Sunday, November 2, 2008

Between Barack and a Hard Place:
My November 4th Conundrum

"Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.
Going to the candidate's debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you've got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose."
- Paul Simon

I have no illusions. I am no fool. I very much hope that Barack Obama is the next President of the United States of America. So what am I supposed to do this Tuesday when the people of this country (hopefully without much DieBold influence or voter caging) have a chance to choose their next leader? The knot in my stomach and the ache in my head are working against each other and I am at an impasse. So bear with me...I'm just trying to work my way through this stuff.

I have railed against the policies and positions of Barack Obama for a long time now - both here in this forum and in private conversations with friends - and made the choice not to cast a vote for him (or anyone) on Super Tuesday back in February. I have attempted to explain and justify my beliefs as best I could and have made a number of inflexible statements regarding my lever-pulling intentions come Election Day, among them:
"I could not and will not vote for Obama yesterday [in the New York Primary] or in the future (unless I am convinced otherwise)."

"I compromised my morals in 2004 and voted for John Kerry and I swore I'd never do that again."
and this:
"I will not be a complacent citizen, convincing myself that it is alright to support the inexcusable, picking from a short list of insiders because I think I have to in order to call myself a part of something bigger. Well, I am part of something bigger. A morality that forbids me from voting for someone who supports the occupation of Palestine, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the potential for a nuclear first-strike and not for reducing military spending and our own nuclear stockpiles. I will not. I will not. I will not."
If these sentiments seem to allow for wiggle room and plausible future deniability, I even made things easy for myself by declaring, quite simply, "I can not and will not vote for him."

So why might I be having a change of heart this late in the game, allowing for an eleventh hour, fourth quarter, ninth inning, two-minute warning, sudden death substitution of voting intention? The answer is anything but cerebral or nuanced:

I hate John McCain and Sarah Palin so fucking much, it makes me physically ill, violently furious, and literally frightened for the rest of the world.

Does this mean I support Barack Obama and Joe Biden? Absolutely not. Quite the contrary, actually. The more I think about what they stand for, believe in, and promote for the future of this country, the more convinced I am that I can not vote for their ticket on Tuesday. And herein lies my dilemma. How do I vote against McCain without voting for Obama? Is this even possible? Let's see...

A vote for a Third Party or truly progressive candidate with no chance whatsoever of winning the election is not a vote against a major party candidate who has a chance of becoming president. The vote is certainly important in its own right, but won't have any impact upon the actual outcome of this election. Using this logic, a vote for Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader, despite completely agreeing with their policies and worldview, is not a vote against John McCain and Sarah Palin; in fact, a strong argument can be made that a vote for anyone except Obama actually helps the McCain cause (though this argument really loses steam if made in New York, which will go to Obama no matter what).

A vote against the Republican ticket can be achieved in only one viable way: by voting for the Democratic ticket. This means making the choice not to vote for someone whose policies I actually agree with, in order to vote against someone whose policies I vehemently oppose.

So, how do I vote for something I believe in, namely real change and truly progressive politics, and also vote against the establishment candidates that seek to further erode civil liberties, deny human rights, destroy the planet, and further expand an aggressive, oppressive, and obviously failing modern empire? Unfortunately, I can't have it both ways. And I recognize that. But it doesn't make the choice any easier. I have to choose between voting for a candidate that I support and voting against candidates that I despise and who I believe are dangerous. Those options are indeed mutually exclusive.

suffragium fero ergo sum

While many people would agree that a ballot cast for an Independent or Green Party candidate is a wasted vote, there are strong arguments to be made for the opposite view. A vote for a progressive candidate is a vote against the historic dominance of the two party system. I believe in what Cynthia McKinney stands for. She has called for the impeachment of US war criminals and the investigation of 9/11. She truly believes in universal human rights, not just the rights of Americans and their supposed allies. She has an outstanding record and would be a real force of change in this country (not in the way that Obama is pretending to be). I agree with her in my head and heart and truly want her to be the next president. She will not be. But does that mean a vote for her is a wasted vote when it is a true expression of whom I support. If a vote against two party rule is a "waste" and "doesn't make a dent" in our political environment, how can any vote for the status quo be a vote for change? As Robert Weitzel, contributing editor to Media With a Conscience, passionately points out,
The corporate-controlled political system in our country is supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans who time and again waste their votes on two parties with track records for little more than self-preservation, corrupt-crony politics and for not making a “dent”...unless, of course, it’s to total the entire country.

The campaigns of Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney are not the acts of spoilers or vanity candidates. They are the acts of third party candidates struggling for the magical 15 percent that will allow them to challenge the hegemony of the Democratic and Republican parties in televised debates viewed by over 70 million voters. They are the acts of American citizens who believe it is a constitution rather than a corporate charter that is the governing document of our Republic.

Nader and McKinney are not naïve enough to think they’ll need to keep millions of donors’ dollars in reserve for their inaugural balls. They are campaigning for something more important than the presidency. They are campaigning to bring about systemic changes in the “politics as usual” in America. They are campaigning to redeem Abraham Lincoln’s “radical” ideal of an American “government of the people, by the people, and for [ALL] the people.”
I agree with this. The cause is noble and necessary. Yes, I want to fight against the absurdity of the two-pronged one party system in this country and open up the field to a more democratic exchange of ideas. But I also really really really want to vote against John McCain and, again, a vote for Nader or McKinney is not a vote against McCain, but rather a vote against both McCain and Obama collectively. A vote against both Democrats and Republicans, while absolutely the right thing to do in most or all cases, does not help John McCain lose. And I really want him to lose.

The choice may come down to the issue of an "imminent threat." I certainly believe that a McCain/Palin administration (I just vomited a little in my mouth) is more of a threat to the rest of the world than an Obama/Biden administration (pounding headache). Therefore, it is probably a good idea to protect the planet against an inevitable and speedy doom in favor of certain destruction that may be staved off for a bit longer. In other words, it might be a better idea to grab a bucket, ineffectual as it may be, rather than a fiddle while Rome continues to burn to the ground around you. Emphasis on the might. As Malcolm X once said, "You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches, and then pull it out six inches, and say you're making progress."

I want desperately to vote against John McCain and Sarah Palin. I want to vote against racism in this country and, more specifically, the staggeringly ignorant and xenophobic campaign that they have run and continue to encourage. I want them to suffer an unparalleled and humiliating defeat on Tuesday. I want their campaign to be forever remembered and referenced with contempt, disgust, and horror. I want their crushing loss to signal the waning influence of neo-conservative thought upon this country's foreign policy. I want the religious right to be blamed for sinking the GOP. I want John McCain to spend the last days of his offensive and dishonest life knowing he blew it, obsessing over his VP selection and his inability to ever surpass the achievements of his father and grandfather, being mocked and sneered at in the halls of Congress, maligned in the press, and denounced by his own despicable political party. I want Sarah Palin to cry herself into a champagne-and-shame-induced coma in an empty bathtub with a leaky faucet, all the while rebuking witchcraft in barely audible mumbles and blaming the Python spirit for her myriad failures.

That's what I want. In order to have played some role (however minor and insignificant) in achieving those goals, I would have to vote for Barack Obama.

To add to my growing list of "wants," I must mention that I want to want to vote for Barack Obama. Our personal histories share many common elements; in many ways, he is the viable candidate I've been waiting for and eagerly anticipating for my entire adult life. But I feel constantly betrayed by Barack Obama. I am consistently disappointed in Barack Obama. I am often offended by the words and actions of Barack Obama.

The Looming Power of FISA

He is a constitutional scholar who refused to pursue the impeachment of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, despite their numerous and well-known crimes and misdemeanors, and he voted for the renewal of the unconstitutional Protect American Act (which he voted against last year), thereby compromising FISA legislation, supporting warrantless eavesdropping and spying, and approving retroactive immunity for companies that willfully broke the law and curtailed the civil liberties and right to privacy that are enshrined in the founding document of our nation. There seems to be no real explanation for Obama's reversal on this, especially after his claim in February that he whole-heartedly supports the "fight against retroactive immunity for the telecommunications industry," continuing, "Secrecy and special interests must not trump accountability. We must show our citizens -- and set an example to the world -- that laws cannot be ignored when it is inconvenient. Because in America –- no one is above the law." And then he voted to put phone companies above the law and ignored constitutional law when it was convenient for his campaign.

Foreign Policy without Legality or Humanity

Barack Obama not only wants to increase military spending, but also wishes to expand the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 27,000. Time and again, he and his running-mate Joe Biden have vowed to "hunt down and kill" Osama bin Laden. Kill. Elected officials running for the highest post in the land, if not the world, and they are threatening to kill someone? Isn't this country supposed to be the "peacekeeper," laughable though that concept may be considering this nation's actual history? Isn't our country built on laws? How does extrajudicial murder and revenge killing become military policy? How about promising the American people to bring bin Laden to justice? How about renewing our trust in the power of the courts, domestic and international, rather than promoting foreign policy based on vigilantism?

He promises to "end the war [sic] in Iraq" but vows to leave at least 50,000 US occupation forces and the largest embassy/fort in the world in place in order to fight residual terrorism in the country. The troops removed from Iraq will be redeployed in Afghanistan in order to ensure many more civilian casualties and the growth of an even more justifiably anti-imperial resistance to counter the enhanced American hegemonic overtures. Obama has threatened to carry out more military strikes within the borders of Pakistan, despite this being an unquestionable breach of international law, in an effort to further promote American exceptionalism when it comes to, well, everything. Not only has the Bush administration already taken cues from Obama's suggestion that "actionable intelligence" justifies the bombing of a sovereign country , but it is clear that the American people believe that the subsequent murder of innocent people by battery-operated slaughter drones to be, while perhaps regrettable, both unavoidable and easily forgivable. We have heard nothing from Obama regarding the recent US raid in Syrian territory, which blithely violated international law and deliberately targeted civilians. This attack deliberately tested the newly expanded tenets of the already illegal Bush Doctrine, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined yesterday. At this point, the United States reserves the "right" not only to unilaterally attack any state or group that it believes is a threat or is supporting a potentially threatening organization, borders, proof, and rule of law be damned, but has also ominously argued that Washington should expand the doctrine of pre-emptive war to include possible nuclear strikes. Preemptive nuclear war! Remember, Robert Gates may even be asked to remain as Defense Secretary in an Obama cabinet.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, has proven himself to know little about foreign policy, during the VP debate with Sarah Palin in early October. Despite that being his apparent strength and area of expertise, Biden, a proponent of the Iraq War, said, "With regard to Iraq, I gave the president the power [in the October 2002 Iraq War Resolution]. I voted for the power because he said he needed it not to go to war but to keep the United States, the UN in line, to keep sanctions on Iraq and not let them be lifted." Foreign policy expert Stephen Zunes tells us,
This was perhaps the most seriously misleading statement of the entire debate.

Palin correctly countered with the fact that "it was a war resolution." Indeed, the resolution supported by Biden explicitly stated that "the president is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate." Biden certainly knew that.

It's also hard to imagine that Biden actually believed Bush's claim that it was necessary to "keep sanctions on Iraq and not let them be lifted." There was absolutely no serious effort in the UN or anywhere else at that time to lift any sanctions against Iraq in a manner that could have conceivably aided Iraq's ability to make war, develop "weapons of mass destruction," or in any other way strengthen Saddam Hussein's regime.

It's particularly disturbing that a man who may well be the next vice president seems to think that the United States has the right to try to "to keep the UN in line." The United States is legally bound - by a signed and ratified international treaty pursuant to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution - to provisions of the UN Charter. And the charter prohibits wars of aggression, such as the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The UN's job is to keep nation-states in line regarding international law, which the Iraq War - made possible in part through Biden's vote in support its authorization - was one of the most serious and blatant violations since the world body's establishment in 1945.

In any case, at the time of the Iraq War resolution, the UN had for well over a decade imposed the most comprehensive disarmament regime in history and had already successfully disarmed Iraq of its biological and chemical weapons; its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs; and its long-range delivery systems. Furthermore, at the time of the resolution and as a result of pressure from the UN, Iraq had already agreed to the return of UN inspectors under strict modalities guaranteeing unfettered access to confirm Iraq's disarmament. As a result, Biden's belief that the United States had to "keep the UN in line" is indicative of his contempt for the UN Charter and the post-World War II international legal order, thereby raising serious questions regarding Obama's judgment in choosing him as his running mate.
Additionally, Biden opposes democratic elections in Middle Eastern countries (namely the popular and completely legal West Bank election of Hamas), when the results can not be pre-determined to be pro-US, a dangerous position for an elected official to have as it attempts to rob people of their legitimate voice. He also believes that Hezbollah was kicked out of Lebanon by the US and France, prior to the Israeli attack in 2006, claiming that he and Obama urged NATO action to fill the power vacuum. This is not true, not a single word of it, nor is Biden's claim that Hezbollah and Hamas are proxies of Iran; both parties, despite receiving financial support from the Islamic Republic, follow their own agenda. Biden has said, "I've forgotten more about foreign policy than most of my colleagues know," and I'm certainly inclined to agree.

All the Candidates Agree: Country First
(...but which country?)

"I'm so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think that is a good thing to get to agree on."
- Sarah Palin, to Joe Biden 10.02.08

From watching both the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates and campaigns, it is clear that pledging undying and unwavering fealty to the State of Israel is par for the course for any major candidate running for office in the United States. But to go to such lengths in order to fawn and drool and proclaim "love" for another country, especially one that was created unjustly by imperial will, Western guilt, terrorism, displacement, land theft, and ethnic cleansing is downright creepy and inexcusable. Denying the rights and self-determination of Palestinians and refusing to acknowledge that occupation encourages resistance appears to be a surefire way to get votes in the Jewish American community. Barack Obama, with his scary foreign-sounding name (personally, I think a name like David Ben-Gurion is as scary as you can get) and his VP pick, the self-proclaimed Zionist Joe Biden, have worked very hard over the course of their campaign to espouse as much pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian rhetoric as they can muster.

Also, these days, commitment to Israel's "security" apparently means planning an unprovoked attack on Iran, a country which has threatened no military action against any other country in centuries. The term "second Holocaust" has been flying around more often than "spread the wealth around," "domestic terrorist," "reform," and is a close third behind "my friends," and "maverick." It seems that the entire country, as evidenced by the Obama's recent New York Times endorsement, has succumbed to the rampant lies that Iran is working on nuclear weaponry with the explicit intention to destroy the Israeli people. Clearly, constant repetition and propaganda yields results. Not only does American foreign policy, as dictated by Secretary Gates, enable and allow for illegal attacks on another country, potentially with nuclear weapons, but Obama's own troubling rhetoric seems aimed at beginning a war against Iran. Obama has constantly stated that he believes that, despite Iran having zero nuclear weapons or intention to attack any other country, "there is no greater threat to Israel – or to the peace and stability of the region – than Iran," continuing to claim without any proof that Iran "supports violent extremists," wrongly repeats that President Ahmadinejad "threatens to wipe Israel off the map," and stating that "the danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat." As a quick refresher: Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons, the full military and financial support of the most powerful nation on Earth, and has consistently, in its six decade history, threatened and attacked its neighbors and denied human and civil rights of an occupied native population and many of its own citizens.

The stage is already set, the foundation laid by the Bush administration and the presidential debate talking points, for the invasion of more Middle Eastern countries. And Barack Obama is doing nothing to curb the militarism and threats of this country. In fact, by all accounts, he is eager to march into new invasions and new occupations with deadlier weapons, fewer allies, and weaker rationale than we've had over the past eight years. And that's saying a lot.

War More Years, War More Years!

Despite the surprising, and welcome, shelving of House Con.Res. 362, a recent OpEd in the Washington Post, co-written by two conservative ex-senators, one Democrat and one Republican, suggests the United States immediately prepare to launch "a devastating strike on Iran's nuclear and military infrastructure" in order to prevent, by any and all means necessary, Iran from obtaining or being able to rapidly assemble a nuclear weapon. Setting aside the unequivocal findings of the NIE and IAEA which have concluded that Iran's nuclear program is not only wholly legal (as they are a signatory to the NPT, something which can't be said about such nuclear weapon stockpilers such as Israel, India, and Pakistan) but also that the program is for well-needed peaceful, civilian use, rather than for weaponry or bombs. In fact, not only has the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared that "Iran is no threat to anyone," but has also said that "using nuclear weapons is against Islamic rules. We will not impose the costs of building and maintenance of nuclear weapons on our people. Our explosive source is the power of our faith." Meanwhile, the new OpEd, as well as the oft-repeated bellicose rhetoric of US officials, generals, and Congressmen, blatantly threatens Iran with financial blockades and military attacks, stating that "an initial air campaign would probably last up to several weeks and would require vigilance for years to come."

So what does all this have to do with Obama? Well, the OpEd was written by Chuck Robb and Dan Coats and used, as the basis of their argument, a new report authored by war-mongering ideologues from the Bipartisan Policy Center - apparently attacking another Middle Eastern nation is something politicians of all stripes can agree on. Rob and Coats were also advised by an eleven member panel which included - here's the important part - Barack Obama's Middle East advisor Dennis Ross. Ross, an AIPAC loyalist and supporter of the invasion of Iraq, has had a profound influence on Obama's foreign policy (he co-authored the candidate's infamous AIPAC speech back in June) and has, more recently, been traveling around Florida, shul by shul, to promote Obama to worried Zionists. Speaking with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz in October, Ross, who co-founded the AIPAC-sponsored Washington Institute for Near East Policy and is currently the chairman of a new Jerusalem-based think tank, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute which is funded and founded by the Jewish Agency, reassured tentative readers with these comforting words:
Preventing Iran from going nuclear is a very high priority for him [Obama], not only because it's such a threat to Israel, but because it's such a threat to the United States.

On the question of Israel, I talk about what I saw during his trip to Israel, how I saw his understanding of the relationship with Israel - he would describe it as a commitment of the head and heart. He looks at Israel and sees us as being two countries with common values [subjugation of a native population, land theft, occupation, segregation, disenfranchisement, and extrajudicial killings? - LB]. But he also looks at Israel and sees that whatever threatens Israel also happens to threaten the United States. So we have a [common] interest, because we end up facing the same threats.
If Barack Obama is such a transformative figure, such a beacon of hope and change, why is he getting foreign policy advice from a hawkish Zionist who has held prominent roles in the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton administrations? Ross, along with such visionaries as Alan Keyes, Scooter Libby, and Paul Wolfowitz, helped define and carry out Reagan's foreign policy goals. This is not some silly attempt to link Obama with nefarious cronies whom the media dubs dangerous - no, no, this is a real connection, an advisor to the campaign and someone who will very likely hold a high-level position in the Obama administration. If this is the kind of person Barack Obama is getting his information and advice from, then what are we really in for over the next four years? By the same token, why would cross-party endorsements from the likes of Christopher Buckley and Christopher Hitchens, let alone one from Colin Powell, whose egregious lies did much to strengthen support for the illegal US invasion of Iraq, be tauted as a positive by Obama's campaign? To me, these connections are far more dubious than William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, and Rashid Khalidi, three people who strive passionately for social justice.

Astoundingly, or perhaps obviously, I would support Barack Obama if what his detractors were saying about him were actually true; that is, if he were an Arab-sympathizer, Palestinian rights-activist, UN-loving, peacenik socialist, diplomacy-whore citizen of the world, with close ties to the Weather Underground and the Electronic Intifada, whose election foretells the "death of Israel" (politically, not violently) and the end of American hegemony. But he's not. Not even close. He's a left-leaning centrist, at best, with many neo-liberal economic, imperialist and exceptionalist ideals. He's an all-star panderer who has no qualms about abandoning long-time friends at the behest of a rabid media and opposition propaganda.

Even running-mate Joe Biden has been clear that a President Obama wouldn't be some peace-seeking, progressive pansy, going so far as anticipating a new 9/11, "an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy" within the first six months of his inauguration. "I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate," Biden continued, mentioning Russia and Middle Eastern countries as possible culprits. "We're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right.” Alexander Cockburn of Counterpunch wonders, "What exactly is Biden hinting at in that last sentence? From the context of that whole paragraph it’s clear enough to me he’s suggesting that despite hopes that post-Bush/Cheney America might backpeddle from hasty military confrontations, President Obama will stand tall and lose no time in going eyeball to eyeball with those who would test his resolve....So don’t write off that attack on Iran quite yet. On Iran Obama is more hawkish than McCain; on Afghanistan and Pakistan too."

Also, let's not forget that Obama was quoted as telling Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he is eager to meet with Iranian diplomats in order to lay down the law and issue ultimatums. "If after that, they still show no willingness to change their nuclear policy, then any action against them would be legitimate," Obama said.


Joe The Plumber vs. Barack The President

So far, the strongest argument for voting for Obama on Tuesday has been seeing video clips of McCain/Palin faithfuls, frothing at mouth in their support of the Keating Five war criminal and the moose-killing Creationist, spewing ignorance and racism with every word. Yes, there is a clear distinction between the two major party candidates; one is worse than the other. One of these two guys will win the election. One of these guys will be the next president of the United States. But does that mean I can't rather one of these guys win and vote against both of them?

Then again, is it disingenuous for me to sit on the edge of my seat, watching the returns with bated breath and begging the people of this country to bestow the world with an Obama victory, without having cast a vote for him that day?

But wait, what's more disingenuous: Voting for someone I agree with most (if not all) of the time, who opposes the worst in this troubled nation of ours, or voting for someone whom I disagree with much of the time and who does not represent substantive change for this nation, but is merely a "better" choice than the worst this country has to offer, embodied in both John McCain and Sarah Palin? Look, I want to be surprised. I want to be wrong about what I fear will happen. I hope all my friends are right about Obama and that things in this country and the world will change (for the better). Maybe the best I can hope for is to be convinced by four years of potentially better leadership that I should vote for Obama's reelection in 2012.

I once wrote, "I just want to be able to go to sleep knowing that I did not support someone whom I don't support." So what should I do? Vote for the symbol? Vote for what I actually believe in? Maybe I should take a cue from Frederick Douglass, who wrote,
I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.
Thanks Mr. Douglass, I think I know what to do.