Sunday, October 5, 2008

Not So Fast?

I once heard Arundati Roy say that when she wants to know what is truly going on in America she turns to people like Noam Chomsky. Whether you agree with his politics or not, the following excerpt (and prediction) from a recent interview with Alternet, is both scary and insightful:

My assumption all along is that McCain will probably win. Now that he has picked Sarah Palin as his vice president, I think those probabilities have increased, for reasons that are understood by party managers and have been expressed very well by McCain's campaign manager. He said the election is not about issues, it is about character and personality, and so on. Meaning, it is not a serious election. That is the way U.S. elections are run. Issues are marginalized. They don't talk about them and the media coverage is about Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons or Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter.

It was reported today that Obama will respond to McCain's announced new aggressiveness with "political jiu jitsu," that is, by going after McCain as undependable in a crisis as shown by his choice of attack over leadership. While such tactics strike me as effective both in trial and in politics, Chomsky believes the Republicans still have an advantage:

...These elections are run by the public relations industry. The intellectual community goes along. Issues are marginalized. The focus is on personalities, on Jeremiah Wright's sermons, Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter, or whatever it may be. In that terrain, the Republicans have a big advantage. They also have a formidable slander and vilification machine which has yet to go into full operation.
They can appeal to latent racism, as they are already doing. They can construct a class issue. Obama is the elite Harvard liberal; McCain is the down to earth ordinary American, and it so happens that he is one of the richest people in the Senate. Same thing they pulled for Bush. You have to vote for Bush because he is the kind of guy you would like to meet in a bar and have a beer with.

While I don't share Chomsky's skepticism that, at least in this election, personalities will trump issues enough to win, his point about the "two factions of the business party" seems more appropriate in the wake of the bailout, I mean "rescue."

These are games run by the public relations industry, which is a huge industry. It spends enormous resources manipulating attitudes and opinions. They design and control elections so that public in effect is marginalized. They keep away from issues for a very good reason. We know a lot about American public opinion. It is a very heavily polled country, mainly because business wants to keep its finger on the public pulse. So there is a ton of information, valid information. On a host of major issues, domestic and international, both political parties are well to the right of the population. So therefore, you don't want to talk about issues, not if you want to keep the business parties in power. Further, the population is aware of this, but the press won't publish it; 80 percent of the population says the country is run by a few big interests, looking out for themselves, not the benefit of the people, By about 3 to one, people object to the fact that issues are not at the center of the campaigns. They want issues to be discussed, not personalities. Party managers know that, but they won't go along with it; it is too dangerous. They have got to make sure that the two factions of the business party, Republicans and Democrats, stay in power.

Obviously there are enormous differences between these "two factions" that are at stake in this election. The biggest, in my view, lies in the areas of Supreme Court appointments, as we will be rid of either Obama or McCain in less than a decade but dealing with their appointed Justices for generations.

But Chomsky's descriptions ring true and thus worry me about whether a man who has shown an inability to manage a campaign or choose a running mate will end up winning despite these errors. In fact, two articles which were not widely reported over the last week worry me even more. They both concern whether an "October Surprise" is coming soon.

First, Robert Baer, a former CIA Agent and the inspiration for George Clooney's character in Syriana asks, in this article, "Are we going to have an October surprise, an attack on Iran by either the Bush administration or by Israel to stop the regime from becoming a nuclear power?" answering that:

It could happen - and alter the dynamics of the presidential race in the blink of an eye - but only if Israel pulls the trigger. Don't expect the United States to drop bombs anytime soon. The reason: Iran has us over a barrel.
According to Britain's Guardian newspaper, Bush earlier this year nixed an Israeli plan to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Reportedly, the President said no because we couldn't afford Iranian retaliation against our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan or Iran closing down Persian Gulf shipping. Nonetheless, cynical speculation is now swirling in some quarters that with the financial collapse working against McCain - and Bush's legacy coming into focus - the President might reconsider. Could that tail really wag the dog?

Second, former "terrorism czar" Richard Clarke
asks "Why Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda Might Try to Affect the Election Between Barack Obama and John McCain."

What would be the purpose of any attempted manipulation of the U.S. election? It could just be to use the election to magnify the media coverage of their terrorist activities, make al Qaeda look even more capable than it is, and remind everyone they are still around. Such a media-amplified attack might help them with recruitment and fundraising. Even more likely is the possibility that al Qaeda would hope the attack would benefit John McCain. Opinion polls, which, as noted above, al Qaeda reads closely, suggest that an attack would help McCain. Polls in Europe and the Middle East also suggest an overwhelming popular support there for Barack Obama. Al Qaeda would not like it if there were a popular American president again.

I have no idea whether Chomsky is correct about McCain or whether Baer and Clarke are correct to anticipate either a U.S. approved Israeli attack on Iran or an Al Queda attack on the U.S., but I know this guy's analysis is always spot on: "It ain't over 'til it's over."

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