Saturday, September 06, 2008
The Silly Season, Update I
In the middle of another idiotic presidential campaign -- idiotic largely due to the efforts of electronic media with too much time to sell to an incurious, slogan-addicted, and thrill-seeking public -- it's good to remember that the candidates really are smarter than they sound.
McCain's intelligence comes as something of a shock, what with all the "drill here, drill now" idiocy we've been hearing from him lately. And it's true that he's a bullet-headed little fascist who's never seen a military intervention he didn't like. But McCain actually knows stuff about peak oil and global warming, and even more surprising, he knows what policies would be effective remedies.
Writing in the New Yorker last month, Elizabeth Kolbert describes how McCain in 2003 "broke with the Bush Administration and co-introduced legislation to reduce carbon emissions, by, in effect, imposing a price on them. That same year, over strong White House opposition, he brought the bill to the Senate floor. (It was defeated, by a vote of fifty-five to forty-three.) In an interview with this magazine, he said that he regarded the opposition to his proposal, largely from members of his own party, as a scandal. 'I think it’s a dramatic example of the influence of special interests here in the Congress,' he said. 'It’s a combination of the utilities and the coal companies and automobile manufacturers—an unholy alliance of special interests that have made it a top priority to prevent any action being taken.' He went on to say that he wasn’t sure the American political system was up to dealing with the challenge of climate change. 'How much damage will have been done before we act?' he asked."
However, McCain is obviously more than willing to make accommodation with the very powers he condemned in the Kolbert interview, so the fact that he's smarter than he looks or sounds is cold comfort.
Obama's is a more complex case, because Obama is a more complex person than McCain. McCain is smart, but Obama is very deep, which is revealed by a close reading of his autobiography. Plus, Obama hasn't been going out of his way to sound dumb as McCain has, but he's definitely been hiding his light under a bushel.
That's what led him to throw out a sop to the Iranophobes and warheads who want to go after Putin in his acceptance speech. "I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan," Obama promised that night, then inexplicably added, "I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression."
He said this knowing full well that a military establishment as lavishly funded as ours is hardly needs rebuilding, and that we're not going to do anything about Russia's reassertion of its authority in the old Soviet Empire except complain about it. And most glaringly of all, I'm certain he's aware that Iran is not about to obtain a nuclear weapon because it has no nuclear weapons development program and hasn't had one, according to our own intelligence services, since 2003.
But that's history we've forgotten since the story broke a year ago. The mass media have forgotten, and the candidates of both parties pretend to have forgotten, and an incurious and frivolous public have forgotten that Iran doesn't have the capacity to make a bomb. The political system needs Iran to be a threat, and "who controls the past controls the present," as Mr. Orwell observed.
In his autobiography, Barack Obama reveals that he understands as well as anyone and better than most the uses and abuses of that history which has been thrown down the memory hole. When he was very young, Obama spent three years in Indonesia, shortly after the Indonesian military, in collusion with and encouraged by the CIA and the U.S. government, overthrew the Sukarno government. The coup was accompanied by one of the major bloodbaths of the last century.
Jon Schwarz at his blog "A Tiny Revolution" has read these portions of Obama's memoir and comments "...all in all, this is the kind of thing would-be presidents of the United States don't talk about. Thus, it's truly surprising that in his book Obama both (1) provides the history honestly, and (2) discusses how societies forget this kind of thing on purpose, and describes how this is a basic, terrifying aspect of power. According to Obama, 'history could be swallowed up so completely, the same way the rich and loamy earth could soak up the rivers of blood.'"
The teen-ager never forgot the inside story his mother told him, a story she had learned through her association with American diplomatic and intelligence personnel through her job at the American Embassy.
Word was that the CIA had played a part in the coup, although nobody knew for sure. More certain was the fact that after the coup the military had swept the countryside for supposed Communist sympathizers. The death toll was anybody’s guess: a few hundred thousand, maybe; half a million. Even the smart guys at the Agency had lost count.
Innuendo, half-whispered asides; that’s how she found out that we had arrived in Djakarta less than a year after one of the more brutal and swift campaigns of suppression in modern times. The idea frightened her, the notion that history could be swallowed up so completely, the same way the rich and loamy earth could soak up the rivers of blood that had once coursed through the streets; the way people could continue about their business beneath giant posters of the new president as if nothing had happened, a nation busy developing itself.
This is very heady stuff to read, especially right at this time, when this 21st-century nation of ours is busy undeveloping itself, falling apart at the seams. Obama understands this too, I'm sure, but he's not letting on how much he knows. Sometimes I wonder just how much truth he thinks we can handle.