Republican Rebrand

Democrats did what they needed to do in Denver as the Clintons offered Barack Obama their full-throated endorsements and the delegates closed ranks and set their sights on putting the Obama-Biden ticket over the top.

No less an authority than the last president who balanced a budget and grew the economy—Bill Clinton—said Obama is the candidate who is best qualified to rebuild the American dream and restore America’s standing in the world.

The Dems also produced working people to testify about the damage Republican rule has done to them, including Lilly Ledbetter, the former supervisor at a Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Ala., whose $3 million jury award in a pay discrimination lawsuit was thrown out by Republicans on the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote last year because she didn’t find out about the glaring pay gap between her and male supervisors until years after it first occurred. Democrats in Congress tried to change how deadlines in equal pay cases are calculated but Sen. John McCain and his fellow Republicans blocked the bill in the Senate.

The best line of the convention belonged to Barney Smith, a former Republican who worked at an RCA plant in Marion, Ind., making TV tubes for 31 years, until 2004, when the jobs were moved overseas and he got 90 days’ severance pay. “America can’t afford more of the same,” he said. “We need a president who puts the Barney Smiths before the Smith Barneys.”

But Republicans also did what they needed to do in St. Paul, Minn., as McCain presented a running mate who not only could galvanize the social conservatives who had been lukewarm toward the Arizona senator, but also could get women to take another look at the GOP ticket.

McCain also reinvented himself as a change agent. Only he could clean up Washington, he argued, ignoring that he was part of the ruling party that caused the mess in the first place.

As Bill Clinton said, “on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American Dream and how to restore America’s leadership in the world, [McCain] still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years, a philosophy we never had a real chance to see in action until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and Congress. Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades were implemented. ... They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more.”

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was the hit of the Republican National Convention and her folksy speech undoubtedly pumped life into McCain’s campaign, but the selection also carries risks as she starts to look like Dick Cheney in a skirt. [See an introduction to her checkered career, page 10.]

Republicans also may have misfired when they mocked the work of community organizers. Rudy Giuliani set it up in his speech Sept. 3 with a line belittling Obama’s experience as a community organizer. Obama, fresh out of Columbia University, gave up a job with a New York business consultant in 1985 to move to Chicago for a $10,000-a-year job organizing people on the South Side who had lost their jobs when the local steel plants closed. Republican delegates laughed at the mention of Obama’s social work.

At first I wrote it off as Giuliani being a jackass. But next up Palin, the self-described “hockey mom,” aimed her own barb at the sort of people who are always passing a petition or showing up at City Hall with some grievance or other. “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities,” she said, to more laughter from the delegates.

Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, took the opportunity to clarify what community organizers do: “Community organizing is how ordinary people respond to out-of-touch politicians and their failed policies,” he said in an email to supporters the morning after the speech. “And it’s no surprise that, after eight years of George Bush, millions of people have found that by coming together in their local communities they can change the course of history. That promise is what our campaign has been about from the beginning.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who gives the lie to the National Journal’s ranking of Barack Obama as the most liberal senator, said in his weekly segment on Thom Hartmann’s Air America Radio show (Sept. 5) that Obama is not perfect but he added, “I am strongly supporting Obama and I am going to knock my brains out to see him elected.”

The fact that McCain is a decent guy and that he was a POW in Vietnam shouldn’t matter to voters, Sanders said. Obama also is a decent guy who in many ways embodies the American dream, Sanders said. But he noted, “This election is about who is going to bring forth policies which are going to save the middle class—who’s going to bring forth policies to stop the decline of our health care system and make sure all Americans have health coverage. This election is about whether or not we give huge tax breaks—hundreds of millions more in tax breaks to the very richest people in the country and driving up the national debt, which we’re going to leave to our kids and our grandchildren. This is an election about whether we bring our troops home from Iraq and start investing that $10 billion every single month in rebuilding our infrastructure and moving us away from fossil fuel.”

Sanders added, “Republicans are not concerned about public policy, as we have seen in the last eight years, but they are good at politics, and we’ve got to keep an eye on understanding what they’re trying to do and the wool they’re trying to pull over people’s eyes.”

(Hartmann’s show is always worthy, but his “Brunch with Bernie” segments from 11 a.m. to noon CT Fridays is must-listen at airamerica.com, if you don’t have a progressive talk radio station.)

On trade, Sanders noted that McCain believes in continuing Bush’s trade policies, which basically would open US markets to manufacturers from anywhere in the world. “The result is that we’ve lost millions of good paying jobs, wages are going down and we have a $700 billion trade deficit,” he said. He added that Obama’s “fair trade” stance is in favor of reviewing trade deals and enforcing health and labor standards—which doesn’t go far enough but is a lot better than the GOP position.

McCain also believes in privatizing Social Security, which would put seniors’ retirement income at the mercy of volatile stock markets. With modest changes that Obama proposes, such as lifting the ceiling on taxable income, any shortfalls can be avoided, Sanders noted. Instead, McCain is willing to consider cuts in benefits, raise the retirement age and privatize Social Security.

On health, where the United States pays twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care but 46 million are still uninsured—up 6 million since Bush took office—McCain wants to tax employer-paid health benefits to encourage workers to pay for their own insurance. Obama supports health reforms that would make insurance available to all Americans, including the self-employed and small businesses, with guaranteed eligibility, comprehensive benefits and subsidies for low-income families who do not qualify for Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance. People also would be able to move from job to job without jeopardizing their health coverage. Obama also has said he would consider a move toward single-payer health coverage over time.

If those issues weren’t enough, the right wing already has a working majority on most economic issues on the Supreme Court, with Anthony Kennedy providing the swing vote. John Paul Stevens is 88, Ruth Ginsburg is 75 and reportedly has had health problems. Progressives have a hard enough time getting good laws passed and signed without risking John McCain putting more mossbacks on the Supreme Court to strike good laws down. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2008

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