NEW YORK — At a time when the Beijing Olympics have increased America’s apprehension of China’s rising power, Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, has chosen Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. Biden is the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and an established leader in Washington.
Biden will erase Obama’s supposed weakness that Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, is exploiting — inexperience with Washington politics and foreign affairs. Moreover, Biden will challenge McCain’s self-promoting image as the “maverick” Republican who can fix a broken Washington.
McCain is known for his trigger-happy machismo and is advocating Cold War confrontations with Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea. As Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote Aug. 24, “McCain is still fighting Red China in Vietnam and the Soviet Union in the Cold War. He will be an unstable bridge back to an increasingly distant 20th-century America.”
Even after the Iraqi government asked for a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces, McCain has delusively continued to advocate staying there until “victory” is achieved. In addition, McCain has promised to pack the Supreme Court with clones of ultraconservative justices Antonio Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, who wink at President George W. Bush’s destruction of American democracy.
In the Senate, McCain has voted almost 100 percent for Bush’s disastrous foreign and domestic policies. Now he wants to continue them. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, McCain has eagerly bought into Bush’s unilateral occupation of Iraq and his false linking of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan.
The Bush-McCain obsession with Iraq prematurely cut short the U.S. pacification of Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan, allowing them to grow in strength and hurt U.S. national security.
Domestically, McCain has been tied to the financial market meltdown triggered by the subprime mortgage fiasco, and to the deepening recession and rising oil prices. McCain is delusively advocating offshore oil drilling, even though the Bush administration admits there is not much oil left there.
The U.S. presidential election contest is akin to ruthless hand-to-hand combat. A candidate’s “high road” messages fail to resonate with voters if he or she ignores the opponent’s “low road” smears. In 2004, Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry lost because he let slide the Republicans’ “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” slander, which destroyed the war-hero reputation that Kerry had earned while serving on U.S. Navy Swift Boat patrols in Vietnam.
Historically, a ruling party candidate (like McCain) has lost badly when (1) the lame duck president is extremely unpopular; (2) the U.S. is in economic recession; (3) the real incomes of middle and working Americans are declining; and (4) over 70 percent of likely voters are worried about their future.
From June to July, Obama surged ahead of McCain with his “high road” feel-good slogans of change. In response, McCain launched “Swift Boat”-style smear attacks on his opponent, pandering to white conservative voters’ prejudices against African Americans and foreigners. McCain seized on the rousing “Obama fever” that greeted the Democratic nominee when he visited Berlin in July by launching a TV ad painting Obama as a “rock star” celebrity loved by Europeans (implying that he is not a serious politician who would be good for America).
In another McCain ad, Obama’s smiling face was displayed with the smiling faces of two white female pop stars, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. For some, McCain’s message implied that Obama, an African American, harbors lascivious desires for white women. This prejudice is deep-seated among many white males. Unfortunately, Obama did not immediately challenge McCain’s attack as racism.
McCain followed up the Hilton-Britney-Obama association with another TV smear ad likening Obama to Moses parting the Red Sea for the Israelites fleeing Egypt. In the view of many white Christian fundamentalists, whose votes McCain is courting, Moses was the most important figure for the Jewish people, and they were the ones responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.
Anti-Semitic whispering among Southern white Christians spread the vicious lie that Obama is an anti-Christ Muslim. These ads were also unchallenged, and Obama’s 14-point nationwide lead over McCain evaporated.
Historically, the trailing presidential candidate’s Swift Boat-style smears of his opponent date back to the John Adams-Thomas Jefferson contest of 1800. Adams spread a vicious lie about Jefferson being the illegitimate son of a mulatto father. In 1915, in the South and its border states, the lynching of Africans by Ku Klux Klan white supremacists reached a peak. The movie “Birth of a Nation” glorified KKK activities and renewed even Northern white Americans’ fear of black Americans. At the climax of the movie a beautiful white maiden hurled herself to death rather than be captured by a lascivious black pursuer. McCain’s attacks on Obama are tapping America’s deep-seated culture of religious bigotry, racism and sexual obsession.
The effective antidote to the Swift Boat-style smear is the inconvenient truth about the lying opponent. In 1948, President Harry “Give Them Hell” Truman counteracted his opponent’s lies. He declared, “If you lie about me, I will tell the truth about you.” Truman won.
The Obama-Biden camp is already telling the truth about McCain. It is even questioning McCain’s Vietnam heroism. Phillip Butler was with McCain at the U.S. Naval Academy and in the Vietnam prisoner of war (POW) camp, and wrote in Military News magazine (“Why I will Not Vote for John McCain,” March 27, 2008), “McCain’s POW experience is no special qualification for the U.S. president.” Upon returning from Vietnam, McCain admitted on CBS’ “60 Minutes” TV show that he broke under torture and signed a confession to American war crimes.
War and peace questions are too important to be left to a former naval junior officer who has been grossly wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan, and who has been wrongly obsessed with his Vietnam POW experience.
After Labor Day, the presidential election contest will go into its final leg. American voters will begin to evaluate which candidate will help them address their serious concerns: employment and income security, health care and retirement security, secure energy supplies and the costs of the Iraq occupation.
McCain will find it difficult to counter the Democrats’ appeal to voters: “Can you afford four more years of the Bush-McCain mess?” The Obama-Biden ticket is likely to capture the White House, and when that happens, Americans will finally begin to repudiate the dark side of America’s political culture of religious bigotry, racism, sexism and fear of foreigners.
Yoshi Tsurumi is a professor of international business at Baruch College, the City University of New York.
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