Thursday, September 11, 2008

Raising our Expectations

The seemingly endless presidential campaign has taken on some real wackiness in recent weeks. The Democratic National Convention sent McCain into such a panic that he decided to pick a running mate on the basis of gender, which certainly shored up his sagging old white guy campaign. It’s also created a level of media hysteria from the right that would be amusing if the future of the country weren’t at stake.

The Republican Convention was quite an event. Every speaker that got on stage told the story of John McCain and his 5.5 years in a POW camp. This is a story that the media had led me to believe that McCain was reluctant to talk about, so it came as something of a surprise to me to find that he only talks about it whenever he opens his mouth. After days of hearing the story, John McCain got on stage on the final night to tell us his own version of his experiences with enhanced interrogation techniques.

There were endless speeches about hating public education, hating socialism, hating the taxing of the wealthy, hating Social Security, hating anyone who thinks about changing our health care system, hating “Democrat elites” and in particular, hating community organizers.

Rudy Guiliani and Sarah Palin both sneered contemptuously about community organizers. Right wing blowhard Sean Hannity seethes with rage about community organizers every night on his “news” show. NH’s own Fergus Cullen, the head of the NH GOP has jumped on the anti-organizer bandwagon. Who are these loathsome people, these….organizers?

Without community organizers, Sarah Palin would be home chained to a stove and birthin’ up an even bigger family. From the Declaration of Sentiments at the Senecca Falls Convention to Alice Paul and the National Women’s Party, women organizing in their communities and states are the reason that women have the right to vote today. Community organizers in Montgomery, Alabama fought for the end of segregated buses in 1955, when the bus boycott began. This was a triumph of community organizing. It took a year, but they won. I have worked as a community organizer. In 2004, I was one of many who worked to get unregistered voters in NH to register and vote. I knocked on doors all summer in Berlin. In November of that year, Berlin had a 92 percent voter turnout. I don’t accept the contempt of Sarah Palin or Fergus Cullen. Their snide comments about community organizers should enrage every person who organizes a blood drive, a soup kitchen, or a walk for cancer. Those who sneer at community organizers are themselves elitists.

The GOP attempts to position itself as the party of the REAL people, which is why so much was made of small towns, as though people from small towns are wrapped in a special kind of American flag painted by Norman Rockwell, that ensures they are brimming with apple-cheeked wholesomeness. It’s the “Democrat elites” we have to fear. One almost has to admire the bold mendacity of the GOP, turning a guy who was brought up in a single parent family, a man who exemplifies the Republican bootstrap meme, a man who put himself through college as being some kind of elitist. Yet the man who had everything handed to him on a silver family platter and married his way into the rest is presented as being a regular John. A week before the GOP convention McCain couldn’t remember how many houses he owned. His wife wore an ensemble to the convention that was valued at $300,000 – but we’re supposed to believe they’re just regular folks. It’s that uppity arugala eater who is the REAL elitist.

We Americans spoon that stuff down like ice cream. We wouldn’t think of hiring a neurosurgeon who was a “C” student – but we elected a president who was proud of being average. Sarah Palin is presented to us as a hockey mom, which is supposed to reassure us that even though she’s one of us, she’s qualified to be the leader of the free world. So what that a month ago she asked what the vice president does – she can field dress a moose! Yeah! Turn Putin over to her! Yeah! Drill, baby, drill! USA! USA!

In 2000, the Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush president. In 2004 he was elected for his second term. We were told that Americans thought he was the guy they’d most want to have a beer with, as though that were a good reason to vote for him. (Think about everyone you’ve ever sat next to in a bar – would you vote for them?) In those two terms, Bush has invaded a country who didn’t attack us, borrowed billions to finance an endless war on a vague concept, justified torture, justified secret prisons, justified wiretapping of US citizens, allowed thousands to die in New Orleans, has not kept his promise to help rebuild, has destroyed the US economy, cut spending on alternative energy sources at every opportunity, and besmirched the reputation of United States in countries around the world. That’s what the C student, the average guy did for us – and the GOP is telling us to repeat that behavior by voting for John McCain.

John McCain is selling the same failed policies of the Bush administration, the same failed policies he’s supported for the last 8 years. He’s trying to tell us that even though he’s pushing the same agenda, the results will be different with him at the helm. We’re also supposed to ignore the fact that even though Republicans claim to hate affirmative action, they’ve just engaged in the most blatant affirmative action promotion in recent history! Sarah Palin is not ready for prime time, and we all know it. The next president is going to have a lot to shovel for the next four years, trying to clean up the mess Bush and his henchmen are leaving us with. We need to aim higher – to expect better than average for our country. This is no time to settle for less.

“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” Winston Churchill

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