It is not just what he doesn’t know, or can’t meaningfully talk about, that is troublesome to me. It is also what he does talk about, and claims to know. Obama’s acceptance speech boldly challenged McCain’s fitness to command. “You don’t defeat,” he declared, “you don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in 80 countries by occupying Iraq. You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice, but that is not the change that America needs.” But Obama offered no vision of what he would propose to do. How do you defeat a terrorist network that operates in 80 countries? How do you protect Israel and deter Iran? How do you stand up for Georgia? All Obama could offer was the following: “We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe.”
Obama needs to be careful here. He is no FDR, and he is no JFK. Both of those men were tested in times of war and peace in a way Obama can never lay claim to. What we get from Obama’s sophomoric pronouncement of “leadership” is, sadly, simply more tough talk, with no strategy: “As commander in chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.” This raises the questions of what circumstances a President Obama might deem worthy of the sacrifice of American troops, and to what lengths a President Obama would go to ensure that all other options had been exhausted before committing our nation, and our troops, to war.
The more I listened to Obama, the more I realized that on the major issues of war and peace, there was in fact very little that separated him from the Republicans he opposes. Both have sold out American sovereignty in the name of Israeli security (or more important, Likud-inspired, AIPAC-driven policies falsely sold as being in the best interest of the Israeli people). Both assume Iranian nefarious intent, and point an accusatory finger at “Russian aggression” without reflecting on the cause-and-effect reality of irresponsible American foreign policy (the expansion of NATO, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, and the installation on Polish and Czech soil of a ballistic missile defense shield claimed to be for the Iranian threat, but optimized for missiles launched from within Russia). Even on the issue of the “surge,” McCain’s great weakness, Obama has flipped, stating that the “surge” in Iraq has succeeded “beyond our wildest dreams.” The senator from Arizona could not have said it better himself. Doesn’t Obama realize that if he embraces the “surge,” he legitimizes the war in Iraq and as such positions McCain as the candidate of choice, since certainly America would want to go with the architect of the “surge,” and not some untested “Johnny come lately” who simply hangs on the coattails of another’s success? When Obama sells himself as the candidate of change, what change is he talking about?
While pondering such thoughts, I encountered none other than Ralph Nader, who was happy to point out the inherent contradictions that plague the Obama candidacy. I met Nader in the setting of a quiet, upscale suburban neighborhood on the outskirts of Minneapolis, where he and his running mate, the San Francisco-based lawyer and social activist Matt Gonzalez, were meeting with supporters and raising funds for their campaign. I had never met Nader in person before this evening, and must claim that while I was aware of his important role as a consumer advocate, I knew him best as the man who cost Al Gore the presidency. I myself have often spoken out in frustration at the role played by the Green Party in weakening the Democratic Party during national elections. But the importance of the role played by Ralph Nader is best explained by Nader himself. A colleague of mine had asked Nader why he kept running for the presidency, instead of trying to get into Congress where he could perhaps more effectively pursue his advocacy. “Because this isn’t about the power of one,” Nader replied, “but empowering all. The issues I am advocating for cannot be trivialized by pretending that a single vote in Congress will make a difference. These are national issues, and they require a national stage.” Both Nader and Gonzalez spoke about the importance of a third party in America today, at a time when there was no real difference between the Republicans and the Democrats on so many key issues, especially (but not limited to) foreign policy and national defense. I wasn’t sold when I went to the Nader for President gathering, but the need for genuine choice for the American people was driven home that night, not only by what Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez said, but also by the overall political setting in which it was said.
There is no greater illustration of the Democrat-Republican political melding than Joe Lieberman. Sen. Lieberman, the one-time “liberal Democrat” from Connecticut who once stood as the running mate of Al Gore, delivered a rancor-filled speech at the Republican National Convention in which he spoke in support of his “good friend” John McCain, and belittled Barack Obama, barely four years removed from the 2004 Democratic National Convention in which Obama made his national debut under the approving eyes of Joe Lieberman himself. Lieberman’s speech came almost two years to the day that Obama personally campaigned on behalf of Lieberman in a hotly contested Senate race against the anti-war Connecticut Democrat Ned Lamont. Lamont went on to win the Democratic primary, only to lose the general election to the newly re-minted “Independent” Joe Lieberman, whose platform looked more Republican than his Republican opponent’s when it came to the issue of the Iraq war. Obama was among the Democratic senators who bent over backward to welcome Lieberman into the Democratic Senate Caucus, enabling them to maintain their slim majority in the U.S. Senate. Lieberman is the personification of just how baseless American politics is today. While Republicans and Democrats might debate around the fringes, when it comes to the major issues of the day, both parties stand for virtually the same thing. The only difference is around which party will the power, and the money associated with such power, achieve orbit.