Man oh man, four days in the Best Western Capitol Skyline. Weird pod person hotel, designed in the 70s, that strange Martian embassy look, pressed concrete with vaguely oval windows.

In the middle of frikkin nowhere, even though it’s close to Congress, the sugar-white dome visible in the window.

Washington this southern city, big black population, almost entirely confined to service roles. So, the old culture war persists.

Tourists, in the restaurant try to suck up to the black staff, making small talk, bringing up baseball teams, etc. They get stonewalled, again and again — I will not let you pretend I consent to this arrangement, is the upshot.

Washington, a big American city, which happens to have what used to be the capital of the world in the middle of it.

In the Senate at the moment, they’re voting on the bailout bill which has been attached as an amendment to godknowswhat — the Senate can’t vote on a tax bill without the House passing it first, so this morale booster has been put through on the sly.

It passed 75-22, a healthy majority. Bernie Sanders, the only self-described socialist in the Senate — they’re all socialists now, of one sort though — tried to attach an amendment that would put a supertax on the rich to pay for the thing. It failed of course, but the fact that it was there, was kind of interesting.

Obama spoke about mid-afternoon. It wasn’t a magnificent speech, but it was pretty good and general, and about ten times anything Bush has said. Is this man’s ultimate failure that at this time of crisis he couldn’t even give one great rousing speech of the “we’re all Americans” for goddsake?

Speaking of abject failures, there were more Sarah Palin goodies released throughout the day — my god, my god, my god.

In answer to the question of what she read in terms of newspapers and magazines, she said, she really said, “Oh, you know all of them”. Good news for the Broken Hill Times — there is now a direct route to the White House, potentially…

The other goodie — when asked what Supreme Court cases she though were significant apart from Roe vs Wade there was… silence. Long agonising, delicious silence. She couldn’t even stumble towards you know civil rights, the Miranda thing, desegregation, the whole bit…

Subsequently she got an easy ride from Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio tool, who allowed her to mostly answer questions about the questions she’d got…

The new line? She’s a victim of “gotcha journalism”. Gotcha journalism now apparently includes a question yelled in a cafe about whether we should breach Pakistan’s sovereignty in the hunt for Al-Qaeda or not, and even now what newspapers someone reads.

By now, the anticipation of this VP debate has come close to something resembling The Office — people are actually discussing whether they will be able to watch without turning away.

I should add something here about Palin maybe causing an upset, and she may, but really, unless she gets real softball questions (and there’s no cross-questioning in this debate) she’ll be holding on by her fingernails for ninety minutes. There ain’t no-one to come into save her … and the weirdest, that’s the word of the day, recent thing, was a shared interview between Katie Couric and John McCain and Palin, which looked like, my God, she had brought her dad in to talk to the headmistress…

“I should let Governor Palin speak for herself,” McCain said after bloviating for a couple of minutes. You think? Maybe not. What an invidious choice.

Man tomorrow will be a w-ass day. The House is due to meet at 12.30, and they will consider the Senate bill modified with a whole bunch of (drum roll) earmarks, on mental health funding, etc etc, with the idea that it will now pass, as a bunch of left Democrats and Republicans suddenly realise what a credit squeeze really looks like. There is no guarantee that it will.

Man I hope it fails.

Man I hope it goes down in flames, and everyone is left wandering around with their arse out of their trousers, with not a clue what to do.

Because it will be so interesting…

And if the bill fails, well, what else will be a topic in the VP debate? God what are they cramming into Palin at the moment — thirty years of US history and politics in a few days, with the recent crisis to be added on.

Her handlers have taken her to McCain’s ranch — one of his 29 houses — in Sedona, Arizona and they are rehearsing outdoors, near a stream apparently, because it lends to calm… like she’s one of those mooses she shoots…

The great worry for them is not that she will give a disappointing performance — that’s their best hope. It’s that she will fall apart entirely on the podium, be utterly unable to answer or move forward, the full meltdown.

A late evening booze run to “Congressional Liquor” in the very shadow of Congress… the driver looks at the clinking bags as I climb back in and asks me what I do.

“I’m an Australian journalist.”

That answer seems to satisfy him, but then we get back to the hotel.

“Man why you staying he-re?'”

Palin on the radio, being compared to Quayle. Unfavourably.

“Oh she gone, she gone man.”

“Actually Quayle won.”

“Yeah I forgot that.”

“Let me ask you frankly — this imperial town — every black person is invisible far as I can tell. Why do you stay here?”

He gave me a baleful eye as we pulled back up to the lobby.

“Oh man — where else can I go?”

The rationale of the bailout, and Palin, and much else… in a phrase.

Peter Fray

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