Friday 3 October 2008

Recovering from the US Vice-Presidential Debate

I just finished watching the US Vice Presidential debate on CNN. It was simultaneously the most dispiriting thing I've seen in a long time, and the most chilling.

Sarah Palin stuck almost entirely to her talking points and her version of history. I didn't see a single trace of humanity or humility, or that she could be trusted to think rationally or analyse anything beyond what she had memorised. Speaking politely, the facts did not feature prominently in what she had to say.

Her attacks on Barack Obama were delivered in this chirpy monotone that made me wonder if the control room was somewhere else, perhaps in Nome, Alaska. It was so contrived, so bereft of original thinking and spontaneity that I’m horrified to think of her as Vice President of the United States–a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

I was also struck by the CNN opinion graph, that was playing out like a little seismograph at the bottom of the screen. This gadget raised far more questions than it possibly could have answered: who were these "uncommitted Ohio voters?" Were they female or male? Young or old? How many were there? What education and income level did they have? How were they voting, exactly?

At the beginning of the debate, Sarah Palin was getting a high response for moral platitudes and tinned comments that had all the substance of marshmallow soup. The surge was surged to death; John McCain was ceaselessly intoned as the next messiah; the masses were addressed without the filter of the mainstream media. Repent, ye wicked media. Vade retro, Satanas.

And besides this, the medley of cloying, irritating words: "maverick," "no preconditions," "nucilar," “white flag of surrender,” “Joe Sixpack.” Was she speaking English, or was she speaking code? I had to change channels several times during the debate: watching the weather forecast on Greek public TV was more substantive, even soothing.

There were only two parts of the debate which I felt were vaguely interesting:

• When Joe Biden choked up over raising his sons as a widowed father;

• When Joe Biden unequivocally condemned Dick Cheney as the most dangerous VP in history. We need to hear more of this.

I was not impressed with the spending priorities of the two VP candidates – and the two campaigns. If the House passes EESA today, the public debt will swell to at least $ 11.3 trillion, out of a current GDP estimate of about $ 14.4 trillion. Unless we start a radical programme to pay down this debt, America will go bankrupt in 6-8 years, perhaps even sooner. Neither candidate mentioned debt reduction, yet this is the single most important priority, and will determine the extent to which the spending promises–renewable energy, healthcare “credits”, Iraq–can be financed.

Biden made a much more coherent statement about the role of the VP in the Obama administration, and I like the fact that he would be the point man on getting legislation through Congress. I had the impression that he and Obama have put a lot of through into planning and priorities, but they are still working on the costs.

In contrast, I didn’t see any such evidence from Sarah Palin. All I saw was the same dispiriting mix of lies, distortions and exaggerations:

• You can’t offer a “healthcare tax credit” and cut taxes. What’s the “credit” exactly? It’s a deduction from Federal income tax, obviously, and therefore the Federal budget. So the amount spend on the “credit” has to be reimbursed from other tax sources, or by cutting government spending (which is impossible given the spending promises and deficits).

• Troop levels in Iraq have not fallen to below pre-surge levels.

• She may have cut taxes in Alaska, but Alaska has benefitted from higher revenue due to a surging oil price which coincided with the years she has been elected governor (the last 2 years). Amazing how that's never mentioned. So her tax cuts have, in effect, been financed by all those people using oil. What you give with one hand, you take with the other.

• Her cheerleading for energy independence–through more drilling–is absurd. America’s domestic petroleum energy resources are nowhere near enough to offset petroleum imports. Energy independence is a myth.

• How can John McCain be such a maverick when he’s voted fully in line with Republican initiatives, spent so much time in Washington, and now has a campaign run by Republican lobbyists? Does anyone really believe this?

Over these past 8 years, I haven’t stopped asking myself: where has all the Republican political talent gone? Is this the best they can do? Is this the best America can do?

Is a President who comes to power based on a campaign founded on lies and misinterpretations legitimate? At what point does John McCain’s self-professed honour turn into dishonour? Is the fight for the Presidency worth the high cost of destructiveness and duplicity that we see every day in the media?

Read Sarah Palin’s comments, delivered towards the end of the debate:

"But even more important is that world view that I share with John McCain. That world view that says that America is a nation of exceptionalism. And we are to be that shining city on a hill, as President Reagan so beautifully said, that we are a beacon of hope and that we are unapologetic here. We are not perfect as a nation. But together, we represent a perfect ideal."

I believe that increasingly, American exceptionalism has become American delusion. You can’t possibly claim to represent a perfect ideal, when all you do is spin out lies and negativity while espousing politics that so clearly favour a few rich special interests at the expense of the large majority of the population, the environment and the future.

I’m sickened by the fact that this kind of rhetoric is so clearly in contrast with the reality of political achievement, and yet still so widely believed. With every election, I’m afraid that my faith in politics and the future of this country is further eroded, until I wonder what will be left.

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