The Straight Talk Express is arguably the most famous bus in America right now. Riding around in the conveyance favored by everyday working class people is a nice touch really. It makes McCain seem like one of us. It’s true that McCain now flies around in a Boeing 737 of the same name, equipped with first class seats for himself and his entourage, but it’s the bus that people see and remember.
Buses remind us of going to work bleary-eyed in the morning crowded together with lots of strangers and then coming home exhausted at night crowded together in the same way. Buses are about enduring extreme heat and cold waiting for them to arrive. They are about the fear of being late to work when you miss one, or when it breaks down or gets stuck in traffic. They are about the fear of waiting for one at night in a dicy part of town, hoping that you won’t become another mugging or rape statistic.
The long distance buses remind us of dusty bus stations where the washrooms smell of urine and disinfectant, the luggage is travel-worn and often held together with string or clothesline. They suggest long trips through rural and small town America, punctuated by stopovers to stretch your legs and grab an unhealthy snack washed down by bad coffee or a can of toxic soda pop.
I know a little bit about buses. I rode the local ones to my South Side Chicago teaching jobs. I’ve ridden "The Dog" through the American West, the American Southland and up and down the East Coast. My brother was a D.C bus driver for many years and can entertain me for hours with tales of quirky passengers and his many struggles as a union militant fighting the good fight at D.C Metrobus.
Riding the bus is not for the fastidious or for those who insist on travel in grand style and comfort.
Riding in a bus called the Straight Talk Express is good for John McCain’s image and good for his campaign. It suggests that John McCain might know something about the everyday adversities of working class life and have some understanding of our concerns. Too bad he plans to throw the American working class under a bus if he ever gets to the White House.
McCain’s contempt for working class America is well documented.
- He was deeply involved in the Keating 5 savings and loan scandal of the 1980’s when thousands of working class investors lost their retirement money and the U.S. government had to pony up 2 billion dollars in bailout funds.
- McCain enthusiastically supported the North American Free Trade Agreement which has been a cross-border disaster for working people of all the nationalities involved.
- McCain opposes affirmative action programs that help overcome the racial and gender discriminaton that is still very much alive and well in this country.
- When the Lilly Ledbetter bill came up in the Senate which allow women to sue companies that cheated them out of wages by discriminating against them, McCain opposed its passage.
- McCain opposes the Protecting America’s Workers Act which would increase penalties against employers who kill and maim employees with risky unsafe workplace practices
- McCain supports at least partial privatization of Social Security. After the wonderful job Wall Street did with home mortgages, that would be risky business at best.
- McCain opposes the Employee Free Choice Act which would make it harder for employers to coerce or fire workers who want to join a union
- McCain has voted to weaken laws governing overtime pay and minimum wage.
- McCain voted to cut funding for both Medicare and Medicaid.
- McCain wants to essentially continue the Bush tax plan which cut taxes for the wealthy while starving social services crucial to a decent working class lifestyle.
- McCain has supported cutting veterans’ health and education benefits.
- McCain supported the invasion of Iraq. That condemned our largely working class military and private contractors to an open-ended unpopular occupation and its thousands of resulting deaths and injuries. The toll on the Iraqi people was far higher. All of this agony was for a war whose real motivation was all about the oil.
- Of course this is just the short list. Poke around a little bit on your own and you can easily double the length.
McCain views working class America as "the help". That means we should go about our daily labors out of sight, out of mind and be grateful for whatever pittance the 9th richest man in the Senate and his corporate pals can spare. We should lower our eyes in the presence of our "betters", speak only when spoken to, express ourselves in quiet humble tones and make "yes sir" and "yes ma’am" a mandatory form of address. Given McCains violent explosive temper, this might not be such bad advice if you happen to be in his presence.
McCain comes from a family of top admirals and has always been a wealthy elitist, but one who consistent with his fighter pilot training, has learned to take evasive action. After his humiliating admission of guilt in the Keating 5 savings and loan scandal, John McCain desperately needed to reinvent himself. Like Richard Nixon and Madonna Ciccone, McCain knew that times change, memories are short and that a makeover means another chance. Like Henry David Thoreau, he would march to the beat of a different drummer, not to quiet contemplation beside Walden Pond, but to the Oval Office in the White House.
McCain also knew that he needed working class votes to complete his journey to power. Instead of McCain the low-life crook who robbed elderly people of their life savings, he morphed into John McCain the tough guy war hero and maverick rebel. The disastrous blue-blood reign of George Bush I had put the hated Bill Clinton into office for two terms during the 1990’s. The stuffy Republican Party Establishment needed a new Ronald Reagan if they wanted to win the 2000 election. John McCain desperately wanted the part.
Although he lacked Reagan’s long experience as a TV actor (crucial to Reagan’s success as a politician), John McCain had a bullet point on his resume that he could turn to his advantage. That bullet point was the 5 1/2 years he spent in North Viet Namese prisons after being shot down on a bombing raid at the height of the South East Asia war.
He could be both the hero and the victim: The hero battling the communist hordes of Asia and the victim of their cruel and inscrutable lack of regard for human life. But John McCain forgot to mention that the Viet Namese communists had never actually attacked or invaded the USA. He forgot to tell the American people that according to international law the entire SE Asia war was a series of monstrous war crimes committed by the USA. Although we had committed mass murder in Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam with our high tech weapons of mass destruction, the bullet point on John McCain’s resume was all about John McCain’s mistreatment while a POW. Curiously, he also failed to mention the widespread US mistreatment and murder of Viet Namese POW’s and civilians.
A honorable person with deeply held moral values would have told the American people the ugly truth about the SE Asia War. Many veterans of that war did, but John McCain did not. That kind of straight talk does not get you showered with big bucks campaign contributions.This was John McCain’s story and he was sticking to it.
Strength in the face of adversity is something working class America respects. So is military service…especially in actual combat. John McCain had done 5 1/2 years of hard prison time, something very unusual for someone from his privileged background. Usually only working class people do that kind of hard time. Score one for John McCain’s image as the tough guy.
But what about John McCain’s resume bullet point as a maverick rebel? John McCain certainly had plenty of Republican Party maverick rebel role models to choose from. He could have followed the example of Susan B. Anthony who was a tireless advocate of women’s equality. He could looked for inspiration from Frederick Douglass, who battled racism his entire life. He could have studied the career of Fighting Bob LaFollette who never wavered as a spokesperson for workers and small farmers and who denounced imperialist war with equal fervor. Heck, McCain could have at least borrowed some of Teddy Roosevelt’s denunciations of corporate crime and environmental destruction or reminded us that it was Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower who warned about the growth of the military-industrial complex.
But John McCain had no intention of restoring the honorable traditions of the Republican Party. His Republican Party had long ago descended into the gutter of vicious racial and gender politics. Teddy Roosevelt might have denounced Big Oil for its greed and cruelty, but today’s Republicans will only criticize an oil company if its stock doesn’t perform up to expectations.
So McCain searched for a few issues that would distinguish him the herd. He helped open trade relations with Viet Nam, but ignored the fact we owed war reparations to that country dating back to 1973. He took up a mild campaign reform law that did little to actually challenge the stranglehold of corporate cash over our electoral process. He criticized the Christian Right a few times, but did not take up the cause of women’s equality or gay liberation. He denounced the flying of the Confederate flag, but did nothing substantial to confront the bitter racial divisions in America’s working class that the flag represented.
Like Reagan’s carefully staged photo ops, McCain’s dissent from the GOP mainstream was tailored for the corporate owned news media. McCain learned how to talk to reporters, flatter their often considerable egos and eagerly played the role of one of the "boys on the bus". He needed a media buzz and he got one just in time for his presidential bid in the 2000 election. He was no longer a Snidely Whiplash who robbed widows of their pensions, but a war hero who battled the Establishment with Truth and Straight Talk.
Working class America respects the plain talking straight shooter who tells the truth both to your face and to the powers that be. It’s a luxury that is denied to most working class people because that kind of shit can get you fired from your job, make you a subject to official persecution and alienate you from your peers. For all of our huffing and puffing about our love of freedom, most people prefer free speech in the abstract and are uncomfortable when confronted with the real thing. It’s best enjoyed from a safe distance on a TV set or movie screen. Seeing McCain was like watching a good old fashioned John Wayne movie and being secretly glad that it wasn’t you facing down the bad guys with snappy dialog and a pair blazing six-guns. Score One for John McCain’s image as a maverick rebel.
There was a third important bullet point on John McCain’s resume. John McCain is a white man. This counts for a lot when wooing working class voters who are uh….. white men. McCain knew you are never supposed to say that out loud because you don’t want to openly alienate working class females and voters of color. That also doesn’t play well among the independents that Republicans need to win national elections. But McCain knew that he had to reach the white working class male voters still reeling from the savage beating they had endured from de-industrialization and unionbusting. Having a white skin and a male body used to mean a lot more money and status in America and McCain grasped the fear and confusion that rippled through the ranks of America’s white working class men. McCain desparately wanted to turn that fear and confusion to his own personal advantage.
A honorable person with deeply held moral values would have told the American people the ugly truth about working class racial and gender divisions. They would have explained how these divisions have weakened labor solidarity in the face of unrelenting corporate attacks. They would have explained that blaming women and people of color for America’s economic shortcomings is factually wrong and morally abhorrent. They would have held up the many examples in U.S. history of how multi-racial and gender solidarity has made the difference in improving people’s lives and is the key to any kind of real social progress at all. But that kind of straight talk does not get you showered with big bucks campaign contributions. Score One for John McCain as the Great White Male Hope.
McCain’s march toward the presidency started out well in 2000. He won the New Hampshire primary. Then in South Carolina his campaign was shot down by another ex-fighter pilot. That ex-fighter pilot had never had real missiles shot at his plane in combat. That ex-fighter pilot had never been confined for 5 1/2 years as a POW. In fact that ex-fighter pilot couldn’t even stand the confinement of his Air National Guard service and mysteriously disappeared from his duties, protected by his wealthy family and their powerful friends. That ex-fighter pilot was George W. Bush.
McCain’s campaign went down in flames because of a nasty smear campaign that accused him of being mentally unstable, of being a homosexual and that McCain’s adopted darkskinned Bangladeshi child was really the black illegitate offspring from a McCain sexual affair. The Bush campaign denied all involvement, but it had Karl Rove’s fingerprints all over it. Rove was a close advisor to the Bush campaign at the time.
An honorable person would have not only repudiated such despicable tactics, but also all of those associated with it including George W. Bush. But McCain meekly went on to support Bush for president and was one of his strongest supporters for the entire 8 years of the Bush presidency. So much for the tough guy rebel maverick. Ironically, the ugly 2000 South Carolina primary may have actually helped McCain in the long run. He could once again play both the hero and the victim. For the media, it only added to his image.
Today in 2008, all traces of the maverick rebel have disappeared, but the image still has legs as they say in Hollywood, and it may be just enough to carry McCain to the White House. Surrounded by the corporate lobbyists he once denounced and employing the very same campaign strategist who smeared him in South Carolina, the "Honorable" John McCain is out to do to Barack Obama what was done to him 8 years ago.
Based largely on his war record and his media image, McCain still has support among white working class voters and is seen as a dangerous threat by the AFL-CIO. They even created a special section of their website, done in the latest multimedia Flash technology, to counter his appeal. It doesn’t do a bad job explaining McCain’s abominable record on economic issues, but in the end it falls short of the kind of straight talk that working class America needs to hear. They sure won’t hear it from John McCain and if they won’t hear it from America’s organized labor movement, where does that leave us?
The AFL-CIO does not even mention McCain’s support of the Iraq War. McCain has never come clean about our unprovoked invasion of a divided Viet Nam. It shouldn’t surprise us that he would also support an unprovoked invasion of Iraq. Our largely working class military is being killed and maimed over the oil that makes multinational corporations rich even as it destroys the eco-system of the entire planet. The money that should be going to education, health, alternative energy sources, our crumbling infrastructure etc…etc… is going into that endless money pit in Iraq. Much of it has gone straight into the pockets of the powerful corporations allied to the Bush administration. The Iraq War is a moral disaster that drags the name of the USA through the mud and makes it difficult for us to function as a respected member of the world community. All of this impacts directly on working class life here in the USA as we try to survive in an increasingly competitive global economy.
With the exception of a few lines about the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the AFL-CIO glosses over the whole issue of gender and race discrimination. In an election year where race and gender were major topics of conversation, this is inexcusable. Racial and gender discrimination is a knife into the heart of the American working class. It impoverishes and exploits people based on physical characteristics they have no control over and destroys the labor unity necessary to confront corporate power.
McCain is no friend of either working class women or working class people of color. Why wasn’t this made one of the important points in their glossy multimedia show? It looks like the kind of pandering to white working class male voters that we’ve seen all too much of. More than anyone else in our fractured working class, they need to hear some straight talk on race and gender to counter the kind of bullshit that is all too common among white males of all classes in this society. Many white male working class men already understand that racial and gender discrimination is evil, but many are still confused by the issue.
As long as the Republican Party can exploit the gender and racial mythology that divides working class America, they will always have a fighting chance. But blaming John McCain, the Republican Party, Big Oil, the military-industrial complex or any other of America’s internal enemies is ultimately a futile exercise. They are what they are. You might as well blame a shark for having teeth. It’s just the nature of the beast.
Working class America is only the group in this society who has the power to transform America into a decent civilized nation. This is just a simple fact of life. If we don’t do it, who else will? The odds are stacked against us because of our grave internal divisions and the sheer amount of power and money wielded by our enemies. We lack the confidence to act on our own behalf because we know so many of us are confused and uninformed about politics. A few of us have even gone over to the side of pure evil and support neo-fascist solutions to our problems. Some of us..way too many of us…will be voting for John McCain in November
I think Barack Obama is the lesser evil in this campaign. But as poet Judith Arcana teaches us, "If someone tells you voting for the lesser of two evils is a bad idea, please say that what we want — what we need so very much in our lives — is less evil."
So I’m voting for Obama despite my many reservations about him. But whatever my reservations about Barack Obama, I have little doubt that John McCain will be an unmitigated disaster for working class America. He combines the worst and most murderous characteristics of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W.Bush all rolled up into one individual. If he gets to the White House, working class America can look forward to the worst years of our lives.
Then again, I’ve been wrong before. Maybe John McCain won’t throw us under a bus called the Straight Talk Express.
Maybe he’ll just ascend to 30,000 feet and throw us out of his plane instead.