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Oh, Sweet Cynthia, Silence Thy Siren Song

07.15.2008 09:56 | DISPATCHES

When Barack Obama opted out of public campaign financing, it was tough to condemn him. Only a fool would shut down the money-making machine his campaign had become. It was also understandable when he backed the death penalty for child rapists. In no way, shape, or form was he about to make the same mistake as Michael Dukakis, who refused to call for the death penalty for his wife's hypothetical rapist and killer. Even the faith-based initiatives, which Obama recently called for, are not necessarily objectionable, if kept free of proselytizing.

But Obama's vote to expand government's surveillance powers and extend immunity to the telecoms was in a category of its own. Especially since the issue flies under the radar of the public, which could give two hoots if he had voted nay. Perhaps, it could be argued, his vote was a strategem to create markers to call in Republicans at a future date. But it sure threw a wet blanket over a campaign on fire. Personally, though, I finally began to come to terms with it.

But, however late, I just came across the roll call for the FISA vote. Among the senators voting nay were those few, those principled: Thomas Dodd, Brian Dorgan, Dick Durbin, Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin, Amy Klobuchar, and Pat Leahy. It also included centrist Democrats like Hillary Clinton (though if she were the nominee she may have voted yea like Obama) and. . . Chuck Schumer.

Barack Obama voted to the right of Chuck Schumer? Like Clinton, my home state's other senator voted to authorize an invasion of Iraq. Also, his newfound reputation as a "bank killer" (for speaking ill of IndyMac) with conservatives aside, he recently proposed a federal government bailout of subprime borrowers supposedly intended to help strapped homeowners. In fact, it was designed to benefit at least as much, if not more, lenders and Wall Street bankers. (Financial institutions have contributed over $2.5 million to his campaigns.)

In another example of Schumer in action, he was the first lawmaker to call for the resignation of Alberto Gonzales. On the other hand, he not only voted to confirm Michael Mukasey to replace Gonzalez, but, along with Joe Lieberman, introduced him to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the first place.

Contemporaneous with my exposure to the FISA roll call, I heard the United States Green Party had, as expected, nominated Cynthia McKinney for president. Though she was a six-time member of the House of Representatives, her career was reduced by many to speaking out in support of the 9/11 Truth Movement and an altercation with a Capitol police officer.

But she was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War, as well as a harsh critic of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina and an advocate for its victims. Ms. McKinney once introduced a bill calling a ban on the use of depleted uranium in munitions. She even proposed her own articles of impeachment against Bush.

Fueling the temptation to vote for her is another -- the temptation to believe that the nation would never elect a stumblebum like John McCain. In other words, a vote for Ms. McKinney wouldn't hurt Obama, would it?

As one who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, I've never let anyone guilt-trip me into thinking I was complicit in Gore's loss. He had no trouble losing the campaign all by his then-lackluster self.

But the United States is chock full of voters who want no part of the hope Obama offers (delivery is, of course, another matter). Nor the responsibility it implies for improving their own lots as well as that of the nation. If I declined to vote for Obama and he lost, no matter how far right of center he hues in the coming weeks, there's no way I could shake off blame this time.


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