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Barack Obama: The Latest in a Line of Cowboy Presidents?

Saturday, November 8, 2008
In an interesting choice of headwear, President-elect Barack Obama, who, in speaking a great deal about bringing change to our country, has tapped into the hope many Americans have for a Democratic wresting of power away from a president who has been caricaturized as a gunslinging Yosemite Sam-style cowboy, is seen in the photograph to the left wearing the style of chapeau most often associated with his cartoonish predecessor:


Of course, the cowboy hat is an American institution and Mr. Obama can be seen as merely the latest in a long line of American presidents who have chosen to don the iconic staple of Western wear:


George W. Bush:


Bill Clinton:


George H. W. Bush:


Ronald Reagan:


Lyndon Johnson:


Theodore Roosevelt:

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Howard Zinn Will Vote For Nader After All

Sunday, November 2, 2008
After having added his name to the list of leftists intending to vote for Barack Obama out of anti-Republican sentiment, Howard Zinn has written a letter to Ralph Nader in which the historian admits that he "was wrong in saying that he would vote for Obama" and promises the consumer advocate that he "will vote for [Nader]." Admittedly, Zinn seems to imply that, were Massachusetts not a "slam-dunk state" for the Democrats, he would have cast his vote for Barack Obama on Tuesday.

At the heart of this story is something I have been discouraged by, namely the tendency of self-described liberals to vote for Barack Obama less out of a genuine enthusiasm for the man (though, undeniably, the Illinois senator does seem to elicit the sort of fervor one might expect of tweens attending an N'Sync concert from decidedly un-tweeny people) than out of a hatred for George W. Bush and the GOP.

The argument, of course, is that Barack Obama is better than the Republican alternative.

Thus, when I tell people that I intend to cast my vote for a third party candidate, I am greeted with the same sanctimonious refrain I hear every four years: "you're throwing your vote away."

And I hate that sort of bullshit. It's presumptuous to assume that I would want to give my vote to either of the major party candidates if I did not have a third party candidate for whom I felt any preference.

When the pro-Obama pragmatists fail to convince me with their case -- you wouldn't want another Republican in office would you? -- for my supporting their candidate, I am often accused of cynicism, which is ironic. It is ironic because it is precisely my lack of cynicism that enables me to vote for the person I feel I should support. If I were cynical, I would agree that my vote is worthless and that, if anything, I should accept the lesser of two evils as the best choice. But I do not believe this to be the case. The minute a vote for someone becomes a vote against someone, it ceases to be a vote for anything. It signifies a giving up, an acceptance of the belief that what one wants, one will never get.

And it is this sort of acquiescence that is exactly what leads to the sort of political stagnation we have in the United States. I mean, the Democratic Party would be considered a center-right party in most of the Western world while the Republicans would be a bit further right. The differences between the two parties, despite the passionate pleas to the contrary, are really quite minor.

And this is my point: I am not voting against Barack Obama nor am I (as some of my more vocal "liberal" friends claim) voting for a conservative America. I am voting for what I want, even if the polls say I won't have my way. If I want a de-corporatized democratic socialism, voting for Barack Obama or John McCain would be throwing my vote away and, if people like me (progressive, liberal, and often educated folks) stop saying "no thanks" to the two big parties, it won't matter that they're wrong because they will have effectively silenced the dissent necessary to bring about real change.

I want change, not the illusion of progress.

And if that hope is too audacious, America's Straight Thought Express derailed at the station.

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We Want a Google-YouTube Debate!

Sunday, September 7, 2008
Thanks to Barack Obama's commitment to avoiding debates that might involve the Democratic candidate answering non-scripted questions, it looks like the proposed Google-YouTube debate in New Orleans will not be happening. Just as Obama has refused to meet with John McCain (and, you know, average Americans) in a series of Town Hall meetings, the Democrat seems poised to ditch what could have been a truly wonderful opportunity for Americans to meet and discuss issues with the presidential candidates. Oh, and a great way to bring money to a hurricane-ravaged region.

But here's an idea: have it anyway. John McCain would attend. So would Ralph Nader and Bob Barr. And I bet Barack Obama would show up, miraculously finding the time he claims does not exist, if that happened.

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Jello Biafra on Barack Obama, Ralph Nader

Friday, September 5, 2008
Jello Biafra has a habit of speaking his mind, even when it's not what people want to hear. In the following clip, the former Dead Kennedys frontman and a popular fixture on the college lecture circuit, expresses a fear many American liberals have been uncomfortable voicing:
One of the dangers I find in the Barack Obama phenomenon is if he does turn out to be another insider, another Bill Clinton, it's gonna break the hearts of everybody who got off their ass to register to vote for the first time . . .

It's nice to see a bona-fide liberal unabashedly speak his mind and share his doubts about the Democratic candidate. It sometimes seems that any critique of Barack Obama is met with disdain by self-identified liberals and any mention of the junior senator's decidedly unimpressive legislative record is quickly reduced to conservative propaganda. But Jello Biafra is not conservative, not by a long shot and it will be pretty hard to explain away his concerns as anything even approaching conservative propaganda.

Biafra also mentions his proud allegiance to the Green Party as well as his intention to speak at the next day's rally for independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

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Don't Believe the Hype: Nader Did Not Cost Gore the Election

Thursday, June 19, 2008
SNL alum Tim Meadows, from an interview with Kam Williams:
KW: You've done tons of impressions. Are you working on Barack Obama?

TM: Yeah, I've been working on Barack Obama a little bit. I'm waiting for him to win. I'm not going to waste my time if he's going to lose.

KW: Are you supporting him?

TM: I'll support him if he wins. I won't support him if he loses. [Laughs] No, I don't support anybody. It's not my thing. And if I did, I wouldn't say who it was publicly. I'll give you a hint who I'm voting for in November. It rhymes with Seder.

KW: Oh, Ralph Nader. You don't worry about possibly wasting your vote?

TM: No, I sort of disagree with people who blame him for taking votes away from Gore in 2000. Gore still won the popular vote. Nader wasn't the reason why he lost the election. The Supreme Court cost him the election. Plus, you don't know that all those people who voted for Nader would've gone for Gore. I've met Ralph Nader and I like him. And I've met John McCain, and he's a great guy, too. I haven't met Barack, but I have met Oprah Winfrey. I would love to see some change, and whatever the country decides, I'm behind it.
Tim is correct: Nader did not cost Gore the election in 2000. Yes, Nader did get 97, 488 votes in Florida in the election and yes, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by an anemic 537 vote margin, but seven other presidential candidates received more than 537 votes in Florida, too:
Pat Buchanan (Reform) -- 17, 484 votes.
Harry Browne (Libertarian) -- 16, 415 votes.
John S. Hagelin (Natural Law) -- 2281 votes.
Monica Moorehead (Workers World) -- 1804 votes.
Howard Phillips (Constitution) -- 1371 votes.
David McReynolds (Socialist) -- 622 votes.
James E. Harris (Socialist Workers) -- 562 votes.
I doubt any of the 1000+ socialist votes would have gone for Bush. Had even half of those gone to Gore, he would have won. But no one makes that argument. Of course, Nader's detractors have always been eager to point out (without any real evidence), that many of the Green Party's votes would have gone to the Democrats had Nader not run in the millennial election. And, of course, some of Nader's many votes would have probably gone to Al Gore. What the anti-Nader crusaders (Michael Moore, Eric Alterman, Fat Mike, etc.) don't mention, however, is that many of Nader's votes would have gone to George Bush or another (or no) candidate. Interestingly, a recent AP poll provides the following food for thought:

In a three-way race, Barack Obama would pick up 47 percent of the vote, John McCain would get 43 percent and Ralph Nader would get 6 percent. But the real kicker is that "[i]f Nader, the independent, is not included, Obama's lead is 49 percent to 46 percent." So, if Nader were not in the race, the six percent of the vote the consumer advocate might expect to pick up would disperse as follows:
1% would not vote for either the Democrats or Republicans
3% would vote for the Republicans
2% would vote for the Democrats
In other words, the GOP would benefit from Nader's exclusion while the Democrats would suffer.

Interesting, huh? I suspect some of Nader's critics would suggest that many of the people who voted for Nader in 2000 did not vote for him in 2004 because they were voting anti-Bush, and that the same demographic would be hesitant to "give" the White House to a Republican again by voting for Nader in 2008. Still, is it possible that maybe the Democrats have been spreading propaganda because Al Gore lost the election and they needed a scapegoat? In a word, yes.

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John McCain: America's Songbird?

Sunday, June 8, 2008
From Prison Planet:

"A former Vietnam veteran with top secret clearance says he has personally spoken to numerous POW's who dispute John McCain's claim that he refused to provide information after he was captured and tortured in Hanoi, saying that in fact McCain's code-name was 'Songbird' because of his willingness to tell all to avoid torture."

"'He never was tortured - they were there in the camp with him and then when he came in. . .he immediately started spilling his guts about everything because he didn't want to get tortured,' said [Jack] McLamb, contradicting the official story that McCain only offered his name, rank, serial number, and date of birth."

"The POW's said that McCain made 32 propaganda videos for the communist North Vietnamese in which he denounced America for what they were doing in Vietnam.

'They have these sealed now, our government has these sealed, we can't get to it, they have it classified,' said McLamb, adding that in truth 'the POW's hate John McCain.'"

This sounds eerily reminiscent of the anti-John Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. If it's true, it could easily destroy any and all of McCain's credibility. On the other hand, it could be as far-fetched as Larry Sinclair's claim to have had homosexual intercourse with Barack Obama.

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Observations on the 2008 Libertarian Debate

Saturday, May 24, 2008
A few of my observations and opinions on the Libertarian Party candidates after watching this year's Libertarian National Convention Presidential Debate on C-SPAN, listed by candidate, which I posted on thirdpartywatch.com:

Bob Barr: I've never been a particularly big fan of the former congressman, but Bob Barr does strike me as one of only three candidates (the others being Mike Gravel and Mary Ruwart) in this year's batch to have any real chance of making an impact in November. Barr clearly recognizes this fact and, consequently, projected an air of confidence and composure throughout tonight's debate. From what I could gather, the assembled crowd included some pretty big Barr enthusiasts, but a hefty number of vocal detractors as well. That said, Barr answered most of the questions directly, with practiced eloquence, and with suitable deference to a party he has only been a member of for a relatively brief period. He did address having authored the Defense of Marriage Act and seemed to use it to launch into a "I'm really one of you" spiel, but it seemed genuine enough. If anything, it was a less forced political gesture than, say, Dennis Kucinich's awkwardly contrived "Look here: I carry a copy of the Constitution in my pocket!" faux pas. As an experienced politician, Barr clearly knows how to speak in public, but does not really inspire much confidence and lacks the charisma one would like to see in a third party candidate struggling to get media exposure.

Mike Gravel: To be fair, I have always been a big Mike Gravel supporter, dating from the time he was a registered Democrat, so there will probably be some bias in my views -- but this is a blog, so I reckon it should be okay. At any rate, Gravel seemed to receive more cheers than any of the candidates save for Ruwart. I am not certain if this means that he simply has a louder group of supporters or if the former Alaska senator has more support than most other candidates, though I am hoping for the latter. As always, Gravel exuded a tremendous amount of energy, spoke eloquently and intelligently, and played to the audience. Of course, the senator made certain to emphasize the National Initiative and, like fellow recently-minted Libertarians Barr and Wayne Allyn Root, occasionally seemed eager to emphasize his Libertarian-ness. For the most part, though, the views Gravel expressed during the debate seemed consistent with those he has espoused for years as well as those embraced by many Libertarians, although he seemed to fumble when faced with a question on health care. While he has always expressed a desire to push for the privatization of health insurance, he has also spoke favorably of some state-sponsored health care systems at odds with right-leaning Libertarian economic policy. Still, like Barr and Ruwart, Gravel emerged as extremely well-qualified for a presidential campaign and seemed to enjoy a warm enthusiasm from the crowd when discussing such key topics as gay marriage, immigration, drug decriminalization (though, to be fair, all candidates seemed about the same on that issue), military expenditure as well as when he critiqued some of the party's more unrealistically utopian ideas. To my mind, Gravel remains the best candidate in the field, though I am not certain (given the number of tokens he received) if the party's core members will agree with me, a decidedly independent -- though interested -- onlooker.

George Phillies: As an academic, I really feel for Dr. Phillies. He's intelligent, very active in Libertarian Party affairs, and is extremely well-versed in Libertarian philosophy. I won't say he's the purest libertarian in the group, but he's close at the very least. The problem, as he is well aware, is that he does not look or sound like a good candidate. If words alone would be enough to convince people, he would be up there with Gravel, Barr, and Ruwart, in terms of his ability to win support but, unfortunately, he often comes across as a hopelessly nerdy intellectual -- certainly not the type of person able to compete with the photogenic Barak Obama, the media-minded Hillary Clinton, or the jingoistic John McCain. And it's a shame. I get a real sense that Phillies cares about people and wants to make the world a better place -- two qualities one almost never finds in a candidate.

Michael Jingozian: Jingozian, like Phillies, appears to really care about Libertarian ideas and has a sense of humor that most politicians lack. Unfortunately, while he seems to toe the party line on most issues, he seems lost among candidates like Gravel, Barr, Steve Kubby, and Root, who are considerably more experienced with the media. As a result, Jingozian does not inspire much confidence as a leader. Again, like Phillies, I think he's really, really good for the Libertarian Party and, I suspect, people more interested in promoting an idea and embracing a set of values than winning an election or achieving major party status will consider voting for him. And that isn't a bad thing. Like Root, Jingozian is a businessperson and brought a decidedly entrepreneurial spirit to the debate, planning ahead for party development. I get the feeling that he won't come close to the nomination, but if he remains behind the scenes, he'll do some great things for the eventual nominee.

Mary Ruwart: An extremely eloquent woman, Dr. Ruwart was quite eager to mention her long (and distinguished) track record within the Libertarian Party. Like Phillies and Kubby, Ruwart has been a Libertarian for quite some time and, while perhaps a bit more left-leaning than some, is pretty consistent with the majority of Libertarians on most major issues. She does occasionally project a certain cockiness, but she backs it up with knowledge and real well-thought-out arguments. She is possibly the best "Libertarian" candidate in the party and will speak well and represent the party with dignity and grace if nominated, but she lacks the media connections of Barr, Gravel, and Root. She did try to capitalize on her gender, positioning herself as poised to take advantage of the tide of gender politics stirred up by Hillary Clinton, but her best selling point, really, is her track record. She is a Libertarian and she knows what she is talking about.

Steve Kubby: I was pleasantly surprised by Steve Kubby. For some reason, I was expecting him to be less eloquent, but he spoke extremely well and, while he emphasized his experience with drug decriminalization throughout the debate, fielded questions in all areas with an intelligent and good-humored thoughtfulness. Like Phillies and Ruwart, Kubby discussed his long history working within the party and seems to really appeal to traditional Libertarians for precisely that reason. Like Ruwart, especially, Kubby strikes me as a left-leaning Libertarian with all the "right" stances but, unlike her, he doesn't seem to be a personality that will appeal to many non-Libertarian Americans, which is unfortunate. He's got a lot of good things to say.

Wayne Allyn Root: By far the worst candidate, Wayne Allyn Root is disturbingly unctuous, utterly supercilious, and seems phonier than anything Holden Caulfield would have had nightmares about at Pencey Prep. Truth be told, Root struck me as resembling the kind of kid who talks too much at parties, tries to be everyone's friend, and doesn't realize that everyone finds him obnoxious and a bit creepy. He'd be terrible as a candidate, though he's eager to promise how dynamic he'd be. Ultimately, the only people who will buy Root's schtick will be the sort of nine-to-fivers that shell out hundreds of dollars to attend vacuous Tony Robbins lectures.

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You're Elitist! No, You're Elitist! Nuh-uh! Uh-huh!

Sunday, April 13, 2008
Don't you just love the fuss everyone seems to be making over the comments Barack Obama made in San Francisco? In case you've forgotten, in reference to the working class Reagan Democrats the Democratic presidential hopeful has been struggling to win over, Senator Obama said:
You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Ever since the Huffington Post first reported on Obama's characterization of working-class Pennsylvanians as "bitter," the blogosphere, radio, newspapers, and television have been buzzing with excitement. Hillary Clinton and her supporters, of course, have jumped at the opportunity to portray Obama as hopelessly disconnected from blue collar America and, consequently, a horrible choice for the Democratic nomination. Mr. Obama, facing a potentially campaign-destroying firestorm, chose to respond to the criticism by acknowledging that while his wording mightn't have been wisely-chosen, his statements were actually, as the New York Times's Katharine Q. Seelye and Jeff Zeleny put it, "an expression of populist sympathy for a displaced working class," as indeed they could be interpreted. Not surprisingly, the Huffington Post continues to overflow with commentary on Mr. Obama's sentiments, both critical and supportive. While the website's bloggers tend to agree with Erin Kotecki Vest's assertion that "Senator Barack Obama is DEAD ON when he talks about the bitterness of residents," the people commenting on postings continue to stir the argument about whether or not such comments could be construed as evidence of either Obama's inability to speak enough like a politician to inspire confidence in his candidacy or of the elitist views that will inevitably alienate the working backbone of America if he becomes president (italics in the original). And it goes on and on, ad nauseum.

What's so funny about the whole ordeal, of course, is that both Hillary Clinton and John McCain--two of the people least in touch with America's working class--have been licking their chops at the prospects of twisting Obama's words around to make him appear elitist. Because, you know, they get Larry the Cable Guy or something.

And it certainly doesn't help that Obama made his comments in a "closed" environment, a detail lending an air of secrecy to the proceedings and fueling the "well, we weren't supposed to hear it, so it must be bad!" crowd. Still, I'm not saying that Barak Obama is, in fact, in touch with the working class; in fact, I doubt any Washington politician really, truly understands what it is like to live under the poverty line in a nation with a failing economy -- at least not at any time in recent memory -- but it really seems like a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Granted, we get to hear a load of platitudes in the wake of Obama's statement. For instance, Hillary reminds us, she "grew up in a church-going family, a family that believed in the importance of living out and expressing our faith," so she understands the people Barak Obama so clearly misunderstands. "The people of faith I know don't 'cling to' religion because they're bitter," Senator Clinton told supporters in Indianapolis yesterday, they "embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich."

Then people cheer.

And more people get killed in Iraq. But who's paying attention?

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Third Parties Expose Obama's Politics as Usual

Tuesday, April 8, 2008
From the American Chronicle's Kevin Zeese:

"In 2004 there was only one significant challenger to the corporate political duopoly both of whom put forward candidates that campaigned in favor of continuing the Iraq occupation. This year there will be three legitimate campaigns challenging the duopoly. And, since none of the Democratic or Republican Party candidates is calling for a real end to the occupation, Iraq may provide the energy for these efforts."

"Unfortunately, Senator Obama has reversed course and can no longer be described as a peace candidate. He recently said he will leave the private mercenaries in Iraq which at a minimum are 140,000 troops and may be twice that number. His campaign has said that Obama will leave up to 80,000 troops in Iraq. And, Obama has said he will withdraw combat troops to a surrounding country like Kuwait so they could serve as a strike force in Iraq. Obama continues to promise to end the "war" but the details do not describe an end to the war. Further, he has kept a military attack against Iran on the table and plans to expand the already too large and too expensive military by 92,000 troops. He describes his foreign policy as a return to the policy of George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and JFK -- all of whom aggressively used U.S. military force.

Obama may think he has the Democratic nomination wrapped up and is positioning himself for the General Election, but now with three serious independent political challenges who all oppose the war his Republican-lite positions risk losing many peace voters and the election."

"The desire for more choices in elections has been growing in recent years. The president has very low approval ratings as does the Congress -- the latter for their failure to fulfill their 2006 mandate to end the war. One-third the electorate now considers themselves independent, not Democratic or Republican."

If what Zeese implies is true--that Barack Obama has changed his stance on the Iraq war to cater to potential non-Democrat voters--the popular senator's campaign may be irreparably damaged. If a full third of U. S. voters are not affiliated with either major party and a significant chunk of these independent voters look to third party candidates like Cynthia McKinney, Mike Gravel, Bob Barr, or Ralph Nader for a fresh approach to key issues, Obama's increasingly moderate, Republican-friendly anti-war stance will likely strike such voters as evidence of precisely the sort of politics-as-usual behavior for which the Senator has so vehemently asserted his disdain. It would seem that the staunch anti-war sentiments of the McKinneys, Gravels, Barrs, and Naders of the world, especially in their unwavering consistency, will undoubtedly force voters to reconsider the trustworthiness of Obama's views on Iraq--the validity of which has been a problem for the junior senator ever since his Democratic challengers questioned his experience in the earliest debates.

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On Obamarama

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The New York Times's William Kristol argues "there's something creepy" about "Generation Obama":

"The more you learn about him, the more Obama seems to be a conventionally opportunistic politician, impressively smart and disciplined, who has put together a good political career and a terrific presidential campaign. But there's not much audacity of hope there. There's the calculation of ambition, and the construction of artifice, mixed in with a dash of deceit -- all covered over with the great conceit that this campaign, and this candidate, are different."
[Full article]

Last week, in an entry on Sobriquet Magazine's main blog, we posted the following editorial comments:

I am astonished by the overwhelming outpouring of support among my 18-35 year-old peers for Barack Obama's presidential candidacy. I should emphasize that I am not particularly concerned with the possibility that Mr. Obama will become the next president of the United States, as I am sure he will be about as effective a leader as any of the current candidates. What concerns me, however, is the blind acceptance with which so many young people seem to embrace Obama's message. Bearing a message of hope as consistently vague as it is enthusiastic, Obama seems to have channeled the spirit of Beatlemania as effectively as any politician. Now, messages of hope and progress have always drawn the enthusiasm of socially-concerned, altruistic idealists--as should be the case--but the unquestioning enthusiasm with which Obama's brand of political optimism has been accepted suggests that the widespread dissatisfaction many Americans feel towards the Bush-Cheney era has weakened the healthy skepticism with which we normally scrutinize political rhetoric to a point when unremarkable statements dressed in decidedly eloquent, powerful oratory are welcomed as both novel and genuinely profound. Again, I am not saying that Mr. Obama's upbeat message is anything but a positive thing, but I hesitate to dismiss his lack of political experience, his inconsistent legislative record, or his astonishing self-importance (three traits many candidates share) as irrelevant to an evaluation of his candidacy as so many people seem to do. Therein lies the problem: Mr. Obama is as glib, as charming, as eloquent as any politician ought to be but we've lost our skepticism as a nation. In our haste to usher out what many perceive as a shamefully bleak era in American history, we have suppressed our skeptical nature, the hallmark of critical thinking and that is the problem with Barak Obama's candidacy. He has channeled the zeitgeist of a dissatisfied nation into an infectiously electric frenzy and very few commentators seem comfortable questioning whether such a splenetic mass mentality is healthy. If Mr. Obama wins the Democratic nomination, I suspect we will see some of these issues raised in the media and I suspect they will be spun as part of a conservative agenda, but they are not meant to favor the John McCain ticket or even a Hillary Clinton-headed Democratic slate. What I fear is reactionary fervor, blind acceptance as the result of sheer disdain, and a moment in our history when we lose an opportunity to reflect upon the consequences of jumping on a jingoistic bandwagon in the wake of a horrible tragedy by simply jumping on another bandwagon after the first one crashes.

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