John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin seems to have thrown the media-political-blogospherical establishments into a tizzy. It's hard to see why. Sure, Cleese would have been better than Palin -- more gravitas, louder voice. And of course, the late, lamented Graham Chapman would make a better president than any of the four ticket-toppers of the two major parties. I mean, even now he would be better, despite being dead and British and all.
But I must say that I strongly disagree with the argument that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be president of the United States. Such a stance betrays a lamentable misperception of the true function of the office in these modern times. It also ignores the craven nature of our political and media establishments, which has been on such brazen display for lo these many years.
First of all, what do you think would happen in the not-unlikely-event that an aged, ailing President McCain either died or became incapacitated? The very instant that Palin assumed the presidency, the aforesaid establishments would surround her with an aura of substance, seriousness, and respect. She would become..."The President"...her title invoked with the same frisson of pleasurable self-abnegation that accompanied every utterance of the holy phrase on "The West Wing." The media would find hidden reservoirs of charisma and command suddenly coming to light. We would hear stories of her folksy charm, her steely resolve, her self-deprecating wit, her surprising grasp of complex issues.
It doesn't matter what kind of poltroon parks his or her butt in the Oval Office, or how they get in there; they will be presented to the people as a figure of moral authority and gravitas -- and be accepted as such by large swathes of the public. How can anyone have lived through the presidency of an utter non-entity like George W. Bush -- not to mention the presidencies of the fourth-rate aristo George H.W. Bush or the literally brain-corroded Ronald Reagan -- and not know this? As Shakespeare told us long ago in King Lear: "Behold the great image of authority; a dog's obeyed in office."
And haven't the past eight years been a painfully glaring demonstration of the undeniable fact that the office of the presidency is -- or certainly can be -- the emptiest of empty shams, a front behind which powerful elite factions shelter as they push their self-serving and undemocratic agendas? Yes, yes, yes, there are tussles and disagreements, even blood feuds, among the elite, there are narrow areas in which marginal differences in policy approaches might come into play. But no one -- no one -- becomes president or vice-president who has not already bought into the basic package: militarism, empire and continual state intervention in the economy on behalf of the rich and powerful. (For a brilliant exposition of the latter point, see this analysis at A Tiny Revolution, which uses the administration of the "Big Dog" himself as a perfect example of how, with every president, "You're dancin' with whom they tell you to/Or you don't dance at all," in the words of another national bard.)
So one might say that Sarah Palin is in fact uniquely qualified to be a modern-day president of the United States. The Republic and its citizens would be no less safe -- or rather, no less highly endangered -- in her hands than in those of the other three main contestants in the Great Gonzo Gameshow of 2008.
But while the Palin brouhaha provides a measure of comic relief, in the end it is just another ludicrous distraction from the main issue, the one issue that is never discussed openly in the campaign (except, as Arthur Silber notes below, inadvertently): the fact that both major parties and their candidates are co-conspirators in the most savage and extensive war crime of the 21st century: the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Silber zeroes in on the astonishing speech given by Al Gore at the Democratic Convention, in which the man who was actually elected president in 2000 (then meekly gave up the fight -- and the Republic -- long before all of his constitutional recourses against the coup were exhausted) did something almost unheard-of at such a gathering: he spoke the truth. First Silber quotes Gore:
After [the Bush Administration] abandoned the search for the terrorists who attacked us and redeployed the troops to invade a nation that did not attack us, it's time for a change.
Then Silber notes:
As I heard that phrase this evening -- "and redeployed the troops to invade a nation that did not attack us" -- I froze for several seconds. I couldn't believe Gore had said it, or that I had heard it...Consider the line again: "and redeployed the troops to invade a nation that did not attack us."
Iraq did not attack us. Therefore, the United States was not acting in self-defense. The invasion of Iraq was an act of aggression. Thus, the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq constitute an ongoing war crime, indeed a huge, horrifying series of ongoing war crimes. The war crimes continue today, and will continue tomorrow...But the U.S. government and our subservient media deny it to this day. If they go so far as to admit that the war was a mistake (which many still will not), they insist it was an "honest mistake," one based on "bad intelligence" ... At worst, politicians and most of those in the media will say only that the invasion of Iraq was a "blunder," perhaps a terrible one, but still only a "blunder."
But Al Gore said we invaded "a nation that did not attack us." The United States committed a monstrous war crime. That's what Gore's statement means. Do not expect anyone to acknowledge that is what it means.
Silber then details the various Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal which the United States has violated -- and continues to violate -- in the Iraq War, and notes:
The crimes of those Republicans who supported these actions are unspeakable and eternally unforgivable. Yet the crimes of the Democrats who supported the same actions are still worse. The Democrats insist that they think the invasion and occupation of Iraq were wrong, yet they have continued to fund it, even though it has been within their power to defund it entirely for over a year and a half -- and, of equal and even greater significance in one sense, the Democrats absolutely refuse to hold even one person responsible.
I have hammered at this theme of complicity in war crime and atrocity time and again; such as here, from October 2007:
The only possible way to stop these criminal depredations is to remove Bush and Cheney from office. Nothing else will do it. And any national political figure or presidential candidate who does not have this removal at the top of their agenda, who is not beating this drum day after day and using all their power and influence and position to help bring it about is, as we have noted here before, nothing but an accomplice to torture and murder. -- such as here and here and here and here.)
And here, from another October 2007 piece:
How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. -- Henry David Thoreau
Every day it becomes clearer that Thoreau's answer is the only basis for a genuinely effective resistance to the accelerating depredations of the Bush-Cheney regime. Disassociation, boycott, filibuster, strike -- call it what you will, but the Gandhian tag might be the best: "non-cooperation with evil." The corruption and authoritarian tyranny that the regime has imposed on the nation are evil. The war of aggression it has launched against Iraq is evil. The war of aggression it is fomenting against Iran is evil. If you would not be complicit in evil, then you must not cooperate with it, and you must not acknowledge its power as rightful or legitimate (however powerless you may be to resist its application by brute force).
If there is to be any way out of the nation's death spiral into darkness, ruin and dishonor, this noncooperation must begin at the top. There is not enough time left now for a broad movement from the general public to rise up and force the ouster of these criminals. Naturally, any and all efforts to raise consciousness of the dire situation and mobilize the public against the regime are welcome and should continue. But even putting aside the mass lethargy and media-addled distraction and indifference that have characterized public reaction to the filth heaped upon them by the regime year after year, it is simply a logistical and organizational impossibility to put together the kind of unprecedented outpouring of street protest and civil disobedience it would require for a grass-roots effort to dislodge the regime in its remaining time in office. Yet in that time, the regime will have mired the nation so much more deeply in intractable evil that even the most well-intentioned successor will be left with nothing but monstrous choices between atrocious and somewhat less atrocious outcomes, with each decision drenched in innocent blood.
So while we can all hope and work to see such noncooperation and dissent spread throughout the general public -- a long-term cultivation looking toward the harvest of a better, more honorable society down the line -- the immediate evil embodied in the crooked Bush-Cheney regime can only be thwarted by action on the institutional level. As I've noted elsewhere, Thoreau's answer should be taken up by every person in public life, beginning with the senators and representatives in Congress. There should be noncompliance, nonrecognition of this illegitimate authority, disassociation from taking part in its workings. No Bush appointees should be approved; indeed, they have already shown their unfitness for office by agreeing to work under the criminal regime in the first place. All legislation offered by the regime should be rejected outright; it is dishonorable to treat with a faction whose unprovoked, unnecessary "war of choice" in Iraq has now killed more Americans than were murdered on 9/11. The only "negotiation" acceptable with such bloodstained wretches is settling the terms of their exit from power.
But as Silber notes, none of these things happened. Rather the reverse, as I noted in April 2008:
[Obama] tied his thinking on torture, illegal wiretapping, aggressive war and all the other depredations of the Bush Regime to his stance on impeachment:
"I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings. And I've often said, I do not think that would be something that would be fruitful to pursue. I think impeachment should be reserved for exceptional circumstances."
In other words, very strong, credible, evidence-based charges of launching a criminal war of aggression based on deception is not an "exceptional circumstance" worthy of the investigative and prosecutorial process of impeachment. It might just be a "very dumb policy." Very strong, credible, evidence-based charges of knowingly, deliberately creating a regimen of systematic torture is not an "exceptional circumstance" worthy of impeachment; it might not even be worth further investigation by the Justice Department. It too could just be a "dumb policy" that we should forget about – especially if Republicans are going to make a fuss about it.
In any case, it is obvious that to Obama, "what we already know" does not constitute "exceptional circumstances" – otherwise he would already be pressing for criminal investigation, via the impeachment process or by calling for a special prosecutor... He has pointedly not done so, because he doesn't think it would be "fruitful to pursue" credible (in fact overwhelming) evidence of aggressive war and crimes against humanity committed by American leaders.
As Silber notes, neither Obama nor any other Democrat said a single word at the Convention about holding anyone in government accountable for their high crimes. (Although Joe Biden did manage to sputter a threat about holding Russia accountable for its crimes. Ever hear of that old gospel saw about motes and beams, Joe?) Not even Al Gore brought up the subject, despite his open admission that the United States had committed a flagrant war crime -- by standards which the United States itself promulgated to prosecute war crimes.
Silber then delivers a brutal truth:
If you vote for the candidate of one of the two major parties, this is your choice: John McCain, war criminal -- or Barack Obama, war criminal.
Where is Graham Chapman when you need him?
NOTE: Now, having sampled so many of Arthur Silber's fine wares here, you should get yourself over to his own emporium and cross his palm with some token of appreciation. He's back, and blazing, after a serious bout of illness, and it behooves us all to do what we can to keep this clarifying flame alight.
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This story was published on August 31, 2008.