“Denial” -- the fall election musical comedy

16 October 2008
Historians will write of the 2008 election campaign as a bizarre comedy in which audiences watched the United States morph from the top of its imperial trajectory into the sick joke of the early 21st Century. It stars not just the cancerous -- in body, mind and soul -- John McCain, the modern would-be emperor without clothes and Sarah “Pinup” Palin, who sings in “pompom palaver” (Maureen Dowd), but pious imperialist Democrats who play straight men in this televised farce. Unlike typical Gilbert and Sullivan light opera singers, “Denial” actors croon their lines against a backdrop of world crises -- wars, economic descent, hunger, disease and climate change -- but studiously avoid these obvious and compelling themes. The comely Alaska Governor threatens to wrest from President George W. Bush his title as prime public English language torturer. In the play, she epitomizes “dirty fighting” -- wink, wink -- the equivalent of what old gym rats said about talent-challenged pugilists who repeatedly punched below the belt. The October 4 song of the sex kitten cum Vice Presidential candidate charged that Obama “sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country.” This dramatic scene refers to Obama once attending a fundraiser at William Ayres’ home. Ayres reportedly belonged to the Weather Underground some of whose members detonated bombs in the early 1970s -- including at the U.S. Capitol and Pentagon. Ayers -- never convicted -- told the New York Times (Sept. 11, 2001), “I don’t regret setting bombs.” “Palling around?” sing the Obamaites. “One Ayers fundraiser means palling around?” The Carson, California Republican chorus cheered Sarah’s incitement. “Upatriotic,” she sings of Obama, “My saying it makes it so.” Her chorus sings: “You go girl, go.” The program notes explain that in 2001, University of Illinois (Chicago) Education Professor Ayers donated $200 to Obama’s Illinois State Senate Campaign and, like Obama, belonged to an anti-poverty charity board (Woods Fund) from 1999 to 2002. Both had kids at the same school. Even Karl Rove, master of dirty campaign organizers, appears in the comedy. The Prince of Darkness scene appears on Fox News (September 28). Some McCain ads had
“gone one step too far sort of attributing to Obama things that are beyond the ‘100 percent truth’ test. There ought to be an adult who says ‘Do we really need to go that far in this ad?’”
“The notion that somehow as a consequence of knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn’t make much sense,” hummed Obama in a monotone. “Sense” makes no appearances in McCain’s or Palin’s script. The writers offer them light airs on minor subjects like the economy -- regulate and deregulate and always cut taxes while spending more on the military. Obama and Biden yodel typical imperialist campaign pap -- the “we fight for freedom everywhere with our allies” song -- McCain and Palin rev up their base section as if to hint of both their ignorance and dangerous recklessness. According to more than 2,768 doctors (Oct. 5 ad in NY Times) McCain faces a very possible melanoma relapse -- and soon. An oncologist friend suggested McCain’s dotty remarks -- implying the Prime Minister of Spain, a NATO ally, was a U.S. enemy, confusing Shia and Sunni and Iran and Iraq -- could derive from an incipient brain tumor. In any case, one doesn’t have to invent the possibility in 2010, of President Palin addressing the nation. “Golly, ya know I had to deploy those nukes against Russia,” she pauses to smile and wink at someone in the audience, “because Alaska or Washington, I mean we’re so close I could feel, like all hockey Moms and dads too, the ya know vibrations from Putin, you betcha.” In her vice presidential debate and in her two news interviews (Charles Gibson, ABC, and Katie Couric, CBS) Sarah Six Pack began to chant one-line cliché answers to questions she wasn’t asked and then aggressively defended her sing-song idiocy while flashing grins at members of the audience, a reincarnated Liberace mouthing lyrics instead of playing schmaltz on the piano. She excelled at self-promoting, a vice presidential candidate “speaking in tongues,” wrote Sam Smith. (The Progressive Review, Oct. 4) Smith described Palin’s behavior on TV as possibly a variety of Asperger’s Syndrome: “Meaningless or pointless repetition of words, phrases, ideas, or actions.” McCain, a self-proclaimed responsible politician, has cast himself as elder statesman, maverick and self-sacrificing war hero. So, how could he then choose an empty-headed, flaming rod of ambition as his running partner? Perhaps someone should remind McCain: he can enter Walter Reed’s Intensive Care Unit without passing through the White House! Indeed, the McCain character offers his “recitativo” for those who opened their 401 K retirement plans. “My friends,” he calls them. They groan in pain over their financial losses. Not to worry, he assures them. Privatizing their social security -- placing their pensions in the hands of those who just brought down Wall Street -- would make their lives better. “Ha Ha” laughs the chorus. “Denial” tries to distract a grim world. In Europe, banks and stock markets have begun their own frightening downslide. In Iraq, the public remains engulfed in daily bloodshed. Listening to McCain promise longer U.S. military presence must certainly make them smile -- or is that a gas pain? Imagine how the Taliban propaganda apparatus reviews “Denial!” They emphasize the parts in which all the actors promise to dispatch more U.S. military forces to Afghanistan! Well, the Obama and McCain campaign care little about non-voting audiences, no matter how they pretend to promise things to “those people.” “Denial” runs every four years, but this year’s version has become downright slapstick. “Time to take the gloves off,” Palin sang, although many noticed she had worn them all along. The media chorus offers endless atonal chattering and nattering before, during and after campaign events, and we hear the steady percussion section of pollsters tapping their nervous rhythms to show anxiety in the public -- referring to people off stage who lost homes and jobs. Cacophonous sounds also emerge to show white people conflicted about voting for a black as President. The campaign show has an appropriate backdrop, as stocks slid in early October, falling below 10,000: A nation that has spent its treasure on war and militarism and whose candidates all vow to spend more. The political and media elite still hum tunes about the great republic, not dirges fit for a collapsing empire. Obama and Biden sing lines about Bush raising U.S. gross national debt from $5.7 trillion to $10 trillion (“under Clinton we had a surplus,” sings the chorus). In the face of this horrifying figure, McCain, without smiling, swears to continue cutting taxes on the rich as Bush did, to pursue endless war in Iraq as Bush has, and expand the war in Afghanistan and possibly take it to Pakistan. The Democrats also want more troops in Afghanistan, where they will build schools and hospitals while sending forces to find and kill Bin Laden in Pakistan. “Screw borders” is the title of one of their songs. Someone cut the line that says “this will cost more than $600 billion.” Democrats also intone about investing hugely in U.S. education. One refrain that originally appeared in the script was cut: “A fairy from Heaven will deliver… bagfuls of money forever.” The aging McCain character calls for more military action while advocates deregulating everything else. The flighty Palin agrees, but wants to also regulate while deregulating, “ya know what I mean!” (Hockey moms will all understand.) In another TV show, Katie Couric asked the ingénue about McCain supposedly advocating regulation of The Street. She couldn’t answer, but had she read in one of the many newspapers she always reads, but whose title she couldn’t recall -- the Wall Street Journal -- she would have seen McCain prominently denouncing regulation, as he always has. Oh Well! Another song! In the original script, there appears a historical context for “Denial”: “The United States once possessed (1945) 55% of the world’s manufacturing capacity. It controlled the world’s banking system and established the dollar as world currency. As Europe, including the Soviet Union, licked war wounds and began massive rebuilding, financed in part by the Marshall Plan (not including the USSR), rearmament took place, including the buildup of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and the stationing of troops around the world. When the “evil empire” collapsed, the “good empire” took no notice, and continued to maintain a super expensive and world-traveling military. Indeed, the nation has become so inured to this institutionalized massive waste that no major political or media figure even dares mention it. This section was cut from all scripts. “Denial” plays on through early November amidst growing world ruin. Sarah and John sing:
“Obama’s a Muslim with terrorist allies, John and Minnie Moose As American as apple pies.”
The chorus chants: “Drill baby drill. USA USA USA.”
Saul Landau is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and a senior fellow of the Transnational Institute. His latest book is A Bush and Botox World. His latest film is We don't play golf here! And other stories of globalisation .