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Subject: Nothing but Net

It may be a while before John McCain pushes Barack Obama to take a dare again.

For the past several weeks, he had been hammering home the point that 
Obama didn't have much in the way of foreign policy experience. It was a 
legitimate claim, and McCain's people were making the most of it, 
putting up a day clock on their website to show how long it had been 
since Obama had visited Iraq, and McCain himself taunted Obama, 
challenging him to take a tour of the middle east and to talk to our 
allies so he would know what was really going on over there.

It seemed a safe enough tactic. McCain doubtlessly believed that Obama 
would privately share his conviction that the Illinois Senator was a 
lightweight in foreign policy, and would avoid going over to the 
occupied areas and saying or doing something that would either show he 
didn't know what he was talking about, or better still, having a 
"Dukakis-in-the-tank" moment in which he would look ridiculous trying to 
show off non-existent military credentials.

Then, too, there was the fact that presidential candidates rarely left 
the country at ALL during the heat of the campaign, let alone on a 
week-long, highly-publicized tour. In terms of getting votes, Enid, 
Oklahoma would be more fertile grounds than all of Germany and France 
combined. The conventional wisdom was that truculent voters would be 
wondering why he was sucking up to a buncha damn furriners when there 
were red-blooded Americans right here demanding his attention.

The tour turned out to be a disaster, not for Obama, but for McCain. It 
was supposed to show that Obama would be out of his league dealing with 
heads of state. He wasn't. It was supposed to show that he put politics 
ahead of the troops, and the troops resented it. They didn't. And it was 
supposed to give McCain the opportunity to second guess Obama, and 
suggest better ways he might have handled the situations that Obama bobbled.

Except Obama didn't bobble any.

It began with Obama in Afghanistan, being greeted with thunderous 
approval by troops there. None of the perfunctory applause that one 
hears when the audience has a military duty to show the 
commander-in-chief some courtesy; these soldiers jumped up and down, 
cheered, whooped, pounded one another on the back, and roared approval 
when Obama took a basketball and sank the throw from thirty feet out.

So much for the troops resenting Obama.

While Obama was meeting with Karzai and promising more American troops 
(the one mistake Obama made, in my opinion), McCain was explaining to a 
few bored reporters that Obama had no idea of the conditions along the 
Iraq/Pakistan border, "otherwise known," Jon Stewart acidly observed, 
"as Iran."

Der Spiegel, the German magazine, then had an interview with al-Maliki, 
the Iraqi Prime Minister, who observed that Obama's 16-month timetable 
for getting American troops out of Iraq was pretty much what al-Maliki 
himself thought was the best route to take. A top McCain staffer let 
himself be caught in earshot of the press saying, "Oh, we are fucked." 
The White House promptly put out a message, saying they had spoken to 
al-Maliki, and he had been misinterpreted. No, al-Maliki shot back, that 
is what I meant to say. Since a big part of McCain's campaign was that 
he knew better than Obama what was best for Iraq, "fucked" is a pretty 
good description.

On the day that McCain was supposed to use Novak the Prince of Darkness 
to leak his choice for vice president, Batman beat up his mother and 
Novak himself drew attention away from the announcement by running over 
a pedestrian with a car. Later that day, McCain landed in New Hampshire 
to find that only one reporter and one photographer was there to cover 
his campaign stop.

On the day of the big speech in Berlin, McCain planned to steal some 
thunder by giving a speech on an oil platform about how vital offshore 
drilling was, and how clean and safe. The speech and photo-op were 
cancelled at the last moment, supposedly because of Hurricane Dolly 
which had gone ashore and disintegrated a couple of days earlier. Not 
mentioned by the McCain people was that there was a 400,000 gallon oil 
spill in the vicinity, caused by a collision between two ships.

One of the elements of Obama's trip that might have a lasting effect on 
the voters was one that McCain didn't manage to make worse for himself.

Two hundred thousand Germans turned out to see Barack Obama in Berlin. 
He is immensely popular over there. And in this, there is a message:

People still want to like America. Yes, Putsch has disgraced the 
country, alienated its friends and made it many new enemies, and he is a 
source for sour jokes and outright hatred all over the world. But people 
all over the world still love the American dream, and still respect and 
adore the principles for which the country stands. Even as many 
Americans lost that vision, it remained in Europe, even while they 
stared in bafflement as America twice elected a vicious buffoon and 
followed policies closer in spirit to Adolph Hitler than to Thomas 

The Germans are wise in the ways of politicians, in a way Americans hope 
never to find out. I watched the BBC's Matt Frei interviewing Germans, 
and a couple raised the question of whether Obama is a dreamer or a 

It isn't just a legitimate question. It is THE most legitimate question 
any voter should ask about all the candidates, and not just of those 
candidates they don't like. There's no guarantee the answer will be the 
right one (I myself felt in October 2000 that George W. Bush was an 
amiable flyweight who would prove to be an ineffectual and generally 
worthless one-termer. I didn't begin to guess the ability of the people 
around him to tear apart much of what America stood for, in order to 
erect their own corporate-run national empire). But the question at 
least puts your mind in the right place to spot and react to demagoguery 
when and if it arises.

Despite the question, Germans clearly like Obama and wish him - and 
America - well. Around the world, people still believing in America may 
be what it takes to get Americans believing in themselves again, after 
eight years of the moral and intellectual morass of the Putsch junta.

McCain still hits all the same sour "can't do" notes. America can't find 
peace without war. America can't find prosperity by feeding its poor. 
America can't clean up its industry without it falling apart.

America can't do this. America can't do that.

But America is strong. So strong it doesn't need to talk to anyone. 
Doesn't need to know what others are thinking. Doesn't need friends. And 
writhes in resentful fury because everyone is alienated from it.

People, both in America and abroad, need to change that. And Obama, 
honestly or not, holds out the promise that he will.

-- "Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap,
it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're 
talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so"
   -George W. Bush, April 20, 2004 

Not dead, in jail, or a slave? 
Thank a liberal! 
Pay your taxes so the rich don't have to.

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