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RNC ’08: Pit Bulls On Parade
If you thought, in the wake of the nightmare of the Bush years, and the euphoria of the Democratic Convention, that the political pendulum in the USA was swinging to the "left"…
RNC ’08: Pit Bulls On Parade
by Alan Goodman
If you thought, in the wake of the nightmare of the Bush years, and the euphoria of the Democratic Convention, that the political pendulum in the USA was swinging to the “left”…
If you thought that the Bush regime was so widely and bitterly hated that a repackaged version couldn’t seriously contend for the presidency…
If you thought that the Christian fundamentalist theocrats were passé…
Then you got a shocking wake up call from the Republican National Convention.
As the RNC opened in St. Paul, it appeared in danger of being a dud, or even a fiasco. There was the awkward issue of a widely and deeply hated incumbent president whose name is synonymous with lies, endless war, and torture. Then there was Hurricane Gustav, threatening to remind the world of, and perhaps even provoke a rerun of, the hell that the people of New Orleans and the Gulf region were put through by the arrogant neglect of the government before and after Hurricane Katrina. On top of all this, the “Evangelical Community,” (read: fundamentalist Christian theocrats) were threatening to sit things out, unsatisfied with their role in a potential John McCain presidency.
But in a stunning turn-around, the Republicans came out at the RNC with big guns blasting. The sparkplug was the selection of Sarah Palin as the vice presidential candidate. But the whole event was a coordinated barrage of venomous attacks on liberals, crude pandering to and promotion of “resentment” of the white middle class, and calls for unquestioned support for endless war. And as a defining subtext, the convention marked the insertion of the Christian fascists much more deeply into the '08 election.
Christian Fascists Pick a V.P.
The run-up to the convention took a startling turn with the announcement that Sarah Palin would be McCain’s running mate. The announcement was a shocker because there had been no indication that Palin was being seriously considered by McCain. The New York Times wrote that “Ms. Palin had no strong advocates” among McCain’s advisors.
And there are other clear indications that McCain was not seriously considering Palin. She did not go through the kind of serious vetting process and investigation that all the other candidates on McCain’s list of possible running mates went through. The Washington Post reported that “Palin was not subjected to a lengthy in-person background interview with the head of Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential vetting team until last Wednesday in Arizona, the day before McCain asked her to be his running mate” (our emphasis). And McCain officials told the Washington Post that they were not even informed of the potential scandal involving Palin’s pregnant unmarried daughter until that last-second background interview, even though this is the kind of thing that would normally be revealed well in advance during the usual protracted vetting process for a vice presidential candidate.
In fact, McCain wanted Joseph Lieberman, his co-cheerleader for “staying the course” in Iraq, or former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge to be his vice presidential candidate. But the nominally pro-choice Lieberman and Ridge were deal-breakers for powerful forces of the Christian right. James Dobson (of Focus on the Family) announced before the convention that he “cannot and will not vote for Senator John McCain.” And, speaking after the Palin announcement, Dobson said that if McCain would have “come up with Lieberman or Tom Ridge or somebody like that, we’d be back in a hole again.”
Dobson and those he represents essentially made McCain an offer he couldn’t refuse. While all the channels are not clear, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Christianity Today that he had “recommended” Palin to McCain’s people. And after the announcement of Palin as the VP candidate, Dobson said in a radio interview, “If I went into the polling booth today, I would pull the lever for John McCain.” He added, “When I look at the choices that are ahead and what the implications are for this country, and now especially with this selection, with just an outstanding V.P. candidate as a running mate, I tell you what I am relieved and very excited.” (Dennis Prager show, 8/29/08)
And so, as it turned out, Senator “Maverick,” the guy who supposedly listens only to his independent set of values, had to bow down and take a vice presidential candidate he had not selected, and hardly knew, in order to feed the Christian fascists.
Palin herself is both a Christian fundamentalist and a product of the Christian fascist political machine. She aims to ban all abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. She believes in “young earth” creationism, a literalist reading of the Bible’s mythology of the history of the planet that claims the earth is thousands of years old in opposition to the scientific fact that it is billions of years old, and has argued that this theocratic dogma should be taught as an “alternative” in public school science classes. As mayor, she tried to ban books from the library and fire the librarian when she opposed that. In a video available at YouTube, Palin tells a youth group at an Alaska church that not only is the Iraq war “a task that is from God,” but even declared that a potential gas pipeline she wants built from Alaska to the lower 48 states is “God’s will.”
Coming on the heels of the pilgrimage by McCain and Barack Obama to Christian fundamentalist Rick Warren’s church for what was essentially the first debate between the two, the vetting and selection of the vice presidential candidate by religious fundamentalists—in a manner not that different from the way the Islamic theocrats in Iran approve political candidates—was a chilling exercise of, and strengthening of, the power of Christian theocrats in the United States. And the promotion of Palin to the status of “political superstar”—by the same media that the Republicans accuse of being biased against them(!)—alone amounts to a major advance for these fundamentalist fascists.
Giuliani and Palin’s One-Two Sucker Punch
While the insertion of Palin pumped energy into the RNC, the whole event was a synchronized and bellicose call for unquestioning loyalty to aggressive, endless war, to hyper-chauvinism, and for the social base of the Republicans, a call to prepare to tough out hard times. All accompanied by incessant bashing of Hollywood liberals, “the mainstream media,” and others who are served up to the angry middle class as scapegoats for their problems.
That message was delivered as a one-two punch from Rudoph Giuliani and Palin.
“Senator McCain was the candidate most associated with the surge,” declared Giuliani, who attacked the Democrats for having “given up on Iraq.” And, Giuliani continued, “ladies and gentlemen, when they gave up on Iraq, they had given up on America.”
Giuliani, who invokes 9/11 every time he speaks, lashed out at “the left-wing media” and the “Hollywood celebrities.” He skewered Obama for his “Ivy League education” (never mind that Bush went to Yale) and his background as a community organizer. And the former Mayor of New York City lashed out at those who think the small Alaska town that Sarah Palin came from “isn’t cosmopolitan enough.”
Palin saluted McCain as the man who “refused to break faith with those troops in Iraq who now have brought victory within sight.” And she derided Obama as someone who “can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word ‘victory,’ except when he’s talking about his own campaign.”
The angry “hockey mom,” the self-described “pit bull with lipstick,” also lashed out at the very idea that being a “community organizer” was a legitimate thing. She pandered to and promoted small-town narrow-mindedness, and resentment of any enlightened ideas: “[I]n small towns, we don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they’re listening and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening. No, we tend to prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.”
Both speeches had the smug, bullying tone of an episode of the O’Reilly Factor on Fox—lashing out at the “cosmopolitans,” the “Hollywood liberals,” those who are concerned about whether detainees get “read…their rights.”
When Adolf Hitler rallied the angry “volk”—the “common people” in Germany—against the “cosmopolitans”—(which in Germany, at that time, took extreme concentration in his attacks on the Jews)—it was called fascism.
What do you call it in the USA?
McCain’s Message of Sacrifice for Empire
While Palin and Giuliani provided the drama and dynamism at the RNC, McCain’s speech concentrated a key element of the Republicans' message. It might have appeared that the finale of McCain’s speech was simply one more self-serving installment of his endlessly invoked experience as a prisoner of war (McCain was shot down while flying high above Vietnam, part of an air war that contributed to killing millions of Vietnamese people in the Vietnam war). But there was a specific message here, concentrated in McCain’s self-described evolution from someone who “didn’t think there was a cause that was more important than me,” to someone who learned to “fight again for my country….” Someone who “fell in love with my country”—and, he pointedly added, “not just for the many comforts of life here.”
McCain’s speech was a call to rally around and fight for traditional American values, even through hard times, military challenges, and personal sacrifice. And it converged with the elevated role of the Christian fascists, who provide a coherent morality and organization for just such mobilization.
Bushism without Bush
Barack Obama has positioned himself as the candidate to “bring us together.” And there are ruling class voices arguing that Obama would be the best possible “face” on all the things that will have to be done in the service of American empire. As Revolution analyzed last week: “Obama would not rule in precisely the same way as McCain. That is not our point. What IS essential is that he would serve the same fundamental interests, and obey the same fundamental imperatives, as McCain. In line with that, Obama is also making the case to these rulers that his particular mix of aggression and negotiations, combined with his ability to ‘appeal to’ people internationally and pacify the political scene at home, would be more effective than that of McCain in serving those interests and imperatives.”
Obama and McCain do not differ over the basic direction of society. Nor do their differences arise in any fundamental way from competing “interest groups” that tend to be aligned with the Republicans or the Democrats. The sharply contending programs they are bringing forward both start from the overall interests of U.S. imperialism. They both agree on the terms set by the so-called “war on terror,” with all the terrible suffering and death that is bringing to the world. But the differences they do have represent contending forces and agendas within the ruling class over how to navigate through the minefield of contradictions confronting the U.S. rulers. Through the RNC, the Republicans, with their slogan “Country First,” put forward their solution to reforging national unity and charging forward globally in troubled times.
Bush himself was hardly mentioned and only spoke to the convention by video, where he himself promoted McCain as an “independent” agent of change. The fact that the RNC had to go to great lengths to distance the Republican Party and McCain (who, after all, are the dominant force in the “status quo” right now) from Bush reveals the sense among the ruling class of how deep and wide is the anger at Bush and the sharpness of the challenges they face in the period ahead.
In the face of real centrifugal pulls tearing U.S. society apart, and real global challenges to the U.S. empire, the message from the RNC was an unapologetic appeal to traditional “small-town” American values—ignorant arrogance, intolerance, hyperpatriotism, and old time religion. The Republicans maneuvered to trump Obama’s calls for “change” with their own version of “change”: a reactionary populist rebellion against the “elite,” the “Washington insiders,” and the “mainstream media,” led by a supposed maverick senator and a crusading, anti-insider hockey mom from Alaska. Representative Marsha Blackburn pretty much summed it up when she told the crowd, “We are the gun totin’, God fearin,’ flag wavin’ Americans who are excited to see two crack shots on the ticket with the status quo in their sights.”
This message from the RNC was ominous. It was a call to the faithful to rally behind, and be ready to sacrifice for, the USA in its global wars for empire. It whipped up a section of society to support domestic repression and tough out and blame people with less for economic hard times already here and down the road. And the undertones and overtones in all this represented a continuation of the outlook of the Bushites: that they represent the only legitimate path for this country, and that any opposition to what they are doing, and how they are doing it—even from other ruling class forces who share their basic outlook but differ on approaches—is unacceptable and illegitimate.
The RNC presented a message of Bushism without Bush. Still here was the openly aggressive, “go it alone” if necessary foreign policy in service of empire; heavy on force, and at least publicly disdainful of diplomacy. And still here but ramped up, a promise of a powerful place at the White House table and throughout society for Christian fascists. What was new was the populist edge, foreshadowed by the Huckabee candidacy, and a call to “suck it up,” like McCain did in a Vietnamese prison, and put the country ahead of personal comforts.
In addition to what happened inside the convention, the extreme, fascistic repression against dissenters and the attacks on independent and even mainstream reporters unleashed in St. Paul in the period up to and outside the convention, were another dimension to the message from the RNC—the intolerance of opposition, dissent, or even uncomfortable questions (see "The RNC’S Outrageous Assault on Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, and Alternative Media...This is What Imperialist Democracy Looks Like" at revcom.us.
The Challenges Facing Them…and Us
A sober look at the RNC should be a wakeup call. But it should not be cause for passivity or despair, including in the form of adapting oneself to the “politics of the possible.” The so-called “alternative” posed by Obama is one of “conciliation” with these bloodthirsty, uber-chauvinistic, dark ages, self-proclaimed pit bulls (with or without lipstick), who are politely referred to by the mainstream media as the “neocons” and the “Christian right.” Obama’s calls to “bring us all together” are, in essence, calls for capitulation to the reactionary agenda that has been brought forward by Bush and revitalized and updated at the RNC.
Instead of accepting the “politics of the possible,” what is very urgently needed is a completely different polarization of society, based not on accommodation to or acceptance of the current terms of “acceptable debate,” but on the basis of bringing forward and fighting for the real needs and aims of the great majority of people in this country, and around the world. That is the standard by which every person of conscience should judge who and what they support, and by which they should judge their own actions. There is a great need, now, for political resistance that is not bound to, and is independent of, the terms of “choosing” between the fascistic agenda of the RNC and conciliation to that represented by Obama.
In tumultuous and politically charged times like this, people look for answers. Even if they enter into political life on the terms of one or another ruling class agenda, they can be open to radical solutions—solutions that get to the root of the problem. Through all the confusion and challenges of the election season, and through whatever path events take, Revolution newspaper will continue to expose those roots. And Revolution will connect people with Bob Avakian’s re-envisioning of communist revolution—a source of real hope and daring for all who refuse to accept the “choices” this system offers.
There are a million ways to hook up with, and contribute to this revolutionary movement, even as you check it out. Drop in at the Revolution Books location in your area, or write or email Revolution, c/o RCP Publications, Box 3486 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654, rcppubs [at] hotmail.com.