As with the first presidential debate, the reaction of the putatively liberal wing of our corporate media system to the second debate was by far the most instructive about the full extent of America’s political degeneracy. On this occasion, the commentators felt they had much to celebrate, after the President turned in a more robust performance. Laurence O’ Donnell was grinning like a Cheshire cat. George Stephanopoulos’s enthusiasm reminded us all of his former career in the Clinton White House. But perhaps the most extreme of the President’s fanboys was Andrew Sullivan, a columnist for The Daily Beast, whose expressions of joy and relief to Chris Matthews bordered on the orgasmic. His savior had returned from the wilderness of Denver, and we were all free to Hope again. Meanwhile, over on the other side of the imaginary political ocean, George Will declared the debate “immeasurably the best” he had ever seen. In the opinion of this website, however, last night’s “debate” was a grotesquerie, a sordid affair worthy of celebration only by the oligarchs who profit so handsomely from their stranglehold on the permitted range of political discussion.
The Debate We’re Not Allowed to Have
To borrow one of George Carlin’s many apercus, We The People are being presented with the illusion of choice. We may choose from 187 different types of toxic treats at Dunkin’ Donuts, but we may only choose from two presidential candidates. Those of us who have surveyed our provisional ballots – perhaps the last that the aging, lonesome Democrat, Emogene Stegall, will ever mail out as Lake County’s Supervisor of Elections – may have noticed that there are, in fact, quite a few other candidates for United States President on the general election ballot. Where were they last night? Uninvited and, in the case of Green Party candidate Jill Stein and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, handcuffed to chairs in a warehouse after being arrested by Nassau County police for daring to protest their exclusion from last night’s farce. While the Koch brothers are free to spend as many millions as they like backing the best candidate money can buy, a Harvard-educated physician with intelligent policies – who has qualified for 85% of the ballots across the country – is accorded only slightly more freedom than the hapless girls of Pussy Riot in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
To her great credit, Amy Goodman and her team at DemocracyNow.org re-ran last night’s debate, including Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson (running on the Justice ticket), and Virgil Goode (Constitution Party), allowing them each to respond to the same questions that were posed to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Larry King has decided to follow suit, and will moderate a debate in Chicago next week [Update 10/31/12: watch it here] with Stein, Anderson, Goode, and the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson. Of course, this would have been a lot more meaningful if King were broadcasting the event on the network he left two years ago. Stein and Anderson present policy ideas that are genuinely progressive – the kind of ideas that the Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives has absolutely no chance of enacting as long as they follow their false prophet. If these ideas received the airing they deserved, and if enough voters would understand how they are dooming the country to perpetual oligarchy by voting for what appears to be the lesser evil, remarkable things could happen.
Good grief! We have just indulged in a brief moment of optimism. What were we thinking?
Approved for Our Consumption
In our previous post, we stated that Barack Obama could not respond effectively to Mitt Romney because he is not a progressive. To the conventional media mind, last night’s performance might have appeared to be quite an effective response. To be sure, it was effective in improving Barack Obama’s chances of being elected. With the help of his professional consultants and the fire of personal ambition that burns within, Obama said what he had to say, in the way he had to say it, to keep the job he thinks he deserves. But from the standpoint of fighting back against corporate oligarchy and bringing real change, Obama’s performance was a sick joke.
Energy: Plenty of Heat, No Light
In fairness to MSNBC, a couple of their employees were quick to observe a great failure in last night’s debate. After Ezra Klein noted that, once upon a time, high gas prices had been regarded by both parties as a potential signal to the market to move away from fossil fuels, Chris Hayes (whose intelligence frequently seems to be tolerated but not particularly welcomed) added this verdict, impressive whether it was fully extemporaneous or rehearsed:
Having an energy conversation without talking about climate is like talking about smoking and not talking about cancer. You can’t talk about it unless you talk about what the stakes are for the climate. And we’ve now gone through two debates; it’s unlikely we’ll see it in the third. Everything that’s been put on the table – when you talk about whether gas prices should be higher or lower, when you start to talk about who is the more pro-coal candidate – who is the more pro-coal candidate is who is going to most hastily speed our headlong flight of disaster towards a climate future in which we have not higher gas prices, [but] higher temperatures. And the thing that’s so frustrating is, the future farmers of America who will see their livelihoods destroyed are not voting in this election. The people who live in inland coasts that will see their habitats destroyed are not voting in this election. The people who are working in coal companies now are voting in this election. I understand what their livelihood means to them, but there’s a fundamental asymmetry right now between the people that [sic] are voting and the future people who aren’t. And we talk about that all the time in terms of the deficit, but we don’t talk about it in climate, and it’s going to come back to bite us.
Indeed it is, but by then the masters of our universe will have built themselves floating island fortresses or colonized Mars, leaving Mother Nature to watch all her children die.
As the two candidates bickered about who could exploit federal lands the most – reinforcing the assumption that federal lands exist solely for the purpose of exploitation by profit-taking private companies rather than, say, safeguarding watersheds, aquifers, or (hah!) natural habitats – Barack Obama said not one word about the environmental reasons for blocking the Keystone XL pipeline. Apart from the risks of spillage and the fragile lands that will be damaged by construction, the Canadian tar sands that are delivering this black gold come with a high price, particularly in fresh water usage and contamination. But since that price is outside the market as well as outside the country, nobody gives a damn. Meanwhile, as Mitt Romney sought to blame the President for high gas prices, neither man had the intellectual honesty to explain the role of speculation or of America’s incessant saber-rattling in the Middle East. History students of the future, studying this exchange in the way that one might read the Lincoln-Douglas debates (which were, we realize, for the Senate), will find little of real value here to illuminate the workings of the world we live in today or the threats that hang over its head.
Taxing Our Patience, Again
While Mitt Romney placed a small scrap of flesh on the frightening Halloween skeleton of His Plan, and the President scored some easy points by mocking this “sketchy deal,” there was an element of hypocrisy on Obama’s part that should not be allowed to pass unnoticed. The president has no business complaining about Mitt Romney’s own favorite tax break – the preferential treatment of capital gains – when he isn’t going to do anything about it. While the President’s tax plan, dead on arrival in the lunatic asylum more commonly known as the House of Representatives, does propose increases in the top rate of income tax on ordinary income and would subject qualified dividends to that same rate, the special treatment of long-term capital gains remains largely untouched, with a gentle bump from 15% to 20%. And the President’s history shows clearly that many of his original positions usually end up falling victim to Republican hostage-taking, with a level of intentionality that one can only wonder about.
The salient point here, as we have discussed in great detail elsewhere, is that the owners of America can sleep safely no matter which alpha male occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Either way, their after-tax fortunes will continue to leave the much-ballyhooed middle class far, far behind. Barack Obama was careful, as always, not to cite any of the alarming statistics that illustrate just how wide this gulf has become. Innocuous, non-specific phrases like “the people at the top have done well” don’t quite carry the same impact as saying that 93% of the growth that occurred in 2010, as the economy started to recover from the collapse of the house of cards, went to the top 1%. Mitt Romney has opened that door by complaining about the drop in median incomes – a trend that accompanies income inequality – but Obama steadfastly refuses to walk through. Indeed, he was careful to reassure the people on the other side of that door that he believes in rewarding initiative, and even agreed with Romney – channeling the obvious and disgusting obeisance of Michele Bachmann in the Republican primary soap opera – that corporate tax rates are too high. Liberals who are used to reading Mitt Romney’s racist code words need to become more familiar with Obama’s code, too. It’s not terribly hard to crack.
A Terrible Act
Rachel Maddow seemed to think that Mitt Romney suffered a devastating blow when debate moderator Candy Crowley refuted his assertion that the President had not referred to the recent Libya attack as an “act of terror” with sufficient alacrity. It seems likely that Mitt faces an Eastwoodian prospect in the final debate on foreign policy: he will either be seen as the “empty chair” made famous by Clint Eastwood’s absurd convention cameo, or the thought flashing between his opponent’s big ears will be, “Do you feel lucky, Mitt?” But as far as this debate was concerned, this exchange reflected terribly poorly on both men, for it was an argument about who possessed the most presidential manners, not who had the wisest foreign policy. And what could be more emblematic of our descent into imperial decadence than an in-house squabble over proprieties? The lives of non-Americans, and the way in which their people mourn them, are utterly irrelevant. The fact that America and her ever-cooperative poodles deliberately assisted a bloody rebellion against Libya’s former dictator because he was no longer compliant enough for the oil companies was even less relevant. The world is ours to do with as we please. If we want oil, we take it. If a few Americans die in that process, they are national heroes; the president will puff out his chest in pride when he greets their coffins. If a few hundred, or a few thousand, “others” die in that process, who cares?
Just as with the unmentioned climate disaster, our imperial arrogance will also come back to bite us. That process has already begun, but don’t expect to learn much about it, or anything else we’re not supposed to talk about, in the final episode of this epic trilogy.