I am profoundly ambivalent about this post, and this is one of the reasons why I waited until this morning to sit down and write. I needed to let last night's speech roll around in my head and try to figure out what, exactly, it meant to me. I don't think the Republicans sitting in the convention hall in St. Paul had this reaction; indeed, that is one of the defining differences between Democrats and Rpublicans.
There is this kind of knee-jerk, "America first," my-country-right-or-wrong thing that many Americans have grown up calling "patriotism" that isn't necessarily patriotism at all. The Republican Party is filled with people these days who have exactly this definition of patriotism. But that's not necessarily what patriotism actually is. In fact, the type of love-it-or-leave-it, USA!USA!USA!-chanting patriotism that we've experienced since the Reagan years is what is ultimately behind the crippling partisanism we're suffering through right now. Country, rather than principle, can become an ideology, and when that happens, bad things usually follow. As David Hume said, "The heights of popularity and patriotism are still the beaten road to power and tyranny; flattery to treachery; standing armies to arbitrary government; and the glory of God to the temporal interest of the clergy." That's what Democrats are against. That's what I'm against, and I'm going to keep talking about it, beacuse as Barbara Ehrenreich has told us, "No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots."
So let me raise some hell.
John McCain is an upstanding guy and a true patriot. I remember when he returned with other POWs at the end of the Vietnam war. I remember -- even though I had shifted from staunchly pro-war to vehemently anti-war between 1968 and 1972 -- being in awe of his courage and strength having endured imprisonment, isolation, and torture for so long. It's not something I think I could have endured myself without breaking, dying, or losing my mind.
But John McCain is not the right man for this job, not now. I would have been quite satisfied (though not happy) if he had won the GOP nomination in 2000 and beat Al Gore in the general election to become President. Because unlike George W. Bush (whose disgusting campaign, engineered by talking pig Karl Rove, smeared and abused McCain and his family), John McCain is a decent man.
So last night, whenever he talked about his experiences as a POW, I was moved and silent. I will never lose my respect or my gratitude for John McCain for enduring what he did in Vietnam.
But when he talked about the things he really stands for, I found myself yelling at the television, "NO! He can't be our next president."
These are tough times for many of you. You’re worried about keeping your job or finding a new one, and are struggling to put food on the table and stay in your home. All you ever asked of government is to stand on your side, not in your way. And that’s just what I intend to do: stand on your side and fight for your future.
McCain is still a dyed-in-the-wool supply-sider who believes in lower taxes (this is NOT as great as it sounds, since -- as we've seen in the last eight years -- the middle class don't really benefit much from a $200 break in their taxes, but the wealthy do; and all the while the government has less revenue to serve its citizens), incentives for investment (big investors are STILL making money while most Americans are sucking wind), the removal of "barriers" to trade, and "free and open" (i.e., unregulated) markets -- which will mean even more jobs being moved overseas.
Let's be honest: for all they tried to hide it this week, this is still the Republilcan Party. And John McCain may be running as "the Anti-Bush," but he's still a Republican. And these are, since the Reagan years, core Republican values. Not the welfare of the Aerican people, but the welfare of American business.
I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn’t a popular thing to do. And when the pundits said my campaign was finished, I said I’d rather lose an election than see my country lose a war.
Thanks to the leadership of a brilliant general, David Petraeus, and the brave men and women he has the honor to command, that strategy succeeded and rescued us from a defeat that would have demoralized our military, risked a wider war and
threatened the security of all Americans.
Let me tell you why the surge isn't working.
At about the same time that John McCain (and Joe Lieberman) was supporting George W. Bush's request to send an additional 5 brigades to Iraq, the US military was negotiating with Sunni fighters (who made up the bulk of the insurgency) to stop fighting with us. Many of the Sunni fighters belonged to what are called "Awakening Councils, " regional quasi-political/religious groups who feared and resented the US-backed creation of a Shiite government. The US military managed to negotiate a semi-official status for the Sunni Awakening groups with the Shiite-led Iraqi Government.
Regional Awakening Groups now police local areas and each member gets paid a monthly stipend by the US Government of about $30 per month -- and in Iraq right now, that's a lot of money. So there has been, during the same time the "surge" has been in place, both a pragmatic compromise giving political legitimacy to groups that are, for all intents and purposes, sectarian militias, and a financial incentive not to kill Americans to the 100,000 (and growing) members of the Awakening groups.
But that will all end on October 1, when direct responsibility for, and authority over, the Sunni Awakening Councils will pass from US hands to the Shiite-controlled Iraqi government. There will be an almost immediate upturn in violence, because the Shiites never saw recognition of the Awakening groups as anything more than a stop-gap measure in helping the US military appear to be gaining control so that a timetable for withdrawal could be set. Their semi-official status will disappear, as will their stipends, and they will return to attacking Shiites and US troops.
The docile US mass media will report it as the US Government describes it -- not as a failure of the surge, but as some "new" problem between "extremists" or "terrorists" and the "legitimate government of Iraq." But make no mistake about it -- the regional, tribal, and sectarian hatred that was unleashed the moment we invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein never went away as a result of this "surge," and has not abated as a result of it.
I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption. We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger. We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties and Senator Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies. We lost their trust, when we valued our power over our principles.
It's not exactly the way you explain it, Sen. McCain. The Republican Party lost the trust of the American people when Republicans gave into the temptation of corruption, to be sure. But the Republicans also lost the trust of the American people when they lied about a war, mishandled its conduct, began torturing prisoners, ignored the Geneva Conventions, denied prisoners due process of law, abandoned habeus corpus, and weakened our Constitutional human rights.
It is the GOP in the last eight years, not the Democratic Party, that has increased the size of government, and the level of government spending, and the size of the national debt, and our indebtedness to nations like China.
Obama and the Democratic Party have been in the forefront of the fight to fund research into alternative energy sources. Obama voted for the legislation McCain referred to because, in fact, it included a promise of funding for alternative energies. Obama attached an amendment to this bill calling for the stripping of the tax breaks for the oil and gas companies, but the amendment was defeated. In the end, Obama voted for the bill because of the promise of funding for research into new sources of energy.
Education is the civil rights issue of this century. Equal access to public education has been gained. But what is the value of access to a failing school? We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice, remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.
When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them. Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children will have that opportunity.
No, Senator McCain, civil rights is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, as it was of the 20th. Stop blaming teachers. Teachers -- especially teachers in the poorest areas in America -- rank alongside POWs in my esteem as America's greatest patriots. Oh, yeah -- and librarians too, Governor Palin. Stop using teachers as a scape goat for underfunded schools and for families that think you can use television as a babysitter for the first six years of their lives and they'll still be prepared for a literate education.
And stop holding out symbolic tokens to families who don't want their children to go to school with black and hispanic children. Stop trying to entice parents who don't want their children to learn about science in science class. I don't want my tax dollars going to schools of this type, or to home schooling moms who teach their children that Jesus is a Republican and President Bush was sent by God to lead us after 9/11. Believe what you want, teach your children what you want, but don't ask me to subsidize your kids' religious educations.
We have dealt a serious blow to al Qaeda in recent years. But they are not defeated, and they’ll strike us again if they can.
Far from "dealing a serious blow" to al Qa'ida, we have helped them and made them stronger. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, "The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland" confirms this, and I don't understand how McCain can make this amazingly deceitful claim. The report describes how the Iraq war has increased the strength, numbers, and support of al Qa'ida outside the developed world.
The answer to the problem of terrorism in the 21st will not be a military response, any more than it was the answer in the 20th century in Ireland, in Germany, in Italy, in Basque Spain. John McCain, noble and heroic veteran of the Vietnam war doesn't get it. I wish heroes read histories.
I appreciated McCain's exhortation, at the end of his speech, to stand up and fight for America. It was one of the best pieces of hortatory rhetoric I've heard since Henry V (Shakespeare's play -- I don't actually remember Henry V personally):
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility,
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger:
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect:
Let it pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a gallèd rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height! On, on, you noble English,
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof,
Fathers that like so many Alexanders
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.
Dishonor not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you called fathers did beget you!
Be copy now to men of grosser blood
And teach them how to war! And you, good yeomen,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture. Let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not,
For there is none of you so mean and base
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot!
Follow your spirit; and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry! England and Saint George!'
I’m going to fight for my cause every day as your President. I’m going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank Him: that I’m an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on earth, and with hard work, strong faith and a little courage, great things are always within our reach. Fight with me. Fight with me.
Fight for what’s right for our country.
Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.
Fight for our children’s future.
Fight for justice and opportunity for all.
Stand up to defend our country from its enemies.
Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.
Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight.
Nothing is inevitable here. We’re Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.
Just not at your side. I will fight to make sure you are not the next President of the United States of America. For, regardless of how much I respect you as a person, I disagree with your politics. They are exactly the opposite of what American needs right now.