Saturday, September 27, 2008


I watched the presidential debate last night with dear friends; and in no time we were screaming at the television. The debate was a great outing for many of the nation's delusions, and its twisted priorities, in the never-ending war, to which the leaders in both parties sadly subscribe. We felt at times enraged by the agreed upon myths, with which both candidates bind us to the weapons makers, the imperial plunderers, and the whole sick notion of the Pentagon's Long War. For this reason the debate around foreign policy was difficult to listen to.

A few days before the debate, McCain announced that he was "suspending his campaign", and flying off to Washington to fight a rear-guard action against the Wall Street bailout. In the newsrooms there began some speculation about him fleeing the scene of the debate, pundits wondered if he was goofing about, or showboating, pulling some stunt; and drama was built up around the idea that McCain's behavior was unsteady. Obama might be expected to show up in Mississippi, and perhaps John McCain would be AWOL.

This was a set-up; and the McCain who has been consistently ridiculed for his senior moments, and the gaffes that have undeniably marred his campaign, showed up in full possession of his faculties. And while Obama handled him with kid gloves, McCain smirked throughout his opponent's comments, and almost continuously avoided looking at Obama.

McCain was well coached, it seems to me, and had made intensive preparation for the debate; while a diversion was presented to the Democratic side of an old man who was coming unglued and would arrive, less than prepared, to meet a statesmanlike Obama.

But this was not the worst of the debacle. Obama studiously avoided challenging the emotional appeals to those popular US myths surrounding our supposed enemies and the widening of the war. Our myth that portrays Iran as an existential threat was touched upon: this narrative that is agreed to by leaders of both parties. The lies about Iran. And the lie about the Russian-Georgian war,--just who the aggressor was,--got tossed like a softball by Obama, and McCain hit it out of the park.

McCain took over where Obama left off, and commanded the debate with a politically resonant (if wrongheaded) appeal to American fears about big, bad, resurgent Russia. McCain did more than appeal to the gut; he smirked dismissively at Obama, dissed him smartly, treated him like some pathetic well-meaning novice, untested by life, and too green to be president.

And it's true that Obama, like McCain, also lures us into the dangerous misconception that Georgia's president, the war criminal, Saakashvili, is a great guy and a paragon of the West's democratic values. So it goes that the republican lion shall lie down with the democratic lamb, declaring that Iran, a nation whose GDP is equivalent to Finland, is an existential threat to Europe, the United States, and nuclear-armed Israel.

There were news reports yesterday that the regular Pakistan army and American forces had exchanged small arms fire, along Pakistan's border.


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