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bigsky11
A couple of weeks ago, I headed off to Big Sky country to help deliver Montana for Barack Obama. In between knocking on doors and handing out reminders for people to vote, we were able to make the drive up to Glacier National Park for a few days.

Lucky for us, the Park was between seasons, so it was practically abandoned and it seemed as if we had the whole place to ourselves. Not even the Visitor Center was open, and we drove in and out of the Park without any rangers at the entrances.

glacier1

This was what we woke up to in the morning!

Although we were certainly disappointed that Montana still ended up a Red State, the colors are changing. And there was a great sense of relief upon the election’s end which could only have been symbolized by the big blue skies and quiet, open spaces of Montana, where the past seems to dissipate into the air and the future seems to splay out on the horizon. Yes, things are changing. Perhaps it was the leaves, the season, the glaciers which seemed to be receding before our eyes, or perhaps it was just the election itself, but driving home– and it felt like home where we were driving– it was impossible to shake the omnipresent sense that it was coming: change.

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This recent Gallup Poll might be telling us what we already know, but if the U.S. election were held in Europe today, Obama would win in an unprecedented landslide. Undoubtedly, most Americans could care less about what Europeans think; In fact, if anything many Americans probably react to Europe’s opinion by taking a knee-jerk, juvenile opposing opinion, just out of spite. It’s never been clear to me why being respected in the rest of the world is seen as a bad thing by a certain segment of the American populace. I would agree that the favorable opinions of foreigners shouldn’t sway our own opinions, at least not ultimately. But if any particular candidate is seen as significantly unfavorable, especially among our allies in other Western nations, it ought to be a legitimate cause for concern.

And there isn’t much room for ambiguity in these poll results. I mean, in France, only 4% of those polled would rather see John McCain as our next President. Only 4%! I think the only way to read this poll is to read it as a flat rejection of John McCain in Europe. The choice, for Europeans, is already startlingly obvious: Barack Obama is clearly the better candidate.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans will be heading to the polls in a couple of months literally torn between the two candidates. Most recent polls here in America show Obama and McCain neck and neck. I think it’s worth asking, then: Why does the choice seem so easy for Europeans, yet seem so strenuous for U.S. voters? Who is wearing the veil here– us or them?

One thing’s for sure: in Europe they aren’t limited by the American media. The American media has become so nationalistic that it’s nearly impossibly to watch a newscast on cable news, such as on FOX, MSNBC or CNN, without seeing a video animation of an American flag waving in the background. It’s as if the media is utterly terrified of being viewed as anti-American. As a result, most Americans are oblivious to the vast harm the neo-conservative agenda has caused this country and our relationships with the rest of the world. The American media, with its rose, white & blue-colored glasses, just doesn’t report what the rest of the world plainly sees.

It certainly doesn’t hurt their credibility that Europeans (certainly the ones listed in this poll!) have significantly better transportation infrastructures, health care systems, standards of living, educational systems, life expectancy, and stronger currencies. Sure, Europe has its problems too, but I think it’s time to be honest with ourselves and ask: WWED? (What Would Europeans Do?)

Because “more of the same” just isn’t working here in America.

Pew Research Poll

Pew Research Poll

Perhaps the most alarming statistic revealing the average ignorance of the American voter was this Pew Research Poll, conducted about a month ago, which demonstrated that 12% of registered voters still incorrectly believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Even more frightening is that this number has remained mostly constant throughout the election season, even throughout the spectacle about Obama’s former Christian pastor, Rev. Wright, which littered headlines everywhere not long ago. This means that there is a block of the American voting public which is not only uninformed now, but which appears to be persistently uninformed.

And this block of voters might be even more numerous than 12%. If we’re using this poll alone as indication, you’ll notice that only 57% of registered voters actually get it right about Obama’s faith. There are a large number of voters who ‘have heard conflicting reports’ or simply aren’t sure yet one way or another (1% actually believe Obama is Jewish!). Of course, this should be an easy fact to check. But instead, it appears that these uninformed voters are not only ignorant, but also resiliently stubborn about their ignorance. Thus, it’s probable that somewhere between 15 and 40 percent of American voters could be placed in a voting block; we might as well call it the ‘Ignorant Vote’.

What all of this really means, shamefully, is that the candidate which can pander best to the ‘Ignorant Vote’ can literally sway the election. And if any political party has learned to feed, grope and spin the cycle of misinformation which tinkers the Ignorant Vote, it is the modern Republican Party. Not only do Republicans tend to consistently gain the favor of the Ignorant Vote, but I’ve no doubt that they consciously target it.

It’s no different here, regarding misinformation about Obama’s faith. Let’s brush aside for a moment that it shouldn’t matter which Abrahamic religion Obama adheres to: The fact remains that among the voters who aren’t sure yet, have heard conflicting reports or who already falsely believe that Obama is a Muslim, the vast majority sway toward voting for McCain as a result. Thus, if Republicans were going to play dirty here, they’d have a propaganda campaign designed specifically around proliferating rumors, misinformation and straight-up lies about Obama’s faith. And, unfortunately, this is exactly what we’ve seen– and in unprecedented, unabashed, explicit force.

Republican pundits everywhere raise the question about Obama’s faith. They continually reinforce stereotypes surrounding Obama’s unusual name and his race. For instance, Republican pundit and talking head, Tucker Carlson, on MSNBC’s Tucker, has been caught claiming that Obama’s faith has become “suddenly conspicuous”. Meanwhile, a book replete with lies and falsehoods, many of which were literally made up out of thin air, was recently published by conservative strategist Jerome Corsi, wherein Corsi attempts to make the case that Obama is really a Muslim (among a slough of other falsehoods and lies, too). This is the same guy who coined the phrase ‘swiftboating’ and who published an equally fraudulent book which courted the Ignorant Vote and derailed the Kerry campaign in 2004. Corsi has also published another book which is aimed at concealing the scientific consensus about the truth of global warming, wherein he goes so far as to question the “truism that oil is a fossil fuel”. I’m not kidding. Meanwhile, conservative radio talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have repeatedly hosted Corsi as a guest, presenting him as an ‘expert opinion’ on all of these matters. If this isn’t incriminating evidence demonstrating the conservative effort to court and foster the Ignorant Vote, I don’t know what is.

There are at least two possible ways of countering the dirty politics of courting the Ignorant Vote: We can either play dirty back (by spreading rumors and lies which influence ignorant voters in other ways), or we can nobly attempt to educate the American public by telling the truth, hoping to dwindle down the percentages of the ignorant. Since this election season is about hope, I’ll reserve my faith for the latter.

Unfortunately, it seems that Republicans have sputtered off entirely toward the dark side instead, shamefully propagating the politics of “anything goes”. To the extent that democracy relies upon an informed and politically active populace, these conservative strategies are not only dangerous to the Obama campaign– they flagrantly threaten our democracy. So I’m asking you: What do you think could be done to combat these out-of-control attempts to foster and manipulate ignorance among American voters?

In an election year where we have a Democratic candidate who is the most charismatic politician we’ve witnessed since Kennedy, it can be easy to forget about the other elections. And by the other elections, of course I mean the incredibly dynamic U.S. Senate races being held around the country. There are 35 seats up for election, but 23 of those seats were previously held by Republicans and only 12 were held by Democrats. What does this mean? Basically, it translates into big trouble for Republicans, and an opportunity for Democrats that is just as crucial as electing Obama for President.

And it gets even worse for Republicans. Of those 12 Democratic seats, only one seat is seriously threatened while a slough of the Republican seats are in real jeopardy. For voters in any of the States where these critical elections are being held, it’s time to get just as mobilized and excited about your Democratic Senatorial candidate as you may feel about Obama. This next ballot is especially important for you. For those in other States, I encourage you to donate a percentage of everything you donate to Obama to a few of your favorite Senatorial races. If you really want change, we need Democrats to pick up these seats in the Senate.

In this spirit, I thought I’d make a guide to all of the close races we’ll be seeing in the Senate this year. I’ll do this alphabetically by State:

Alaska: Nick Begich (D) vs. Ted Stevens (R). Stevens’ seat, vulnerable already, recently became more vulnerable after he was indicted on 7 felony accounts for not disclosing huge gifts he got from Big Oil. In other words, he’s the typical Republican conservative corporate crony. Begich should win this one, but this is one opportunity Democrats have to capitalize on.

Colorado: Mark Udall (D) vs. Bob Schaffer (R). This is an open seat after Republican Wayne Allard announced his retirement. This is a close race, and an absolutely essential one. Colorado has been swaying toward the blue in recent years, and Schaffer is running a dirty campaign with ads full of falsehoods and lies (in typical GOP strategical fashion). Schaffer is also a corporate crony: he has been pushing oil deals that would harm US-Iraq policy. None of this is to mention Schaffer’s close ties to blatant human rights abuses on the Marianas Islands. Why must the Right always be so clearly on the side of evil? We need to get Udall elected here.

Idaho: Larry LaRocco (D) vs. Jim Risch (R). This seat used to belong to Republican Larry Craig. Remember Larry Craig?–Everyone’s favorite gay-basher who got busted for soliciting gay sex? Well, after some theatrics, he’s gone. But this is still a Red State, and LaRocco has an uphill battle. Risch has a lot more money, but the good news is there are a couple of other conservatives on the ballot, which could siphon away some of Risch’s support.

Kentucky: Bruce Lunsford (D) vs. Mitch McConnell (R). This one isn’t going to be easy. McConnell is, of course, the Senate Minority Leader, and he has a gigantic funding advantage. Still, the race is within 10 points and making McConnell nervous could shake up Republican leadership.

Louisiana: Mary Landrieu (D) vs. John Neely Kennedy (R). Landrieu has the only incumbent Democratic seat which is in real trouble. Kennedy (who has no relationship to the Kennedy family in MA at all) is being propped up primarily by the fact that a huge percentage of Landrieu’s voters were displaced and never returned home after Hurricane Katrina. As a result of the missing African-American vote especially, this should be a tight race. Remember: keeping this seat is just as important as picking up a Republican seat.

Maine: Tom Allen (D) vs. Susan Collins (R). This is an uphill battle for Allen against the incumbent Collins. Like Oregon’s Smith, Collins gets elected despite being in a Blue State by running as a moderate. Still, it’s essential for Maine voters to understand that their Democratic interests are far better represented by Allen. This one should be really close.

Minnesota: Al Franken (D) vs. Norm Coleman (R). This is one of the fun, high profile races out there. Franken is the former comedian turned Air America progressive radio talker. There really isn’t much doubt about Franken’s progressive values, since he’s been candidly expressing them over the radio for years. Still, this is going to be a very close race, and there’s no reason to think Franken’s high profile makes him safe; it can hurt him as much as help. Donations to the Franken campaign would be extremely helpful in landing this important seat, which once belonged to the progressive champion, the late Paul Wellstone.

Mississippi: Ronnie Musgrove (D) vs. Roger Wicker (R). Yes, this is a close race: even in Mississippi! This is a battle to finish out Trent Lott’s term, which Lott decided to give up to begin a career as a lobbyist instead. Lott had a lot of incumbency power, and some of that will carry over to Wicker. As always: as the African-American vote goes in Mississippi, so goes the democratic vote. Thus, turnout for Obama should help Musgrove here, even though he currently trails in the polls. If you’re going out to vote in Mississippi for Obama, remember to vote for Musgrove too! They should be handcuffed together here.

New Hampshire: Jeanne Shaheen (D) vs. John Sununu (R). This is a close one, and an important one. New Hampshire has been leaning further and further into the Blue, and so far Shaheen has a small lead in the polls. Make a donation to her campaign to keep her there!

New Mexico: Tom Udall (D) vs. Steve Pearce (R). This is an open seat after Republican Pete Domenici announced retirement. Udall has 5 times as much cash, has a fair lead in the polls, and he’s an Udall: a powerhouse political family. Stewart Udall was basically responsible for every piece of environmental legislation that was passed in the 60’s. Tom should continue the legacy.

North Carolina: Kay Hagan (D) vs. Elizabeth Dole (R). This one should be more of a longshot for Hagan than it is. Dole is an established incumbent, but right after the primaries some polls showed Hagan on top. Since then, Dole has re-established her lead, but she’s still extremely vulnerable. If the African-American vote gets out, which it should for Obama, Hagan has a real shot. As with all of these races, it is particularly important here: Obama voters all need to turnout for Hagan too.

Oregon: Jeff Merkley (D) vs. Gordon Smith (R). This is my home state and where I’ll be voting, so I have a personal stake at getting Gordon Smith out of office. Merkley has been the Speaker of the Oregon House, with a solid progressive background. Meanwhile, Smith is the quintessential political sleaze-ball. When he’s up for re-election, he says whatever he must to stay in office. He’s made headlines for his ads practically endorsing Barack Obama. But don’t be fooled: his real record shows his true colors as a crony for the Bush Administration. He’s a moderate in election-year advertisements, but when called to action he’s Right whipped. Merkley continues to steadily improve in the polls. But still, it’s an uphill battle and he needs all the help we can give him!

Texas: Rick Noriega (D) vs. John Cornyn (R). Polls haven’t been taken here in a while, and so the race is difficult to gauge. There’s every reason to believe that Noriega could make this race close. Cornyn is vulnerable after atrociously blocking the Medicare Bill. The American Medical Association even vowed to run ads against Cornyn due to his poor record on health care. Noriega is definitely trailing here, but Cornyn has been polling under 50%, which is a sign of vulnerability for any incumbent.

Virginia: Mark Warner (D) vs. Jim Gilmore (R). This is actually an open seat, after Republican John Warner (no relation to Mark) announced his retirement. Mark Warner is a ridiculously popular former Governor of Virginia, meanwhile Jim Gilmore is another former governor who is best known for nearly sending Virginia into bankruptcy with a fiscally irresponsible tax cut. Warner looks like an easy winner here, but never say never. He needs your vote!

It’s election season, and that means it’s also campaign advertising season; a contemptible season wrought with doleful cinematic failures. The only explanation for the authorization of these snippets of proliferate misinformation or obvious cliché can be that the folks at Geico already bought up the contracts of anyone with an ounce of advertising wit.

It is therefore an incredible mark of prestige that Barack Obama’s ads have been comparatively good. They are good, certainly, in their quality as ads, but also good in the sense that, so far at least, Obama has been dignified enough to avoid publishing a direct attack ad against McCain. The strategy for the Obama camp has been simple enough: feature his speeches, and use Obama himself as the advertisement’s narrator. Thus, the videos are effective because they’re pointing out a substantive difference between the two candidates: Obama is uniquely charismatic and inspiring. John McCain doesn’t even need to be mentioned.

On the contrary, McCain’s latest campaign advertisements are following the usual disgraceful chicanery: not only are they downright cheesy and horrifically witless, they feature cleverly couched lies and misinformation too. As has been reported en masse, McCain’s latest attack ad compares the celebrity of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton with that of Barack Obama. It’s worth posting the McCain ad here for comedic effect alone:

Yes, folks: that’s the ad that passed through the creative gauntlet and political astuteness of the McCain campaign. That is, not only did this ad have to first gain authorization among (what I assume to be) a slough of other advertisement ideas, but it also warranted such high praise by McCain that it was worth spending campaign money on.

I suppose the idea behind featuring Barack Obama as “the biggest celebrity in the world” is to suggest that somehow it is a negative quality that his speeches have drawn crowds nearing 100,000 supporters, due entirely to the brute force of his political career and the content of his speeches. The ad also overlooks the ironic fact that Britney Spears is a diehard Republican and McCain supporter (although I’m unaware of her opinion now since the release of this ad).

As you’ve just seen, the video progresses (in completely unconnected fashion) from featuring Obama as a charismatic leader to making claims about his energy policies. The oblivious lack of a relevant transition aside, it is crucial to note that some of the claims McCain is trying to sneak in are actually straight up lies. Since the advertisement does not cite its sources (something we need regulation for!), I decided to look into the claim that Obama wants to raise taxes on electricity myself.

A quick and useful resource for fact-checking political claims like this can be found at factcheck.org, and if you’re clicking that link near the time that I’m posting this blog entry, you’ll notice that the relevant article is actually posted right on the top of the page.

It turns out that Obama never claimed to raise taxes on electricity at all. The only possible source for McCain’s advertisement claim comes from a drastic misquote. During an interview once, a reporter asked Obama if he thought it was a good idea to tax clean energy to help pay for education. Obama responded, in completely rational fashion, that such a tax would be a bad idea, and that if any tax on energy would be appropriate, it would be a tax on “dirty” energy like coal, oil or, to a lesser extent, natural gas. But even so, no tax on electricity, not even on dirty energy (perhaps unfortunately so, if you want my opinion), is part of Obama’s plan.

Thus, not only does McCain’s ad fail in wit and cinematic skill, it is also replete with blatant lies.

When the advertisement ends with a sudden musical shift and a supposedly noble, chin-raised McCain approving the message, you have to check yourself from thinking this might actually be an ironic Saturday Night Live skit; a satire of McCain instead.

Aside from displaying the evident lack of creativity and wit of McCain’s campaign team, which an authorization of this campaign ad must imply, by far the most alarming failure is how the advertisement relies upon complete lies, as if there is nothing truthful which can be negatively said about Obama.

Unfortunately the only thing worse than this advertisement itself is the thought that it might actually be effective with some voters. It’s good to see that Obama is refusing to stoop to the level of old-school negative campaign politics, but something more must be done to combat the spread of misinformation that these ads display. ‘Playing nice’ isn’t enough. We need regulations which, at the very least, require political advertisements to cite the sources for all of the claims being made. As nauseous as those fluffy drug advertisements are since being required to list all of their side effects, it is at least a step up over the complete lack of regulation that currently exists for campaign ads.

The most prominent effect of such regulation would be to show just how much Republican and Right Wing tactics actually rely upon lies, misinformation and smear to prop their candidates up. The constant use of such tactics only display the obvious fact that Republicans don’t think they could win otherwise. Which is the likely truth.