Friday, July 30, 2004


Watching John Kerry the other night reminded me why he, and not any of the others, ended up with the nomination.  All of them might have used the exact same words in their acceptance speech; none could have carried it off.  Certainly not with any credibility or so comprehensively.  Being an unrepentant Liberal and Dove, I could have done with a little less General-speak.  However, it seems to me that having a proclaimed tough guy candidate who will probably be more of a talker/negotiator than a haphazard shooter is far more attractive than having a proclaimed man of compassion who turns out to be the world's most notorious bully.

Pundits suggest that the Democratic Convention, which most see as having been a success, was playing to the undecided rather than to the faithful.  That is probably true, though given scant coverage I really wonder how these generally uninterested folks could possibly have gotten the message.  Surely, they can't have divined it.  In fact, I don't fully buy this analysis believing instead that the message was as much directed inward as outward.  One of the problems with Liberals, Progressives or however you may want to describe them, is that we have generally ceded patriotism, military readiness and moral values to the Right.  It isn't that Conservatives have taken hold; it's that we've handed them the reigns.  What this convention did, in the most aggressive and overt fashion was to reclaim ownership.  Unlike Republicans who often seem to think of themselves as the sole proprietors of flag and country, Democrats made it clear in the past week that they, like all citizens regardless of ideology, were equal stakeholders.  John Kerry and company also proclaimed that we were prepared to defend both that ownership and whatever it might bring.

John Kerry did what Howard Dean could never have done.  As his wife said, "he earned his medals in the old fashioned way."  I know Dean understands what made Kerry potentially electable and what would, at this time and place, have put him and the Party at a disadvantage.  The day will come when Democrats will have to remind the world that Chaney, Wolfowitz, Ashcroft, DeLay, Santorum, and cheerleaders like Ralph Reed, Bill Kristol, and Bill O'Reilly are all ready to send young men and women into battle but never served themselves.  Unlike John Kerry, they didn't say "send me" and none of them have any real idea of what it's like, especially what it's like in an ill begotten and poorly prepared conflict.  Yes Max Cleeland, left with only a single limb after Viet Nam, was shamelessly smeared out of office in Georgia for being "soft" on defense, but that kind of mud simply won't stick nationwide, especially with the Homeland still vulnerable and Iraq still a mess, both on the accuser's watch.

God Bless You ended every speech.  It's become the "have a nice day" of political talks, and frankly I find it most distasteful, a kind of knee jerk disingenuous piety.  That said, John Kerry can talk about moral and family values in a way that Bill Clinton, no matter how much I may think of his enormous intellect and talent, never could.  The Kerry and Edwards picture-perfect families with the obvious deep internal connection in each of them suggest these people know something about the substance of relationships.  They don't have to say anything on this subject, which I truly wish they would not have to do; one simply has to look at them.

Is John Kerry perfect?  Of course he's not.  It's a besides the point question.  None of us are perfect; especially those who profess to have all the answers and find being asked about their mistakes a trick question.  The thing about John Kerry is that he seems to be someone who knows how, and wants to, win.  You can't govern unless you can win.  If we haven't learned that lesson, we haven't learned anything.  He gave a powerful convention and a compelling speech.  I'm excited about what he might do in the months ahead and about the prospect of what may follow if we see to it that he is elected.

Monday, July 26, 2004


While looking for a misplaced something the other day, I came across a little box filled mostly with Adlai Stevenson-for-President Buttons.  It reminded me how long I've been a political junkie and an avid watcher of our quadrennial conventions.  To be sure the Democratic convention that is playing itself out on my TV is a far cry from the days when platforms were hotly debated, delegates were contested and speculation about a Vice Presidential pick carried through almost to the end.  In 1956 Stevenson left the choice up to the delegates, which provided John Kennedy an opening to launch his national career.  He lost out to Estes Kefauver, but emerged four years later as the party's successful Presidential nominee.  In earlier years, I watched the proceedings on CBS or NBC, but this time I am happily exiled to C-Span which, unlike the Networks, doesn't interrupt with "analysis" and inane sound byte interviews.  In fact, even if I wanted to put up with that kind of filtered coverage, I couldn't.  All the Networks opted out of substantive coverage, seemingly marginalizing the convention process, but actually further marginalizing themselves.  Even the 24/7 people who have no problem providing wall to wall coverage of OJ, Cobey, Michael and similarly transformational "news" events, fail the gavel to gavel test.  That's the pathetic state of things.

It may be that the Democratic and Republican conventions have taken on an infomercial quality, but I think the media is doing a great disservice to our democracy by their arbitrary censorship of these Democratic and Republican gatherings, however choreographed it may be.  It's hard for them to argue that summer reruns, the Network's own infomercials for the coming season, are a more important use of the public airwaves.  Shame on them!  No wonder many of us look increasingly to PBS and BBC for our broadcast news. 

Perhaps, today's conventions are theater, but that doesn't mean they are not revealing and reflective of where our political parties stand.  I'm always struck by the differences in the audience and in the tone,  nature and content of the speeches in each.  This year the Democrats opted for a virtually unknown keynoter, Barack Obama, running for the senate in Illinois.  I feel sorry for anyone who missed that speech, read that most Americans, and who must be satisfied with the few second long snippets they may hear on the evening news.  Some pundits are already speaking of Obama as our most likely first African American (in his case literally since his father was form Kenya) President, but forget that premature hyperbole.  Beyond having put forth a hugely talented and charismatic orator, the Democrats and John Kerry who is at the controls were sending a message.  Some will say it was an appeal to minority voters, but I think it speaks much more to the fact that the party wanted to put everyone on notice that  it has a strong bench, leadership for tomorrow not merely today.  Like the choice of John Edwards, it is another example of Kerry's willingness to send forth the best with little concern that he'll be upstaged, which some fear will be the case.

The tone of the convention I'm watching is upbeat which in large measure was made possible by the dramatic, albeit short lived (Obama take note) candidacy of Howard Dean.  Beyond providing a wakeup call which finally energized a hibernating party, he laid out the harsh particulars of indictment on the Iraq War and other issues in such a clear way, that they are now accepted as givens freeing Kerry to focus on the tactics of victory.  Dean got the warmest of welcomes, a sign that everyone on the floor knew that they owed him a lot, perhaps the victory that many feel could come this November.  Some, in what the former Governor calls the Democratic wing of the Party, may feel the convention messages are too safe, too mainstream.  Perhaps so, but this convention isn't simply one about "the economy stupid."  Criticism of the Bush foreign policy and misbegotten adventures runs through along with social values, environmental policy, health care and, thanks to Ron Reagan's entry into the conversation, embryonic stem cell research.  He made it abundantly clear that social conservatism of his father's successors has gotten us off track in its narrow and selective view of the right to life.

We have yet to hear from the two Johns.  We are being told that they will give the most important talks of their political lives.  How many most important talks can there be?  Hopefully Americans will be able to hear their words from start to finish even at the expense of a missed Law and Order or ER.  Hopefully, they will be listening.  To be sure, I will.  How about you?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Happy Warrior

I'm of an age when it's nice to know that some things were before my time, to wit the Presidential campaign of 1932.  But thanks to the many photographs of candidates Hoover and Roosevelt, I have a pretty good feeling for how these two men projected themselves.  Hoover, in almost every shot, looked dour; FDR had that infectious full smile.  For a guy who couldn't even walk, he sure was upbeat.  I'm reminded of those images in contrasting Dick Cheney and John Edwards.  Cheney always looks dour, even when he affects a smile.  Edwards can't contain his happy disposition.  For a guy who lost a child, he sure is upbeat.  And boy do we need upbeat in these troubling times.

George Bush is fond of characterizing himself as a War President.  Perhaps we are at war, but it wouldn't be so bad to have a Peace President.  In fact, I think that's exactly what we need, a president who is committed to leading us out of conflict into peace.  I am not na├»ve enough to think we can simply wish our conflicts away, but sometimes I feel the current gang on Pennsylvania Avenue has a vested interest in keeping us unnerved and armed for conflict.  Indeed, with their regularized threats of imminent danger and reminders that bad things not only can but will happen here, the American public finds itself on the edge.  What was that about "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?"  Again, I am not discounting the possibility, or even the probability, of terrorist attacks, especially if we keep on our current belligerent course.  But I do think that we all need encouragement and a reminder of how blessed we are relative to most of the world's population.   Edwards, like Roosevelt knows of real personal trauma, and with that experience in place, he understands the importance of what the late Norman Vincent Peale called "the power of positive thinking."

John Edwards was exactly the right choice and his upbeat outlook and commitment to positive campaigning seems to be rubbing off on the other John.  Kerry is very smart and he knew exactly what he was doing, and its ramifications, in selecting the attractive North Carolina senator.  Perhaps he doesn't have the gravitas of Dick Chaney, but look where that got us.  A little less gravitas and we might actually survive individually and as a nation.

By the way, as a follow-up on my last blog, I saw "Marty" today.  He cuts perfect turkey breast.  Guess what?  He's changed his hat again.  Bill Bradley is gone, replaced by John Edwards.  And, he confided, "I think we have a real shot this time."  Voters, listen up.

Saturday, July 3, 2004

Marty, Bob and Michael

I've been away in a place where news doesn't dominate the day and mind.  It's always a relief.  What strikes me upon my return each year is how little has changed which makes one wonder why we need all this 24-7 noise.  Being away from it all, really away, also gives you some perspective.  Looking ahead as we move into the pre-election summer, we find ourselves in a kind of suspended animation.  Those of us who have been troubled about where the country has been heading in these last years wonder if other Americans, those who seem to be asleep on the sidelines, are going to finally awake from their slumber and, more importantly what action they will take?  None of us really knows, but I have some anecdotal evidence that the tide may be turning.

Marty (that's not his real name) is behind the cold meat and prepared food counter at one of my favorite Upper West Side specialty shops.  He has been a fixture there for years and has long been dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country.  Four years ago the name Bill Bradley appeared on his paper service hat.  Marty favored the former New Jersey Senator and wanted everyone to know it.  He was relentless and long after Al Gore won the nomination, Marty still stood his ground.  Bill Bradley was the man and his name remained on his hat.  It's still there, but significantly now below the name John Kerry.  Marty's hoping Bradley will get a shot at the Vice Presidency.  Regardless, he wants Bush out, and in that regard knows he must get behind Kerry regardless of his beloved Bill's fortunes.  But here is the punch line.  I discovered the other day that all this time Marty has been a talking, not a doing, activist when he declared, "I am going to vote for the first time in thirty years."  Marty has been a closet sideliner, but that will end with this November.  One vote, but somehow I suspect he's not alone.

Bob (also not his real name) is a sharp guy with a distinguished high level business career including sometime abroad.  Like many of his peers, he's been voting Republican pretty consistently over the years and the two of us, good friends, have long accepted each other's different politics.  Bob has voted Republican, but not this year.  I think his disillusionment began with the economy, but it probably crystallized with the way in which George W. Bush and company have been systematically dismantling generations of international cooperation, have mucked up the war on terrorism and have ill advisedly opened a hornets nest in Iraq.  Bob is not someone who takes these things lightly.  He's also a reader and this year he has been reading a multitude of devastating books by insiders who know what's really going on down there in and about 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Bob is pissed (I can use that word now since the Vice President has lifted the bleep rule).  Unlike Marty, he always votes and this year, like him, it will be for John Kerry.  Perhaps he won't be attending any rallies and won't switch his affiliation, but the GOP has lost him this time around.  I suspect he's not alone either.

And then there is Michael.  The lines to see Fahrenheit 911 even in places you'd least expect it have been astounding.  I'm going today as a kind of Independence Day celebration.  Sure much of the audience is made up of the already committed, but I think film may constitute more than preaching to the convinced.  Like Marty, a lot those people who profess unhappiness with the status quo never moved themselves to the polls.  People do go to movies and do watch television, both of which have big influences on their thinking, and their doing.  Just consider the powerful role of advertising on purchases. Michael Moore may just stimulate enough of the heretofore talkers rather than doers like Marty, to pull some levers this fall.  He may even convince some more Bobs.

Marty, Bob and Michael.  Perhaps I'm dreaming, but think of the possibilities.  Happy 4th and best wishes for what's our America too.