Nov 9, 2008

November 7, 2008: A Splendid Wreck, Not A Sailor in the Lot, Wretched Exhibition of Seamanship.

This would not be the last time a “Maverick” would run amok, wreaking havoc in it's wake. A dozen years later another Nor'easter would come up the coast out of Florida, touch the Carolinas, take Virginia and sweep clean the landscape as it pressed down hard on New England. When the sun rose on November 5, Guy Fawkes Day in Britain, not a Goppite was to be found. Representative Chris Shays of Connecticut became the last of the New England pachyderms in the House of Representatives to go the way of the pterodactyl. Now no Republican representation in the House is to be found anywhere in New England. In the Senate Republicans have only the two seats from Maine. For the Republican party fertile ground, once home to the Lodge's and the Sunnunu's, Governors Sergeant, King and Romney, Senators Edmond Brooke and Warren Rudman, has been laid waste by two land-lubbers in the persons of McCain and Palin who had seized the helm of the good ship “Maverick”,cut her loose from her moorings, and proceeded to run her hard aground.

It was a splendid wreck, but a wreck nonetheless, reminiscent of the days of Katrina when McCain then partied down with 'Ol Two-Cows while the city drown. One could sense as the storm bore down on the country that nothing good, from the GOP's point of view, could come of this. A generation ago another senator from Arizona would happily wage war on both New England and the Middle Class producing similar results for the Grand Old Party. McCain, now sitting in Goldwater's seat, came north avowing to finish the job. A certain giddiness took over the campaign as it lurched from issue to issue, pseudo-issue to pseudo-issue, and smear to smear, seeking to right itself in the face of the howling winds. The good Marshall, unfamiliar with either storm or sea, took to the ship-to-shore radio and announced that “we've got them just where we want them, c'mon everybody let's party!”, as if by whistling past Davey Jones'Locker he could keep the inevitable at bay. Palin, for her part, went on a spending spree like a drunken sailor, becoming what one McCain aide was later quoted as saying “Wasilla Hillbillies plundering every Neiman Marcus store across America”. It was a wretched exhibition of seamanship demonstrating that there was not a sailor in the lot.

Indeed there was not a sailor in the lot. McCain's campaign had early on been taken over by lobbyists. In fact John McCain himself, since the days of the "Keating 5", had been nothing but a shill for the K-street gang. His campaign, accordingly, was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Washington lobbyists. Every major policy, advisory, or staff position was held by a lobbyist, right down to former Senator Phil Gram his economic advisor and author of deregulation turned lobbyist for the very industries he deregulated; and right down to his foreign policy advisor who was a paid lobbyist for the nation of Georgia. Lobbyists certainly have a role to play. At best they are a vast source of information, at worst a vast source of disinformation and corrupting campaign contributions. They can help craft legislation in ways that certainly protect industry, but can also move to eviscerate laws by unduly influencing the rule-making process through which enabling legislation is implemented. Until McCain recruited them 'en masse' to run his campaign, however, they have not heretofore played serious roles in political campaign organization. The consequences were telling. Lobbyists, by their very nature, influence the political process through making political contributions and pigeonholing. This is best known as 'inside the beltway' politics, the kind of politics often accused of thwarting the 'will of the people', but effective nonetheless. Campaigning, on the other hand, is 'retail' politics, in which the nominal leaders of the country stump the nation in an effort to persuade and convince. This takes an entirely different approach, best perhaps demonstrated by advertising consultants and pollsters, and requires an entirely different set of skills. The 'Forked-Tongue Express' while consulting pols and pollsters nevertheless was, root and branch, a creature of K-Street. Accordingly political decisions, the choice of Sarah Palin for Vice President a perfect example, was based on a series of erroneous assumptions that only complete amateurs could have made. For instance women, it was held, would readily move from Hillary to Sarah despite having to cross party lines and leaping across a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon on issues such as abortion, child care, health care, social spending, and education. Similarly the steadfast refusal of the 'Fork-Tongued Express' to address the screaming needs of a middle class writhing in economic pain, a failure even to utter the words 'middle class', belied a tone deafness that can only be attributed to a band of complete amateurs. No, there was not a sailor in the lot, a campaign that had all the earmarks of a “Three Stooges” comedy, right down to calling the middle class a bunch of 'whiners', threatening, if successful, to transform the ship of state once again into a “Ship of Fools.”

The nation would have no more of it. Late this week the Goppites met in Virginia to discuss the future of the Republican Party. The first order of business was to gather up the remains of the good ship “Maverick” and put her to the torch.

November 6, 2008: Big Wind at Nantucket, A Hurricane Boat Wreck, Misadventures of 'Maverick'

By L.F. Hamp

I woke with a start as the boat snubbed-up taut to her mooring on a strong gust of wind.
A pink glow of early morning lit the cabin. The 'ship's cat' stared down at me balefully from his perch in a mesh hammock full of towels and T-shirts swinging gently above the bunk. (He kept a rough-weather nest there.) Nor'easterly winds carried a cacophony of 'ting-ting-a-ling-tunk-tunk-ting-a-ling's as running-rigging slapped a thousand metallic masts, booms, and yards.

I sat up- in my bunk and gazed through the spray-spattered windscreen. The harbor was choppy, the morning sky clear. Dark against the brightening sky a multitude of hulls and masts rocked, rolled, and swayed ceaselessly to and fro. I swung my feet over the side of my bunk and the cat jumped from the hammock, purring like a small engine for attention and breakfast. I turned on the FM radio and tuned to a station on the next island west, Martha's Vineyard then brewed a pot of coffee while I fed the cat and dressed.

I stepped out into the well deck with a strong cup of coffee and glanced around the harbor. In mid-August, Nantucket was crammed with visitors, many of them the 'yachting crowd'. Several hundred boats filled every available space at moorings and the town's many docks and piers. Some were tiny day-sailers, some as long as 80 feet. About 30 of them were, like mine, home to a small community of 'live-aboards' who owned moorings in the harbor for summer, rented space at commercial docks in winter. It was a cooperative community of tradesmen, artists, writers and vagabonds.

I bought my 30 foot wooden Pacemaker for $3500, then put hundreds of hours into making her as pretty an old boat as you'd see in the harbor. She was built in New Jersey in 1963, of good American oak, powered by a Barr Marine flat-head six-cylinder engine, with one cylinder sealed off. On five cylinders she ran smoothly and purred like a cat. I often cruised to Martha's, Wood's Hole, sometimes as far as Block Island, with never a minute's trouble.

Nantucket's shellfish warden had been her first owner. He'd scalloped and fished in her, taken good care of her. My improvements had all been cosmetic. I refinished the cabin woodwork, painted the hull black with a red waterline. Her decks were battleship gray, the cabin outside sky blue, with a white flying bridge. I always flew a Michigan flag, and national colors. For holidays I added a Revolutionary War pine tree and rattlesnake flag, with the motto “Don't tread on me” embroidered at bottom of the field. Her appearance was 'shipshape and Bristol fashion', a smart vessel in every respect.

It was August 19, 1986. Across harbor at the Coast Guard station a gale warning was displayed. The vineyard radio station warned of a strong storm creeping up the coast with high winds, high seas, and heavy rain. The cat entertained himself racing around the gun'ls (he often raced so fast he'd fly off into the harbor, then swim back to the boat and claw his way up to the deck). I walked around the boat, checked tension on the mooring cable, stowed everything loose in the cabin, then climbed down into the dinghy for a hundred yard pull to Town Pier.

A former Coast Guardsman with more than three years sea duty, I'd seen my share of terrific storms at sea. I served in Coast Guard ice-breaker “Westwind”, and ice-breaker/buoy-tender “Clover” in the North Atlantic, Denmark Straight, North Pacific, Bering and Barents Seas, Gulf of Alaska, and Arctic Ocean; as far north as Thule, Greenland in the eastern ocean, in the pacific to places well north of Point Hope, Alaska.

Approaching Town Pier, I stepped out onto the camel carrying my bow line, climbed a ladder to the pier, and secured the boat. I had some errands to run, and needed coffee, other staples. By 11 o'clock it was raining hard, blowing harder. At noon the Coast Guard hoisted a hurricane warning, and about one P.M., I headed back to secure the boat and settle in for the storm. Rowing back to the boat, though just a hundred yards away, was an adventure in itself. My dinghy was only eight feet long, flat-bottomed, and relatively fragile. Waves in the harbor were running 5-6 feet, spindrift and raindrops were blowing horizontally. I was wet and cold by the time I reached home.

I climbed over the gun'ls, and pulled the boat up after me. I flipped it ujpside-down in the well deck and secured it to ring bolts I'd installed earlier in the summer after losing a dinghy to a spring storm. Boats in the harbor were thrashing like frightened horses. I ran out another 12 or 15 feet of cable, which eased her bucking, then went inside for some warmth and dry clothing.

By evening the harbor was wild. Half-a-dozen boats, unmanned and broken from moorings, had already zipped past me, stern first, toward the beach. They moved faster than they'd ever moved forward under sail or power. I wasn't concerned about my mooring. I'd safely ridden-out 80 knot winds a month earlier on my 400 pound mushroom anchor. After the spring blow I'd chained a 300 pound cast iron radiator 15 feet from the anchor stock to keep it on its side. Nantucket harbor is notoriously poor holding ground in a North-East blow. When your boat is your home, you cannot be too safe.

I turned on the ship-to-shore and FM radios, grabbed the cat, wedged myself into the bunk with a thermos of coffee, and went to work on C.S. Forester novel (Payment Deferred) I was re-writing for a stage production.

By 10 P.M. I'd given up on Forester. The boat, inside, was a shambles, and wind gusts were well over 100 knots. The town was dark—the power plant knocked off-line. The hundred yards between me and Town Pier looked wide as the Atlantic. A tremendous gust of wind, the sound of splintering wood, and a loud crash brought me off my bunk and out into the well deck. Half my dinghy was trailing over the stern, held by a piece of 21 thread line. The other half was gone. One ring bolt had been ripped from the deck. I cut the line with my pocket knife and the wreckage disappeared. Soaking wet, and half-blinded by the stinging wind-driven rain, I returned to the cabin and my bunk.

The ship-to-shore radio crackled. Somewhere in the harbor a group of drunken yachtsmen were calling. “This is the yacht “Maverick”, does anyone want to party?” And, moments later, “It's hurricane party time on the yacht “Maverick” c'mon out'n join the fun.” It takes all kinds.

By midnight, when the Vineyard radio station went off the air, I'd been pitched from the bunk a couple of times. The deck was covered with odds and ends of daily life, and awash with water seeping in around the door and side windows. Books, cassette tapes, broken cups and plates, rolled, crunched, and rolled again. The howling wind, the darkened town, made me feel as alone as I'm ever going to feel.

Rising from the bunk, I stumbled to the radio and searched for a coastal radio station to keep up to date on the storm. As I turned the dial, AI glanced through the windscreen. A blank. I turned toward my bunk, then, quickly turned and looked again. “What's that,” I said to myself, and reached for the wiper switch. Raindrops the size of .38 bullets were driving horizontally, but a hundred yards out, and coming like a freight train, were a half-a-dozen tangled boats. Two of them were huge.

“Jesus!” I grabbed my axe. Out the door without a life jacket, up on the gun'l, I quickly moved forward. I was half-way to the anchor cable when they struck, and nearly went over the side. Recovering balance, and crawling forward, I cut the cable with one swing of the axe.

Back in the cabin I buckled into a life jacket, then turned and hit the ignition. Nothing. Looking around the cabin I noticed all the windows to starboard were gone. Six or eight inches of water swilled around the deck. Later, I realized the blow had heeled the boat so far to starboard the windows were blown-in. It has also flipped all three batteries from their box, breaking connection to the ignition. She wouldn't start, and now my only option was to ride her, wherever she took me. I felt sick. I loved my boat—the prettiest old boat in the harbor....yesterday.

Back out on the bow I was surrounded by a heaving, groaning mass of wood, fiberglass and aluminum. As I glanced down over the starboard bow, a 26 foot twin inboard/outboard aluminum boat flipped upside-down and disappeared under my keel. I heard her scraping the length of the boat. She never came out. A red 36 foot sloop, her whole port beam stove-in, rolled and ground against my bow. She was empty, but just beyond her a 40 foot power yacht pitched and rolled in a tangle of mooring cables and wreckage. A man on the flying bridge was trying to back her out, but getting nowhere. A woman and two screaming children were visible through the wildly swinging main cabin door. The children were crying as their frightened mother tried to comfort them. Their shouts cut through the howling wind.

A gray 32 foot sloop was pressed tightly against my port bow by a smaller sloop and a huge 50 footer. (Next day, the gray sloop's brass numbers, screws and all, were pressed nearly an inch into the oak planks of my hull. She hit me so hard the first seven oak frames were cracked or broken, and pushed inward more than a foot.) Half-a-dozen frightened people were huddled by the wheel, near the stern of the 50 footer. As she rolled and pitched, I saw her name in fancy script across the transom--”Maverick--Providence, R.I.” The partying drunks, and not a sailor in the lot.

As we drifted, too quickly for comfort, shoreward I had visions of hitting the beach and half-a-dozen big boats piling in on top of me. I got the attention of the man in the power yacht, and waved my axe in the air, then pointed toward the tangled mooring cables. A moment later he was crawling forward with an axe. As I skidded across a gourp of large rocks 50 feet from shore (trashing the bottom of my boat), we all drifted apart. With a shuddering crash I bounced off the poured concrete deck of a beach-front house.

Inside the house, a group of wide-eyed people gaped at me through thick glass French doors. BANG/CR-RACK. I smashed against the deck again, opening a hole in the port side you could pass a refrigerator through. The door opened, and a teenage boy came outside shouting,”Are you O.K. Sir?”

“Yes I am,” I answered, “but please stay there—I might need some help getting off.” Lord love the kid—he stayed. I ducked into the cabin, stuffed the cat into my life-jacket, and grabbed a pistol my uncle had brought back from Europe after WWII. I went back out, climbed up on the gun'l and, timing myself carefully, made a leap for the sun deck. The youngster grabbed me as I landed, then helped me push the boat around the corner. She floated in another 30 feet (so high was the tidal surge) before going hard aground 20 feet from the street.

As I looked back over the harbor, I watched the part boat “Maverick” back right through a friends anchored boat, which promptly went to the bottom. “Maverick” caused the entire mess when she began dragging anchor. Her 'crew', too frightened to get underway, had hoped the moorings of those she hit would hold her. Her insurers eventually paid tens of thousands of dollars in damages. One of her crew was badly roughed-up on the beach next morning, as stories of their frolic and radio transmissions circulated among locals.

Safe, and certain my boat wouldn't go anywhere, I walked a couple of blocks to a friends home. It was now nearly 1:30 AM. I asked if I could borrow his typewriter and a bed. I had a 7 A.M. Deadline, and a great first-person story for publisher and readers.

Next day I counted 18 boats ashore, and knew at least two had sunk. A 70 footer was driven so far up a creek a helicopter was called in to lift her out. I hired a bulldozer to dig a trench to re-float the boat. Back on the water, she leaked no more through the bottom than before storm and collision. I removed the engine and fuel tanks, then burned her at the boat yard in the fall.

November 5, 2008: Oh Happy Day, Shot Heard 'Round the World, The Sun Also Rises.

“Oh happy day
oh happy day....

Yesterday, at high noon, the good Marshall was gunned down in the streets of Tombstone by a young Jedi who had said he'd had enough. It was a resounding drubbing, carrying at latest count 28 states with Missouri and South Carolina too close to call. States that had not gone Democratic since Lyndon Johnson's landslide in 1964 returned to the fold. Moreover Obama made serious inroads into the deep South carrying Florida and Virginia, and the far west winning Nevada and Colorado. He even carried Indiana a state that for a short period in the twentieth century was run by the Ku Klux Klan.

It was an impressive victory winning as a Democrat, for only the second time since the FDR-Truman years' over 50 per cent of the popular vote. In the end Obama was able, by demonstrating an ease and a confidence on the political high wire, to convince America that he, not John McCain, is the safer bet in these very troubling times.

Obama's resounding victory was, like Lexington and Concord, a shot 'heard round the world' as the entire planet seemed to erupt in joy as a combination of elation and relief replaced fear and loathing. In Chicago's Grant Park, scene of angry rioting 40 years earlier, a crowd of over 150,000 happy souls gathered to greet the new President-Elect. Tears of joy ran down faces of every color. Old civil rights workers like Jesse Jackson, who had seen the dream come true in his lifetime, openly wept tears of joy.

While not winning the majority of the white vote, Obama carried a number of predominately white states. States like Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado not known for having large minority populations.
The numbers beneath the numbers reveal the broad trends as Obama improved on the performance of Gore and Kerry among white voters overall, and winning by a 10 point margin white voters aged 18-29 (1). There was much discussion during the primary season concerning Obama's ability to win the votes of those making less than $50,000 annually. According to the exit polls Obama crushed McCain winning by a margin of 73% to 25% those making under $15,000, 60%-37% those making $15-30,000, and 55%-43% among those earning $30-50,000. In fact McCain bested Obama only in the categories of those making between $50-75,00 and those making between $100-200,000.
Oddly, given the Rescumlican screed about Obama's socialist tendencies Obama in fact drubbed McCain 52%-46% among those making over $200,000 annually.

Perhaps it isn't so odd. The last time a senator from Arizona ran for President the technocrats and professional classes deserted the Republican Party in droves. Likewise this time the more comfortable and well-to-do have deserted conservatism. This is demonstrated not only by his winning the majority of voters earning over $200,000 annually but winning over, for the first time in the history of the Democratic Party, a majority of college graduates. Those with some college education voted 51-47% for Obama; college graduates went 50-48% Democratic; while those with postgraduate educations went with Obama by a resounding 58%-40% (1). Not FDR, not Truman, not JFK nor LBJ, Carter or Clinton were able to convince a majority of the college educated to vote Democratic. Here is graphic evidence of a new coalition being born as groups that had heretofore voted Republican have shifted ground.

It is difficult to say, and only time will tell, how much of this is temporary and how much is permanent. Much will rest on how well the nation is governed in the next few years and how successful Obama will be in consolidating his gains. But he has laid to rest fears that he cannot appeal to working class white voters and he has expanded the Democratic presence not only geographically into the West and the South but among critical income and age groups, not the least the young, who have demonstrated themselves to be the cornerstone of the new governing coalition.

Yesterday America made history, demonstrating its boundless capacity to adapt and surprise. For forty years we have wandered in the wilderness and groped in the darkness.
But, we have learned, the sun also rises. Yesterday America took another great stride toward creating a more perfect union. Yesterday America looked into the mirror and beheld in it's reflection the face of Barack Obama



November 3, 2008: Republican Legacy, Reflections on the Rough Rider, Buried in Shit

This journal welcomes the periodic contribution of my old friend Lawrence F. Hamp.

Larry and I go back nearly 40 years now, we met facing each other across the ramparts of that great divide known as Vietnam. First confronting each other during those contentious times, I first met Larry as a classmate in Dr. Batchelder's Political Science class. Later assigned by Dr. Mapes to do a joint study of the Civil War era Draft Riots, we quickly became fast friends. Seeking adventure wherever he may find it, Larry, who is never at a loss for words, can be depended upon to provide a unique and prescient perspective. So, without further ado, I welcome to these pages my dear old friend.

Should democrats win 60 votes in the senate, our first orders of business should be repeal (or rewriting) of the 'Patriot' act and tightening the rules regarding war-making powers of the president. These 'little' presidential wars are proving the bane of America's democratic society. Two (of half-a-dozen) have lasted a total of eighteen years, devoured tow huge public fortunes, cost the nation well over 60 thousand lives (as well as several hundred thousand life-long cripples), and left our position as the world's 'shining city on a hill' corroded to the point of dissolution.

Blame, of course, lies totally on our congress. They long ago abdicated constitutional war-making powers, and have allowed the 'little' wars to become full-blown, long-lived, wastefully mis-managed, poorly thought-out, planned and executed military adventures. Iraq/Afghanistan have become gut wrenching slaughters of innocent civilians (much like Vietnam), our air power killing far more of them than Taliban and al Quaeda combined.

Our government is already trying to weasel out of Iraq while saving some face and preserving some semblance of success. Outside of Baghdad, the country is seething, burning, exploding daily. The only reason the Shrub/McPain Baghdad 'surge' appears to have worked is because we bought-out the Sunni leaders who rand the place under Saddam, while selling out the Kurds, Christians, Turkmen, and the Shi'ah we (supposedly) went in to save.

Military commanders (American and NATO) say we've wasted our opportunity to save Afghanistan—victory there, they now claim, cannot be won on the battlefield and will have to be negotiated. Between Iraq and Afghanistan, how many tens of thousands (in each nation) will we now leave to the tender mercies of their former oppressors? Many, I expect.

Our whole national security apparatus is dis-functional, inept, more interested in spying on us than on the enemy. Failure of our intelligence services dates way back to WWII's Manhattan Engineering District Project, when Joe Stalin often learned of atomic bomb developments before FDR.

Recent reports of the National Security Agency (NSA) from two retired military officers who worked there for years, claim they routinely break the law, listen to our electronic communications, pry into our personal lives at will—and without legitimate reason. The fools are still fighting the same old turf wars, and the right hand knows not what the left is doing.

Our pentagon, CIA, FBI, NSA (and countless other creepy fascist spooks) are still being run by those who left us vulnerable on 9/11/01. They've been shuffled in and out of agencies in what amounts to a giant shell-game. Much more of this, we'll have to learn to speak and write Arabic.

It's interesting how John McCain and Dubya have both tried to calm (or hide behind) Teddy Roosevelt's Republican mantle, when neither of them would amount to a small pimple on the great President's ass, academically, politically, or in any humanitarian sense. Bush was a complete wastrel as a youth, and his youthful ignorance still rules, eliminating any possible comparison.

McCain, without his father's status as a high-ranking navy admiral, would never have made it into the naval academy, or survived his many derelictions as cadet. His standing (fifth from the bottom) in his academy class would have meant no chance of flight training for any other cadet. It seems his father's influence got him into the academy, then condemned him to five-and-a-half years in the Hanoi Hilton (where his conduct was not always 'heroic').

I'd tell you to check his military records, but they're sealed—at his request. As navy flyer, he was a rowdy officer very much like (and likely one of) those involved in the notorious “Tail-Hook Club” conventions.

On the other hand, TR was a serious young fellow from childhood. As undergrad student at Harvard, he wrote “The Naval War of 1812”, a study which is, far more than a hundred years later, still considered the most complete work on the subject. Through the course of his life, in addition to almost continuous public service, he authored more than two dozen books on a wide variety of scholarly subjects, and hundreds of thoughtful articles. As president he won the Nobel Peace Prize for reconciling war between Japan and Czarist Russia.

Teddy never made a threatening gesture, or uttered a threatening phrase. He never carried the 'big stick' he quietly spoke of. He didn't have to. His record as NYC police commissioner, Dakota rancher—bully-buster--and outlaw-catcher, Navy undersecretary and leader of his “rough-rider” friends to combat in Cuba during the Spanish conflict, assured all due respect.

TR was the last Republican president (bar Ike) to believe wealth and influence owed the masses financial honest, political integrity, and well-managed affairs at home and abroad. His handling of crooked bankers, brokers and corporate officers we so often see today would doubtless be a bit more harsh than buying up their messes. Military inefficiency demonstrated by the pentagon through Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan would certainly have called forth his wrath, and resulted in many premature retirements, and many more demotions.

Theodore was a no-nonsense sort of guy (though contemporary Republicans of the Bush, Cheney, McCain ilk often spoke of him as “that damned cowboy”).

To sum up, I'll quote my old grad school advisor, military history and WMU Professor of History emeritus Sherwoood Cordier. “I must say the current economic disaster could not happen to a more deserving President, but the rest of us certainly do not deserve this Bush legacy—our civil rights destroyed, endless savage wars, our economy in ruins, record national debt, and our political culture buried in shit.” (Emphasis added, because in a thirty-six year friendship I've never before known him to utter or pen either obscenity or profanity).

Nov 2, 2008

November 2, 2008: Further Reflections on the Swine, Kicking and Squealing, No Badge of Courage

“The size of our challenges have outgrown the smallness of our politics.”
----Barack Obama, speech at Henderson, Nevada 11/01/08

Obama has been quite right to make this election a referendum on the “generation of swine”. The swine have held sway over the electoral process for going on four decades now and have done their level best to lay waste every last vestige of our ancestor's legacy. Following the siren song of greed they have done their level best to realize Newt Gingrich's dream of returning America to the glory days of the roaring '20's. It is now 1929 and the time has come for this country to pry from the throat of the republic the cold fingers of this “boomer” generation. It is time to end the death grip of this “Generation of Swine”.

The swine will not go quietly for they have had their snouts and both front trotters in the trough for far too long now. No instead they will have to be forced from the trough kicking and squealing. It is an unpleasant task but a necessary one in order to get on with the nation's business.

Of late the good Marshall of Tombstone and the Guttersnipe have been about the country accusing Obama of being a socialist. Quoting his remark made during an exchange with “Joe the Plumber”, about “spreading the wealth a little”, the McCain campaign has torn the words out of context and blown it up into a full blown ideological confrontation between “Capitalism” and “Socialism”, even as McCain joined the ranks of those who moved to save the Capitalist from himself by way of huge injections of government funds into suddenly unstable institutions. Nevertheless adopting Adams' view that every American is an aristocrat on the make, the good Marshall was found making his last stand on Main Street deploring the lurking “socialism” and decrying Obama for wanting to take money from the well-to-do (the fittest and therefore the deserving in the eyes of the Social Darwinists) and giving it to those who “pay no taxes at all”. This line is met with the predictable chorus of boos from the assembled and is taken to mean the lazy and shiftless welfare recipients; the 'unfit' and, therefore, the 'undeserving'. While the good Marshall makes such references frequently on the stump he appears to do so with some discomfort, half believing his own press releases. To shore up this line of attack the Rescumlican slime machine brought out that old Austrian Arnold Swartznegger who promptly tells audiences, after mocking Obamas evident thinness and body physique, that he fled the old country because it was socialist. Some appropriate surrogate in the Democratic camp needs to respond by telling Arnold that Obama is more fully developed than the governor is certain more important areas. Then, after a pregnant pause, say “the brain". He possesses a more superior intelligence than the Governor of California as evident by the political party he chose to join.

Political Columnist David Broder, discussing a column he wrote in the Washington Post on NBC's “Meet the Press” today said that McCain has run a campaign free of racism. I disagree. To hold such a position is to give McCain a free pass, one which he does not deserve.

McCain rightly deserves the calumny of history for the campaign he waged for the presidency this year. This business about “Socialism” goes directly to the point. On the surface it is made to appear as a simple, albeit false, ideological dichotomy in which the voter is asked to chose between two competing economic systems. This is, of course, nonsense inasmuch as Obama is no more a socialist than either Teddy or Franklin Roosevelt, or Dwight Eisenhower for that matter. But to pose the election in those terms is to set up a convenient 'straw man' to flagellate for the benefit of the electorate. It isn't the first time an overt appeal to the greed, gluttony and avarice of the American people has been made, nor is it the first time that the public has been underestimated. And, of course, it makes perfect sense if one hopes to ride to power on the backs of real swine.

But the issue as presented cuts much deeper into the psyche of the nation. Beneath the ideological and pseudo-ideological posturing runs a message that hopes to further open the deep divisions of class and race. One hears it in how McCain follows his introduction of the issue. Charging Obama with being, at heart, a “Socialist”, he then accuses his opponent of wanting to take money from the rich, thereby “punishing success”, and giving it to “those who pay no taxes at all” thereby rewarding the unsuccessful and the undeserving.

This is, of course, complete nonsense for the Obama plan is aimed primarily at middle class tax relief. But no matter, lets take the Marshall at his word. Lets assume that that the Marshall is right and that Obama wants to take money from the rich, successful and therefore deserving and give it to the Welfare Queens. What are we to make of the characterization? For decades the face of welfare has been a face of minorities. Never mind that until well into the 1990's the majority of poor in America were white. Never mind that with the seven million that have fallen from the middle class into poverty under the Bush Administration the face of poverty in America may again be white. The fact is that when most Americans think about poverty in America, when they think about it at all, they do not conjure up their own image. Think about it. Obama was ridiculed as being a “social activist working in the projects”. Now he wants to take money from the 'fittest' and give it to “those who pay no taxes at all”. This isn't the first time campaigns have been waged against “Welfare Queens”. Ask George Corley Wallace. Class divisions in America have racial overtones. Here is high relief is the secret of the Republican success and the reason the good Marshall has finally used his last bullet in his shootout with Obama at high noon. By waging war against 'welfare' he can unabashedly support the rich while using race to keep the middle classes in line. This is why you will search in vain for any references by McCain to the middle class in America. To bring it up would highlight his weakness, for he has nothing in his bag of tricks for them. Instead he will appeal, as the Republican party has always appealed—at least since the days of Richard Nixon and Kevin Phillips—to the middle class using race, not economics, as the medium. That's how, as Phillips so astutely observed all those years ago, one goes about forging a majority when one's natural constituency is a mere 7 percent.

Is it not clear why the good Marshall begged off talking about economics from the first, saying that he didn't know as much as perhaps he should about the subject? Is it not clear why internal memo's leaked from his campaign saying that McCain needed to shift the subject from the economy to Obama because to talk about the economy would mean certain defeat? And so, true to recent form, the Rescumlicans have gone about the business of devising weapons of mass diversion. They have set up a socialist straw man, questioned Obama's character, patriotism, religious convictions, even going so far as saying that he “pals around with terrorists”. None of this, given the current economic crisis, has gained traction. And so it is back to race. Race reintroduced through the back door, but race nonetheless. Reverend Wright meet the Socialist Bogeyman and the Welfare Queen by extension. The more things change the more they remain the same.

David Broder is wrong. The Marshall isn't wearing the badge of courage.

October 31, 2008: October Surprise, Rats Jumping Ship, Reading the Tea Leaves

“The Republican fears democracy like the Capitalist fears competition.
----from “The Quotations of Chairman Joe”

It is Halloween, and the much feared October Surprise, long a staple in the Republican play book did not materialize. The surprise was that there was no surprise. No hostages held because the GOP had negotiated with their captors to hold them till after the election, no Bin Laden tapes, no “secret plan to end the war”. Perhaps it is because the good Marshall from Tombstone has been a bit preoccupied with defending solid Republican turf. Entering the final week of the campaign, Obama will campaign in Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Virginia, Ohio, and Florida—all so called “red” states that had vaulted 'Ol Two-Cows to the presidency.

The rats, metaphorically, are leaving the ship. In the wake of the Colin :Powell endorsement came word that the Goldwater family has endorsed Obama, along with former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan and a former Reagan Chief of Staff. Even the kindly old Governor Bill Milliken of Michigan has been overheard saying that the good Marshall is not the man he endorsed earlier this year in the Michigan Primary.

At this point the race for change is beginning to look hopeful. As of this writing more than 3.4 million had reported voting in Florida with Obama holding a commanding 12 point lead in early voting. Huge turnouts have been likewise reported in the Carolinas and here in Georgia nearly 2 million have voted waiting in lines for as long as 10 hours. This is a testament to the nation's hunger for change.

The national polls, by some lights, show a tightening of the race particularly in the swing states. North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Georgia, Arizona, Florida, some say Pennsylvania are now within the margin of error. Nevertheless most polling nationally show Obama with a five to seven point lead, some much larger than that. The website also shows the race tightening. What may save Obama in the end will perhaps be the early voting in which votes were cast before the final flurry of campaign smear ads and voter anxieties. In any case this race, unlike any in our national experience is compounded by new technologies which limit pollsters' ability to reach certain demographics, particularly the young, who use cell phones almost exclusively. The result may be a huge unsampled segment of the electorate that the pollsters have not consulted and who are nevertheless making their way to the polls and registering their opinions. If so this portends a huge Obama victory. Certainly the early voting results in states like Florida and the movement of Georgia into the “swing” category reflect that something has happened in recent weeks on the ground. What this means, however, is not entirely clear and has left observers in the dark as to the possible outcome. What was once an exacting, if not an exact, science has now because of new technologies and the looming “Bradley Effect” become something like reading tea leaves. Nothing is certain and the Obama forces are taking no chances with the candidate reminding voters at each stop to vote early if they can but vote in any case.

In any case change is in the wind. One can see it in the videos of the long lines of voters waiting to record their considered judgment. One can see it in the 98% registration of the good people of Michigan who are, apparently, waiting to stampede the polling places on election day. One can also see it in the frantic attempts at voter suppression as the Rescumlicans try to hold back the tide. In Florida Republican Governor Crist outraged his fellow Republicans by sidestepping a state law—passed by his Republican majority—limiting early voting to eight hours a day. The Governor, knowing that his political life extends past November 4, heeded the cries of the people and extended by executive order voting at polling places to 12 hours a day. At least one Republican legislator was moved to comment that the governor had, by his actions, given Florida to Obama. Perhaps. Perhaps not. It may, by reducing the long lines, make it more probable that older citizens will now vote in larger numbers thus favoring McCain. It is a hard calculus with no certain outcome. Everyone, it appears, is feeling their way through this experience.

But certain old habits remain. Again in certain states, Virgina prominent among them, the GOP tricksters are up to their usual Halloween pranks. Letters have been sent to known Democratic voters that because of the high voter turnout and expected crush at the ballot box, voting for Democrats has been moved to November 5. This, of course, is nonsense but has worked in certain jurisdictions to favor Republican fortunes in the past. Likewise attempts to keep students from voting in college towns. An old trick that keeps paying off for the GOP—Grand Old Prostitute.

The United States Supreme Court ruled nearly 30 years ago that students had every constitutional right to vote where they lived. Many jurisdictions had been challenging them claiming that they were “temporary” residents and fearing their large numbers would dominate local politics. I remember in the good old days at Grand Valley we used to muse as we passed through Allendale and read the sign welcoming us—“Welcome to Allendale”, it said, “Home of Grand Valley State College”. We read it differently. “Welcome to Grand Valley”, we mused, “Home of Allendale, Michigan”. The College, at the time simply outnumbered the residents of the small town. Faced with these realities many such locations challenged students voting in their elections. It went all the way to the Supreme Court and such laws and regulations were overturned affirming the extended franchise to students who could now vote. Nevertheless the old Rovian Rescumlicans tricksters are back at it sending out warnings to students That they would somehow be violating the law if they tried to vote. Likewise, mailers to certain voters that if they have outstanding traffic tickets or are behind in child support payments or cannot bring proof of citizenship to the polls with them they will be challenged. In Ohio four years ago, the state GOP warned voters in some precincts that they would be arrested at the polls if they had outstanding traffic or child support issues. The courts intervened a few days before the election but the tactic had accomplished its goal by creating enough fear to dampen turnout and perhaps throw the election.

The Grand Old Prostitute has always feared the wrath of the electorate and has, accordingly, always fought tooth and nail the extension of the franchise. At least since Teddy Roosevelt. The old line conservatives have resisted extending the franchise to women, the Voting Rights Act of 1964, lowering the voting age to 18, the “motor-voter” laws passed by many states making it possible to register while getting one's driver's license renewed or updated. The action of the Republican dominated Florida legislature to limit voting hours during early voting is also of this ilk. Let there be no mistake about it, the Republican fears democracy like the capitalist fears competition. Both seek to limit it whenever they can; one under the guise of “conservative” principles, the other as “sound business practices”. The Republicans have every right to fear the electorate, fully 93% of the country now says that the nation is going in the wrong direction. The Grand Old Prostitute has now been reduced to representing her natural constituency-- a mere seven percent of the population-- and this time her old bag of tricks my not pull her through.