Politics postsMonday September 15, 2008
Who is Barack Obama? Atticus Finch
For most of the year, Republicans have tried to negatively define Barack Obama. They compare him to the most empty aspects of our own society and the most violent aspects of global society. They twist everything, and lie about anything, and in doing so reveal exactly who and how desperate they are.
In the face of these attacks, Barack has remained calm, articulate, resolute. His anger, when it comes, is not the anger of a man with a hair-trigger temper, like John McCain, but the righteous anger of someone who knows that not only he, but our entire system, is being wronged.
And it got me thinking about who this reminds me of.
We know how John McCain defines himself — as a maverick — but anyone who’s been paying attention knows how empty that slogan is. He’s a follower at this point. He’s following the lead of Steve Schmidt, his campaign manager, who once followed the lead of Karl Rove. Whatever smear works, whatever lie works, no matter how sleazy, that’s what they’ll do. So regardless of what John McCain once was, he has now been reduced to the role of a not very bright man surrounded by extremely malicious people. The same malicious people, I should add, who have surrounded another not very bright man, George W. Bush, for the last eight years.
But they keep pumping out the myth. The chest-thumping, Paul Fistinyourface myth of the stupidly aggressive American. In a magazine interview, John McCain even compared himself to TV hero Jack Bauer of “24,” until he was reminded that Bauer’s main (and suspect) means of gathering information — torture — is what John McCain suffered under for five years. But I guess torture is good as long as we’re the torturers. I guess bullying is good as long as we’re the bullies. That’s what half the country seems to think anyway.
Barack, it’s true, is no bully. Here he is after the Republicans mocked him for his community service:
And here’s his response after Gov. Palin suggested that habeas corpus and the U.S. Constitution don’t matter:
Barack Obama is tough but ethical. He’s someone who can make friends out of our enemies rather than — as the Republicans keep doing — enemies out of our friends.
So who does Barack remind me of? He’s a civil rights lawyer who taught Constitutional law and is bringing up two girls the right way. When bullies gather, he stands up for what’s right, he stands up for the rule of law, he stands up. He’s an honorable man running an honorable campaign.
You’ve already read the headline so you already know my answer. Barack Obama reminds me of Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and, according to the American Film Institute, the greatest hero in American movie history.
Here’s Scout on Atticus: “There just didn't seem to be anyone or anything Atticus couldn't explain.” Here’s Atticus to Scout: “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”
This is the very lesson that chest-thumping Republicans have mocked for the last seven years. And where has it gotten us? Wasting billions pursuing the wrong people in the wrong places.
Republicans aren’t interested in understanding. They’re not even interested in talking. You can almost imagine this bit of dialogue between Atticus and Scout taking place between Obama and a certain Republican vice-presidential candidate:
Atticus: Scout, do you know what a compromise is?
Scout: Bending the law?
Atticus: Um, no. It’s an agreement reached by mutual consent.
We’re still in this midst of our own mythic internal struggle, aren’t we, between the violent and often lawless aspects that John McCain represents, and the tough but ethical rule of law that Barack Obama represents. I would’ve thought this battle was over by now. I would’ve thought rule of law triumphed long ago. Apparently not.
Even Atticus, that great hero, lost his case. He proved his case but the trial was rigged from the start by our own overwhelming prejudices, by our need to see things as they are not, by our need to buy into the lie.
Are we a better country now? Or do we still need to see things as they are not? Do we still need to buy into the lie?
Up to you.
OK, Everyone Read Andrew Sullivan
Everyone. The full piece is here. This is merely the overture:
For the past two weeks serious commentators and columnists have been asked to take the candidacy of Sarah Palin for the vice-presidency of the United States seriously.
Formerly sane people have written of the McCain campaign’s selection of this running mate as if it represents a new face for Republicanism, an emblem of can-do western spirit, a brilliant ploy to win over Clinton voters, a new feminism, a reformist revolution, and a genius appeal to the religious right.
I’m afraid I cannot join in. In fact I cannot say anything about this candidacy that takes it in any way seriously. It is a farce. It is absurd. It is an insult to all intelligent people. It is a sign of a candidate who has lost his mind. There is no way to take the nomination of Palin to be vice-president of the world’s sole superpower - except to treat it as a massive, unforgivable, inexplicable decision by someone who has either gone insane or is managerially unfit to be president of the United States. When, at some point, the hysteria dies down, even her supporters will realise that, by this decision, McCain has rendered himself unfit to run a branch of Starbucks, let alone the White House.
Palin: Worse than We Thought
Perhaps restoring my faith in the mainstream media, The NY Times has a front-page story today on the style of politics Sarah Palin has practiced both as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska. It ain't pretty. It's actually worse than we thought. She fires professional people for personal reasons and hires unqualified friends in their place. Her cronyism makes George W. Bush look like a stern judge of character. Examples:
- When there was a vacancy at the top of the State Division of Agriculture, she appointed a high school classmate, Franci Havemeister, to the $95,000-a-year directorship. A former real estate agent, Ms. Havemeister cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency. Ms. Havemeister was one of at least five schoolmates Ms. Palin hired, often at salaries far exceeding their private sector wages.
Ms. Palin chose Talis Colberg, a borough assemblyman from the Matanuska valley, as her attorney general, provoking a bewildered question from the legal community: “Who?” Mr. Colberg, who did not return calls, moved from a one-room building in the valley to one of the most powerful offices in the state, supervising some 500 people. “I called him and asked, ‘Do you know how to supervise people?’ ” said a family friend, Kathy Wells. “He said, ‘No, but I think I’ll get some help.’ “ The Wasilla High School yearbook archive now doubles as a veritable directory of state government.
Last summer State Representative John Harris, the Republican speaker of the House, picked up his phone and heard Mr. Palin’s voice. The governor’s husband sounded edgy. He said he was unhappy that Mr. Harris had hired John Bitney as his chief of staff, the speaker recalled. Mr. Bitney was a high school classmate of the Palins and had worked for Ms. Palin. But she fired Mr. Bitney after learning that he had fallen in love with another longtime friend. “I understood from the call that Todd wasn’t happy with me hiring John and he’d like to see him not there,” Mr. Harris said.
The mayor quickly fired the town’s museum director, John Cooper. Later, she sent an aide to the museum to talk to the three remaining employees. “He told us they only wanted two,” recalled Esther West, one of the three, “and we had to pick who was going to be laid off.” The three quit as one.
In 1997, Ms. Palin fired the longtime city attorney, Richard Deuser, after he issued the stop-work order on a home being built by Don Showers, another of her campaign supporters.
And this doesn't even get into the firing of Wasilla's Police Chief, Irl Stambaugh, because he intimidated her, nor the 'Troopergate' scandal currently being investigated in Alaska, in which Palin and her husband allegedly pressured state officials into firing a state trooper who was divorcing her sister.
Some woman of the people.
More bad news. She ”puts a premium on secrecy and loyalty“ and ”is overly reliant on a small inner circle that leaves her isolated" and unavailable. Again, she's out-Bushing Bush here:
- Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska professor, sought the e-mail messages of state scientists who had examined the effect of global warming on polar bears. (Ms. Palin said the scientists had found no ill effects, and she has sued the federal government to block the listing of the bears as endangered.) An administration official told Mr. Steiner that his request would cost $468,784 to process. When Mr. Steiner finally obtained the e-mail messages — through a federal records request — he discovered that state scientists had in fact agreed that the bears were in danger, records show.
And this is the woman John McCain thinks is good enough to be a heartbeat away from the most important job in the world?? At a time when we need the smartest, most open and most diplomatic person possible to steer us through the various crises, both domestic and international, the Bush administration is leaving us??? You talk about bad judgment.
Let's hope the American electorate's judgment is better.
Fallows on the Toxic Traits of Palin/Bush
Here's a great post by James Fallows on why Gov. Palin's ignorance abou the Bush Doctrine could have dire consequences for this country. Highlights:
Sarah Palin did not know this issue, or any part of it. The view she actually expressed — an endorsement of “preemptive” action — was fine on its own merits. But it is not the stated doctrine of the Bush Administration, it is not the policy her running mate has endorsed, and it is not the concept under which her own son is going off to Iraq.
How could she not know this? For the same reason I don't know anything about European football/soccer standings, player trades, or intrigue. I am not interested enough. And she evidently has not been interested enough even to follow the news of foreign affairs during the Bush era.
A further point. The truly toxic combination of traits GW Bush brought to decision making was:
2) Lack of curiosity
That is, he was not broadly informed to begin with (point 1). He did not seek out new information (#2); but he nonetheless prided himself (#3) on making broad, bold decisions quickly, and then sticking to them to show resoluteness.
We don't know for sure about #2 for Palin yet — she could be a sponge-like absorber of information. But we know about #1 and we can guess, from her demeanor about #3. Most of all we know something about the person who put her in this untenable role.