Monday, June 23, 2008
I was an Obama man even before hardly anyone knew who he was, back when he was a state senator in Illinois and hadn't even run for U.S. Senate (much less President). He was already so inspiring with his knowledge, candor, and level-headedness, I pegged him at the time as someone I wished would someday run for President. Yet I dismissed that as fantasy, because he was black--as one of my friends said (a police officer in California basing his judgment on a lurking racism evident throughout even his department), "this country will never elect a black man for President."
That was years ago. Imagine my surprise when Obama actually did start a run for President! And his win, though by no means guaranteed, actually looks plausible. Except for the fact, of course, that the Republicans are Evil and will sell any lie to win, as they did in 2004 against Kerry (the Swift Boat debacle) and even against McCain, one of their very own (the Black Baby debacle--even more disgusting than the Swift Boat campaign...with friends like that, who needs enemies?). The American people shamed me with their readiness to fall for such obvious crap--are we such a nation of idiots? More recently, the racism discovered by the press even among Democrats in West Virginia this season was shocking beyond even my cynical expectations, and does not bode well for the upcoming election (see the DailyShow clip, and for more disturbing examples see this video from TheRealNews). In Georgia they even sold out T-Shirts depicting Obama as a bananna-eating monkey (I sh*t you not). Sad to say, Hillary Clinton's campaign wasn't entirely innocent of race-baiting either (intentionally or not).
But come what may, this may be the year the People took back the political process, if not their country. There are two indicators converging on that conclusion. The first is in respect to the media. The second is in respect to campaign financing. The two pillars of power: knowledge and money. I'll blog about the first one now. I'll cover the second later this week.
The first indicator of a shift in power back to the people is the fact that we are now successfully subverting the media, which has failed us through incompetence and corporate control. Video editing and distribution is now so cheap that YouTube is fast beating the corporate media at their own game. Ordinary citizens and interest groups locked out of mainstream media can now use the internet to explode myths and expose lies and deception, everything the official media is supposed to do but rarely does anymore. Now we can excerpt things politicians have said and compare them and present our findings to the public directly, bypassing the networks and news outlets that otherwise control what information is widely seen, heard, or read. Our voice can now be heard, not just theirs.
Much ado was made a few years ago about this fact being evident in the power wielded by bloggers. But I think video is the true medium of power, and that makes YouTube the true vehicle of a new era in U.S. politics. Once bloggers seized the power to produce video, then the real media revolution began. Now we have independent internet media sources like TheYoungTurks and Progressive Media USA. Though these can't yet compete with the best of the mainstream media in standards and investigatory resources, it's only a matter of time before the people start funding their own media the way they've started funding their own candidates. In the meantime, the truth is getting out.
The LA Times ran a piece recently on how John McCain Has a YouTube Problem that exemplifies what I mean. Because citizens can now afford to do what the media long ago gave up doing (actually checking the facts and comparing them, complete with video editing and archival work), politicians can no longer get away with waffling, deception, and unprincipled flip-flopping. Because we'll catch them. And show it to a hundred million people. Again and again.
You will definitely see what I mean when you see why John McCain does indeed have a YouTube problem. Just enter "John McCain" in the YouTube search engine and everything that comes up in the top twenty hits (except the one video he paid for) pretty much destroys any illusions you may have had that McCain was an honest straight-talker. Remember when we thought he was the only Republican we could trust? Goodbye to that idea. The evidence is so disturbing I can see no valid reason anyone should vote for him. And this is coming from someone who actually would have voted for him in 2004 (had Bush not smeared him out of the race in 2000 with the most shameless and disgusting dirty tricks, as noted above). I thought McCain was one of the only principled men in Congress, who actually voted his conscience and wisely saw the value of compromise and standing on principle rather than backing the party platform, someone whose positions tended to be complex and moderate, spurning the extremists on both sides. Well, that McCain evidently died some years ago. Politics destroyed his soul.
I'll guide you to the few examples in that top twenty that are most worth your time (items brief, entertaining, and informative), demonstrating that McCain is neither honest nor reliable nor, evidently, has any convictions he won't abandon to get elected. Plus a few other things you might not have known about him, including his vast wealth, ignorance of basic details of Middle East politics, eager support of the religious right, and his inability to remember things he once said (you know, things he said back when we liked him and thought he'd never sell out like this). I won't say much about his adamant denial of the right to marry or his publicly declared plan to pack the Supreme Court with judges who'll overthrow Roe v. Wade (and you know judges who'll do that, will do a lot else besides). If you haven' t heard him on those topics, just Google or YouTube them under his name.
But now back to the best of the top twenty...
First, two examples of modern satire (or is it parody?). Humor is a powerful way to send a political message...
Obama Video Spoof : A popular YouTube video a while ago reverently put a speech by Barack Obama to music and had celebrities singing the words (Yes We Can). A political comedy troupe did the same for McCain--several times (this one emphasizes his war policy, but another good one is No, You Can't on domestic policy). They're funny (and a bit scary) because they're true. McCain actually said those things. His war mongering has completely eclipsed his critical and cautious demeanor of past decades (both exemplified by the Tim Russert gotcha video mentioned below), and you don't have to be a peacenik to find that disturbing. I'm certainly no pacifist myself (e.g. Sense and Goodness without God, pp. 400-01), but I can no longer trust McCain's judgment in matters of war, and that's in the one area he's supposed to have the most competence.
He Said It First : The same comedy troupe (Public Service Administration) did this bit, which is quite funny in its own right, and to an extent true with respect to media hush about the issue, and I worry it's true even in its central posit: that John McCain called his wife a c*nt in public (warning: they don't bleep the word in the video!). Though this hasn't been confirmed (three reporters are anonymously cited as witnesses in the original report in an anti-McCain book: see McCain Temper Boiled Over), it hasn't been denied either (neither McCain nor anyone on his staff will respond to the allegations, even to deny them: see for example Baptist Minister Asks McCain). And given hints I've seen, on many other occasions, of McCain's disturbingly hot temper and language, it doesn't seem uncharacteristic of him (especially given the old-fogey language: he also allegedly called his wife a "trollop," which seems too archaically silly for anyone to have made that up).
Now to the real stuff...
McCain's YouTube Problem Just Became a Nightmare : Not every example here is indefensible, but most of them are. This kind of dishonesty is what people mean when they accuse a politician of "flip-flopping." Changing one's mind for principled reasons, based on new information, by admitting you were wrong and explaining why, is no evil, in fact it's what we should most want from a President (and thus the term "flip-flopping" is often rhetorically abused to slander legitimate changes of position). But not even admitting, or attempting to conceal, the fact that you've reversed position, saying one thing in one place and another in another, without ever owning why, is a political evil, one that, when it gets as out of hand as this, should never be rewarded at the polls.
John McCain vs. John McCain : This adds to the above. Both are ultimately from the same source as the c-word allegation, so some caution is in order, but this is video, so there is no denying McCain said these things. You can't blame bias for fabricating video (just for excluding context, but it doesn't seem likely that context would help him much here). Similarly, from a different source: John McCain Debates Himself on Supporting Bush. This is a good example of what ordinary citizens can do with YouTube if they have the time, using relatively cheap technology. This and other videos like it grew out of the already-independent blogosphere, in the latter case the JedReport, another example of bypassing corporate America and the networks. We're looking at an era more like the Age of Revolution, when anyone could start his own newspaper or pamphlet press, like Thomas Paine's Common Sense, which birthed this country. Now we might see it reborn by the same phenomenon of the universal independent press, this time combined with the second most powerful innovation in political media: the video.
Fabulous Life of John McCain : This is a slick production, hardly from bottom-budget citizen media, but it's an example of an effective use of the citizen media (YouTube) by interest groups who are otherwise locked out of the corporate media, to expose facts that the mainstream media won't cover (or buries when it does). It's political slant is obvious, but the facts are correct. This example is from Progressive Media USA, which, though not a bunch of ordinary Joes, is nevertheless an example of defying the power of mainstream media on a relatively low budget. This is the sort of organization we will see more of, and which will eventually have more power over disseminating political information than the traditional media does now.
John McCain Gets Owned on Meet The Press : We'll miss Tim Russert. This clip is characteristic of his method, sadly almost unique in mainstream media: using a politician's own words against them, in the very same model as the videos above. But this clip's ready availability on YouTube (even if by piracy) is an example of how the citizen media (via YouTube) can take back political power in this country by bypassing the channels that once controlled people's access to information. Alone, Russert's show might have aired only once and never been widely seen (and then only, or at least mostly, by his dedicated, self-selecting audience). But on YouTube everyone can see it, whenever they want, anyone will find it who looks, and people like me can point you to it, the Networks be damned.
McCain and John Hagee : If you were alarmed by Obama's church minister Jeremiah Wright (who was largely misrepresented in the press, though look how Wikipedia can be cheaply and effectively used to communicate in a matter-of-fact way, to everyone in the country, just how the media was distorting the facts by leaving out crucial context), wait until you see the minister McCain chose to endorse him, John Hagee, who is a far scarier dude, whom no sensible man would have anything to do with (and in this case the context is fully shown--apparently you don't have to distort the facts to make Hagee look like a dangerous lunatic). This video compilation is from TalkingPointsMemo, another professional blog bypassing the mainstream media, although as this compilation shows, the mainstream media couldn't avoid this story, and roasted McCain over the coals because of it. Obama denounced and disowned Wright. McCain eventually did the same. At first he only said he disagreed with Hagee on "some" points (though he wouldn't say which ones). Then under pressure he finally said he repudiates Hagee's anti-Catholic remarks, and then when that didn't work, he disowned him altogether.
But the fact that McCain would happily stand by and praise Hagee's endorsement of his campaign, until someone noticed who Hagee was and embarrassed McCain by telling the rest of us, is more than a little scary. McCain's claim that he didn't know Hagee's theology and politics is either a self-serving lie (and one so egregious it disqualifies him for the Presidency) or a demonstration of McCain's dangerously naive incompetence in selecting his friends (which also disqualifies him for the Presidency). It's lose-lose for McCain, in the eyes of any reasonable observer.
Obviously I'm a passionate Obama supporter. But I was once a fan of McCain as well. No longer. Thanks to the people's media.