Are Convention Speakers Telling the Whole Truth?

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Every day on our podcasts, Bakari Kitwana has raised the issue of the distinction between rhetoric and issues. There is always a gap, if not a chasm, between political rhetoric and reality. If you are a left-progressive, as I am, and you still feel invested in the political process in America, you have to suspend your disbelief-or lapse into complete cynicism.

It doesn’t follow, however, that we should never call out “bullshit” when we hear it. Here are three examples, I’ve witnessed in Denver over the past three days of speechifying.

First, Senator Joe Biden. Biden will be talking a lot about the plight of working and middle class Americans in the coming weeks and has been praised at this convention for his hard-scrabble roots and his ability to relate to the struggles of the common folks. Last night, in his litany of Republican failures, President Clinton referred to soaring credit card debt that was crippling American families. Now, it happens that Delaware is ground zero of the US credit card industry.

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Partly for that reason, Joe Biden co-piloted legislation to over-haul US bankruptcy laws through Congress a couple of years ago . Not to put too fine a point on it, but the bankruptcy act of 2005, which the credit card industry lobbied intensively in favor of, was one of the most disgraceful pieces of legislation passed by Congress in a generation. It significantly limited Americans’ ability to get relief from debt burdens, while leaving credit card companies free to pursue what can only be described as usurious and predatory lending practices. And, lest you think that people should just learn to manage their budgets better, the number one cause of personal bankruptcy filings in America is a catastrophic medical condition for which an individual or family cannot pay.

Example number two has to do with foreign policy. Last night, Bill Clinton promised that a President Obama would only resort to force as a last resort. Don’t get me wrong, if I have to choose between whatever foreign policy course a President Obama charts, and a neo-conservative inspired John McCain foreign policy, it’s a no-brainer.

But, as the conservative analyst Andrew Bacevich, an expert on foreign policy and American military history points out, the United States, a military superpower since the end of World War II, has taken an evermore disturbing turn toward global military dominance since the end of the cold war. Furthermore, Bacevich argues, there is an unchallenged bi-partisan consensus that America should continue to be an imperial global military power.

In his pandering insistence on Georgia’s entry into NATO and in his plans for maintaining the US military at a level that has led us to spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on military affairs, Senator Obama has already made clear that he will not deviate from that larger consensus about the American imperium.

Finally, the third example is drawn from Senator Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton has, since the primaries, repeatedly trumpeted her thirty-five years of work in the trenches for ordinary Americans. So, I just have to ask: does that include the years that she was a partner at Little Rock’s Rose Law firm, a firm whose most famous client is Wal-Mart? Or the six years that she served as a paid director on Wal-Mart’s board? Is that the kind of in-the-trenches work for ordinary Americans that she’s talking about?

I am not naïve. To repeat, I understand that there is always a gap between political rhetoric and reality. And, I believe that Senator Clinton, like her husband and like Senator Biden, believe their own narratives about the good fight they’ve fought for ordinary Americans. But, they are narratives – stories – about what these folks represent and fight for.

All three individuals, it happens, have real, concrete achievements in support of ordinary Americans of which they can be justly proud. And I am certain that a President Obama would, too. But, the Democratic Party is far more compromised in its ability and willingness to fight for the American dream at home and a responsible, restrained foreign policy abroad than its rhetoric suggests. No surprise there. Just worth remembering.

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