context of the campaign, there's a vast difference between sitting in the Oval Office and making tough decisions and doing well in a campaign.
GEN. POWELL: And he knows that. And I have watched him over the last two years as he has educated himself, as he has become very familiar with these issues. He speaks authoritatively. He speaks with great insight into the challenges we're facing of a military and political and economic nature. And he is surrounding himself, I'm confident, with people who'll be able to give him the expertise that he, at the moment, does not have. And so I have watched an individual who has intellectual vigor and who dives deeply into issues and approaches issues with a very, very steady hand. And so I'm confident that he will be ready to take on these challenges on January 21st.
MR. BROKAW: And you are fully aware that there will be some--how many, no one can say for sure--but there will be some who will say this is an African-American, distinguished American, supporting another African-American because of race.
GEN. POWELL: If I had only had that in mind, I could have done this six, eight, 10 months ago. I really have been going back and forth between somebody I have the highest respect and regard for, John McCain, and somebody I was getting to know, Barack Obama. And it was only in the last couple of months that I settled on this. And I can't deny that it will be a historic event for an African-American to become president. And should that happen, all Americans should be proud--not just African-Americans, but all Americans--that we have reached this point in our national history where such a thing could happen. It will also not only electrify our country, I think it'll electrify the world.
MR. BROKAW: You have some differences with Barack Obama. He has said that once he takes office, he wants to begin removing American troops from Iraq. Here's what you had to say about that: "I have found in my many years of service, to set arbitrary dates that don't coincide with the situation on the ground or what actually is happening tends not to be a useful strategy. ... Arbitrary deadlines that are snatched out of the air and are based on some lunar calculation is not the way to run a military or a strategic operation of this type." That was on February 10th of this year on CNN. Now that you have Barack Obama's ear in a new fashion, will you say to him, "Drop your idea of setting a deadline of some kind to pull the troops out of Iraq"?
GEN. POWELL: First of all, I think that's a great line, and thanks for pulling it up. And I believe that. But as I watch what's happening right now, the United States is negotiating the--an agreement with the Iraqi government that will call for most major combat operations to cease by next June and for American forces to start withdrawing to their bases. And that agreement will also provide for all American troops to be gone by 2011, but conditioned on the situation as it exists at that time. So there already is a timeline that's being developed between the Iraqis and the United States government. So I think whoever becomes the president, whether it's John McCain or whether it's Barack Obama, we're going to see a continued drawdown. And when, you know, which day so many troops come out or what units come out, that'll be determined by the commanders and the new president. But I think we are on a glide path to reducing our presence in Iraq over the next couple of years. Increasingly, this problem's going to be solved by the Iraqis. They're going to make the political decisions, their security forces are going to take over, and they're going to have to create an environment of reconciliation where all the people can come together and make Iraq a much, much better place.
MR. BROKAW: Let me go back to something that you raised just a moment ago, and that's William Ayers, a former member of the Weathermen who's now active in school issues in Illinois. He had some past association with Barack Obama. Wouldn't it have been more helpful for William Ayers to, on his own, to have renounced his own past? Here was a man who was a part of the most radical group that existed in America at a time when you were serving in Vietnam, targeting the Pentagon, the Capitol. He wrote a book about it that came out on 2001, on September 11th that said, "We didn't bomb enough."
GEN. POWELL: It's despicable, and I have no truck for William Ayers. I think what he did was despicable, and to continue to talk about it in 2001 is also despicable. But to suggest that because Mr. Barack Obama had some contacts of a very casual nature--they sat on a educational board--over time is somehow connected to his thinking or his actions, I think, is a, a terrible stretch. It's demagoguery.
MR. BROKAW: I want to ask you about your own role in the decision to go to war in Iraq. Barack Obama has been critical of your appearance before the United Nations at that time. Bob Woodward has a new book out called "The War Within," and here's what he had to say about Colin Powell and his place in the administration: "Powell ... didn't think [Iraq] was a necessary war, and yet he had gone along in a hundred ways, large and small. He had resisted at times but had succumbed to the momentum and his own sense of deference--even obedience--to the president. ... Perhaps more than anyone else in the administration, Powell had been the `closer' for the president's case on war."
And then you were invited to appear before the Iraq Study Group. "`Why did we go into Iraq with so few people?' [former Secretary of State James] Baker asked. ... `Colin just exploded at that point,' [former Secretary of Defense William] Perry recalled later. `He unloaded,' Former White House Chief of Staff] Leon Panetta added. `He was angry. He was mad as hell.' ... Powell left [the Study Group meeting]. Baker turned to Panetta and said solemnly, `He's the one guy who could have perhaps prevented this from happening.'"
What's the lesson in all of that for a former--for a new secretary of state or for a new national security adviser, based on your own experience?
GEN. POWELL: Well, let's start at the beginning. I said to the president in 2002, we should try to solve this diplomatically and avoid war. The president accepted that recommendation, we took it to the U.N. But the president, by the end of 2002, believed that the U.N. was not going to solve the problem, and he made a decision that we had to prepare for military action. I fully supported that. And I have never said anything to suggest I did not support going to war. I thought the evidence was there. And it is not just my closing of the whole deal with my U.N. speech. I know the importance of that speech, and I regret a lot of the information that the intelligence community provided us was wrong. But three months before my speech, with a heavy majority, the United States Congress expressed its support to use military force if it was necessary. And so we went in and used military force. My unhappiness was that we didn't do it right. It was easy to get to Baghdad, but then we forgot that there was a lot more that had to be done. And we didn't have enough force to impose our will in the country or to deal with the insurgency when it broke out, and that I regret.
MR. BROKAW: Removing the weapons of mass destruction from the equation...
GEN. POWELL: I also assure you that it was not a correct assessment by anybody that my statements or my leaving the administration would have stopped it.
MR. BROKAW: Removing the weapons of mass destruction from the equation, because we now know that they did not exist, was it then a war of necessity or just a war of choice?
GEN. POWELL: Without the weapons of mass destruction present, as conveyed to us by the intelligence community in the most powerful way, I don't think there would have been a war. It was the reason we took it to the public, it was the reason we took it to the American people to the Congress, who supported it on that basis, and it's the presentation I made to the United Nations. Without those weapons of mass destruction then Iraq did not present to the world the kind of threat that it did if it had weapons of mass destruction.
MR. BROKAW: You do know that there are supporters of Barack Obama who feel very strongly about his candidacy because he was opposed to the war from the beginning, and they're going to say, "Who needs Colin Powell? He was the guy who helped get us into this mess."
GEN. POWELL: I'm not here to get their approval or lack of approval. I am here to express my view as to who I'm going to vote for.
MR. BROKAW: There's a summing up going on now as, as the Bush/Cheney administration winds down. We'd like to share with our audience some of what you had to say about the two men who are at the top of the administration. At the convention in 2000, this is Colin Powell on President Bush and Dick Cheney at that time.
(Videotape, July 31, 2000)
GEN. POWELL: Dick Cheney is one of the most distinguished and dedicated public servants this nation has ever had. He will be a superb vice president.
The Bush/Cheney team will be a great team for America. They will put our nation on a course of hope and optimism for this new century.
MR. BROKAW: Was that prophetic or wrong?
GEN. POWELL: It's what I believed. It reflected the agenda of the new president, compassionate conservatism. And some of it worked out. I think we have advanced our freedom agenda, I think we've done a lot to help people around the world with our programs of development. I think we've done a lot to solve some conflicts such as in Liberia and elsewhere. But, at the same time, we have managed to convey to the world that we are more unilateral than we really are. We have not explained ourself well enough. And we, unfortunately, have left an impression with the world that is not a good one. And the new president is going to have to fix the reputation that we've left with the rest of the world.
Now, let me make a point here. The United States is still seen as the leader at the world that wants to be free. Even though the numbers are down with respect to favorability ratings, at every embassy and consular office tomorrow morning that we have, people will be lined up, and they'll all say the same thing, "We want to go to America." So we're still the leader of the world that wants to be free. We are still the inspiration of the rest of the world. And we can come back. In 2000, it was moment where I believed that the new administration coming in would be able to achieve the agenda that President-elect Bush had set out of compassionate conservatism.
MR. BROKAW: But it failed?
GEN. POWELL: I don't think it was as successful--excuse me (clears throat)--I don't think it was as successful as it might have been. And, as you see from the presidential approval ratings, the American people have found the administration wanting.
MR. BROKAW: Let me as, you a couple of questions--quick questions as we wrap all of this up. I know you're very close to President Bush 41. Are you still in touch with him on a regular basis? And what do you think he'll think about you this morning endorsing Barack Obama?
GEN. POWELL: I will let President Bush 41, speak for himself and let others speak for themselves, just as I have spoken for myself. Let me make one point, Tom, both Senator McCain and Senator Obama will be good presidents. It isn't easy for me to disappoint Senator McCain in the way that I have this morning, and I regret that. But I strongly believe that at this point in America's history, we need a president that will not just continue, even with a new face and with some changes and with some maverick aspects, who will not just continue, basically, the policies that we have been following in recent years. I think we need a transformational figure. I need--think we need a president who is a generational change. And that's why I'm supporting Barack Obama. Not out of any lack of respect or admiration for Senator John McCain.
MR. BROKAW: And finally, how much of a factor do you think race will be when voters go into that booth on November 4th?
GEN. POWELL: I don't know the answer to that question. One may say that it's going to be a big factor, and a lot of people say they will vote for Senator Obama but they won't pull a lever. Others might say that has already happened. People are already finding other reasons to say they're not voting for him. "Well, he's a Muslim," "He's this." So we have already seen the so-called "Bradley factor" in the current--in the current spread between the candidates. And so that remains to be seen. I hope it is not the case. I think we have advanced considerably in this country since the days of Tom Bradley. And I hope that is not the case. It would be very unfortunate if it were the case.
MR. BROKAW: Finally, if Senator Obama is elected president, will there be a place for Colin Powell in that administration? Maybe as the ambassador at large in Africa or to take on the daunting task of resolving the Israeli/Palestinian issue?
GEN. POWELL: I served 40 years in government, and I--I'm not looking forward to a position or an assignment. Of course, I have always said if a president asks you to do something, you have to consider it. But I am in no way interested in returning to government. But I, of course, would sit and talk to any president who wishes to talk to me.
MR. BROKAW: You're not ruling it out?
GEN. POWELL: I would sit and talk to any president who wishes to talk to me, but I'm not anxious to rule it in.
MR. BROKAW: General Colin Powell, thank you very much for being with us this morning. Appreciate it.
GEN. POWELL: Thank you, Tom.
MR. BROKAW: Coming up next, Decision 2008, the home stretch. We'll look at the states and strategies in play with David Brooks, Jon Meacham, Andrea Mitchell, Joe Scarborough. And Chuck Todd, our political director, will take us through the electoral map.
BROKAW: The Decision 2008 battleground, we'll have new state polls and our political roundtable coming up after this brief station break.
MR. BROKAW: We're back. We're joined now by NBC News political director Chuck Todd, who has some new polls out this morning.
Chuck, what's the big change from when we saw you two weeks ago?
MR. CHUCK TODD: Well, what we did was we asked our state pollster to take a look at three states. One that was perceived to be leaning in McCain's column, one leaning in Obama's column, and one pure toss-up.
Let's start with the pure toss-up, Ohio. Well, our new poll for Mason-Dixon shows it was a toss-up before this morning, it's still a toss-up, 1 point race, margin of error stuff. Ohio's been one of the few states that hasn't moved as much as we've seen some other states in Obama's direction.
Now let's take a look at Wisconsin, speaking of states that have moved. This is now a 12-point lead for Obama in this poll, double digits. We're, we're seeing--we're wondering why the McCain campaign, in some ways, is still actively campaigning there. Republican Party pulled some money out, McCain is still keeping money alive there.
Then we took a look at West Virginia. This is a state that popped recently. Well, it is still very close. McCain has the lead 47-41.
So, just the big picture, Obama is closer in West Virginia than McCain is in Wisconsin. That sort of tells the story of how this map has shifted, Tom.
MR. BROKAW: And what, what's driving all that, Chuck?
MR. TODD: Well, I think a lot of what's driving it is we're seeing the economy drive this thing. When you look at our current map right now, here's where we were two weeks ago with the toss-up states. You had some lean--places like Florida and North Carolina still in McCain's column. And then now with the economy, and that's the best explanation for West Virginia right now, that you see a state like that move. That tells you that's a state that's always economically hurting a little bit, at least it has been over the last eight years. And now you're seeing that whatever cultural issues that Republicans successfully used to get that state into the Republican column over the last two elections, they have struggled now. The economy moved Florida. It's moved North Carolina. The banking center of Charlotte really hurting.
But then, we've also seen some movement here in what I call the "region of Brokaw," Montana, and the two Dakotas, both now single digit races. You're seeing--and frankly, we almost moved Arizona. There's some evidence there that that is a state that is now only a high single-digit lead here, you know, demographically. Again, the economy, older voters. It's hurting everywhere.
MR. BROKAW: And, Chuck, as I've been listening to these two campaigns and watching their ads, it seems to me if you're a senior citizen in America, they're probably calling you up and say, "We'll come over and do your laundry and drive you to the early bird special if that's what it takes to get you to vote for us."
MR. TODD: Well, you know, we talk all about young voters, and we talk about African-Americans, we talk about this, we talk about that. This thing is about seniors. The difference between Obama fighting for 270 and Obama sailing past 270 is older, white voters. The thing keeping McCain still with a boxer's chance here is older, white voters. Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana--these are some of the old--have some of the oldest populations in the country. So, when these voters, if they start moving in one direction, if they move in towards Obama, which we've seen a little bit of evidence that way, that's how this thing becomes from a close electoral college battle to a landslide.
And, by the way, one other point about our map, and we're seeing this shift. It's almost as if the McCain campaign is conceding the popular vote. We're seeing a lot of tightening in places that while Obama probably won't carry them, he's not going to lose by large margins. That means the McCain path is solely now an electoral college path, and if he wins the electoral college, it's hard to see how he actually wins the popular vote, Tom.
MR. BROKAW: All right, thanks very much. Chuck Todd.
We're joined now by David Brooks, Jon Meacham, Andrea Mitchell and Joe Scarborough.
Joe, let's begin with you. The news of the morning that would create quite a buzz, my guess is today, is that Colin Powell, who's always been a Republican came out for Barack Obama. Long term, make much of a difference?
MR. JOE SCARBOROUGH: Maybe not long-term, but this is a week that you've got two and a half--this is a campaign where you have two and a half weeks left. And so if a Powell endorsement occupies the, the media for two--three days, that's critically important to John McCain. He's got to turn the attention back to his campaign, to his issues. This is a bad distraction for him at a very bad time.
MR. BROKAW: You're very familiar with Florida. Will Colin Powell have much of an impact on that state, which is much more in play now?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, sure, sure it will. I mean, one of the reasons why John McCain shocked Mitt Romney--remember the last two or three days most people thought Mitt Romney was going to win Florida. There is a huge military population in Florida and a very large retired military population in Florida. Colin Powell's endorsement helps him probably more in Florida than any other state.
MR. BROKAW: David Brooks, what's your take on the Colin Powell endorsement?
MR. DAVID BROOKS: Well, Republicans can either attack Colin Powell or they can regard him as a symptom of what's wrong with the party. And Powell was not attacking John McCain; he had a lot of nice things to say about John McCain. He was attacking the Republican Party. And the key word there was "narrowing." The party is narrowing and leaving a lot of people out, people like Colin Powell, who served in the Bush administration, who spoke at the Republican convention. And they have to ask themselves, "Why are we narrowing?" And that seems, to me, the, the implication of all of this, and that's the symptom of this whole election. A lot of people who were Republicans feel they've been left out not by McCain, but by the party. And if McCain has any blame, it's in the beginning of this campaign, he didn't say, "I'm different," he didn't break with the party, he didn't reform the party. He got sucked up--sucked in, at least halfway, into the orthodoxy of the party that is narrowing.
MR. BROKAW: Andrea Mitchell, is it enough for the Obama campaign just to get this endorsement this morning, or will they try to use him in ads and try to pull him out on the trail as well?
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, they're not going to be able to pull him out on the trail. He made that very clear to you, Tom. But it makes a difference--to expand on what Joe said--it makes a difference with the military in North Carolina and Virginia, two other states that have really big military populations; conceivably, also, in South Carolina as well.
In talking about the narrowing of the party, he's talking, as he told you, about William Ayers, about the robocalls, about the accusations of socialism, about, let's face it, "Joe the Plumber." A lot of the seemingly marginal issues that the McCain campaign has fixed on in these closing weeks are now undercut by the Colin Powell endorsement. This is a big deal with centrist Republicans, with Republican women in the suburbs. He's appealing--by mentioning the Supreme Court, he's appealing to a lot of those women who may not agree with Barack Obama on a lot of social questions, but feel the tug on Roe v. Wade and also would be influenced by Colin Powell and by a centrist Republican saying that this party is different. I think this is a very powerful political statement.
MR. BROKAW: Jon Meacham, before this endorsement by Colin Powell today, John McCain has been on the defensive. He, in fact, at one point cited all the things that were working against him, said, "I've got them right where I want them." This is going to put him more on the defensive, isn't it?
MR. JON MEACHAM: It is. And despite all the statements of respect and affection and regard, which are clearly heartfelt, having Colin Powell endorse the Democratic nominee for president is like having the seal of approval from the most important military figure of the age. Think--when you think about it, he gave his name--General Powell gave his name to the doctrine that we now can see, from our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, is in fact the prevailing wisdom; the, the right thing to do is you exhaust all options, but when you go to, when you go into action you do so with a clear exit strategy and with overwhelming force. He's--Colin Powell, to use a business term, is a stand-alone brand who's, I think, seal of approval will be hugely important to the--for a big center right part of the country. This is not a liberal endorsement. This is from a man--this is from a general who served both Bushes, and I think the first President Bush more happily. And I think right now the country is more with the first President Bush on questions of power and the role of America in the world than it is with the second.
MR. BROKAW: Andrea.
MS. MITCHELL: I--also, I should have said that Sarah Palin is a major factor, clearly, in Colin Powell's decision. And that is increasingly with the conservative commentators, with Peggy Noonan and others who have written out, Chris Buckley, are really concerned with the choice of Sarah Palin, what it says about John McCain's judgment and what it says about her being, you know, able to step into the presidency on foreign policy, on national security and commander in chief issues.
MR. BROKAW: All right, let's, let's talk, if we can, about the map that we just saw from Chuck Todd, summarized by The New York Times just this morning, "There was a feel of a political world turned upside down on Saturday as Senator John McCain found himself defending North Carolina and Virginia, while Senator Barack Obama was greeted by huge crowds in Missouri, which Republicans had also considered safe just months ago." That's Michael Powell and Michael Cooper writing today in the, in The New York Times.
You, you've been through campaigns before, Joe Scarborough, you're a keen student of what's going on. McCain is beginning to run out of some options, but we've been there before with him.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: We have been there before with him. A year ago John McCain's political career was pronounced dead on arrival. Remember, he had that bloated campaign staff in the summer of '07, and then of course as we got closer to, to the executioner walking out on stage and finishing it, John McCain came back. And McCain always closes strongly. I, I just--I, I want to offer a warning to the Barack Obama campaign, which I'm sure they won't listen to, but I would say go to Florida, go to Ohio, get out of North Carolina. You don't have to win 350 electoral votes. These campaigns always tighten up. We are not a 60-40 country, we are a 51-49 country. And maybe this year it's 51 Democratic, 49 Republican. But it's going to be close in the end, and he may regret spending time in North Carolina. It--maybe it looks like he's going to win now, but I'm telling you, as we've seen, these national polls, when they tighten, all these state races close. I would just be concerned about getting too clever by half.
MR. BROKAW: And, David Brooks, I want to read something that you had to say about John McCain recently in your column on September 26th. "What disappoints me about the McCain campaign is that it has no central argument. I had hoped that he would create a grand narrative explaining how the United States is fundamentally unprepared for the 21st century and how McCain's worldview is different. McCain has not made that sort of all-encompassing argument, so his proposals don't add up to more than the sum of their parts."
We do know that Barack Obama, with all the money that he has, is going to go on national television for a half an hour, and I suppose it's going to be his...(unintelligible)...for why he ought to be elected president of the United States, try to close the deal. Does Senator McCain need to do a half-hour speech to the country and be different Senator McCain...
MR. BROOKS: Well...
MR. BROKAW: ...than he has been?
MR. BROOKS: Well, he could show the Al Smith dinner, which was a big New York dinner than happened this week where McCain was himself.
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. BROOKS: He was enjoying himself, he was hilariously funny, he was graceful. That's the McCain a lot of us all know and, and see. What happened to the McCain campaign very early on, they made a decision. There were a couple advisors, including a frequent guest on this program, Mike Murphy and John Weaver, who wanted a different McCain or a different Republican Party. The maverick, the uniter, post-Republican, really a fusion candidate. Somebody who would have directed right at Colin Powell. The campaign really got rid of those two guys and went in a different direction surrounded by much more orthodox Republican consultants and ran a very conventional campaign and essentially tied themselves to the deck of the Titanic, a party that was going down.
I'd love to see him give that speech, but they should have given it a year ago. They--he--and the reason why he behaved the way he did during the financial crisis is he didn't move on from the Republican Party where they are right now. And that was something that he could have done a year ago. The books were out there, the ideas were out there. He didn't take advantage. I'd love to see him, but it may be a little late.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: But we do have to say this though, David, Steve Schmidt's program was working. I mean, let us remember, Sarah Palin, we can all laugh at her now, but Sarah Palin, those attack ads, a conservative orthodox approach took him from 10 points behind to two, three, four points ahead. It wasn't until this economic crisis came, and McCain said the fundamentals of the economy are strong, that everything switched, turned on a dime. I understand what you're saying, and a lot of Republicans agree with you, but that approach was working until Wall Street melted down.
MR. BROOKS: Well...
MR. BROKAW: Andrea, I want to share with our viewers a piece of tape, and I think we have it ready. And, obviously, the Obama campaign has been trying to tag John McCain as a third term of George Bush. And he really didn't begin to respond until the debate, then he talked about it again over the weekend. Can we take a look a that?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): I said it at the last debate. I'm not George Bush. It's--if, if Senator Obama wants to run against George Bush, he should have run for president four years ago.
MR. BROKAW: And here's how Barack Obama responded to that, with faint praise, I think it's fair to say.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): In the debate this week, McCain felt the need to inform me that he's not President Bush. Now, I knew that. In fairness, I don't blame Senator McCain for all of President Bush's mistakes. After all, he only voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. So there's 10 percent of the screw-ups that Bush did on his own. But that other 90 percent, McCain was right there with him.
MR. BROKAW: Can they continue to tag John McCain with George Bush?
MS. MITCHELL: They can, and, in fact, they're doing it with a remarkably negative ad. I mean, we talk a lot about the negativity on the Republican side. But the fact is that Barack Obama has so much more money, and some of these targeted ads, one that they unveiled on Thursday and Friday of this week and it's on national television, has John McCain in his own words saying, in another interview, in another context, "I voted, I supported George Bush 90 percent of the time." So they've got him on videotape. And the fact is, that this ad is running and running and running. This money advantage, the fact that they've announced $150 million in a month, it is extraordinary, three times what some had predicted they'd be able to do in closing months. And new contributors. They have now bought up all the remaining time that is available. So you talk about a half-hour speech. Right now, John McCain would be hard-pressed to find the time. The networks would have to make some kinds of, you know, equal time decisions to get him on because all the time has been bought up. And they're running these ads over and over again. Yes, the robocalls are reaching hundreds of thousands of people, the negative robotic calls from the Republican side. But these ads are reaching millions and millions of people. Another thing, West Virginia. We talk about some of these states where you're trying to catch up. I was told that they're going to spend--Barack Obama's going to spend $5 million on the ground in the closing days in West Virginia, knowing the size of that state and how much that money can affect the turnout in the race. We are seeing an extraordinary amount of money in this race, and that's a question that has not really been addressed in terms of the imbalance.
MR. BROKAW: Jon Meacham, we have not talked yet about John Lewis, who compared John McCain to George Wallace and the division and the hate, as he described it. He then backed off, in a manner of speaking, from some of that. But do you think that that might have driven some people who were kind of on the margins to think more about race and think about it in a negative way as they go into the voting booth? They say, "If he's going to invoke that, I'm not sure I can vote for a black man."
MR. MEACHAM: I, I don't. I think Congressman Lewis is an American saint. He's a martyr in the tradition, literally, of St. Stephen, bleeding for, for the cause of justice. I think that the remarks at the Republican rallies, the feel of the campaign, as General Powell told you, feeling that it was "narrow," I think in the past seven, 10 days, at least before Thursday, was beginning to turn the campaign into something that we all feared would happen, that race was becoming, as you suggest, more of a factor. What was interesting to me this week is about five minutes after the debate, the old John McCain seemed back--on David Letterman, at the Al Smith dinner. And I think a very interesting question for the next 16 days is going to be which John McCain finishes this race? Will it be the John McCain who wants to--who has long fought for causes larger than himself, as he puts it? I was talking to our friend historian Michael Beschloss, who pointed out that at the point Vice President Mondale realized there was absolutely no way of winning in 1984, he was advised campaign the last couple of weeks as you want your grandchildren to see you. And I wonder whether that'll happen with Senator McCain.
MR. BROKAW: All right. We want to put up the cover of Newsweek for this week. I know you'll be grateful to hear that. "How a President Obama Might Govern a Center Right Nation."
We'll, there are your friends at Newsweek, they've already elected Senator Obama, Joe.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: They have. And they've got it right. It is a center right nation, which is fascinating. You may have a Democratic Congress owning the House, having 60 in the Senate, which I really do believe could happen, and having a Democratic president. This will be the first time, I guess, since 1938 that one party had such dominance. But it is a conservative country. Not the type of conservative country that the Republicans have been talking about in the past several weeks, but on economics in particular. That's why you're talking about how McCain will campaign in the end? I think we're starting to see the shift. William Ayers goes to the side, but they start talking about economics, income redistribution, get--you know, taking from the most productive members of society and giving tax breaks to people who don't pay taxes. This is what we're going to see.
MR. BROKAW: David Brooks, how would you like...
MR. BROOKS: They could nationalize the banks...
MR. BROKAW: How would you like to be a Democratic president facing an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, most of whom are very liberal and have been waiting now to get their due piece, as they see it?
MR. BROOKS: Well, it's misery, actually. And I was thinking, they could nationalize the banks; but unfortunately, we already did that. So...
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
MR. BROOKS: ...the socialism's already happened.
Obama's going to face a choice, and the Democrats are going to face a choice, if he wins. We're going to have a deficit of $7 trillion--$750 trillion--billion. Is he going to magnify that, or is he going to try to balance the budget?
MR. BROKAW: All right, thanks very much David Brooks. We have to leave it right there. Thank you all.
And Jon Meacham, we're going to see you back here in three weeks. You'll have the debut of your new book, "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House." I've had a preview of it, and it's sensational. It's history come alive for all of us.
MR. MEACHAM: Thanks.
MR. BROKAW: Especially at this time. We'll be right back.
MR. BROKAW: That's all for today. If you missed any of our interview with Colin Powell, you can watch a rebroadcast tonight on Joe Scarborough's channel, MSNBC, at 6 PM. Or download our netcast this afternoon at mtp.msnbc.com.
I'll be back next week because, if it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.