Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 19, 2008

Obama, McCain and the VFW

Filed under: Obama,parliamentary cretinism,racism — louisproyect @ 7:25 pm

John McCain’s speech to the VFW convention and Barack Obama’s response encapsulate the differences between the two parties. The Republicans go for the jugular and the Democrats are only too happy to unbutton their shirt collar. This has been a feature of American presidential politics going back to the 1970s and will probably continue into the future until the Democratic Party finally goes the way of the Whigs into the scrapheap of American electoral politics.

The most quoted section of McCain’s speech has raised all sorts of alarms in the liberal establishment:

With less than three months to go before the election, a lot of people are still trying to square Senator Obama’s varying positions on the surge in Iraq. First, he opposed the surge and confidently predicted that it would fail. Then he tried to prevent funding for the troops who carried out the surge. Not content to merely predict failure in Iraq, my opponent tried to legislate failure. This was back when supporting America’s efforts in Iraq entailed serious political risk. It was a clarifying moment. It was a moment when political self-interest and the national interest parted ways. For my part, with so much in the balance, it was an easy call. As I said at the time, I would rather lose an election than lose a war.

Thanks to the courage and sacrifice of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines and to brave Iraqi fighters the surge has succeeded. And yet Senator Obama still cannot quite bring himself to admit his own failure in judgment. Nor has he been willing to heed the guidance of General Petraeus, or to listen to our troops on the ground when they say — as they have said to me on my trips to Iraq: “Let us win, just let us win.” Instead, Senator Obama commits the greater error of insisting that even in hindsight, he would oppose the surge. Even in retrospect, he would choose the path of retreat and failure for America over the path of success and victory. In short, both candidates in this election pledge to end this war and bring our troops home. The great difference is that I intend to win it first.

You’ll note that McCain gives no quarter. He says that Obama “tried to prevent funding”-in other words he wanted to send men and women into battle with nothing but butter knives and peashooters. This kind of traitor seeks to “legislate failure” and “lose a war”. He would choose the path of retreat and failure for America.” If you want a precedent for this kind of inflammatory rhetoric, see the following:

The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because our only powerful potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores . . . but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this Nation. It has not been the less fortunate, or members of minority groups who have been traitorous to this Nation, but rather those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest Nation on earth has had to offer . . . the finest homes, the finest college education and the finest jobs in government we can give.

Speech of Joseph McCarthy, Wheeling, West Virginia, February 9, 1950

When you turn to Obama’s rebuttal, the first thing you notice is the air of deference to McCain even though the man’s spittle is dripping from his face: “Yesterday, Senator McCain came before you. He is a man who has served this nation honorably…” He also makes sure to blow a kiss to a couple of other war-makers: “Let me once again praise General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker – they are outstanding Americans.” Instead of demanding that McCain apologize for calling him a traitor, Obama says: “That is John McCain’s prerogative. He can run that kind of campaign, and – frankly – that’s how political campaigns have been run in recent years.”

To establish his national security bona fides, Obama reminds us that he is more hawkish than McCain on Afghanistan:

For years, I have called for more resources and more troops to finish the fight in Afghanistan. With his overwhelming focus on Iraq, Senator McCain argued that we could just “muddle through” in Afghanistan, and only came around to supporting my call for more troops last month. Now, we need a policy of “more for more” – more from America and our NATO allies, and more from the Afghan government.

He is also no slouch when it comes to Pakistan:

We must also recognize that we cannot succeed in Afghanistan or secure America as long as there is a terrorist safe-haven in northwest Pakistan. A year ago, I said that we must take action against bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights and Pakistan cannot or will not act. Senator McCain criticized me and claimed that I was for “bombing our ally.” So for all of his talk about following Osama bin Laden to the Gates of Hell, Senator McCain refused to join my call to take out bin Laden across the Afghan border. Instead, he spent years backing a dictator in Pakistan who failed to serve the interests of his own people.

The last time I heard this kind of attempt of a Democrat to “out-hawk” a Republican was back when every Democrat nominee’s favorite president was running for office, as presidential historian Michael Beschloss wrote in the N.Y Times:

No candidate risked more by shilling for votes than John F. Kennedy, who in 1960 sowed the seeds of two of the gravest crises of his Presidency. Casting about for an issue that would break his dead heat against Richard Nixon, he demanded that the United States use ”fighters for freedom” to overthrow Fidel Castro. (He jocularly told an aide that there was no harm in castigating the Republicans for Cuba: ”They never told us how they would have saved China.”)

When Kennedy won one of the closest races in history, he was helped by those who expected him to be tougher than Nixon on Castro. This added to the pressure on the newly elected President to approve the C.I.A.’s plans to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, yielding the greatest failure and embarrassment of Kennedy’s career.

And just to make sure that everybody understands that he is no traitor, Obama concludes his toothless rebuttal by draping himself in the stars and stripes. It really gets nauseating at this point:

Let me be clear: I will let no one question my love of this country. I love America, so do you, and so does John McCain. When I look out at this audience, I see people of different political views. You are Democrats and Republicans and Independents. But you all served together, and fought together, and bled together under the same proud flag. You did not serve a Red America or a Blue America – you served the United States of America…

I still remember the day that we laid my grandfather to rest. In a cemetery lined with the graves of Americans who have sacrificed for our country, we heard the solemn notes of Taps and the crack of guns fired in salute; we watched as a folded flag was handed to my grandmother and my grandfather was laid to rest. It was a nation’s final act of service and gratitude to Stanley Dunham – an America that stood by my grandfather when he took off the uniform, and never left his side.

This is what we owe our troops and our veterans. Because in every note of Taps and in every folded flag, we hear and see an unwavering belief in the idea of America. The idea that no matter where you come from, or what you look like, or who your parents are, this is a place where anything is possible; where anyone can make it; where we look out for each other, and take care of each other; where we rise and fall as one nation – as one people. It’s an idea that’s worth fighting for – an idea for which so many Americans have given that last full measure of devotion. Now it falls to us to advance that idea just as so many generations have before.

The real question is why the Democrats refuse to go for the jugular in the same way that the Republicans do. Why do they fight with one hand tied behind their back or look like one of the patsy opponents of the Harlem Globetrotters, like the New Jersey Generals, etc.?

At the risk of sounding like an unrepentant Marxist, I think that the answer has a class dimension. McCain appeals to an electorate that has unified class interests. From the oil company barons to the small town, white and Christian Babbitt shopkeepers and insurance company executives, they know what they want and how to get it. The goal is to reduce taxes and government expenditures and any means must be adopted to secure it-including racism and traitor-baiting.

The Democrats are forced to satisfy competing class sectors. Obama must keep Wall Street happy as well as the working person who still votes Democrat because there is no alternative yet capable of winning office.

The day will come when the workers find that their class interests cannot be advanced by backing the Democrats and the consequences of that realization will condemn the Democrats to the same fate as the Whigs. With the battle between capitalist and wage slave shaping up to be the same kind of conflict that revolutionized American society in the 1860s, we need as many wage abolitionists today as we had slavery abolitionists back then. That is the highest calling in 2008, to rise to the occasion of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.


  1. I agree with almost everything… until your final paragraph. Would that it were so. But it isn’t. Just as the cow is blind to its fate up to when the lettuce, tomato and cheese is added to the bun, so too the American worker is content to be led to the feed lots with their flatscreen TVs and handy snacks. They will not analyze their class interests because they don’t know they have any, and if they should ever abandon the Democratic Party, it will be to join the Republicans.

    Comment by Richard Greener — August 19, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

  2. The average worker who is not class conscious knows something is going on but is not quite sure where to place blame. Ron Paul and Alex Jones have misguided them into ultra-nationalism. They know the war in Iraq is lost. They know Bush fumbled the economy. The problem is that many of these Ron Paulites are blaming “illegal” immigrants just as they did in fascist Germany. I agree with your analysis comparing American society of today to the 1860s. In my opinion, we need more Walt Whitmans and Ralph Waldo Emersons as well as more Frederick Douglasses. Thanks for posting a picture of Obama in this post rather than McSame.

    Comment by dougsmiley — August 20, 2008 @ 1:38 am

  3. At the risk of sounding like an unrepentant Althusserian, your analysis does leave out a certain amount of ideological content.

    McCain can deliver such spiels with solid confidence, because he has a coherent ideology, based on ruling-class interests, which enables him to persuade himself that his cause is just and that up is down, black white and ignorance strength.

    Obama, as far as I can see, has no ideology with which to challenge this. He simply stumbles along in the wake of the ruling class, handicapped because he cannot be seen to be totally subservient to them in public, but incapable of opposing them because he has no alternative conceptual framework.

    The American working class is unlikely to be attracted to someone who plainly does not know what he is doing. On the other hand, of course, McCain knows what he is doing, and it is despicable and disgusting. But that didn’t stop British workers from turning out for Thatcher.

    Comment by MFB — August 20, 2008 @ 6:16 am

  4. Dear Louis
    Great blog
    Keep on this good work.
    Hugs from Bioterra (environmental blog debate- english version available)

    Comment by João Soares — August 20, 2008 @ 1:25 pm

  5. Not that it’s any great loss, but if Obama continues to tail McCain, he’ll lose. I think it’s also interesting that none of his supporters have picked up on the fact that if he were really a grassroots candidate, his people would be all over the neighborhoods, consolidating their holds on the precinct committee people through community discussions at every level. That ain’t happening.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — August 20, 2008 @ 4:18 pm

  6. I’m dubious of the view that Democrats are wimps because of their need to “satisfy competing class sectors.” During the Roosevelt and Truman years, the Democrats had no problem denouncing Republicans and strongly articulating differences. I’m not sure _why_ things have changed (possibly the collapse of the New Deal coalition, end of post-WWII prosperity, etc., etc.) But whatever the “underlying causes,” the ideological consequences are of great importance. Many Democratic politicians simply do not strongly believe in their politics in the way that many Republicans do. There are alot of Republican officeholders, candidates and party activists who believe that the Democrats are evil and are the enemy.. The Democrats, for the most part, view the Republican Party as a competing brand.

    During the 2000 Florida recount, the Republicans were ready to do anything to get hold of the White House. The Democrats were tentative and often half-hearted. The Democrats’ integument is burst asunder.

    Comment by Alan — August 20, 2008 @ 6:16 pm

  7. Democrats in the period Alan refers to were Keynesians who believed in the public sector, and saw it as a safeguard for capitalism. Democrats in our own day buy into market theory and the idea that the market will correct itself if left alone. They are milder Friedmanites, but essentially with the same class loyalties as the Reaganites. Louis’ assessment holds true.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — August 20, 2008 @ 8:11 pm

  8. How would you define “the jugular”? What would that even look like?

    As for the class dimension, there are plenty of backward workers who vote Republican, so I don’t buy the GOP-as-petty-and-big-bourgeois-party analysis of why their ideology seems more coherent. The Republican message of cutting taxes sounds great to many workers who are losing 1/4-1/3 of an increasingly small check to the big bad government. Of course the government is wasting that money killing our soldiers and the peoples of the world, but that’s another post for another time.

    Talk of defeatism and “stabbing our boys in the back” has long been red meat for the Right – just ask Hitler. As a right-wing vet who was tortured by people pretending to be communists, that kind of talk comes from McCain’s heart.

    Obama could hit McCain hard and still be just as pro-capitalist ideologically. It’s not like the media coverage really even focuses on issues, much less ideology.

    Comment by Binh — August 22, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

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