In 1964 Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson for President. The Democratic Party put together an ad featuring a cute little blond girl in a meadow, plucking the petals from a daisy as she counts them. When she reaches the last petal, the bomb countdown begins and the camera moves into her eye, blacking out the screen. Lyndon Johnson says from the void, “we must either love each other or—we must die.” The voiceover urges, “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”
The ad ran only once, but I saw it. And I believed it. I was 21 and it was my first opportunity to vote. At the time, I was a volunteer in the Civil Rights Movement in Durham, North Carolina. The ad, and the rhetoric around Barry Goldwater, so disturbed me, I walked the precincts of Durham, registering African American voters, who presumably would never vote for a man like Barry Goldwater.
As you certainly know, Johnson won.
A pyrrhic victory. He escalated the Vietnam war beyond anything previously imagined, ignoring the increasing numbers of Americans who took to the streets in protest. Apart from the paranoia that spawned the “domino theory” of geopolitics, in which one Communist nation pollutes all around it, I’ve never quite figured out that war. Was it merely an opportunity for Dow Chemical to clean up on selling the government napalm?
In the 1980s, as military spending boomed, numerous stories of waste in weapon buying surfaced in the media. The Project on Military Procurement, as the Project On Government Oversight was then known, along with others, brought to light $7,600 coffee makers, $435 hammers, and $640 toilet seats billed by unscrupulous defense contractors. The cases were disturbing because they implied that if such prices were being paid for simple items whose prices citizens understood, the total overcharging for complex weapons as a whole was enormous.
Bill Moyers writes, “Some 59,000 Americans died fighting in Vietnam, and more than 1 million Vietnamese.” http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/11202009/profile.html
That was the toll. Political PR hacks concluded that the thousands of coffins featured in and on the news, as they were off-loaded, inspired the anti-war movement. Dubya’s administration took the hint and banned reporters from the body dump sites.
In 1992 Bill Clinton ran for President. I wasn’t convinced that he was any better than the bunch of pro-business hacks who coveted the office and have generally monopolized it. Yet a key issue at the time was Roe v. Wade and the fact that the courts were filling up with anti-choice judges. So I voted for Clinton.
Clinton didn’t disappoint on two levels: He did support Roe v. Wade vigorously and he was a pro-business, anti-poor President. He inspired envy among the Repugs because he managed to demolish welfare, something they had longed to do.
In 1996 Bill Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Inventive to Work legislation that imposed stringent limits on welfare and forced the poor to work for business at jobs subsidized by the Federal government. In effect, this was a transfer of social program money to big business, an entitlement program for the truly entitled.
One irony of our two parties is this: Democrats run as pro-working class and defenders of the poor but have managed to eliminate and water down programs and protections for the defenseless, while Repugs claim to be tough on spending although they spend with the high-living insouciance of a teen with his first credit card. Repugs also pretend an interest in keeping government out of the family, while passing intrusive legislation, such as the mandated second-rape laws spreading throughout the nation (the vaginally inserted sonar probe).
When we were preparing to move to Chicago from Toronto, my husband advised me to stop reading about local politics because the corruption, he said, would drive me nuts. Recently, someone mentioned a former Illinois governor, noting he was the only prior Illinois public official “not making license plates.” The filth in the political system here spawned Rod Blagojevich, a man who saw nothing wrong with peddling Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat for cash.
[In March 2012] Chicago was named the most corrupt city in America according to a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs.
The report cites federal data showing that, between 1976 and 2010, there were 1,531 convictions for public corruption in "the federal district dominated by Chicago," according to the Associated Press.
What does all this have to do with my not supporting Barack Obama? Fellow progressives criticize me for backing out of the fight against Neanderthals who long to turn the clock back to the time when women couldn’t vote and a man had to adhere to the “rule of thumb,” that is, he could beat his wife only with a rod measuring no more in circumference than his thumb. Well, here’s something written about Obama during his 2008 campaign for President:
Obama's Chicago background has enabled him to appeal to many divergent groups, from poor African-Americans to white businessmen, working-class folks, middle-class professionals, wheeler-dealers, mainstream reporters, teachers, suburban parents, professors, and college students. "I'm not surprised he has the skills to appeal to these different constituencies. That's what he learned in Chicago," says a Republican strategist with admiration. Jerry Kellman, who hired him as a community organizer 20 years ago, agrees. "I don't think he would have ended up where he is if he hadn't come to Chicago," says Kellman. "It's where he got an incredible education in real politics. His idealism became tempered with realism and practicality very quickly."
During his two decades of community and political involvement, he climbed the ladder of political success, with only one notable setback, often by adjusting his views and his methods to the needs of the moment. In the process, he learned to play hardball as practiced by local leaders and mentors such as former Mayors Harold Washington and Daley; activists such as Axelrod and Emanuel; religious leaders such as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his controversial former pastor; and local wheeler-dealers such as Tony Rezko, who raised money for his political career and helped him acquire property in a controversial land deal.
My point isn’t that Obama is “corrupt”—my point is that the President is a politician, first and foremost. He knows how to grind down those who get in his way and he knows how to manipulate things in order to “get his way.”
But what does his record as President show us? Did he fight for anything of substance during his four years—or did he further the work begun by Ronald Regan and amplified under George W. Bush, the work of dismantling the all-too-flaccid restraints on rampant greed, dismantling protections extended to the American people by our Constitution, and ramping up America’s “warrior” killings of children in the Middle East?
I will not vote for Barack Obama. Next week I’ll further explain the reasons.