In the 1952 classic western “High Noon,” Gary Cooper plays Marshal Will Kane, who must face four gunfighters as soon as the leader arrives on the noon train. Although the townspeople aided the marshal years before when he ran this bunch out of town, none of them will help him this time. The retired, former marshal, superbly played by Lon Chaney (Jr.), tells him that he’s not surprised: “…down deep they just don’t care; they just don’t care.” He advises Kane not to get killed for them – just leave town and let the bad guys take over: “It’s all for nothing, Will; it’s all for nothing.” Election Day will be ‘high noon’ for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. They and the American voters NEED TO CARE that it’s not all for nothing.
The other day, I easily overheard a half-whispered comment that followed a rather loud political conversation between two gentlemen: “I think he’s a Black Muslim.” Even though Sen. Obama is clearly a Christian, reportedly as many as one third of all voters WANT to believe that he is a Muslim! It is vital that Mr. Obama respond to all personal distortions and keep responding to them. Mr. McCain’s campaign is being advised by Steve Schmidt, a disciple of dirty tricks specialist Karl Rove. (Rove is presently an “impartial” analyst on FOX “News”!) Obama MUST care enough to fight back.
Michael Dukakis, the former Democratic governor of Massachusetts, still feels guilty for losing the 1988 presidential race against George H. W. Bush. He was smeared by lies orchestrated by Mr. Bush’s aides Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes (the current head of FOX “News”). He didn’t fight the lies, and he lost the election after having a 17-point lead in the polls. Mr. Dukakis recently told CBS’s Katie Couric: “Look, I owe the American people an apology. If I had beaten the old man, you’d have never heard of the kid and we wouldn’t be in this mess. So it’s all my fault, and I feel that very, very strongly.”
John Dean, whose Watergate testimony helped bring down his former boss Richard Nixon, has written several books about the Bush-Cheney regime (“Worse than Watergate,” “Conservatives without Conscience,” and “Broken Government”). He’s concerned about how his political party operates: “Republicans understand that somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of the American people – both voters and nonvoters – are totally uninformed about policy and politics.” (In a recent survey by the First Amendment Center, only 20 out of each 100 people questioned could name “religion” as being one of the five freedoms guaranteed in the 1st Amendment. Appallingly, 40 of 100 couldn’t name ANY of them!) Mr. Dean believes, “[This] is not what the nation’s founders envisioned.”
Mr. Dean laments that “Endless studies have been unable to provide a definitive explanation for why Americans are so remarkably uninformed.” He asserts that “Republicans prey on this public ignorance: In 1994 they won control of the House after working for years to undermine Congress as an institution, assuming the public would hold the Democrats accountable. It worked. Once in control, the GOP ran Congress for the benefit of the party, not the people.” They’re at it again. Are you aware that in 2007 Republicans set a record of 72 filibusters* to obstruct congressional action and to drive the legislative branch’s popularity even lower than President Bush’s?
Voters certainly need to be aware that Senator McCain may be as hostile to environmental issues as the Bush-Cheney administration. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have picked a running mate who opposes action on global warming and protecting polar bears from extinction. Sarah Palin is typical of those who want to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Whenever greed and panic enters the picture, many people CEASE TO CARE – if they ever did – about wildlife breeding grounds and migrations of caribou, waterfowl, and others. They seem to selfishly ask, “What good are they to us?” Maybe they should ask, “What good are we to them?” This is wildlife’s planet, too.
More heinously, Gov. Palin also promotes the extermination of Alaska’s wolves – supposedly to save the moose population! That reflects the kind of thinking of long ago – BEFORE we understood the importance, uniqueness and intelligence of wolves. However, once we drove wolves to the brink of extinction, we recognized the importance of the ecological balance provided by wolves, which is why we’re trying to restore them to areas like Yellowstone. To have healthy moose, elk, and caribou populations, we need healthy wolf populations. Nevertheless, Ms. Palin authorized the aerial slaughter of wolves and offered $150 for bringing in the left foreleg of a wolf!
Such repugnant attitudes as those of the “Hockey Mom” candidate remind me of the curious and ironic statement by Hitler’s SS leader Heinrich Himmler, who was in charge of the attempt to exterminate all the Jews of Europe. He said that “even while obeying the official order to commit murder, the SS man must remain ‘decent.’ We shall never be rough or heartless where it is not necessary.”
Considering today’s Wall Street meltdown, on November 4 voters MUST be mindful that, historically, Republicans DON’T BELIEVE IN regulating Big Business for the common good. McCain admits he is a “de-regulator” in the vein of Ronald Reagan. Many voters personally liked Reagan, but did they like his policies? His first term gave us the deepest recession since the Great Depression and the biggest U. S. bank failure (Continental Illinois with $45 billion in assets) before the recent Washington Mutual collapse. Reagan’s second term gave us the savings and loan debacles and a $160 billion taxpayer bailout.**
In John Steinbeck’s perceptive book, “America and Americans,” the Nobel Prize winner wrote: “We have moved to become one people out of many. At intervals, men or groups, through fear of people or the desire to use them, have tried to change our direction, to arrest our growth, or to stampede the Americans. This will happen again and again.” Mr. Steinbeck passed away in 1968 – just before we began our forty-year Nixonian Era that added executive power abuses to the Republicans’ traditional Herbert Hoover-economic mismanagement. Had he known about Nixon and Watergate (1969-74), Reagan-Bush and Iran-Contra (1981-93), and Bush-Cheney and the Iraq War (2001-09), I suspect he would have been greatly discouraged about our future.
But he wouldn’t have given up on us: “We have failed sometimes, taken wrong paths, paused for renewal, filled our bellies and licked our wounds; but we have never slipped back – never.” Hopefully, this November we will care enough to reject four more years of Bush-Cheney policies and will put an end to the long reign of the Nixonian-Republicans. It would be reassuring if we were to prove that Lon Chaney’s old, cynical marshal in “High Noon” was ultimately wrong, that we really do care, and that Steinbeck was right.
*According to the National Committee for an Effective Congress, the Republican minority filibustered 94 times in the first seven months of 2007. The previous record for the number of filibusters during a two-year Congress was 58. The NCEC predicts that the Republicans potentially may add 118 more before the end of this two-year Congress for a total of 212!
**Reagan’s second term also gave us the stock market crash of October 1987, which was the worst since October 1929 that signaled the onset of the Great Depression.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published October 3, 2008,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.