Cognitive Dissonance

As we approach the final stretch of this presidential campaign I remain frustrated by the cognitive dissonance among the media and the public. Conventional wisdom suggests that Senator Obama represents dramatic change – almost revolutionary. Senator John McCain however is a conservative maverick we can trust as commander and chief even if we may disagree with him on other issues.

To a large extent this cognitive dissonance was reinforced by Obama’s selection of Senator Joe Biden as his running mate. The commentariat and punditocracy consistently repeated the meme that Obama was addressing his “weaknesses” in his selection of Joe Biden as a “reassuring” figure. Meanwhile, John McCain has once again demonstrated his maverick touch by selecting Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.


It seems to me however that John McCain is neither conservative nor a maverick. John McCain is a radical nationalist and zealous proponent of American exceptionalism. His running mate is a compelling person with admirable qualities. It’s impossible not to like her or respect how Governor Palin challenged Alaska’s entrenched corrupt political establishment – a cause many bloggers on both the left and right have an affinity for.

However, Governor Palin is not a person to challenge Republican orthodoxy with respect to cultural issues or global warming. Nor will she represent any counterweight to the neocons that inhabit McCain’s foreign policy shop. Hence, Palin’s selection only reinforces that McCain is captive to the Christian radicals in his own party and has no interest in empowering any counterweight against the radical global vision the Bush/Cheney administration disastrously pursued. Simply put, Governor Palin being a heartbeat away from the presidency is no better than the prospect of John McCain becoming president.

As for Senator Obama my fear is that his presidency would be too risk averse and fail to boldly challenge the mindset that produced our current occupation in Iraq or dramatically reverse the crony corporatism that pervades our culture and economy. Obama will facilitate adjustments in the tax code to provide relief for wage earners and with an enhanced Democratic majority deliver something on healthcare. I’m also reasonably confident his selections to the Supreme Court and the federal bench as a whole will have more respect for the Constitution, civil liberties and protecting whistle blowers who tell truth to power. These are not unimportant things.

However, I am not confident that Obama will come up with a bold new economic and social contract like FDR. This country needs a dramatic overhaul in infrastructure as well as committing to the vision expressed by former Vice President Al Gore that we end our dependence fossil fuels. So far, I’m not seeing or hearing any evidence beyond platitudes that an Obama presidency will be sufficiently bold. In fairness to Obama though, FDR’s 1932 presidential campaign wasn’t especially bold either.

My sense however is that the Obama/Biden ticket represents a restoration of the corporate centrism of George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton. This brand of corporate centrism cultivates cooperative relationships among democracies and strategic rivals in the name of “stability.”

Under such a regime, when America doesn’t appear to have a dog in a fight such as genocide in Rawanda in the early ‘90s there is a good chance force will not be used. When our energy supply is threatened, as it was when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, our military will be deployed. Corporate centrism is more socially moderate when the president is a Democrat and certainly preferable to McCain. If nothing else governments will not be toppled gratuitously and allies needlessly alienated. But it’s not good enough.

So my message to all like-minded progressives is that while the cause is better served with a President Obama the fight does not end there. A progressive reform majority is essential in congress as well as state legislatures and governor mansions from coast to coast if America is to become better global citizens abroad that also promotes dignity and economic citizens for all our citizens at home.

Ironically, Obama himself, a community organizer in his youth has advocated for the American people to push for change from the bottom up. So while I am not convinced Obama will be out front on the change we need perhaps his presidency can be a catalyst to the public mobilizing in a direction of national renewal on behalf of working people, civil liberties and social justice. At least I hope so.


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