Editorial Column: The 10 Idiocies of the General Election

The Beast

August 4, 2008 –

The Surge: Working Overtime

“The surge is working.” It’s an incessant mantra, forever on the lips of politicians and “journalists” these days. It’s as if they can simply will it into truth. Yes, there has been a reduction in violence in Iraq, if the stats are to be believed. But it’s a mistake to think that’s primarily due to an increase in troop strength. What is working in Iraq is the Awakening, a movement of Sunni tribes against al Qaeda in Iraq (which, while a franchisee of the al Qaeda trademark, is really an entirely separate group). Essentially what has happened is that the Sunni Arabs have grown weary of al Qaeda’s tendency to wantonly murder their own people, and to start civil wars and stuff like that. So they’ve started taking money from the Pentagon instead of bin Laden, and things have quieted down somewhat. This change was bound to occur, and preceded the surge. In fact, if Bush had eschewed the surge, and instead sent the equivalent amount of money for bribes and salaries, it would have been much more effective.

What seems long forgotten is the original rationale for the surge, which was not simply to quell violence but to establish Iraq’s ability to govern itself, setting the stage for American withdrawal. That would constitute true “success,” although leaving has already been designated “surrender” by both Bush and McCain. But the real reason for the surge has always been to indefinitely prolong the conversation about withdrawal that was made inevitable by the 2006 elections. And in that sense, the surge has been an unparalleled success.

The New Yorker Cover

This was really one of the strangest cartoon controversies yet, revealing just how humor-challenged people really are. Admittedly, if the same cover had been on the Weekly Standard, it might have pissed me off too, but context is everything. What I find most alarming is the apparently widespread notion that satirists are required to present only jokes that are immediately obvious to every gump alive, and couldn’t possibly be subject to misinterpretation. That’s the death of comedy, right there. The rush to condemn the cover came at least in part because it didn’t take seriously enough the smears against Obama that it mocked. It rightly said, “Look at this. Isn’t this fucking ridiculous?” And it is. It is ridiculous, and it is fit to be ridiculed. But to see The New Yorker maligned as a “right wing rag” by pea-brained bloggers was probably the funniest thing about this whole controversy.

McCain’s War on Reality

The guy has referred to “Czechoslovakia” at least four times this year, after it was already a minor gaffe for him in 2000. He’s called the Sudan “Somalia.” He’s referred to “President Putin of Germany.” He’s worried about the “Iraq/Pakistan border” — perhaps an oblique reference to Iran? He doesn’t know Shiite from Sunnis, and thinks the Iranians are helping al Qaeda. He thinks the surge caused the Awakening. All of these mistakes would be deeply damaging to a less coddled candidate. But McCain is an elderly war hero, and there is a natural tendency to hold back on blasting him for his poor information retention.

But what about the football story? McCain has been telling a story, at least since he wrote it in Flags of our Fathers in 1999, of substituting the names of the Green Bay Packers defensive line for his squadron mates when pressed by Vietnamese interrogators. It’s a great story, as All-American as can be. He discussed it in 2005, when A&E did a movie version of the book, including the inspirational scene. Again in 2005, McCain used the story to illustrate how torture yields bad information. On July 9th, McCain told the story again at a press conference in Pittsburgh—only this time is was the Steelers defensive line.

Setting aside the rank stupidity of destroying a great piece of image work for a cheap hometown shoutout to a regional media market, this fib stabs at the heart of McCain’s straight-talking war hero mythology. It’s a breathtakingly brazen and completely unnecessary lie, at least as bewildering as Hillary Clinton’s “sniper fire” silliness, except that, Hillary wasn’t running as a special forces agent. It calls into question every unconfirmed detail about McCain’s POW years—how many other stories is he just making up? And what kind of man would sully his service with such pointless embellishments? But, dissimilarly to Hillary’s sniper snafu, McCain’s Packers/Steelers switcheroo slid by largely unnoticed, chuckled at by the media momentarily and tossed away. And they’re in the tank for Obama?

Shilling and Drilling

It’s amazing what the PR industry can do to divert an issue. While the truth that carbon emissions are going to alter our planet in unpleasant ways in the near future is more and more well established, somehow the topic has been changed from reducing the use of fossil fuels to “independence from foreign oil.” So now, after a few-week push, Americans are ready to start drilling offshore and in Alaska. You’ve gotta hand it to the oil industry; only they could take multiple crises for which they are responsible and turn them into a win for their agenda. Never mind that it will take years to have what will ultimately be a negligible effect on the price of oil. Gas is expensive, and people are easy to fool, especially if you play to their moronic fears of all things foreign. Meanwhile, it turns out that American oil burns just as dirty as it does anywhere else, and no meaningful emissions regulation is on the horizon. Get yourself some flood insurance.

Gramm: Crackers?

John McCain’s recently-fired principal economic adviser Phil Gramm’s comments about America being a “nation of whiners” in a “mental recession” are worthy of forced drowning. This golden asshole, drafter of the Enron loophole, Vice President at the disgraced and near-defunct Swiss bank UBS, and emitter of similarly foul, wealth-arrogant quotations about not feeling sorry for destitute 80-year-olds (“Most people don’t have the luxury of living to be 80 years old, so it’s hard for me to feel sorry for them,”says Gramm), thinks the economic downturn is all in your head, and has nothing to do with the collapse of the mortgage and credit industries or the unsound practices that were encouraged by an anarchist regulatory philosophy of which Gramm himself is a huge proponent. McCain and Gramm have been tight for years, and although he had no choice but to dump Gramm for the duration of the campaign, fellow money-saturated dickhead Steve Forbes assures us Gramm will be back, to help combat the whining poor and their paranoid delusions about hunger and homelessness.

We’re Winning What Now?

McCain and Bush continually iterate their will to “win” in Iraq. But what is winning in this context? After all, we are not looking to colonize Iraq, at least not officially. In other words, there is no winning or losing in Iraq—only staying or leaving. Neither constitutes victory, but one is a hell of a lot cheaper.

Penniless Elitists

A common complaint among Democrats is that it makes no sense to label Obama (or whatever politician is the target du jour) an “elitist,” since so many Republicans, including McCain and Bush, are children of wealth and power, and have considerably more money than Obama, while both Obama and his wife come from humble origins and attained their status through their own hard work. On the surface, this seems to make sense, but it’s a misapprehension of what the elitist label has truly come to signify: education and intellect. McCain and Bush may be of the upper crust, but it’s clear to all who observe them that they’re not very bright. Obama, on the other hand, clearly was paying attention at Harvard. That’s why the label sticks to him. Excessive intelligence is a liability in American political campaigns; there can be no doubt of that, and when people speak of Obama as “not one of us,” that is, at least in part, what they’re talking about. It’s anti-intellectualism that brought us eight years of Bush, as well as eight years of Reagan. Americans love a simple-talkin’ good ole boy, even if he does lower their wages and spend their retirement. Luckily for Obama, McCain is such a stiff that this factor will be somewhat mitigated.


Take a moment to recall Wesley Clark’s supposed slander against McCain’s military service from last month. Here’s how the exchange went on “Face the Nation”:

SCHIEFFER: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean…

Gen. CLARK: Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

Of course, virtually none of the abundant, breathless stories which ensued bothered to mention that the “getting shot down” construct was Bob Schieffer’s, and that Clark was merely repeating it. Nope, the story was that Clark said, “I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.” Obviously, this sounds much worse, as if Clark is criticizing McCain’s piloting skills. I don’t love Wesley Clark, but it seems pretty damn unfair to put words in his mouth like this and then pretend the phrase was his own invention. Now, this doesn’t mean the press is on McCain’s side; they just know a sensational story when they see it, and this one was much more outrageous when amputated from the context of Schieffer’s preceding statement.

This is something to remember when you see unfair coverage of either candidate: The media bias isn’t usually left or right; the bias is toward profit. If a half-assed story is more appealing than a full examination, then half-assed it’ll be. If, one the other hand, a news source risks alienating its audience—by, say, questioning McCain’s POW narriative a la the Packers/Steelers gaffe, they’ll shy away.

Irreconcilable Deferences

It turns out white Americans don’t like Michelle Obama as much as they like her husband. Why? A big factor in Mrs. Obama’s unpopularity is that, unlike her husband, she is culturally African-American. She reminds whites of stereotypes that are specific to black women: too loud, too rude, too pushy—not dainty at all. They much prefer a dead-eyed robo-spouse like Laura Bush or Cindy McCain, because it implies a domineering, controlling, in-charge man, just the type they imagine to be suited to running a global empire. If Obama’s deferential to his wife, how will he handle the Iranians? And what kind of table settings will she pick out for dinner with the Putins? I hear grown women expressing their distaste for enduring eight years with “that woman” in the White House, as if her skin color will rub off on the walls. It’s goddamn revolting, but that’s America.

Bomb Bomb Iran

Even as we discuss ways of extracting ourselves from the disaster we’ve created in Iraq, we find ourselves moving inexorably closer to attacking Iran, or at least supporting an Israeli attack on Iran. Amazingly, we hear the same bullshit WMD justifications coming from the same people who so expertly fooled us into invading Iraq, and even more amazingly, it seems to be working again. Personally, I never understood how Iraq hawks like Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer were ever able to find work after the WMD hoax ran its course, but they are more prominent than ever somehow. It’s almost as if they were being rewarded for playing their roles convincingly. But even now, after rejecting the idea that weapons inspectors should complete their work in Iraq sealed our fate there, the very idea that Obama might go so far as to talk to the Iranians before bombing the crap out of them is seen as naïve. Iran is not like Iraq in one way, though: They have a real military and they will not be content to just let us in and take occasional potshots at us. They will fight back. And we will once again find ourselves overextended in a war we didn’t really want, but were convinced by known liars to start. And then we will…probably still not learn our lesson.

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