John Chuckman

Sarah Palin is not qualified for high office, and she has proved it in two interviews, if you were listening, but it was equally clear eight years ago that George Bush was not qualified for high office, and many Americans were not listening.

The excitement generated around Palin is just as though America were again embracing George Bush – a younger, prettier version of the most incompetent person ever to hold the office of president, a judgment based on his actual achievement and not just my exceedingly low opinion of him.

She is articulate, unlike Bush, but then so are vacuum-cleaner salesmen and televangelists. Being articulate is a tool of leadership, but it is not the same thing as leadership. The substance of what you say matters immensely more than how smoothly you say it, especially when you might lead a powerful nation which just happens to be the center of a vast international empire.

It seemed painfully clear during the 2000 election debates that Al Gore avoided attacking Bush. I don’t mean attacking him personally, I mean attacking lame statements and explanations which sounded as though they were coming from a not especially-bright eighth-grader repeating lines from an article in Senior Scholastic.

I just could not believe Gore never pounced, and I think he lost the election then (of course, Bush was not honestly elected, but it is only in close votes that fraud works, and the vote did not have to be close). I thought at the time Gore feared looking aggressive, perhaps owing to his assessment of public opinion following the ghastly circus of the Clinton impeachment. Clinton did not deserve to be impeached, but he proved to us all that he was both sleazy and a practiced liar, and there could have been no circus without his behavior first.

I don’t know, but we have something of a repeat performance coming up. Joe Biden is an aggressive (if insincere and inconsistent) arguer, and he is going to be put up against this physically-attractive super-mom who drags along her entire extended family to political events, lined up like the world’s largest set of Russian matryoshka dolls. Does anyone believe he will dare be aggressive? He will be in an untenable position: damned if does and damned if he doesn’t.

In one of her recent interviews, Palin bragged of being the Governor of a state that produces 20% of America’s energy. Well, the fact is that Alaska is responsible for less than 4% of America’s energy.

That is quite a considerable difference, and it is in a subject one might think she had at least a basic grasp of facts.

Palin, like George Bush, strongly advocates offshore drilling in the sensitive environment of the North and seems to hold her belief for no other reason than that Americans use lots of energy. It is the economic/environmental perspective of a good deal suburban America where middle-class couples both work, have two- and three-car garages, and commute considerable distances to jobs that often involve more than eight hours a day, but is it a view that is sustainable in a world steeply-rising oil prices, a rapidly changing climate, and the explosive growth of competitors like China and India? The simple answer is no.

On the world controversy of Iran’s nuclear program, after some furry-mouthed generalities, Palin said that we should not be second-guessing what Israel has to do for its defense, which is nothing more than a self-serving avoidance of the crucial, central issue involved here.

The fact is that if Israel attacks Iran – something which earlier had seemed settled by an American veto but which now is less clear, especially with the just announced sale of a thousand new “bunker-busting” bombs to Israel – Iran will respond, and it has a legitimate right to do so in its own defense, almost certainly with missiles. Iran’s missiles are not Saddam’s pathetic old SCUDS but pretty accurate medium-range ballistic missiles.

Would the U.S. be instantly sucked into a war with Iran, something which is entirely against the interests of the United States, and indeed against the interests of the entire world with Iran’s ability easily to choke off the Straits of Hormuz?

And is there no issue here over Israel’s self-declared right, by invoking some vaguely-defined need to protect its existence, to do whatever it wants concerning the internal affairs of other countries, even places a thousand miles away?

Acceptance of that as a working principle in international affairs truly means an endlessly chaotic world with no accepted rules. After all, every aggressor in history believed that he was protecting his country’s existence or some other vital interest. Hitler was very good at making such points, twisting the truth, and even using eloquent words about peace.

We have the strongest possible evidence that Iran gave up its weapons program several years ago. Is Israel to be permitted to use American-supplied weapons to attack Iran (remembering these weapons come with supposedly iron-clad agreements that they are not to be used for aggression), a nation which has not engaged in any hostilities against Israel, just because Israel claims it does not believe that intelligence while not offering the world one scrap of proof for its doubt?

As to the business of Palin’s casually discussing the possible need for war with Russia, it is the stuff of nightmares. The woman has no idea what she is talking about. It very much reminded me of Dan Quayle blubbering about ICBM throw-weights, a term he memorized to toss around for impressing the weak-minded, but her talk, while equally stupid, was infinitely more dangerous.

It is not possible for anyone to take on Russia with conventional forces. Despite its relative decline, Russia still has awesome conventional armed forces, as it so clearly showed in Georgia after Georgia’s foolish attack on its former province (which was conducted against confidential American advice). Russia mopped them up in a few days and could easily have rolled over the entire country despite Georgia’s American-supplied new armaments.

Even Russia’s navy, weak by American standards, nevertheless is equipped with weapons over which American admirals have nightmares: for example, the Sunfire sea-to-sea missiles against which there is no effective defense. These missiles spiral onto targets in an unpredictable fashion at speeds around Mach 3 to deliver a devastating punch. America’s entire fleet of aircraft carriers could be sunk in hours.

The Russians have also demonstrated new technologies for submarine warfare. A Chinese submarine, equipped with some of this, stunned the Pentagon not long ago, when it silently surfaced in the middle of a task force conducting exercises related to Taiwan. This was unprecedented because carrier task forces maintain electromagnetic “bubbles” around themselves with a battery of detection devices, extending far into the air and under the sea.

So what is the alternative to conventional war? It is the war in which the United States and Russia cease to exist. Russia has some of the most accurate and defense-evading capable missiles in the world. America’s primitive efforts at missile defense – not one successful test in which the incoming warhead was not marked by a strong radio homing beacon plus a number of unsuccessful tests – do not stand a chance under conditions of a full Russian attack. The sheer number and size of warheads, the many decoys, new stealth technology, plus other technologies of avoidance mean the certain destruction of the United States.

Does any clear-thinking and sane person want someone who casually talks of war with Russia anywhere near the White House?

And what of Palin’s references, more than once, to the fact that Russia is within view of some Alaskans? Is that supposed to mean she is familiar with Russian affairs? All eleven time zones of them? The observation literally is meaningless, a Dan Quayle-like observation, a complete non sequitur to any meaningful question about Russia and relations with that country.

Here’s a colossally ignorant view of Palin’s: she believes in a connection between 9/11 and Iraq. Even Bush knows that is nonsense because he put forward the lies that made the war he wanted for other reasons possible.

Saddam, like all absolute rulers, had no use for terrorists or underground movements of any kind. The safest place to be with regard to terror or guerilla movements is in an absolute state, something George Bush even understands since he has greatly shifted the United States in that direction. The old Soviet Union had no problems with terrorists or guerillas, and neither did Saddam.

Saddam also was a secularist and had no use for extreme Muslims. He was known to intensely dislike Osama bin Laden. Incidentally, women were better off, freer of ancient restrictions, in Saddam’s Iraq than they were in any other part of the Arab world.

If there were even one shed of evidence of a connection between Iraq and 9/11 – not the stupidly forged documents we saw before the invasion – it would have been printed and broadcast in every corner of the earth by the Bush/Cheney government, which has spent immense amounts trying to convince people of many instances of nonsense.

After all, that’s how they were caught red-handed exposing the CIA wife of a distinguished Republican former ambassador who refused to give credibility to what he knew was forgery, Theirs was an utterly wrong act which only showed how far these ugly men would go to have their way.

Sarah Palin seems made of just such stuff. She is uninformed combined with being a control-freak, something she has demonstrated many times already in a brief career, from trying to dismiss her brother-in-law from his state police job – the e-mails released show that much even if they prove nothing further – to dragging her daughter’s poor (self-described) redneck boyfriend to the convention, a boy who (again according to his own words) wanted nothing to do with babies but was scrubbed up, dumped into a new suit, and introduced to everyone as her daughter’s “fiancé.” Imagine the pressure placed on this young man by the governor of his state?

I think one of the most revealing aspects of Palin’s experience is her education. Here again there is a strong parallel with Bush, who only managed to be accepted and graduate because of his “legacy” status from a wealthy and influential family. No thinking person believes Bush could have been accepted by Ivy League institutions on his own merit, much less graduate from them.

Palin’s experience was different as to details but leads to similar reflections on her abilities. Palin took six years in five different universities in several states to earn a bachelor’s in communications, a considerably less than intellectually-taxing subject. Her records are confidential, and the various institutions will not even discuss the reasons for her many transfers.

Palin’s comparison of herself, during her convention speech, to Harry Truman was inaccurate and deceptive. Yes, they both came from small places, but Truman, before being called as FDR’s candidate for vice president, had spent ten years in the U.S. Senate, was associated with a powerful political machine in Missouri, and had taken a very prominent role in war-related Senate Committee work. Palin was briefly mayor of a town the size of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and has two years as Governor of a remote state whose entire population is almost identical to that of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Like Bush, Palin is a dangerous person – uninformed, poorly educated, aggressive, deeply ideological, and with extreme religious beliefs. She was placed where she is by a tired-looking man, one treated for cancer four times, who just desperately wants to cap his career with the title president, a man who has no ethical qualms about how he achieves what he wants.



John Chuckman

Presidential elections in America are long, with formal campaigns lasting about a year and positioning leading to the campaigns lasting nearly three years. A President’s four-year term of office leaves just enough time to dish out contracts and jobs.

There is nothing out of the ordinary in America about the length of presidential campaigns. Elections for other offices consume time pretty much in proportion to their power and importance. Senators, for example, spend about two-thirds of their six-year term just raising money for the next election.

American elections consume not just time but money, a great deal of money. Bush is expected to have a quarter-billion dollars in donations ready to fight for re-election. The nation’s air waves will be jammed for months with mind-numbing images easily confused with personal-hygiene or toothpaste commercials.

In America’s early years, only a few men of considerable substance could vote. Any concept of wider democracy disturbed America’s founding fathers as risking their wealth to the votes and whims of men without any. With the gradual, unavoidable extension of the American franchise over two hundred years of wars and social movements, a political system gradually emerged preserving the founders’ concerns. Americans in theory can vote for anyone, but the candidates they see and hear and whose names appear on all the ballots in so vast a land will only be people effectively pre-selected by those of great substance. It is an inherently conservative system.

I don’t want to put too much weight on the result of the Iowa caucus, it is hardly a future-shaping event, but the winner, John Kerry, brings pretty modest potential for change in America.

Kerry is an uninspiring figure, a man who has never stood out on matters of life and death or great injustice. He declared his candidacy in front of an aircraft carrier. Yes, he can shout his lines with the best of them when seeking the power and privilege of high office, but Kerry’s voice is not one known for defending great principles. He opposed the war in Vietnam toward the latter part of that holocaust against Asians, but by that time being anti-war had become almost stylish, and Kerry’s opposition came only after a ferociously-ambitious effort at a successful career in the war, a career that included shooting a man running away as well as a man under his command killing a child.

The War on Terror, while remaining an undefined slogan, is supported by Americans. Despite the odds of death by terror being not much greater than death by lightning, an attack by nineteen men, all of whom died in the effort, has caused America to kill thousands of innocent civilians abroad, destroy the economy of Iraq, keep thousands of shackled prisoners in offshore kennels, deport people against whom it has no evidence so they can be tortured in other lands, and to pass fearful new laws.

Sentimental liberals continue to write about a glorious national past blotted out by Bush, ignoring America’s tradition of near-rabid responses to real or imagined danger. This tradition began before the Revolution with periodic waves of fear and violence in the South over imagined slave revolts, and it continued with crazed slaughters of aboriginal people, the police-state Alien and Sedition Acts under President Adams, Jefferson’s police-state enforcement of a boycott on British trade, beatings and killings of blacks in the North thought responsible for conscription during the Civil War, Lincoln’s police-state suspension of basic rights in what was a totally-avoidable war, periodic mass slaughters of blacks during the twentieth century, the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II, the wanton incineration of Japanese cities, the McCarthy-era lunacy, a holocaust in Vietnam second in size only to the Nazi’s grim work, and countless ugly little colonial wars and overthrows of elected governments.

It is notable that much of this kind of liberal writing ignores the international dimension of what Bush has done, the truly new and highly dangerous part of his handiwork. The authors focus on nasty domestic laws and bringing the troops home. Most liberals, like most conservatives in America, have a remarkable indifference about what happens to the world, so long as it doesn’t affect their enjoyment of life. It is a disturbing orientation for people who, secretly or overtly, regard themselves as divinely-anointed planetary overseers. So many times during the Vietnam War, I was astounded that people went right on happily sucking beer and dancing while American pilots napalmed villages in Asia. It was only when American coffins started arriving by the hundreds that much popular music turned harsh and full of protest and many proms lost their cozy glow.

There will be no return to what, before Bush, passed as normal in America until the nation has shaken its latest violent seizure. Even then, actions have been taken that will continue to sour the future. Does anyone believe that all the new oppressive legislation in the United States will be rescinded? that the bloated, dangerous increases in military spending will be undone? that America’s damage to international institutions will be corrected? that America’s contempt for its more thoughtful allies will disappear? that the immense welling-up of prejudice against Arabic people will simply disappear?

The truth is that even if a moderately liberal person were elected President, he or she would face exactly what the Clintons faced for eight years, a hideous and relentless assault with opportunity for few meaningful accomplishments. The American Congress is so conservative, and has demonstrated itself so lacking in courage or imagination or largeness of view, that only the most modest changes can be expected under any president.

Failing new developments, the one big issue promises to be whether the costly, pointless invasion of Iraq was a legitimate part of the War on Terror. I believe the answer will hinge on how many Americans continue to die rather than any rational discussion. The most troubling aspect of this is the way many Bush opponents seem only to care about getting American troops out of there. Where’s the sense of responsibility for the mess America created? Iraq will take many years to return to any kind of meaningful society.

Well, by all means, it would be nice to see Bush back with the rattlesnakes in Texas and once again to have a President capable of addressing civilly the rest of the world – nice things but not a lot to get excited about. No likely Democratic candidate is going to produce a greatly more rational and decent United States. One or two Democrats, Lieberman or Clark, almost certainly would be as narrow and harsh as Bush, offering nothing beyond a day’s satisfaction in seeing Bush sent packing.