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Country First (or, How The Media Loves A Lipsticked Rumsfeld)

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Banks are falling and businesses busting, middle-class Americans are losing their homes in droves, while greedy poison comes a tricklin' down!!!

But, "the fundamentals are good!" John McCain said they're good. And he should know, 'cause he was imprisoned 40 years ago in Vietnam. What? Wait a minute - WHAT!?

Moving on:

Last week, former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, encouraged his base to throw their support behind a third-party candidate, and indeed, among the third-party candidates, one will find representation of fundamental issues not being discussed or addressed by the Democrats or the Republicans. So, okay, it's a credible option. That is, if one is willing to dismiss, not only the major parties, but also, perhaps the bigger picture related to this year's catchwords: hope and change. If we look into the eyes of all the little black boys and girls for a sense of a brand new promise; if we imagine our next president as an ambassador representing a shift of American policy to the international community -- then, we have some prioritizing to do.

I am no great fan of the Democratic Party, and have enormous disagreement and concern about many policies advocated in the Democrats' current platform. But there can be no doubt, that in a country of, for, and by the people, the only positive change that can be depended on, is a movement of imagination, aspiration, and will.

I watched both the Republican and Democratic Conventions through the same lens and found the most striking difference between the parties that I have witnessed in my lifetime. It wasn't a lens pointed at the candidates or their attack-dog speakers. It was a lens pointed at the crowd, the delegates, and the ordinary citizens that occupied those two very different halls. At the DNC, I absorbed the intense hope, passion, and readiness to participate in, and sacrifice for our country.

This was in sharp contrast to the Governor of Alaska, who actually poked fun at, indeed mocked, the constitutional rights of the criminally accused in our system, to the thunderous applause of Republican brothers and sisters wearing symbolic hard-hats emblazoned with the slogan "Drill now," and holding signs claiming "country first," like gluttons to fast-food neo-conservativism.

What country is it they're putting first? Is it a country in the service of their children's future or one serving the conceit of a deferred personal identity? The picture of Republicanism in America represented by their convention, seemed more a gathering of self-styled pseudo-cowboys and shallow-eyed Stepford wives, than one of a hearty and loyal opposition. In particular, I found myself taken aback by the instant will to embrace Palin as their new champion. Full disclosure, I've spent a lot of time in Wasilla, Alaska, where she was mayor. I've even seen Wasilla booming. By that, I mean, an afternoon where, with a little effort, one could find three of four people on the streets. It's a beautiful town in a beautiful state. But, it's smaller than my children's pre-school. Since then, she's had a little less than two years in the governorship leading to a boldly received lie about a bridge at this year's convention. Is this really the example of earned and competent leadership that we want to put one heartbeat away from the presidency leading our children's country? Or are we simply enabling Palin (declared by former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee a "cocky wacko") the hubris of her reckless acceptance of John McCain's wildly irresponsible invitation? When did we start pridefully championing those who win the contest of lottery over those who offer substance, and those whose lifelong cultural and political curiosity has the limitations of a single sparsely populated state?

When will America be ready to rise like a real champion? I'm reminded of Muhammad Ali's legendary "Rope-A-Dope." He took punch after punch, wearing Foreman down with courage and strategy, because the great champion that he is, understood that it's not how many times you get knocked down, but how strongly you get up. This country has to start talking about a new kind of strong; has to have the real courage it takes to fight only when necessary, and to do so, in preservation of civil rights for our countrymen, but if we are to be a world leader, then for humankind as well.

Our republican-led nation did a great disservice to the young soldiers who were sent to fight in Vietnam. They were vilified, and fantastically unsupported upon their return from overseas. In many ways, one's political view of that, or any other war, is irrelevant to the responsibilities we have to our returning troops. Still, supporting troops, like supporting our own children, should not be blind. Indeed, before we can look upon troop actions with a critical eye, we must look upon our own.

Still when a presidential candidate's campaign, incessantly exploits their man's heroic mythology, not withstanding whatever courage one may appoint John McCain, the long unspoken historical context remains worthy of at least brief consideration. Captain John McCain was shot down during Operation Rolling Thunder over Vietnam. From all accounts, he, and many other Americans faced their imprisonment with courage and integrity. An estimated 52,000 Vietnamese civilians - -men, women, and children, were incinerated as a result of Rolling Thunder's bombardment. McCain himself, has acknowledged that his participation was not motivated by patriotism. But, rather, in the pursuit of personal glory. And to what end? Well, to the end that resulted in a national tragedy, a lost war, and throngs of American veterans, ignored by the country, by the very parties and people that sent and kept them there. But despite the vainglorious devastation to both sides in that conflict, an unrepentant John McCain recently voted against veteran's benefits, those supported by his major opponent. This odd dichotomy begs the question: If John McCain, in reflection, offers no support for those that served beside him, nor those who serve today, what has experience provided him? And when a man regarded so highly in heroic terms of military service, confides personal glory as a common motivation to the young Americans who risk their lives, at what point would he acknowledge patriotism as something more considered than the glib hawkishness exulted by the Republican Convention? His choice of Palin is, once again, McCain's vainglorious head rising. It's about "winning," not serving. As Senator Joe Biden said this week, "Don't tell me your values, show me your budget and I'll tell you your values."

McCain values McCain. His blood boils every time his integrity is questioned, as though his five-year imprisonment allows him the arrogant assumption that he may tread on all that followed unquestioned. He was one of the Keating Five for good reason. Indeed McCain had abused his power as a Senator in lobbying for Keating. And it was not until he was tipped off by regulators of the criminal investigation of Lincoln Savings and Loan, that he severed relations with Keating. It was a little late. More than 21,000, mostly elderly investors, had lost their life savings. And, Cindy McCain's bookkeeping was not a thing apart. All the righteous indignation, or prior heroics one wants to advertise, does not change the pattern of self-service by this man of seven houses.

I can't help but reflect on the issues of health and homelessness that our Vietnam veterans faced for decades, just think of the tidal wave of veteran's issues about to return to our shores. John McCain claims the surge as a "victory." Well, it's no victory for the nearly 5,000 American dead. For the hundreds of thousands of civilian dead. It's no victory for the veterans who under this Republican administration, it has already been demonstrated, will not be served upon their return. It's no victory for our country to have a broken and depleted military, a broken and depleted economy, with so much work to be done at home on issues of healthcare, poverty, infrastructure, education, environment, and perhaps, most of all, security. And it's no victory, that in attacking the wrong country, we boosted Al Qaeda recruitment worldwide 300% (as we stop-loss our own.) Finally, it is no victory for our children, reared in an America of such divisive loathing, enormous debt, and tarnished standing.

Despite recent boasts to the contrary, by the Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, (Bush's key bumbler of the Katrina debacle) our country is not safer. It is not safer from without, and it is not safer from within. The divisiveness brought on by the policies of George W. Bush and John McCain has created an emotional civil war. We have to ask ourselves, at what point emotions may even turn to violence here at home.

By and large, the media is going to do what's good for the media. If that means covering the McCain/Palin ticket for fashion, or fraud, assume fashion their more likely target. (While Americans died in the Middle East, Donald Rumsfeld was voted one of People Magazine's sexiest men.) Palin, married to an 8-year secessionist, has as much as admitted that she has no interest whatsoever in any culture but her own. It is that kind of lacking in basic curiosity and the void of insightfulness that comes with it which embodied George Bush's folksy failings.

This is simply the worst ticket in modern times. And the victory for this country begins with a unified refusal to accept, not only the McCain/Palin ticket, but also the static and shallow conscience of the Republican base. If we are to support hope, in a cycle of history that may be its last, then a vote for McCain/Palin is a vote for cowardice. A vote not backed up by demand and participation, is an impotent one. A vote for hope followed by demand and action to realize it -- is an American vote. This November, vote American. Vote imagination. Vote hope. Vote your conscience. Vote for the troops. Vote to make me pay higher taxes. (I owe it to your children and my own.) Vote to put your country first.