14, Number 17
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Unifying the opposition
Now well into the smash and grab phase of late term generalized corruption, the PRD government has emphasized the point that the ruling party needs to spend at least a few years in the political wilderness with its so-called "security decrees" that created the SENIS secret police and militarized the nation's law enforcement agencies.
The need for a change in leadership in no way negates the fact that there are some honest and capable people in both the PRD and the Torrijos administration. Nor should this need blind us to the sordid realities of the opposition, which along with the PRD are part of a discredited political class.
Since its inception the Democratic Revolutionary Party has never won a majority in any national election. It stole the 1984 election, it was crushed and attempted to nullify the 1989 election, it won in 1994 with one-third of the vote in a seven-way race, it lost a three-way race in 1999 and won in 2004 with 47 percent plurality after the terribly failed Moscoso administration. Because of the present high inflation, high crime and pervasive sleaze the PRD will surely lose in 2009 if it's a two-way race.
The problem is that there are three opposition presidential candidates and the two main ones, supermarket baron Ricardo Martinelli and liquor fortune scion Juan Carlos Varela are fairly evenly matched if we are to believe the polls. Each of these candidates is calling for the other to step down, while the third opposition candidate, Guillermo Endara, says he's in the race until the end but is quietly talking about alliances. Martinelli and Varela, too, are starting to float proposals for an opposition unification process --- and of course rejecting each other's suggestions.
Martinelli's idea of a "poll of polls" is something like what's going to happen in the end, but it's premature. Varela's inter-party primary idea is a non-starter if only because the PRD runs the Electoral Tribunal without much pretense of impartiality and could be expected to manipulate such a process to the PRD's advantage.
Forget more primaries, and give the pollsters a rest. Let's have a series of face-to-face debates among the opposition presidential candidates. Does Martinelli question Varela's patriotism, and does Varela question Martinelli's integrity, over the different positions they took on the canal expansion referendum? Well let's have that argument in depth for the Panamanian people to see and hear. Does Varela denigrate Martinelli's service in the Pérez Balladares and Moscoso administrations, and Martinelli dismiss Varela's lack of experience in any public office? Let's get a better take on each candidate's qualifications by what they say in debates. Let's get beyond the lame slogans and talk about programs, preferences and philosophies.
After a series of debates over two or three months, opposition voters will have a better idea of who's the strongest challenger to the PRD, and that will be reflected in all of the serious polls. Then the parties can negotiate their alliances, based on the realities of who has a chance to win and who does not.
The American people are going to make their choices for president based on their partisan preferences and their perceptions of the relative qualities of Barack Obama and John McCain. The polls have often shown the race between McCain and Obama to be close and on Election Day it may be close but it will probably be nothing like the very close race in 2004 and the even closer 2000 voting. Vice presidential nominees may add or subtract a point or two in the polls, but in themselves are unlikely to be decisive. They are, however, important indicators of the presidential nominees' philosophies and judgment.
The Democratic primaries and caucuses generated huge turnouts, both for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and despite how bitter and bruising the battle for the nomination got at times, those big turnouts will provide a big boost for Democrats in November.
There were all sorts of factors, but it's safe to say that three constituencies, somewhat overlapping, were the core of Obama's successful effort to secure the nomination: African-American voters, the antiwar movement and well-educated people who are alarmed with many critical aspects of the nation's solvency.
Despite his early support for the Iraq invasion, Joe Biden doesn't deeply offend any of these core Obama constituencies. The Iraq vote antiwar folks will tolerate because the senator has realized the error and if given the power would correct it to the extent that such a fiasco can be fixed. Were one to view things through the prism of identity politics, Biden is himself a highly educated man and top expert in his field who views the course on which the United States is headed with great concern. That he comes from a blue collar family and still maintains his old friendships, and that he's Catholic, might be factors with which some voters identify.
There are two good reasons why Democrats feel comfortable with Biden. First, in this year of a clamor for change, Biden is the skeptical realist who pointed out the obstacles during his brief campaign. He didn't argue against change, he argued against easy promises. One suspects that in an altered political paradigm he would actually be a quite effective agent of many of the changes that America needs. Second, his campaign failed because it didn't generate the resources to succeed --- he didn't inspire multitudes of the unrich to contribute like Obama did, nor, more importantly, did major corporate special interests come around to stuff his campaign with cash. If the Democrats win this time, it would be the first time in a long time that the oil industry wouldn't have "their man" in the White House. Biden has been a senator from a small state for more than half of his life and with the power of incumbency he comes to the national ticket with none of the political encumbrances that would force him to be an agent of the status quo.
Like Obama, Biden is a cautious man and if the Democrats win these two men will only be as progressive as the public pressure allows them to be. After the failures and frustrations of the past eight years, an administration that's not frozen into supporting untenable policies that the current administration can't or won't change, led by talented men who are not about to do rash things, is about the best thing for which the American people can reasonably hope.
To move beyond that there's a need to elect a Congress with more and better Democrats, and especially for organized labor, environmentalists, human rights groups and other progressive forces to keep up the clamor for change after the elections. And Americans do need to move beyond the current realm of what's possible in order to repair a domestic economy, an international economic order, US relations with the rest of the world and the US Armed Forces, all of which are broken down.
On the Republican side, John McCain had to move to the right to get the nomination and still many of the reactionary constituencies in his party came out of the primary and caucus season unconvinced. With an anti-Republican tide that doesn't necessarily show in the day to day polls, he needed to use his vice presidential choice to unite his party to have any chance at all in November. In so doing, he also had to pick someone who's not a symbol of policies that have turned many centrist voters against the GOP.
Were McCain to have chosen Mike Huckabee it would have helped a bit in the south but would have been a bad national choice because most Americans are tired of and somewhat afraid of religious zealots. Had he chosen Mitt Romney he would have chained himself to a symbol of a corporate elite that's not well liked in these difficult economic times. Forget about any neo-conservative, or anyone identified with the Bush administration.
So he chose an unknown, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, who would appeal to the religious right of which she is a part and to the gun lobby. The problem is, the Internet puts voters on Alaska's northern slope in contact with their fellow citizens at Antarctic research stations in a split second. An unknown doesn't stay that way for very long.
That Palin favors a state constitutional amendment to strip homosexual state employees of the same benefits that their straight colleagues enjoy may win the Republican ticket some votes here and there, lose them some elsewhere and end up with a net gain. Her opposition to sex education in the schools, birth control and abortion probably lose more votes than they win, as do her support for teaching creationism in public school science classes and her opposition to stem cell research. And then, since so much was made about the controversial opinions of the reverend at the Chicago church that Barack Obama used to attend, the exceptionally wild opinions of Mrs. Palin's reverend are going to be examined in some detail. The bit about how those who didn't vote for George W. Bush are bound for Hell is only one of the tamer preachings. McCain got himself a religious fanatic to solidify the base, but it's not going to help him with moderate voters.
And will hunters flock to the McCain / Palin ticket? Some will. But others will think Palin's support for legalizing the "sport" of shooting bears and wolves from helicopters is an ugly extreme.
The question raised by some bloggers about whether Palin is mother of five or mother of four and grandmother of one was answered not directly by, for example, producing a birth certificate, but by the Republican campaign's announcement that Palin's teenage daughter is pregnant. It really isn't anybody's business outside the Palin family's, and the vice presidential nominee should not have made it a public issue by emphasizing her family as a qualification to be first in line of succession to the presidency. And it is sad that some teenagers have been cast into a spotlight not of their choosing.
What's really sad, however, is that all of the stories about the Palin family have detracted from the central problem of the governor's candidacy: the woman has a history of abusing power and was nominated despite being the target of an ongoing legislative investigation about her firing of the state police chief because he refused to fire the governor's ex-brother-in-law. Petty political firings while she was a small town mayor, her use of $400,000 in state funds to promote aerial shooting of bears and wolves after Alaska voters had twice turned it down and her misrepresentation of the stands she took on the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" project are all further indications that the misconduct being investigated by the Alaska legislature was not an isolated anomaly.
The combination of a bad economy and an unpopular war are usually enough to sink the chances of the party that holds the White House. However, those are not the main things that have so many Americans opining that George W. Bush has been the worst US president ever. The worst problem with the Bush administration is its very long train of abuse of power, from torture and war crimes descending steadily through the firings of GOP appointee US attorneys who hesitated to use their offices to persecute Democrats on down to the merely petty. And the problem with Sarah Palin is that her presence on the McCain ticket is a promise of more such abuses.
If I have learnt anything, it is that life forms no logical patterns. It is haphazard and full of beauties which I try to catch as they fly by, for who knows whether any of them will ever return?
She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president? Look at what she's done to this state. What would she do to the nation?
State Senator Lyda Green (R - Wasilla)
President of the Alaska State Senate
about Sarah Palin's qualifications
Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder.
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2008 by Eric Jackson
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or
phone: (507) 6-632-6343