A climate of intolerance? An ugly mood at the McCain/Palin rallies? Ever alert to the brownshirt menace, liberals read press reports from Ohio and Wisconsin with a frisson. So where have they been these past few months? Try going into a typical progressive household to make an argument against Obama and for a Nader vote. A couple of lifelong radical friends of mine whisper to me that in their homes and workplaces they’ve given up straight talk about Obama altogether and feel free to talk, sotto voce, only in public parks.
In these last days I’ve been scraping around, trying to muster a single positive reason to encourage a vote for Obama. Please note my accent on the positive, since the candidate himself has couched his appeal in this idiom. Why vote for Obama, as opposed to against the Palin-Wurzelbacher ticket?
Obama invokes change. Yet never has the dead hand of the past had a "reform" candidate so firmly by the windpipe. Is it possible to confront America’s problems without talking about the arms budget, now entirely out of control? The Pentagon is spending more than at any point since the end of World War II. In "real dollars" the $635 billion appropriated in fiscal 2007 is 5 percent above the previous all-time high, reached in 1952. Depending on how you count them, the Empire has somewhere between 700 and 1,000 overseas bases. Obama wants to enlarge the armed services by 90,000. He pledges to escalate the US war in Afghanistan; to attack Pakistan’s sovereign territory if it obstructs any unilateral US mission to kill Osama bin Laden; and to wage a war against terror in a hundred countries, creating for this purpose a new international intelligence and law enforcement "infrastructure" to take down terrorist networks. A fresh start? Where does this differ from Bush’s commitment to Congress on September 20, 2001, to an ongoing "war on terror" against "every terrorist group of global reach" and "any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism"?
Obama’s liberal defenders comfort themselves with the thought that "he had to say that to get elected." He didn’t. After eight years of Bush, Americans are receptive to reassessing America’s imperial role. Obama has shunned this opportunity. If elected he will be prisoner of his promise that on his watch Afghanistan will not be lost, nor the white man’s burden shirked.
Whatever drawdown of troops in Iraq that does take place in the event of Obama’s victory will be a brief hiccup amid the blare and thunder of fresh "resolve." In the event of Obama’s victory, the most immediate consequence overseas will most likely be brusque imperial reassertion. Already Joe Biden, the shopworn poster boy for Israeli intransigence and cold war hysteria, is yelping stridently about the new administration’s "mettle" being tested in the first six months by the Russians and their surrogates.