Thursday, September 30, 2004

On Paying Ransom

The rule is plain and simple: We do not pay ransom. It would only encourage more kidnappings. That’s very persuasive -- unless the hostage is someone you care about.

All Italy has been celebrating the release of the two Silonas -- angels of mercy -- although it was admitted, and then denied with a wink, that the Italian government itself paid a million dollars to the kidnappers. Nearly all of Britain seems to be praying that Tony Blair will hearken to the appeal of another victim. On the record, Blair is committed to the line of Bush and Ariel Sharon -- we don’t negotiate with terrorists -- although with all three, you never know. There HAVE been exceptions.

That’s the sort of thing we should keep in mind during tonight’s debate. Life is complicated. That’s a great handicap for liberals or radicals or progressives - call us what you will. Your core voters for Bush have swallowed his simple solutions -- except when the victims are members of their own families.

I repeat, we are all hostages, and as such, we have a huge stake in the showdown tonight . The debate will be on three levels - one on stage, one in the spin room that will tell us what to think of it, and, finally, the deciding one, in our own minds. Your contributions, by the way, will be welcome.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

They’ve Already Called It

I plan to tune in on the debate Thursday night, but not to learn who won. They’ve already told us.

The moderator, Jim Lehrer, had Tim Russert on last night and they reminded each other how Bush whomped Al Gore in their debate four years ago. At noon today, PBS said merrily that Bush had cleaned Gore’s clock.

But Bush did not win that debate. As Paul Krugman reminds us, a poll of viewers in their living rooms gave it to Gore. But in the back room where the media were hanging out, Bush’s spin doctors were cleaning their clocks. They said, did you spot that body language - that sneer, that fuzzy math, that tie he was wearing, those tweeds -- whatever. There’s a fresh news angle, just for you. By morning the headlines were calling Bush the winner.

Actually, Gore got more votes in the election, but that’s another story. As far as the pundits are concerned, Bush won the debate, and they’re all but calling him the winner this time, barring some horrendous misstep. -- like admitting that he lied us into a terrible war and we should get out now. Well, his handlers have him better trained than that. Trouble is, Kerry’s handlers won’t let him say it, either. Listen to them, peddling Bush light whenever the newsmakers put them on..

So we have to bring our own intelligence to the debates, to make a real contest,of them, over real issues. And who knows? There are really a lot of minds out there. They just need to be wakened up.

Monday, September 27, 2004

On Camera, Ralph!

Alexander Cockburn has a keen bit of advice for Ralph Nader: Stop wasting time and money fighting to get on a few more state ballots. Instead, get out where the action is. Like Jesse Jackson, who flew into crisis zones, and won the release of American hostages, and gave us a more accurate picture of what was going on in the Mideast, Africa, Grenada and Panama. Or Al Sharpton, who went to jail in New York and in Puerto Rico to force attention to crimes that were being ignored. Or Jimmy Carter, lately, pushing for elections to be as fair in Florida as in Venezuela. All three have had their shortcomings -- but our pundits hated them for showing up theirs. They hate Jackson and Sharpton particularly for being conspicuously smarter than anybody else on stage.

Now, Nader can be recognized anywhere in the world as the man who fought the big corporations and saved tens of thousands of lives, perhaps hundreds of thousands, on car safety alone. Cockburn suggests that he fly to the Middle East and call for an end to killing and torture and hostage taking on all sides. And in this country, he should continue to show up wherever jobs are being outsourced under treaties that Nader long opposed. That way, Nader can take part in the presidential debates, even if he must do it from the sidewalk outside. Where he should be joined by many other Americans whose interests are not represented by the men on stage. Which is to say the mass of America’s working people.