Friday, July 4, 2008


If Electorate’s Sleepy Eye is Pleased—He’s In. If Not, McCain’s In.Voters Have Decided McCain is Reliable, No Extremist: It’s Obama’s to Lose.

Latest column in The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly.

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—John McCain is running a considerably lackluster, underfinanced campaign which makes a lot of gaffes--but Republicans should take heart.

The 2008 election for president is not going to be about McCain. It’ll be exclusively about Barack Obama.

It will hinge on how well the 46-year-old survives the scrutiny that comes understandably to a candidate who came up from nowhere. His story is essentially the political version of the 1967 Academy Award-winning Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? the first saga of interracial courtship to reach the screen. In that film, Sidney Poitier became betrothed to the daughter of a prominent white family in a 10-day whirlwind courtship and comes to their mansion to meet her family.

So idealistically perfect did screenwriter William Rose draw the portrait of Poitier, playing a young African physician…spectacularly bright graduate from a top medical school (read: Harvard)…who launched innovative medical improvements to a poverty-stricken African nation…who, get this, refuses to engage in a physical romance with his fiancée despite her willingness…and who leaves money on his future father-in-law’s desk to pay for a long-distance phone call he made…that the only objection that could be entertained against him by the white family would be his race. That was exactly Director Stanley Kramer’s intention for a film that earned eight academy award nominations and two Oscars (Best Actor in a Leading Role; Best Actor in a Supporting Role; Best Actress in a Supporting Role; Best Art Direction; Best Director; Best Film Editing, Best Music; and Best Picture along with two Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Writing, Best Story and Screenplay).

The Sidney Poitier image is essentially the portrait, largely unscathed, that has emerged thus far of Barack Obama. He is still the same bright, tall, slender attractive young man of mixed black and white race I interviewed on ABC-Chicago radio before he became an international superstar celebrity and whom I saw instinctively in 1997 as a future prime Democratic candidate for national office. Let’s understand: the Sleepy Eye of the electorate has already focused twice on Obama and has received unfavorable vibes before falling back asleep. Once it saw the idiotic anti-whitey ranting of his minister of 20 years, Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Obama’s weaseling about it, first defending him and then when nothing else worked, throwing the old man under the bus. Second it fluttered open to catch Michelle Obama, in a role of Goddess of Grievance, say she has just now at age 44 become proud of her country with Obama failing to contradict her. But neither of those impressions were conclusive nor did they bear on Obama the potential president. The Poitier image endures—for now.

Again, voters will make their electoral decision not on Obama vs. McCain but on Obama. If they feel he is a profligate high taxer, a bumbler on national security or if he makes a terrible gaffe in the debates this fall, they will go to McCain--not because he is ideal but because they will regard him as a safe choice, not an extremist but as someone they have known for a long time. McCain is loaded with disadvantages. He looks older than he is at 72, takes much of the weekends off, can’t keep up with Obama in fund-raising, is a guerrilla fighter who has found himself in charge of an army but who doesn’t run it very well. He is impetuous, a jump-starter, not a planner. But all of this means very little since he is going nowhere on his own but will only be elected if and when the electorate becomes convinced that Obama is too young, too inexperienced for the task. Thus McCain can do very little to influence the outcome. The election is Obama’s to lose.

If this is true, and I devoutly think it is, who is around to cut Obama down to size? Don’t count on the mainstream media to do the job. They are too obsessed with hating George W. Bush and too emotionally involved in the Sidney Poitier romance brought to the silver screen in sequel as a political adventure.

McCain can’t allow himself to become a personal campaign battering ram against Obama. Today’s style of campaigning does not lend itself to that. A presidential candidate who goes personally sharply negative is largely a no-no. The denunciatory act of saying the first black candidate for president is an emperor with no clothes will have to be done by (1) 527s, the joker provision in the McCain-Feingold act that allows for independent TV expenditures not tied in any way to presidential campaigns which produced “Swift Boats” in 2004 decimating John Kerry and almost single-handedly returning Bush to power…(2) conservative bloggers, the same ones who torpedoed Dan Rather out of the water by unveiling his and CBS’s scurrilous attack on Bush’s National Guard enlistment, details of which were fraudulently produced…(3) TV cable news and (4) talk radio.

The way the media are set up now in this country, these four are a formidable phalanx. The old powerful liberal big-city newspapers are fast losing circulation, broadcast TV news is hemorrhaging viewers (average viewing age is 50 compared to the national population average of 37); cable TV outlets which don’t hammer out conservative themes run far below FOX in watchers; and liberals have been frustratingly unable to mount a progressive talk radio personality equal to Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved or Michael Savage.

Now this is not to say that conservatives have the upper hand: not at all. Liberal bloggers are excellent with The Daily Kos and mega-multimillionaire ex-conservative-turned-liberal-Democrat Arianna Huffington’s daily Huffington Post.. The odds are now almost nonexistent for McCain winning despite the prattling of the networks that the two are within the margin of error in national polls. They are--but national pairings in polls mean nothing since presidents are elected by state electoral votes.

The significant figure is this. The best election prognosticator in the business, ex-Bush aide Karl Rove, now working for FOX has Obama leading in states with 269 electoral votes—one less than needed for election and McCain at 191. Chicago’s David Axelrod tells me Obama’s people are close to having picked his running mate and are ironing out final details on key cabinet posts. But what it means is that the election is all but lost to Obama but still not yet over—the way it was in 1936 when the Republicans nominated Alf Landon against FDR.

To Defeat Obama What’s Needed?

Answer: nothing McCain has stressed to-date. Americans, weary with Bush, the Iraq War, the fulsome rout in employment, oil, the dollar and stocks, don’t care a whit about whether Obama was really born in Kenya rather than Hawaii as conservative bloggers aver (his mother was an American citizen and the Constitution would defend his right to run for president no matter what the INS has said). They don’t care what kind of rascality his old minister is engaged in or what demagoguery Fr. Michael Pfleger alleges against whitey or the fact that Michelle Obama is ungrateful to her country. They don’t care that he doesn’t wear a lapel flag pin or place his hand on his heart when they play the national anthem. They don’t listen to the stuff—true as it is--that Obama is a crypto Marxist in philosophy or a follower of Critical Legal Studies. In truth, American voters care about themselves at this critical juncture.

What would they listen to and what would cause that Sleepy Eye of the electorate to open and having opened stay awake for a few seconds longer than it has heretofore? National security for one; higher taxes for another. The fact that studies show that armed with a heavy, very heavy, Democratic majority in Congress the plans are set—as he himself advocates—for a 60% tax bracket for upper-income Americans. You think Joe Sixpack is worried about the well-being of those richer than he? Well he isn’t but is smart enough to know…against all liberal class warfare hustling…that nobody’s ever been hired by a poor man—and that by penalizing the rich, the jobs for the middle would continue to fall off with increased velocity.

Obama and the Democrats would end the Bush tax cuts on the rich, which would hike their top bracket to 40%. He’d slap FICA taxes to all income, not just the earnings under $100,000 as it is now. Thus you add 40% plus FICA’s 12.5 plus Medicare’s 2% plus the state and local taxes coming on top of it (here in Democratic Cook county and Chicago under the Democrats they are coming at us like a freight train out of control careening down the tracks). So after deduction ranging from 5 to 6% and you get a 60% bracket.

Further he’d

o double the dividend tax, socking the elderly coupon-clippers who depend on fixed incomes, in addition to which he’d

o cover 12 million illegal immigrants with expanded federal health insurance which threaten to escalate costs and promote eventual

federal rationing of healthcare where the elderly sick would not

be allowed certain medical procedures if the government decides

they’re excessive.

Trust me, these starkly higher taxes and their results are the things that count in the coming election to narrow the odds to McCain. Still, dwarfing higher taxes is national security, the fear that when and if danger strikes at home, Obama will not be tough enough to defend us.

McCain can harp effectively on Obama’s high tax plans but there’s nothing he can do to contrast himself with Obama anent a future terrorist strike. Only “events, my dear boy, events” can. Remember Harold Macmillan’s warning to the overconfident that sure-thing elections can change by “events, my dear boy, events.” McCain railing that he would be better as president than Obama in event of attack or near attack would be counterproductive. If a threat comes as an October surprise, it cannot be seen as McCain’s doing. Still, the lingering thought of another 9/11 is one of McCain’s few hidden assets. But to show you how inept the McCain staff is, his “senior counselor” K street lobbyist Charlie Black blurted to Fortune magazine that a terrorist attack just might help, adding credence to the growing belief that Black is a close contender for the Jack Abramoff 2008 award for ineptitude or early senility.

Summary: Barring a terrorist strike that could elect McCain, the one other thing that could do the trick is Obama’s huge proposed tax hikes—if capitalized on shrewdly.

Obama’s Favorite Vice.

It appears likely…at this stage anyhow…that Barack Obama’s vice presidential pick will be Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) whom everyone, including most Republicans secretly, agree would be the ideal compatriot for the Illinoisan, admirably filling in the gaps in Obama’s very slender resume although assuredly Webb has as short a fuse as McCain and is just as angrily unpredictable. . Webb, 62, is a multitalented individual, a gifted novelist, decisive administrator and Marine holder of the Navy Cross, Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. He has a spectacular military record for heroism in Vietnam. He’s a loose cannon, yes as witness his tirade the other day against McCain using his military credentials in the campaign. What? No one played up military experiences in novels, TV documentaries and politics more than Webb. But count this dumb comment as proof Webb really wants the vice presidency.

He’s a non-Catholic, is of northern Ireland, Scotch-Irish descent, listing himself as a generic Protestant, is pro-choice but quiet about it and was Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the navy. His citation for the Navy Cross says that in 1969 as a platoon commander “while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory he discovered a well camouflaged bunker complex that appeared to be unoccupied.” He advanced to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. “Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers.” Advancing to the second bunker, he called for the enemy to surrender, then hearing nothing lobbed a grenade into it, killing two of the enemy. Heedless of other possible enemy soldiers in the tunnel, he explored it and obtained “numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data.” He went to the third bunker where the enemy tossed a grenade at him.

Now comes the edifying part. “Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his Marine companion…Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker.” He became the first U.S. Naval Academy graduate to serve as secretary of the navy. A Republican then, he worked to rehabilitate the Marines when they were thrown into disarray with the Clayton Longtree espionage affair where Longtree became the first Marine convicted of spying for the USSR,, racial infighting and Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North’s (Webb’s old boxing sparring partner at Annapolis who gave Webb a bloody nose ) main role in the Iran Contra affair. Webb resigned in anger from the post when Reagan sought to reduce the size of the Navy in contradistinction to Webb’s drive to increase it to 600 ships, Reagan commenting in his diary sourly that “I don’t think the Navy was sorry to see him go.”

In private life, Webb became a best-selling novelist, exhibiting a fine literary style, beginning with a book that dealt with the Vietnam war (Fields of Fire) but bad for a later politician, filled with graphic descriptions of sexual content and female anatomy and attacks on homosexuality. He wrote several other best-sellers including A Sense of Honor, Something to Die For and Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. Branching out he was executive producer of the 2000 film Rules of Engagement starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. His script for Whiskey River was bought at a handsome fee by Warner Brothers and is currently in production.

Earlier, Webb who’s been married three times with his latest wife a Vietnamese, came to the impolitic conclusion that women had no place in the military and announced it to the world in an indiscreet Op Ed article he wrote for the Washington Post titled “Women Can’t Fight.” The article provoked an explosion in feminist circles that taught Webb they indeed can and he has since apologized. Still, Webb’s maverick status is interesting and where vice presidents are supposed to be dull, shock therapy for the same-old, same-old boring liberal Democrats—ideal as a match for an Obama candidacy.

Starting out as a conservative Democrat from southern Virginia to a family where gun ownership was important, he got a law degree from Georgetown where as an ex-GI he became incensed with elitism of upper-crust snobs who looked down on “the blue collar kids, the red-necks, the and bowling alley kings” with which he identified himself. He became an author before he entered public life, converted to the Republicans to serve Reagan, fought with Reagan, endorsed George H. W. Bush, then George W. Bush in 2000 but split from him on the Iraq War saying it was a blunder. He defeated Virginia senator George Allen who was first in line for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

After election in 2006 at the White House reception, Webb declined to have his picture taken with President Bush whom he criticized in the campaign. When Bush asked “how’s your boy?” about his Marine son serving in Iraq and who had a close brush with death, the hot-tempered Webb replied loud enough for the press to hear: “I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President!” Bush flared back: “That’s not what I asked you. How’s your boy?” Webb: “That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President!” That was only the first example of the unorthodox—whom critics say on occasion is an emotionally unstable--lawmaker. In March, 2007 his aide was arrested for carrying Webb’s loaded pistol into the Russell Senate Office building.

Never far from controversy, Webb’s writings have often gotten him into trouble. His November, 2006 Op Ed in The Wall Street Journal condemned “certain immigrant groups” that surpass “stock that has been here for 200 years that haven’t gotten to the top because they simply don’t possess the necessary attributes” which columnist James Glassman insinuated was anti-Semitic. Webb’s anger is directed not only at liberal elites but Big Business. Of wealthy CEOs he writes in his new book A Time to Fight “did they invent the light bulb? Did they discover the Internet?” Still those are the exact qualities that counterbalance the Obama of the Harvard faculty lounge set.

Were he to be paired with the Illinoisan, the ticket would have an angry populist hero of the “hillbilly whites” (his term) with the latent power to woo Sam’s Club conservatives, a natural pairing for the laid-back Obama, the darling of those who Stand Tall in Georgetown. But as this is being written, wine and brie elitists around Obama are arguing against Webb. For his own good, the candidate shouldn’t listen to them.

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