Friday, November 7, 2008

3 Points of Darkness

There was much to celebrate on Tuesday evening, and many of us are still basking in the glow of its light.   There were also three points of distinct darkness and disconnect.  California, Florida and Arizona passed Constitutional Amendments barring Gay Marriage.  If we needed any reminder that the struggle is not over, that prejudice and medieval thinking is not restricted the shameful way in which our great democracy treated people of color, here it is.   Make no mistake; homophobia and racial bigotry are cut from the very same cloth. 

Language is something to be taken seriously and respected.  In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, what we say and how we say it can be as important as what we do, and we should be judged for it.  At the very least words can signal, often through the use of transparent code, how we really feel.  There is no more telling word when it comes to Gays than “lifestyle”.  The implication is clear, gay isn’t who you are, but you choose to be.  Of course, it’s a notion refuted by science, as if we really needed science to tell us that being attracted to the same sex is totally natural for a percentage of the population, and has always been.  Which brings me to the intersection of homophobia and racism.  One of the major arguments against same-sex marriage is that it will set an example for our children.  Somehow seeing the “Gay lifestyle” so publicly exhibited will be enticing, pushing our sons and daughters to the “unnatural” side.  That’s no different than the once popular racial-phobic notion that we dare not come into physical contact with our black neighbors lest their color literally rub off on us.  Yes, people actually believed that.

As someone who, by virtue of an ordination, is empowered to officiate at weddings, I’ve given a great deal of thought to same-sex marriage just as I’ve given thought to inter-faith marriage.  And don’t think there have not been strong taboos against the latter.  Remember too that interracial marriage was illegal in many states.  Had that prevailed, there would be no President-Elect Obama to celebrate.

The problem with issues like same-sex marriage is that we depersonalize it to the degree that, for example, being heterosexual means that it has nothing to do with us.  Really.  Well let’s look at it from this perspective.  I am Jew.  According to the recent Pew study, Jews represent about 1.7% of the American population.  So we’re a tiny minority in a very large country.  Nevertheless we demand our civil rights.  While there are no absolute figures, it is widely estimated that Gays and Lesbians represent 10% of the population.  Yes, you read that right, more the five times the number of Jews in America.  Pause for a second to take that in, then close your eyes for a minute and substitute the designation Jew (or however you identify yourself) with the designation Gay.   In other words, make it personal and see how you would feel.  During the campaign that just ended, we were told more than once by word or by symbol that this is a Christian country.  Let’s, for argument sake, concede that it is.  Am I as Jew denied the right to marry another Jew, or I as an ordained clergyman precluded from officiating at such a ceremony?  Of course not, nor would we Jews stand for such an infringement on our civil rights.  So, in that context alone, how can any of us, Jew, Christian or Moslem possibly deny 10% of the population the rights we demand for ourselves.  Remember that in some are of our life, even if only professionally, we are all part of some minority group.

The issue, however, goes deeper than that.  Marriage is a civil act.  When I officiate, legally it is as an agent of the state not as an agent of my religion.  To me, the same-sex marriage issue is not so much a matter of civil rights, though it is that too, but of protecting Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation.  Those who oppose these unions are imposing their religious views onto what is a civil matter.  We may impose our own religious values on marriage, imbue it ceremonially with religious content, but in the end it’s a civil legal contract.  While some religions grant ritualistic writs of divorce, they have no standing in an American court of law.  Only civil law can end a marriage.

So what happened in these three states reflects the larger attempted intrusion of religion on our secular society.  It is just another in a series of issues including abortion, end of life or stem cell research, when people of a narrow religious view seek to impose their ways on all of us, even a minority of us.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I think any religious group has the right to deny its members sanctioned marriage to same-sex couples, an abortion, birth control, assisted suicide and even treatments that may result from stem cell research.  I may violently disagree with them, but our Constitution protects their right to religious belief and practice.  I would go further, in saying that we should all be prepared to defend that right even if we are of a different religious point of view or are atheists.  I didn’t march for civil rights because I was Black, but because I was an American who believed in the promise of democracy.

After he gave his victory speech on Tuesday evening one couldn’t help but be moved by the cheers and, most especially the tears, in the audience.  I had some cheers and tears of my own.  But one of the most moving moments for me was when Michelle came back on stage and gave her husband a hug and kiss.  There was no microphone to catch their private words, but even if you ordinarily don’t know how to read lips it was impossible to miss the words she whispered in his ear, “I love you”.   While one never knows about other people’s marriages, it looks like these two have one that many would rightly envy.  In the end marriage has to do with friendship, love and mutual commitment.  All are challenging, a huge number of what, in code words, are called “traditional” marriages fail.  If we value marriage and hope for its success friendship, love and commitment are what count.  The more people who can achieve that, the stronger our society is likely to be.  Why should we deny that opportunity of strengthening all of us to 1 in every 10 Americans?  The answer is, we shouldn’t.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President Obama

“....   did I ever dream, dear family and friends,  that I would pull a lever tomorrow to vote  for the president of these United States, Commonwealths and Territories and my candidate  looks like one of my children!”   These were the opening words of an email from my dear friend Toni Tyson on Monday.  Watching the results last night I found myself mostly speechless.  The enormity of the moment so transcended simply the election of a new President.   I thought of my father who shared the podium with Martin King before the Lincoln Memorial, but also of my mother and others who worked for this day and did not live to see it.  Our family came to this country from Nazi Germany, Jews who had to build a new life in a country that was at once welcoming and daunting.  My parents, even as new Americans trying to adjust to a new home instantly saw the connection between the long and often lonely struggle of Jews and that of African Americans.  In his autobiography my father tells of inviting a Black professor to his hotel room in Atlanta while there for a speech in the late 1930s.  His White Jewish hosts were mortified; he, an escapee from the Hitler regime, appalled at their reaction.  If he needed any prodding, that experience alone sealed forever his life long commitment to Civil Rights, and ours.

My response to Toni Tyson is, the new President looks like my children as well – he looks like the children of America, the one we thought never possible but the one that now is.  Those who have read these posts over the past two years know that I was convinced early on that Obama would win the nomination and this election, that he would be the 44th President of the United States.  I never had a moment of doubt – for historic reasons definitely, but mostly because of who he is and what we need at this time.   Never in American history have we kept the party in power in the face of an unpopular war or bad economy.  To say we have both is an understatement.  In that sense, Obama’s victory was inevitable.  But in the end what we have done is to elect an extraordinary man for an extraordinary time.   If he can be a Lincoln or a Roosevelt only time will tell.  He is certainly being provided the canvas on which to paint that kind of legacy.

The road ahead is not going to be easy.  Extricating ourselves from Iraq will be more difficult than any of us would hope.  Escalating our involvement in Afghanistan is fraught with danger – the record of outsiders prevailing there not encouraging.  Al Qaeda is stronger than ever and remains a real threat, as is the poisoning undercurrent of anti-Moslem prejudice that has come in its wake.  Israel and Palestine remain far apart.  All this and we haven’t gotten to the economy which not only has to be revived but whose ground rules have to be redrawn.  It’s likely to suck up much of his time, especially in those critical early days.  Healthcare needs fixing and whether we have the will to take it on, finally, remains uncertain.  And last, perhaps ultimately most, is the environment made even more fragile by eight years of official denial and what can only described as criminal neglect.  Time is running out.

President-elect of Obama speaks of hope, something which has eluded us in the nearly eight dark years since a partisan Supreme Court decision brought us the most divisive and inept administration in any of our memories, perhaps in the nation’s history.  He affirms that, in the face of all behind and ahead us, “yes we can”.   Let’s hope we and he can.  Of course, we have not choice but to prevail.  Not to do so is both unthinkable and unacceptable.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bush Shushhh!

"Laura and I voted absentee…for John and Sarah of course.  Our kind of people.  Oh I know one of John’s five Secretaries of State said she wasn’t ready for big time.  You know the one who wears that suit and vest even in August, what’s his name…bird-burger or something like that.  Any way, as to not being prepared to sit in the Oval, I can relate to that.  The truth is, while I certainly don’t know her well, she sure reminds me of a Dick-in-the-making.  That’s good, isn’t it?  And speaking of Secretaries, can you believe that ingrate Colin?  Poppi and I made him what he is.  Any way, I actually wanted to vote in Crawford, have the kind of photo op that we like to have down there at the ranch.  I had planned havin a beer with the guys, but no one seemed to want to have one with me.  Hard to figure out what’s goin on.

You know the straight talker said he hoped I would come out and campaign for him…that is, if I could make time in my busy schedule.  Thing is, I’ve been so busy gettin reports from the Generals – I don’t make a move without their input – and watchin the economy crater.  Laura is relieved I don’t have to worry about my pension in this mess.   Any way, I do watch all of Hank and Ben’s press conferences, even caught a few minutes of them on C-Span testifyin up there on the Hill.  That Barney Frank really freaks me out.  And you know I have been makin some statements of my own, though I can’t quite figure out why they asked me to make them so early in the morning when half the country is still asleep.

Back to the campaign.  Oh, I love it out there on the stump, but I guess that Obama fella didn’t use Bill that much either.   At least he had a big in-person speech at their convention.  Why was it that I only could appear via Satellite?  I forget.  Any way, Laura went out there which was good and she appeared arm-in-arm with Cindy – our kind of people, the McCains.  Beer money, and you know how much I like havin a beer with the guys.  Not one appearance with good old John, odd.  OK, Bill and Obama haven’t been palling around either, but they did have that 11 PM hug in Florida the other night.  I haven’t hugged John since ’04 when he told me how much he admired me after all.  2000…well no hard feelings  he said, and any way he sure has learned how to campaign like the best of us.  Sock it to ’em John.  I wonder if Joe the plumber would like to have a beer?  My dad told me Dick Nixon got along well with plumbers, why couldn’t I?

Well better get back to work.  There are those toxic loans to clean up, though not as toxic as what I’m leavin behind for the next guy to sit in this place.  Wonder if he can do better than me?  Well you know what they say, Yes he can!”

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The endorsement of Barack Obama by Colin Powell is another blockbuster event of this campaign, but perhaps not for the reasons you think.  To be sure, it was among the most thoughtful and, as one of my sons suggested in an email, content-rich of the campaign season.   Perhaps most striking was that Powell was the first major political figure to squarely address the “he’s a Muslim” red herring properly.  “Mr. Obama is a lifelong Christian, not a Muslim”, he said, adding…the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country?  No, that’s not America.” To drive the point home, he spoke movingly of Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a twenty year old New Jersey born Muslim serviceman who gave his life for us in Iraq.  That statement alone made Powell’s appearance on Meet the Press memorable.  But, again, I think it’s not the central story.

As we approach the election we are hearing once again about the so-called “Bradley Effect”, that once in the privacy of the voting both people will, belying polls, not vote for a candidate of Color.   And of course Powell was asked if his endorsement itself was motivated by the wish to see a fellow African American prevail.  While he responded directly to that in the negative, the fact is that Powell himself is the response. That’s what is so significant about his endorsement.  There was a time, and it was long ago, when one heard about Colin Powell being the first Black man to hold this or that job.  His various achievements can be counted as milestones in that regard, much like Thurgood Marshall’s elevation to the Court.  But the fact is, Americans no longer think of Powell in that narrow way.

Powell is a trusted leader and hero.  He was the commander of NATO and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  He was National Security Adviser and Secretary of State.  When we think of him, we think of the “Powell Doctrine”, the need to go to war only as a last resort, define the mission and use overwhelming force in the execution.  Of course there are those bigots who will always view a person of Color with prejudice.  But, I would venture that when thinking about General Powell, the vast majority of Americans are colorblind.  They think about his competence, about his proven ability to instill trust.  It wasn’t his being an African American that made some of us furious when he appeared before the United Nations in the run up to the Iraq War.  It was that a man so measured could allow himself to speak for what we thought was such a patently wrongheaded venture.

In his person, Colin Powell speaks volumes to why Americans are so drawn to Barack Obama.  We don’t see him as and African American candidate, but as an American Candidate who happens to be African American just as Jack Kennedy was a candidate who happened to be Catholic.  Powell’s service has transcended his racial identity.  It’s not that he ever sought to run away from his roots, but that ultimately it isn’t how he is judged.  Barack Obama, with a name of clear African origin, brought up by a White mother and grandparents, chose to proudly identify with the African side of his roots, but not to be defined by them any more or less than any other American is defined by theirs. 

So Obama is Black, Kareem Khan was a Muslim and, for that matter, this writer is a Jew.  What of it?  We are all citizens with the same vote.  Obviously Colin Powell wants us to think of him when we go to the polls, to consider the American Republican who will vote Democratic this year because that party's nominee is the right person to lead us at this time in our history.  Take that away from today’s endorsement and I think you’ll have it just right. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Change is Coming

At long last, we’re entering the home stretch of an extraordinarily long Presidential campaign.  Perhaps what’s most remarkable is how consistent it has been from the start.  Barack Obama entered the race with a message of change.  Two years later, and despite a deft issue shift from Iraq to the economy, it remains his central theme.   On the other side, his principal opponents have been equally consistent.  Hillary Clinton ran on experience to the degree that when she finally sought the mantle of change-agent it wasn't credible.  Apparently having learned nothing from observing the Democratic contest, John McCain opted for the same message, making the same mistake.  Like Clinton, McCain, burdened by underlying message out of sync with the current environment, has had to constantly rearrange the deck chairs on what I remain confident is a sinking ship.  Clinton made major strategic mistakes and McCain has repeated them.  In some ways, they are so much alike, each viewing the Presidency as almost a birthright.  Clinton paid her dues at the side of her husband, McCain not only as a POW but has a third generation family warrior. Their shared feelings toward the “upstart” with the audacity to hope read on their faces with each encounter from her many Democratic debates to his this past Wednesday night.

Barack Obama says we should not be cocky and he is right.  There is much to do and being for him is not enough.  Everyone must vote.   That acknowledged, I continue to believe his victory will be decisive, perhaps of landslide proportions.  This is, and has always been, a watershed election.  Throughout history the party in power has never prevailed in the face of either an unpopular war or a bad economy.  We have both in spades.  If you need any further confirmation, consider that an astounding 90% of Americans think we’re headed in the wrong direction.  That alone suggests an appetite for change.  Bill Clinton famously said, “the era of big government is over”.  Considering the events of the past weeks, I’ll let you judge how accurate was his characterization.  What seems clear me in 2008 is that era of Ronald Reagan is over.  

Just as Communism turned out to be a bust, unregulated free markets have brought too many of us to the brink of bankruptcy.   The Reagan Revolution has run its course and been discredited.  Some of the intellectual conservatives are running for the hills, loudly distancing themselves from the ideology they so confidently espoused.  Some are actually supporting Obama.  They claim no conversion, but a disagreement over tactics.  Right, just as McCain’s laughable dissent from the war he wholeheartedly supported is over tactics not substance.  “We’re winning, my friends.”  The fact is that all that pompous absolutism that we’ve heard from the Right in the past decades is an Emperor without Clothes, a sham exemplified by faulty foreign and domestic policy.  Perhaps a percentage of the population remains fooled – working people and small business types who still think Republicans have been good for them or the Jews who claim (inexplicably) that Bush has been good for Israel.  But I think the majority of us know the score, perhaps not all can articulate it but we certainly can feel it.

Is it time for a change?   You bet it is, and change is coming on November 4.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Press Gives a Pass

When they write the history of our times, I hope someone will examine the role played by the press.  It is an accepted truism that a free press is central to democracy, and thankfully that’s what we have.  American print and broadcast journalism rests on the shoulders of giants whose like can still be found in newsrooms and broadcast studios across the land.  Particularly reassuring are the young women and men dedicating their lives to high level reporting here and elsewhere including dangerous war zones, many of them elevating us with elegant prose.  So there is much to be thankful for, but the news isn’t universally good.  In fact, some of our most visible media either reflects the spirit of disturbing Hearst-like bias (right and left) or seems more attuned to showmanship than enlightenment.   It is that kind of journalism that has focused us on what can generously be called “the trivial” and, in doing so, has robbed its audience of the information it so desperately needs.  A huge percentage of our public is ill informed or worse, misinformed.

Without question, our level of knowledge and opinions are increasingly influenced by the ultimate in free “press”, the Internet.  Much of what is found there is surprisingly good, but all too often it more than meets or exceeds the “garbage in, garbage out” test.  Moreover, the lion’s share, including this writing, reflects one person’s unchecked opinion.  That may be ultimately self-correcting, though the jury is still out.  What we do know, is that some of the garbage promulgated online is repeated, lightly filtered (if at all), by professional cable and even broadcast media.  That, coupled with the “show” mindset, produces skewed or sound byte length “information” that is destined to be misleading or superficial.  Person-on-the street interviews reflect not so much the “garbage” maxim, but the sheer absence of substantive information.  Then too, again motivated in part by ratings and commerce, there is an atmosphere of overt or implied intimidation that keeps reporters and bay or impels them to over-balance, lest they be pushed off the assignment or lose their jobs.  All of that has played out during this election cycle, which explains but doesn’t excuse the present circumstances.   That brings me to the much-anticipated Vice Presidential Debate and the performance of the press in its aftermath.

Let’s forget for a moment all the spin about high and low bars and the contrast between the painful moments of dumbfounded hesitation witnessed earlier in the week and the virtual running at the mouth seen on Thursday.  In any self-respecting university, a student doesn’t get credit for the word count of a term paper but for the quality of its content.  Filling the time allotted with words should be no barometer of success.  To their credit, most polls and pundits scored the debate for, "may I call him Joe".  Even so, what really caught my attention was how many purportedly smart journalists felt compelled to declare how well Governor Palin had done.  It was the “fair” and safe thing to do.  The only hint of objective criticism was the widely declared cop out conclusion that the debate was “no game-changer”.  That may be true, but the preamble of meritorious performance left me speechless.  I sat through Thursday night’s session (watched on C-Span to be free of off camera press commentary), and saw a stream of robot-like and often garbled pronouncements – they weren’t responses – peppered with a few, often misquoted or disjointed, golden oldie zingers.  “Say it isn’t so Joe, there we go again.”  I witnessed a contrived folksy tone complete with winks that was at one patronizing and an insult to the adult intelligence of city and country mice alike.  It was bad enough on the first hearing, profoundly worse on the next day’s rereading of the transcript.  The press, by and large, gave her a pass.

I’m sure they (and there were some exceptions, usually blatantly partisan in tone) felt under great pressure to “be fair” and thus forgiving.  And here lies the problem.   As anyone who reads these posts knows, I don’t agree with John McCain.  In the sense of full disclosure, I am beginning to truly dislike him.  I think he would be a terrible, even dangerous, president and have often suggested so.  There are areas in which McCain has greater expertise than others.  To his detriment in the current environment, he knows little about the economy.  But I don’t for a moment question John McCain’s credentials or the fact that he is vastly more qualified to be president than the current occupant of the White House.   He is not, like his opponent, a gifted writer or orator, but his utterances are generally coherent.  Again, he surpasses the incumbent.   With that in mind, let’s return to Palin and the press assessment of her performance.  Many of them suggested that she rehabilitated herself after a disastrous two weeks, presumably with the American public or at least her partisans.  If that’s the case, shame on us, and shame on any such suggestion.  Perhaps the bar was set low for her, but can we accept one set so low for ourselves?

We are considering an occupant of the second highest office in the land.  This is potentially someone who will have her hand on the tiller of our nation.   She isn’t being considered for some tangential job and, if elected, she can’t be easily fired for at least four years.  The power of both the Presidency and the Vice Presidency, we have learned by bitter experience, is enormous.  Those who raise their hands and take to oath can change history and our lives with virtually no constraints.  Hello, members of the press.  I’m not concerned about the weight of the term paper submitted no matter how energetically and there is no “get-out-of-jail-free” card to be tossed on the Monopoly board.  The press, all their digging notwithstanding, continues to give this frighteningly unprepared and seemingly unqualified person a pass.  Yes her disjointed rambling may have made it at the PTA meeting, in a town with fewer inhabitants than a two block radius around my former New York residence or in running the sparsely populated state of Alaska whose fortunes rise with the price of oil just as those of the lower 48 diminish.  But we’re beyond that here and just getting out some words doesn’t cut it.  Much of the press gave Sarah Palin a pass.  We shouldn’t give them one.  They blew it and, in doing so, did us a great disservice.

I continue to believe, as I have from the outset, that in the end this election won’t be close.  Some fear that behind the curtain there will be voters who, despite what they tell pollsters, will submit to racial prejudice.  Perhaps, but I hope we are beyond that.  There are many reasons why John McCain is likely to go down.  He pinned his hopes, as we thought did Barack Obama, on issues of the war and foreign policy.  While now loudly claiming to be so foresighted about Fanny and Freddie, he has been blind sighted by the financial crisis.   Perhaps you can’t really see people's everyday struggle at the river’s edge in breathtaking Sedona.  But for many voters, John McCain will go down because of his cavalier decision on the Vice Presidency.  Sarah Palin may be judged harshly, but not so harshly and deservedly as the person she sometimes calls “her running mate”.    And the press, it shouldn’t give John McCain or Barack Obama an inch, and it certainly shouldn't give Sarah Palin a pass now or when she returns to the capital of her home state and once again becomes their problem not ours.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Past vs. Future

In a somber voice John McCain’s first response in last night’s debate started, “ on a sad note, Senator Kennedy is in the hospital.”  Interestingly no one picked up on yet another bit of inaccurate grandstanding – Kennedy checked out a mild seizure brought on by a change in medication but at that moment was back home watching the debate.   Once again, McCain was seeking to grab a headline as he has done so successfully all week.  Barack Obama rightly pointed to his many mixed messages from healthy economy to “suspending” campaign, but missed the point.  As long as your name gets out there, a new message means a new story.  That has been the McCain mantra throughout his career, with the exception perhaps of Chuck Schumer,  no one likes the cameras more.  From when he stepped on post-convention coverage of Obama’s acceptance speech, he has milked every headline available.  But it’s a risky strategy because at some point the wolf becomes more of a joke whose cries sound hollow, seen for the sound and fury that they really are.  The biggest such joke is playing out in the imploding of Sarah Palin.  Sarah – where is she now?

In a recent posting I suggested that the key question of this campaign was “are we better off now than we were eight years ago?”  To me last night’s debate added another, and in the end perhaps more powerful one.  It was what Alessandra Stanley’s article in the NY Times was rightly headlined “a generational clash”, the past vs. the future.  It was evident from the moment the two candidates took the stage.  John McCain looking at least his 72 years against the trim youthful Obama.  If the contrast between the television visages of Richard Nixon and Jack Kennedy were great, this picture presented something many times more powerful.  It’s true that Jim Lehrer began with a quote from Dwight Eisenhower, but McCain’s additional story about the World War II general, only underscored a mindset locked in the last century.  And there lies the underlying issue of this campaign, past vs. future.  In the end, all of McCain’s experience, as Hillary Clinton learned, may not be a winning argument, perhaps even more so.  After all Clinton’s candidacy offered an unprecedented opportunity of having a woman in the White House that, by definition, always promised a look ahead not backwards.  Even so, she couldn’t overcome Obama’s message and personification of change.

There is also a substantive, if ironic, message in these two campaigners.  The experienced McCain presents, perhaps a forceful character, but nonetheless an erratic one.  He may be knowledgeable, but more than often comes off as shooting from the hip.   If that’s seasoned, it’s counter intuitive.  In contrast, the “young” and “inexperienced” Obama comes off as measured and thoughtful.  His cool drives some supporters to distraction, but they are not thinking.  Who would you rather have pick up that phone at 3:00 AM, a guy who will shoot out an impulsive order or one who will pause to weigh his options and the consequences of acting one way or another.  It seems to me we have had more than enough shooting off from mouth and hip in these last eight years to last a lifetime.

I don’t envy the man who raises his hand to take the oath this coming January 20.  The problems he faces may be greater than almost any president in our history.  But I do hope he will be thinking about the future, not recounting golden oldies and anecdotes of past wars long since receded into history.  It’s what we will do not what we did.  It’s the future, stupid.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Who are we?

It’s become almost a cliché to say this is going to be a watershed election. There was a point early on when we thought it would be yet another referendum on Iraq.  Change vs. experience dominated the Democratic Primary debate.  And then, underscored by the continued meltdown of financial institutions, rising gas prices, home forclosurs and unemployment, all eyes were turned to the economy.   All these issues, and hopefully some serious thought to the environment, will play in November.  But I have come to a different view of what’s a stake when we vote.  I think this election is about who we are.

That issue has been building in my mind since the early primary days when, despite all the problems we face, candidates in both parties were scrambling to establish their religious bone fides.  Sure, whether they were wearing that silly American flag pin became a bone of contention.  But what really seemed to be urgently important was whether they believed in God.  If that wasn’t enough, it was what kind of Christian they were – a Mormon kind, a secret Moslem kind, an Evangelical kind, a correct pastor kind.  What any of that has to do with managing our foreign policy, righting our economy or pulling us back from the brink of environmental disaster, I just can’t fathom.  Nor for that matter do I believe the Founding Fathers, their personal faith notwithstanding, had that in mind as a qualification for governance.

I think, however, the “who we are” issue, really came to a head when John McCain made his Vice Presidential selection.  To be sure, it said a lot about McCain, the once claimed straight talker, and what kind of President he might be, but the reaction to it said much more about the country.  Perhaps more accurately it said something about what this country may be.  There are some who have defended Governor Palin as a reflection of long cherished American populism.  The real America is in the small towns and on the back roads.  That’s the right training ground and source of our leadership, the oxygen of our democracy.  Nonsense. 

In truth it never was, even in less complicated times.  Sure some of our leaders have hailed from small places, but most were well educated (even when self-educated) and well informed, certainly by the time the contended for high office.  This is 2008, and its time to put aside romantic and mythical notions.  The reality of the America that has led the world is not the back roads, but the urban sprawl.  It’s not one-room schoolhouses, but the greatest universities in the world.  It’s not fishing, hunting or the local repair shop but getting to the moon and counting the genome.  All those people who have come to these shores, and still do, are not making the journey to sip a Coke in the old barn, but to stretch their minds and expand their opportunities.  The country we rely on is at the cutting edge of technology not the creator of American Idol.

Some will think it un-American to say these things.  Some will feel I’m living in an elite bubble, not in touch with the real world.  Nonsense.  It’s time we should stop pretending that we live in or aspire to a log cabin.  It is unseemly and disingenuous.  The problems facing the next President will be so enormous and the world in which we play so complicated that only a fool, or a foolish and suicidal electorate, would think we dare put the “D” team in place. 

I’m not sure American voters understand the stakes and for sure we’re not giving the candidates the opportunity to lay them out for us.  Perhaps a majority of them, even after these disastrous eight years will think Mr. Smith can still make it in Washington, which of course was never the case.  I hope not.  This election will be a test, a measure of who we are and how we see ourselves as a nation.  If it goes in the direction of mediocrity, we’ll pay a very high price.  I don’t think it will, but if so, many Americans will be dispirited.  I for one will be at the head of that pack.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Are we better off?

Republicans have fallen in love with Harry Truman.  I was just a kid when “Give’m Hell Harry, was in office, but I doubt he would return the favor.  When it comes to this election campaign, I’d suggest two Republican President models to my fellow Democrats: Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.  Ike, in case you don’t remember, was the man who ran on the theme, “It’s time for a change”.  Sound familiar?  He won big.  Barack Obama has been running on an updated version of “time for a change”, and it’s worked well because in our national gut we know it’s true.  But Eisenhower was no great orator or communicator so the comparison with Obama has its limits.  That brings me to Reagan.  Like him or not, Nancy’s Ronnie had the gift.  But interestingly, his most powerful argument for change didn’t come in a big speech but in the debate when he turned to the camera and simply asked, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”  To me, that’s the logical and essential argument of this campaign going forward, not change, which is inspiring but vague.  Moreover, change, as we have seen can be co-opted, albeit disingenuously.  Are we better off, on the other hand, is a question that begs an answer, the engagement of the listener.  It is about the voter not the candidate.  And it’s a question John McCain dare not ask.

For sure Americans are concerned about our place in the world, the ill conceived or executed wars in which we are engaged, but their real concern is much closer to home, literally.  Everyone who hears the Reagan question will have an answer and it’s not one that John McCain and the Republicans will like.  With more than 80% of us thinking the country is headed in the wrong direction, it makes no sense to waste time on trivia, which is exactly where the Republicans, aided and abetted by the media they vilify, want us to do.  Voters, myself included, want to know that their next President will not merely feel their pain, but has a plan to ease it.  What we don’t need is another election about who has more faith, can frighten us more or is the more authentic American.  We want this election to get us headed in the right direction.

Bill Clinton’s brilliance in 1992 was to focus on the economy stupid.  Barack Obama could win in a landslide if he puts a laser-like focus on our comparative well-being.  Ask us if we’re better off and do it in every speech.  Make John McCain tell us with a straight face that the Republican approach, evident in his choices and the actions of his campaign, is going to take us in a new direction.  Let him tell us that re-energizing the Cold War and the Culture Wars is going to do much for lifting wages, gaining jobs, repairing our crumpling infrastructure and, yes, saving a planet headed toward destruction.  Ask us whether our nation’s financial health is better after nearly eight years of MBA stewardship, or who is going to address those deficits that Republicans (Bush and Reagan) seem to leave for Democrats to clean up.

I’m not pessimistic about November, quite the contrary, but I think the country could use a decisive election.  We also need a President who, in running for re-election four years from now, will be able to ask Americans if they are better off and be confident that the answer will be yes.  Time to move beyond the myopia of Alaska and old war stories and focus in the real issues, yours and mine.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Back to the Cold

Among my concerns about John McCain is that he seems so deeply locked in the past.  To me there is something beyond the perceived effectiveness of retelling his moving captivity story to pick up votes.  Watch the Senator next time he tells of his well worn story and you will see a level of emotional connection that he displays no where else.  Somehow he is invested in that war not won and altogether in past battles and enemies.  His unfamiliarity with the computer and email are just metaphors for a profound disconnect with the present and future.  But the really disturbing manifestation of this inability to let go of the past can be found it what can only be described as a seemingly concerted effort to resurrect the Cold War.

For sure, Vladimir Putin is no raging democrat, no more than say is Mubarak or was Musharraf.  The fact that the Soviet Union failed doesn’t mean that Russians embraced Western democracy.  In fact, beyond having no strong democratic tradition, their brief flirtation with it turned into an emotional and economic disaster.  The polished, but still autocratic, Putin is seen as the man who saved Russia and restored its self-image.  Perhaps George Bush’s looking into Putin’s eyes and seeing his soul was naive, but viewing the Russians more as partners than adversaries makes geopolitical sense. 

I don’t know what McCain and his new sidekick “reformer” are thinking.  Haven’t we had enough bravado and saber rattling in the last eight years?  Perhaps Sarah Palin is too young to remember, but I for one have no appetite for a return to those dark days and an ever-present threat of nuclear war.  In fact, if for no other than pragmatic reasons, we have to move in exactly the opposite direction. For more reasons than even a close neighbor from Alaska can understand, we need the Russians as allies.  Moreover, we are the last people to be lecturing about big powers marching in on lesser countries.  Hello, where is it that we have we been for most of this decade?   And by the way, given our inability to send sufficient troops to Afghanistan much less pose any real military threat to Iran, what army is it that Ms. Palin thinks we’re going to commit to helping keep little Georgia in our corner?

John McCain’s strong suit is supposed to be security and foreign policy.  Think about where he stands on those matters and the things that he says.  Speaking of suits, remember what happened to the one Alec Guinness boasted about in The Man in the White Suit?  OK, for those too young to remember, it disintegrated.  Effective foreign policy requires the ability to look at events without prejudice and preconceived ideas.  The past should always inform, but focusing all your attention on the rear view mirror is destined to put you at risk for a crash, perhaps a fatal one.  In that regard, we should all be concerned about John McCain’s blocked vision, which may get us into an even deeper hole than the one we’ve dug for ourselves under Bush.

A postscript.  The McCain campaign, now fixed on the re-elect W strategy of “fear and lying”, has had one major success.  They have intimidated the press big time.  Just imagine if Barack Obama, Joe Biden or even John McCain had looked blank when asked about the Bush Doctrine.  Would they get a pass for linking Iraq and 9/11 (as Palin did yesterday in a speech) at this late date?  I think not.  Sure she’s new on the block, but she is running for the second highest office in the land, right now not four years hence.    Calling Gov. Palin to task for what she says or doesn’t know isn’t sexist. It’s called reporting.  Perhaps McCain hasn’t recovered from the shell shock of Nam, but the press should get over being attacked from the podium in St. Paul.  He may have an excuse, they don’t.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Now to Sexism

There are some people out there, including one who commented on my last post, who think it’s fair to ask whether a woman with five kids including one pregnant teenager and an infant with special needs will have the focus necessary to be Vice President?  It is a question one would never ask of a man in a similar situation.  Indeed if Todd Palin had been selected by John McCain, the father of those same children, no one would dare pose, even think, that question.  If Joe Biden, as a single father, could tend to his sons and his duties as a Senator, so too should Sarah Palin, especially since Todd is on the case at home.   Let’s not delude ourselves; sexism is alive and thriving in our society.  It is an equal opportunity provider that gives its all to White, African American, Latino, Asian or any other woman without prejudice.

Sexism is a river that runs deep beginning with the incredible notion that God is a “he”.  Remember the Don McLean lyric in American Pie, “the three men I admire most, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost”?  Yes every time American families attend church or synagogue they are reminded of divine masculinity, a lesson drummed into their childrens ears at an early age.  It is one that we routinely explain away or pretend is not there.  That God which both Democrats and Republicans invoke so solemnly at the conclusion of their speeches is a he-god.  If you have any doubt, just get on a platform in the public square and refer to God as she.  You’ll be lucky if you’re not tarred a feathered.  So if the Creator is “he”, it follows that anything really important can only be done by some he, unless of course we want to make some extraordinary exception.  So that’s where I (and we) stand on sexism. The point is that, with all due respect to the Women’s Movement, the issue of jobs including political ones and however important it may be, is at the margin of the problem.  To deal effectively with a cancer, you have to go to the source not simply the metastatic effects.  Let’s see who wants to take the primary source of sexism on.  Don't all raise your hands at once.

In the end Sarah Palin, as was the case with Hillary Clinton, is a candidate for high office subject to same scrutiny one would give to a man seeking it.  I agree with Barack Obama and Joe Biden that family is off the table.  I also feel that with regard to sexism, racism and family candidates can’t have it both ways.  They can’t use gender, race and family and then tell the press and public not to comment.  Governor Palin parades her family when suits her and then expects everyone to remain dutifully silent.  She introduces her son who is off to Ayrak (why can’t people pronounce that correctly after all this time) not simply to show us his face but to make a political point.  She parades her pregnant teenage daughter and her soon-to-be teenage son-in-law, but considers any comment about them off limits.  Politicians are users, sometimes in the worst most self-serving ways.

But let’s do leave her family out of this, even if she doesn’t.  Sarah Palin compared herself to a pit bull last evening, backing it up with tough words.  Let’s hope she doesn’t expect her male opponents to characterize her any less generously.  No they shouldn’t use sexist innuendo, and no they shouldn’t question her patriotism.  But don’t expect them to sit by when the governor who supposedly rejected the bridge to nowhere, took the money allocated and ran straight to the Alaska bank.  Let her not get away with proudly telling us how she gave Alaskans a big rebate without pointing our that her fellow citizens benefited financially on the backs of citizens in the lower forty-eight and Hawaii’s high gas bill.  Let her not talk of Democratic tax and spend without pointing out that Bill Clinton left us with a surplus which Republicans squandered big time along with dramatically increasing the federal headcount and payroll.  Sarah Palin has joined the not-so-straight-talk express and now she takes full responsibility for it. 

Republicans love referencing Harry Truman these days.  Pat Boone that great political sage defended Sarah Palin saying that she had as much experience as Harry Truman when he was tapped by FDR.  Apparently he didn’t read David McCullough’s book, much less pay attention in his history class.  Truman, of course, was a second term United States Senator who had presided over a very sensitive and high profile investigation on war production, things I don’t remember seeing in Palin’s resume.  Truman also knew that politics and government were tough.  Perhaps his metaphor was sexist, but his most famous (and widely quoted) aphorism had something to do with hot kitchens.  Some like giving hot, but if not careful, one can always get burned.

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Private Matter

Would that John McCain had expressed equal outrage about the vicious rumors circulating the web about Barack Obama as he did appropriately today about Bristol Palin.  Her pregnancy, as Obama told reporters, has nothing to do with her mother’s qualifications to hold public office and family, most especially children, are off limits.  Governor Palin and her husband are not the first parents to face teen pregnancy and they won’t be the last.  Anyone who has children can appreciate what they, and most especially Bristol, has been going through.  Fortunately we all live in a country, where she has the choice to bring that baby to term in line with her own convictions and we can only wish them the best.

That this has become first page news tells a lot about our time and the level of national discourse.  It should also be a reminder to Governor Palin that she has now entered a different arena where hardball is not just the name of a television show but the reality of politics.   Whether he likes it or not, it also says something profound about John McCain.  If reports are correct, the Senator spent months considering his running mate and vetting potential candidates.  In the end, he selected someone whom he had only personally met a few days earlier.  Some have said it was a tactical decision, a way to change the conversation and, perhaps more importantly, appeal to women voters.  It’s hard not to add that it appears to have been impulsive decision.

We have spent more than a year learning about and vetting the Presidential candidates.  Unbelievably, we’re told many American voters don’t yet know Barack Obama and even John McCain.  Perhaps that’s true, but not because they weren’t given the opportunity.  Vice Presidential candidates are not exposed to such scrutiny and, unless they have themselves been contenders for the top job or have an extensive public record, the person who will be a heartbeat away from the Presidency is often an unknown quantity.  There is something very bizarre about that and, in times like these, particularly unsettling.

McCain says he knew about this very personal matter when he selected Governor Palin.  Rest assured there will be a lot digging to find out if that’s true and legitimately so.  If he in fact did not know, what else about the candidate might his “vetting” have missed?  If he did know, why in naming a running mate with such strong views on reproductive choice, did he decide not to disclose it?  Was Bristol’s carrying her little brother in that harness calculated to hide her own pregnancy?   Family as Obama says is strictly off limits, but when an unknown candidate for the second highest office in the land decides to parade her family before the country on national television, she has in fact invaded their privacy and opened the door to scrutiny.

No one knows how this will play out in the days ahead.  I have great misgivings about a potential Vice President who is against choice and in favor of teaching creationism.   These positions reflect her religious beliefs, which is what makes her so attractive to the Party’s hard right.  What people of faith believe and what moves their personal behavior and decisions are their own business.  When their personal religious convictions are imposed on the rest of us that’s very different.  This is not the moment to discuss the implications of unwanted pregnancies, but the cat is out of the bag.  We are likely to come back to it soon.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Joy and Inoculation

As a speaker’s son, I had a front row seat at the 1963 March on Washington.  In the era of sound byte history that hot August day is remembered largely and deservedly for Martin Luther King’s seminal speech.  What I remember most vividly was the palpable sense of joy that pervaded in that sea of humanity confronting the speakers as they looked out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  And it was that same sense of joy that struck me as I watched from afar the crowd of 80,000 plus who gathered in Denver to witness that giant step for America as Barack Obama strode toward the lectern at Mile High Stadium. 

Frank Rich writes today of how the press has misread this Presidential campaign.  I for one think they aren’t so much missing the real story playing before us, as much as they seem intent on promoting a fictional contest narrative that will guarantee eyeballs until election day.  It reminds me of that maniacal urgency of corporate executives to keep quarterly earnings up.  Is that so because our most visible media are feeding the same beast?  Of course it is.  The problem isn’t that the news we get is controlled by the few, but that much of it is hyped or even manufactured to meet a bottom line.  And sadly, to some degree, that’s not a totally new story.  The narrative throughout the summer of 1963 was just as inaccurate, just as laden with provocative hyperbole.  The predictions for tension and havoc were so dire, that a confirmation of President Kennedy’s invitation to have the leaders visit the Oval Office came only after the March had ended, it’s true, rather than imagined, nature demonstrated.

The other thing that struck me in watching the convention – I’ve followed all of them closely since childhood when Adlai Stevenson came upon the scene – was the unspoken but clearly evident word inoculation.   Both Barack Obama and John McCain are inoculated men.  However rough and tumble the contest has been and will be, there are third rail places in their story that opponents dare not touch.  For Obama, whatever subtext there may be, race is essentially off the table.  They may talk of his limited experience in public life, but not that an African American, by definition, is untested as President.  For John McCain, as we will be reminded every day this coming week, it is his military service.  Ironically, such service was held against John Kerry because he opposed the disastrous War in Viet Nam, while it is used to bolster John McCain whose imprisonment makes his earlier military performance untouchable.  For both Obama and McCain there are questions that simply can’t be asked, measures that can’t be taken.  Both are using this inoculation to their advantage.

Obama’s deft use of race is to move beyond it.  To be sure, he has found it necessary to reference the obvious, but only when forced to do so.  Perhaps the most striking thing about his acceptance speech, delivered to the day on the 45th anniversary of the March, was how very little he said about it.  Others in his place might have made it the center of their message, but he chose to let the 40 Million plus Americans who watched and listened connect the dots.  To be sure he is a man who has dreams, but there was no milking of that line on Thursday night.  In contrast, John McCain takes out his story of captivity at every opportunity.  Be assured it will be in full view next Thursday as it has in virtually every campaign appearance.  Even when the seven home memory gaff became an issue, his campaign reminded one and all that he had made his prison cell his only home for years.  How dare anyone question a man who suffered that indignity, gave so much for his country?

It is said that Obama is a man of methodical intentionality, not of impulse.  He sometimes suffers that reputation in an environment that prizes emotion and selected the current President because he was someone with whom you would want to share a Bud.  Interestingly, voters never thought about that as a measure of Presidential qualification until pollsters and pundits created the question and suggested its relevance.  McCain, on the other hand, is known as a craps shooter who thrives on impulse and gut decision-making.  Reference Jack Kennedy (with a temperament much like Obama) and the Cuban Missile Crisis when you consider what kind of person you’d prefer to have in the White House when the phone rings at 3 AM.  The difference in the two was seen clearly in the choices of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

McCain’s calculation is that his story inoculates him more, and strikes a greater emotional chord than Obama’s being an African American.  It also is consistent with the Republican’s very successful employment of national security, and most specifically fear, to win a series of elections.  The question is whether that story line has played out.  Yes, more Americans may feel that McCain is  best qualified to be Commander, but it may also be possible that our focus on war and warriors has become more politically toxic than positive.  The fact that Bush never asked us to engage, to make sacrifice, in the current wars may come back to haunt the Republicans.  I was very young but remember the gas-rationing letter affixed to the back window of our car during World War II and the margarine that we had to eat for lack of butter.  They we but small symbols of national engagement.  No family was untouched by Viet Nam, if only with the threat of draft hanging over the heads of their young sons.  A time to shop and mortgage is what most Americans know of the Iraq war years, and its all that going sour is what is uppermost in their minds in these dog days of summer.  Then too there is that “not again” syndrome.  We all know someone who, to the point of irritation, has told the same autobiographical story so predictably and so frequently (often inappropriately) that it becomes the object of ridicule.  As his hero Ronald Reagan so famously said, “there he goes again”.

One more thing can be predicted about the week ahead.  Gustav will be brought into play big time, the ultimate distraction.  “President” McCain is on the case, consulting with Gulf Coast officials and awaiting a briefing by Governor Barber, who just happens to be a former GOP national chairman.  The potentially lethal bullet of a Dick Chaney speech has been dodged with its cancellation in the face of a potential Labor Day natural disaster and his essential foreign trip in the following days.  The Bush speech has been scrapped for now and may be rescheduled – don’t bet on it.  Who said there isn’t a God and that the Republican convention won’t be held under divine protection?  But will there be joy?

Friday, July 25, 2008

PTSD Candidate?

I’ve been thinking about Charles Dickens and Marley’s ghost.  Forty years after Nixon and Humphrey won their party’s nominations amid the division and acrimony it created, the ghost of Viet Nam plays anew before our eyes.  Perhaps that was inevitable, not because of comparisons with Iraq, but because John McCain is the presumptive GOP nominee.  Most of those who returned from Viet Nam, and let’s remember 58,000 did not, quietly resumed civilian life and moved forward.  Viet Nam, while hardly forgotten, has not been the leitmotif of their biography.  A few like John Kerry came home activist critics.  Viet Nam informed who they are but, in some profound way, they too put it behind them.  Finally, a number (some deeply scarred by combat) came home angry, and who could blame them?  Children of the Greatest Generation, they were brought up to believe America invincible.   That they were given to selective memory in referencing Normandy and bypassing Korea is revealing, but let’s give them the slack they deserve.  These particular veterans were angry with an enemy not vanquished, were dismayed by what they saw as a dangerously disheartened military and, perhaps especially, were furious with those who opposed the war at home.  John McCain was among these returnees, and that brings me to Dickens and ghosts.

McCain’s behavior in the last few weeks has been inexplicable.  Let’s discount that someone who has been the press darling for a decade now cries foul when it assumably pays too much attention to his opponent.  No it’s the McCain who on July 15th made the unequivocal statement, “I know how to win wars, I know how to win wars.”  Perhaps he repeated it twice because his only command was that of a naval air squadron in peacetime.  Then there was the comment of this week in which the Republican presumptive nominee suggested that his Democratic opponent was more interested in winning the election than winning the war in Iraq.  Each of these statements, as has been much of his recent campaign rhetoric, are highly charged, disproportionately angry.  So I ask myself, what gives?  Ghosts?

I’ve come to the conclusion that every time Barack Obama opens his mouth, John McCain sees Jane Fonda.  Only that can account for the level of anger on the part of a man who, in facing Iraq, is so obviously haunted by déjà vu.  John McCain went through a great deal in that prison camp.  At the time of his capture he was the somewhat underperforming son and grandson of four-star admirals.  If you have any question about what that can do to a young man, think of FDR’s hard-pressed sons and descendents of a marquee political family.  That he acquitted himself so heroically in that camp is all the more impressive, but it surely came with a cost.

I’m not a psychiatrist and don’t even play one on TV, but would it be at all surprising if McCain’s ghosts weren’t very real, if he didn’t suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder?  After all, consider what he went through physically and emotionally, compounded by a greater pressure to perform than might have been the case for a mailman or lawyer’s son.  PSTD wasn’t even diagnosed until 1980 seven years after his release and the year he divorced his first wife and married Cindy Hensley.  Symptoms of this cruel disorder include flashbacks to traumatic times, the ghosts of war.  Could this explain why McCain, not his campaign, has strayed from the reservation of late?  Of course he has every right, and obligation, to voice his view and to challenge that of Senator Obama, but claiming an unsubstantiated war winning expertise or impugning his opponent’s patriotism crosses the line.

It’s no secret that I am for Obama and against McCain.  I think they represent two very different approaches to our present and future.  Nevertheless, like Senator Obama, I not only honor McCain’s service, I marvel at it.  I also understand why it possesses him so, why in talking about it, as he did today at a veterans’ event, it animates him like nothing else.  Memories, a sense of history and the lessons learned can be a critical component of leadership.  But ghosts concern me.  When Ebenezer Scrooge took his nocturnal tour with the ghost of Marley, he came out a changed man.  Whatever demons possessed him and caused his earlier behavior were exorcized from his character.  Dickens doesn’t take us far into Scrooge’s future, but leaves the impression that the ghost is unlikely to reappear.  It would be comforting to think the same held true for the ghost of Viet Nam, but from what we’ve seen these past few weeks, that doesn’t appear to be the case.  It’s a bit unnerving; something to seriously consider as we look toward November.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Covered to Death

No one who follows politics or watches television news can help but be saddened by the sudden, premature and unexpected death of Tim Russert.  He had an extraordinary life story, keeping work and family in what appeared to be perfect balance.  His style was so different than many of his colleagues, especially those on the politics beat at NBC’s cable outlet where he himself appeared so frequently.  Chris Mathews, the man whose idea of an interview is to have the first and last words and most of those in between, obviously never paid much attention to Russert’s thoughtful questioning and, most important, listening.  Keith Olbermann, the liberal’s answer to O’Reilly, who has appropriated Morrow’s signature sign off, bears no resemblance to that giant who likely would have preferred Russert’s dignified demeanor to his synthetic bravado.  What Tim Russert did was to combine exuberance with seriousness.  That is very hard to pull off, and he did it so authentically well.

Of course Russert was a man of today’s television world and nothing could be more emblematic of where it has gone than MSNBC’s coverage of his death.  True to form, it has been 24/7 ever since, a single story sucking up every second of airtime as if nothing else was happening in the country or the world.  It’s hard to know if Russert would have approved, but now the late broadcaster has lost control becoming the fodder of what Frank Rich calls the Mediathon.  There is no doubt that his colleagues are truly devastated by his passing and many of the anecdotes they share are moving, but one has to wonder at this stage whether ratings aren’t playing into this coverage just as they do in any other Mediathon.  Russert has died, and is being covered to death.  One would think journalism could do better than that, be more measured than that.

It is said by some that newspapers are destined for the dustbin of history.  That would be tragic, not because the printed page is necessarily more valuable than the broadcast hour, but because of the difference of how each uses time and space.  Read the New York Times or any other major newspaper in America and you’ll see each issue filled with a multitude of stories covering every conceivable subject.   Sure local rags often are short on national news and the Times may not always do the best job of covering the street around the corner, but between the pages is a large world and lot’s of infomation.  The great disappointment of 24 hour broadcast news is that with so much time on its hands, so little is actually covered.  Perhaps it’s more in the absolute than the thirty-minute nightly network fair, but surprisingly not that much more.  If television is known for summer reruns, every news day on cable is made up of repeated information, often every few minutes.  Turn it on in the morning or in the evening and you won’t have missed much even though CNN, MSNBC and Fox seem to have missed most of what’s going on.

We’ll all miss Tim Russert, especially because his like on the tube is far and very few between.  His voice will be especially missed between now and November.  But when the powers that be at NBC look back on these past days – when one of their own became the solitary news – perhaps they too will wonder if Mediathon’s serve the public’s need to know all the news.  I hope so, but don’t count on it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Not in our Wildest Dreams

Watching Barack Obama last night in St Paul, I couldn’t help but think of sitting in Washington on that August day in 1963 and hearing about dreams.  Yes, there was a huge crowd and yes spirits ran high, but the dreams?  Dreams were still oratory, just oratory.  Sound familiar?  Well great oratory matters and always has.  Think of the momentous and you can be sure oratory played a critical role.  Think of the Civil War and what you’ll remember is, “Four score and...”.  Think of the Depression and “the only thing you have to fear…” will present itself in an instant.  Think of the generational turn of 1960 and, “Ask not what your country…” will resonate in your mind’s ear.  And think of the Cold War’s Iron Curtain, so named in a Churchill speech, and its end arguably begun with Reagan’s, “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall”.

Oratory counts, but even more so dreams, especially once fulfilled in all or in part.  Perhaps Barack Obama’s victory isn’t “in all”, but it’s damn close.  We should not, dare not, miss the moment.  When my father spoke together with King there in Washington, he began with the words, “I come to you as an American Jew”.  I came to last night as a White American Jew and with a feeling of enormous victory, sure for my favored candidate, but even more so for this country.  It is a victory for my children and for yours.  This is not just some electoral result, it’s a big deal and that it happened in our lifetime is almost beyond belief.  Perhaps South Carolina’s Jim Clyburn best expressed its magnitude.  He told the News Hour this evening that he was so emotional about it that he had to leave the gathering he was attending to go home and listen to the speech alone.  This African American Congressman from the Deep South knows something about prejudice and about breakthroughs.

We knew that last night, whenever that last night would come, would bring with it a moment of history, the fulfillment of a dream too long delayed.  I’ve written a number of times during this long campaign about those dreams an the wonder of potentially fulfilling one or the other in the same year.  I knew the unfulfilled dream would be wrenching, and it is for millions of women whose time is once more delayed.  I wish Hillary Clinton’s inexplicable performance reflected that global disappointment, which sadly I fear is not the case.  But let no one spoil the moment, and let us not permit it to pass uncelebrated.   Last night in this country, at this time, we all did overcome.

When Barack Obama ascends the podium in Denver to accept the nomination of his party, it will be forty-five years to the day since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his memorable speech.  This year, with this candidate, we’ll be assured of oratory that not only will fulfill that August dream, but also will do the dreamer’s memory proud.  Ah, dreams – make them really wild Barack!  That will be change.  Do it for people of color, do it for women and do it for all of us.  Yes you can, yes you must.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sexism runs very deep.

Make no mistake about it, sexism is alive and well in America and throughout the world.  Yes surface progress has been made, but we have not eradicated fundamental bias, nor are we likely to do so any time soon.  Part of the problem is that the genesis, and I use that word intentionally, is ancient and deep-seated.  We may say all the right things, and that goes for both women and men, but we can’t hide the reality that billions around the world accept as a matter of faith and fact a he-God who, Christians further believe, sent a son, not a daughter, as an extension of himself.  That’s something you won’t hear much about in discussions of sexism other than in the most superficial way.  Committed feminists may have devised ceremonial that enhances (sometimes stretching to do so) women’s role in religion.  They lobby for women clergy including priests, and rightly so. Talk all you want about your Deborah’s, it was still a man named Moses who brought those commandments from the mountain.  At the end of the day, most women and men dutifully invoke the he-God and/or his son in prayer.   We shouldn't underestimate the message that sends and how early it is put into our heads.

I write all of this not to question faith, but as the most vivid reality check that can be put forward when it comes to the still seemingly incurable disease of sexism.  I do it now because in the last few days, sexism as an issue, has raised its head with regard to the Presidential race, and done so with such consistency of message that one has to assume coordinated not spontaneous outrage.  Without having any proof of that, it smells like yet another effort by the Clinton campaign to upend what is the likely outcome of the nominating process.  It’s just another of what have been a series of attempts to change the rules midstream or alter the victory criteria when things are going in the wrong direction.  The sad part is that it reads like sour grapes, diminishing the very legitimate problem it raises.  It plays politics instead of engaging the voters in the kind of discussion that a woman’s candidacy might have so productively provoked.  I think, in a profound way, it also casts further light on why Ms. Clinton is falling short of her goal.

Racism raised its ugly head fairly early in this campaign, and looking at both the Indiana exit interviews and the NY Times story about elderly Jews in Florida, it is likely to play its role in November.  It took some time and considerable provocation for Obama, who had assiduously sought to avoid being labeled a Black candidate, to respond.  But respond he did in the Philadelphia speech, widely considered one of the most important statements on race ever made by a public figure.  Did it eliminate race as an issue in America.  Absolutely not, but neither did it hide from a problem.  More importantly, it was a message from a potential President, demonstrating how he might use the Bully Pulpit to address to the nation.  It, more than all of those other very moving speeches, may be why he is winning.

Those who have complained in the last days, much of their anger pointed at the press, have said that sexism has been rampant from the start of the campaign and run systematically throughout.  I’m not totally sure that they are correct, but readily admit that even a proclaimed male feminist’s ears and eyes are not as sensitive to these signals as those of a woman.  No Christian fully understands subtle and sometimes not so subtle slights against Jews, no Caucasian the sub-rosa dissing of Blacks or, for that matter, Latinos and Asians.  So I stipulate that sexism has played throughout and that the media (among their many disservices to this process) sometimes had a starring role.  That said, where was the Clinton speech on this pervasive and continuing problem.  If she is effectively the standard bearer of women, much as Obama is of African Americans, where was her bully pulpit?  Ironically just as his candor on race gave us some clue as the substance of the man, a speech by Hillary Clinton on an equally important and sensitive topic might well have put her over the top.  Certainly, a talk on sexism was no less needed.

One of the problems we have as human beings is that we pass injustice by every day of our lives.  Even worse we become its fellow travelers, sometimes in acts that may speak a kind of self-loathing.  We tread lightly when we should be blasting our trumpets.  We are all so correct, so polite, so “hear no evil, speak no evil…”.  The issues raised in the last few days are real, and I would submit still urgent.  But they are also too important to be used as a campaign tactic or to instill fear in us that women just won’t vote for this man (who happens to be Black).  Perhaps it’s not a fear card analogous to that red phone, but it get’s pretty close.  The odd thing, which I heard on NPR this morning, is that women who are so turned off by sexism say they won’t vote for Obama but will cast their ballot for John McCain.  Isn’t he a man?  By the way, have you noticed the dutiful helpmate, carrying out the proper she-role, always at his side?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Divided but Unitied

Bill Clinton won the White House with only 43% of the popular vote.  The electorate has been deeply divided ever since.  Seen in this context alone, it’s not at all surprising that the race for the Democratic nomination is still going on and that the vote is so close.  Voters are torn, but not because they are choosing the lesser of two evils but between two excellent and compelling candidates.  They also happen to be the vessels for something much larger than themselves.  This year the Democrats are on their way to redressing historic wrongs.  Who would have thought they would have to choose between electing the first woman or the first African American?   Taking the wide view of history, there is little doubt that women have suffered inequality more than anyone else.  In that sense, their time has not only come, it is long overdue.  When it comes to American history it’s more of a toss up.  In some respects, one could argue, the deprivation of Blacks has been greater, and most certainly more mean spirited.  In truth, who deserves it more, is a silly argument.  Being a woman or being a person of color has been decidedly a disadvantage when it comes to the reigns of power, public or private.

So this election has put many of us in a bind.  It’s divided families and friends.  My college classmate Letty Pogrebin, a founder of Ms Magazine, supports Clinton; her writer daughter Abigail, Obama.  They were interviewed some months back by the PBS Now program.  Their choices were, to a large degree, generational.  Letty and hers, and I have other friends with similar views, have been fighting the battle all of their lives.  They understand how much progress has been made, and also how little.  Abigail, the beneficiary of their struggle, feels in a sense more confident.  Her feminism, no less fervent, allows her the freedom to select, even a man.  Most of us find ourselves in the same situation, taking sides often with strong conviction, but absent the hard choice presented, we could easily be in the other’s camp.

At this moment, it appears as I have consistently believed, that Barack Obama will win the nomination but by a very close vote.  Pundits will glibly tell us why and historians will have their say in the years to come.  While the victory will be numerically slim, it seems to me that, given the odds at the start, its an accomplishment that can’t be underestimated.  Here comes a still relatively unknown African American up against a field of distinguished long time public servants including the best known woman in the country, perhaps in the world.  She is not merely known, but the presumptive nominee with a commanding, seemingly insurmountable lead in the polls.  She is articulate and well schooled, the better debater, and she has as her surrogate the most popular and iconic figure in the party.  It’s the two for one in reverse, and Bill has spared no effort in making it possible for her to virtually be in two places at one time.  Against all of this, not to mention the assumption that an African American could never come close much less win the nomination, Barack Obama is taking the prize.  In that sense, one has to look at his win as a relative landslide.

I started out by saying that both candidates are vessels for something larger than themselves.  How they handled that has also made the difference.  Clinton’s most unshakable support is coming from women who think their time has come.  They are absolutely right.  In some respects, I think their candidate has made too little of that, except defensively.  The diner scene in New Hampshire and being the victim of male (Obama and Edwards) abuse in debates.  But in the end, she seemed to be more committed to the “me” than to the vessel.  It isn’t that women are entitled at long last, but that she (who suffered such indignities at the hands of that surrogate) is entitled.  It is a subtle but huge difference, one that may account for the margin of loss.  In many respects, Clinton would have been better off not running on experience, but more overtly as a woman.

Barack Obama, I would suggest, was much more in tune with the vessel thing.  He, as an African American living in a still color-aware country, required a totally different strategy.  He had to run a color-agnostic campaign.  It made him initially suspect in the Black community and, as noted in an earlier post, among traditional leaders like John Lewis (who subsequently changed sides).  He resisted being the Black candidate while never hiding who he was or where he came from.  He most certainly references the struggle in his speeches, but only as one of many points.  I’m not suggesting that Obama’s run isn’t about him – ego comes with the candidate territory – but that not once has that come across as his primary motive.  Clinton’s, I’m a fighter who doesn’t give up, sends a different signal.  Perhaps it’s marginal, but in a close race every little difference counts.

We have two top tier candidates who engender passionate support.  The media will tell you that they reflect the deeply divided electorate that we’ve lived with these last years.  They will be wrong.  Ideologically there is little light between Obama and Clinton, between his supporters and hers.  They will find a way of coming together and so will we.  And John McCain?  Take note in that ’92 campaign George H.W. Bush who had been much admired for his foreign policy including the deft management of a war in Iraq, lost the election over “the economy stupid”.  In retrospect, some argue, perceived much weaker than it was.  There’s no doubt about this economy and no one would call his son’s handling of diplomacy or the war, supported by John McCain from the start, deft.   Bush got only 37% of the vote in ‘92.  John McCain, remember that number as Barack Obama and a unified Democratic party catches a glimpse of you in the rear view mirror.

Hillary and Barack, thank you for making us all proud to be Americans.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

60 yes, but 120?

Israel is 60.  When Jews celebrate a personal milestone, rather than a happy birthday they are wished 120 years of life.  The reference is to Moses who purportedly lived to that advanced age.  I remember vividly as a child when my parents returned home from witnessing the United Nations vote for the partitioning of Palestine and participating in the celebrations that followed.  It was clearly one of the great days in their lives.  I remember too as a child singing the Hatikvah, just adopted as the official state anthem, with a new lump-in-the-throat meaning.  Despite a rocky and violent start, we had great hopes for this newly minted Jewish homeland.  Among others, as a family that survived Hitler, we saw it as a special vindication and, although we did not live there, a kind of safety net.  After all, Jews had been persecuted throughout much of history in lands to which we could never lay claim.  My family, residents of Germany since at least the 17th Century, was treated as illegals in the 1930s destined to either be exiled or extinguished.  They experienced both.

Israel is 60.  If only I could be confident that it will reach 120.  I no longer am.  Time is running out and, admittedly looking from afar, nobody seems to have any urgency about the clock.  It makes no sense to point fingers or to recount the missed opportunities or mistakes.  There is enough blame to go around, and many times over.  Israelis and Palestinians seem stuck, captives of the extreme and victims of too many words and too few actions.  I rue the day that Israel conquered the West Bank and more so the unending days of occupation that followed.  My parents celebrated partition.  It wasn’t an easy concept and, some will argue, a historically unnatural one.  Perhaps the day that a Jewish State was declared but not a parallel Arab state made where we are today inevitable.  Few in the world wanted the Jewish one, surrounding Arab countries absolutely would not permit the other.  Both are suffering the bitter consequences.

At our family Seder some weeks ago, a participant who is one of my parents’ oldest friends knew that I was supporting Barack Obama.  She, with a daughter living in Israel, asked me with some urgency if Obama was “good for the Jews?”  Her question reflected one of the whispering campaigns that have dogged his candidacy up to now and are likely to follow him into the general election.  It also reflected the mindset of another generation, and as one of those escapees from Hitler, an understandable one.  Of course the translation of her question was whether he was going to be supportive of Israel, both a globally Jewish and personal question.  I have little doubt that he will.

In contrast of course George W. Bush, who visited Israel to share in its celebration, is often described there and by some American Jews as one of the State's best friends.  Some friend.  Part of our current problem is that until a few months ago in what Catholics would call a legacy “Hail Mary Pass”, the Bush administration has paid lip service to, but largely ignored, the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  Bill Clinton may not have achieved his goal, but at least he tried spending a lot of personal and political capital in the process.   But it isn’t what Bush failed to do that has been so hurtful.  No American President in history has done more to destabilize the Middle East.  Thanks to their great friend, Israelis (not to mention Americans) are less safe than they were on January 1, 2001.  What’s going on in Iraq, with Al Qaeda and in the Holy Land are all intertwined, and the last seven plus years have only complicated the puzzle and diminished the possibility of a happy solution.

There has been a lot of discussion in the media and elsewhere about Israel’s 60th and the conflict that hangs over its head.  In recent years we’ve heard more talk about two states, finally.  To his credit, George Bush did speak of Palestine early on even if he did little to make it a reality.  What was so striking in listening to the views of thoughtful Palestinians in recent days is that their focus has turned to a one state solution, toward the inevitability of demographics that run heavily in their favor.  I admit to having become increasingly pessimistic about prospects for peace and reconciliation, but not without hope.  The question I ask myself today is whether, with all the posturing and submission to extremists on both sides, a tipping point has been reached.  We in the West take the short view of life, we live in the now and want instant solutions and gratification.  Other cultures, in some cases because they have less, patiently take the long view and are willing to wait for the inevitable, no matter how long it takes.  That’s true for Asians and probably for Arabs as well.  Israel is a Western country situated in the East.  Time, it pains me deeply to say, is not on their side.

Is Barack Obama or for that matter Hillary Clinton or John McCain good for the Jews, for Israel?  Let’s hope they are which may mean, beyond adopting a sense of appropriate urgency, that they will suggest paths or solutions that those asking that question may not always like.  One thing is clear, what we’ve been doing to date, that great friendship, hasn’t worked and may indeed have been destructive.  Israel at 120?  Oh, I hope it will come to pass, but it won’t by itself.  Prayers of thanksgiving may be appropriate on this 60th anniversary, but only humans can come to the table and reconcile their differences.  Hopefully, that will come to pass, and it better be soon.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Voting Exit Thoughts

In two days, voters in both my new home state and in Indiana go to the polls.  To their great surprise, the votes cast could make a difference in selecting the Democratic nominee.  As they emerge, a “representative” number of them will be stopped for interviews by an army of researchers.  The cumulative results will be reported that evening, exit polls that will be grist for the ever-present talking heads.  Well in North Carolina they have early voting.  So I’ve cast my ballot and, while we’re waiting for the final results and treasured analysis, I have some exit thoughts.  They may surprise you because they are unlikely to be reflected in any of those researcher’s intercepts.

Remember the setting.  This is North Carolina a state with a proud Confederate history, full throttle participant in the subsequent segregation and the political base of Jesse Helms, perhaps the most reactionary rightist ever to serve in the Senate.  Even its fabled Sam Ervin who dazzled the nation during the Watergate hearings had a lifelong commitment to keeping the nasty old ways in place.  Fast forward to 2008 and here is how I (admittedly a newcomer from the North) cast my vote: for President, an African American; for Governor, a woman; for Senator, an openly gay man.  I most assuredly won’t be the only Carolinian voting in that way.  Let me repeat, this is North Carolina where my friend Cyril Tyson couldn’t move about or grab a meal freely in the still segregated towns near Ft. Bragg where he was stationed while serving his country.  Here in tobacco land, I can’t help but remember that old Virginia Slims tagline, we’ve “come a long way baby.”   Yes we have!

With the over covered nastiness and silliness of this race, we seem to be forgetting what we all acknowledged at its start.  This is a remarkable year with an unparalleled opportunity to break historic ground.  Having been involved in the civil rights and poverty battles of the 1960s and long a supporter of the women’s movement, I often despair at how limited our progress has been.  People of color continue to lag badly behind in educational, economic and political opportunity.  We can still count and name the few women in high places and not everyone feels free to come out of the closet.  But, if anything, the 2008 election cycle is proving me too pessimistic.  Who would have thought voting on one ballot for a Black, a woman and a gay, all viable contenders for powerful offices, would be possible in the South?  So while we all complain about the length of the contest and, partisans like myself, about the Clintons take no prisoners tactics or the pass John McCain is still getting in the press, let’s take a deep breath and say hurrah for the big progress playing out before our eyes.

I hope and expect Barack Obama to prevail now and in the fall, but I don’t know how Tuesday will turn out and for that matter what surprises might lie ahead for whoever wins those two races.  Regardless, at some point the pregame tryouts will be over and we’ll move on to the real matchup.  Despite all the pundits’ predictions of trouble ahead, the Democratic Party will come together because all of its members know the stakes are enormously high.  Just look at the turnout in each of these contests and don’t fall into the trap of assuming it’s all attributable to Obama or, for that matter, Clinton each of whose supporters will be left so dispirited that they won’t vote.  Democrats are mad as hell and they are not about to replay 2004 when they blew it.  Let’s also remember that the Presidential choices I had here in North Carolina and others had in previous primaries did not exist on the Republican side.  There was no African American, no woman nor, no Hispanic on their ballot.  It’s still largely the Grand Old (White Guy) Party.   I’m not sure that will last much longer, and while reveling in their present distress, think it will be a good thing for both them and the country.

Considering the real issues that face us, and that seem to have faded from the front pages in the last weeks, one can’t envy the next President.  What a colossal mess.  Whether or not a federal gasoline tax holiday makes for good policy or opportunistic pandering, the challenges facing a country and world that has not seriously addressed its energy needs are daunting.  We may bicker over whose health plan is the best and who will extricate us from Iraq most quickly, but there will be no instant solutions to either.  Congress will ultimately have to sort out the healthcare options and it will be very messy.  Many of the best experts believe we need a total overhaul and, if nothing else, the much overstated and inaccurate bragging about having the world’s “best” healthcare, will in itself get in the way, big time.  Much as we should get out of Iraq without passing Go, that kind of speed may to be thwarted by realities on the ground.  Barack Obama says we have to be more careful about how we get out than how we got in.  I don’t envy him executing on that seemingly sensible formulation if he ultimately ends up in the place where the “buck stops”.

One of the mantras of Hillary’s campaign has been that words and hope don’t count.  I agree that they alone are insufficient, but words set the mind and the mind is, after all, a miraculous thing, unquestionably underused in the last seven years.  We’re pretty overwhelmed with what we can’t do and the steepness of the road ahead.  That isn’t paranoia; it’s reality.  In that context, words can give us courage to move ahead in the face of the seemingly insurmountable.  Being able to vote as I did, for whom I did, in the place I did, North Carolina, doesn’t mean that the struggle for equal rights, for tolerance and the full embrace of all, no matter who they may be, is over.  But it’s a real start and we should not underestimate what it, and this historic election, portends for the future.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Remote War

At last count, about 4,024 US troops have died and 30,000 more have sustained injuries, a substantial number among them will suffer lifelong disabilities.  We glibly call them “ours”, but I knew not a single one of the dead, nor do I know any of the wounded.  I’ve encountered none of their families, and chances are neither do you.  They are not in our circle, don’t attend our school, don’t work or worship with us.  In the real time world we occupy in relative comfort, “our own” are someone else’s.  Perhaps most Americans missed out on the Bush tax cuts, but not a single one of us will be asked to add even one dollar to our April 15 tax bill to fund the conflict.  The money has been borrowed: to be paid at a later date, again by some unidentified other, probably not by us.  Even in the short-term, as the Fed lowers rates to keep the economy from falling off the cliff, the borrowing isn’t costing us as much as it should.  In sum, Iraq is a war being waged and paid for by others and, if we’re really honest about it, something totally remote.  It does not touch our personal lives.  To underscore that point, as Frank Rich pointed out in his most recent column, we aren’t even reading or hearing much about it these days in the press.  Indeed, based upon recent polling, the pundits have ordained that the upcoming election will be more about the economy (stupid) than the war.  And I have a bridge for sale, if you’re interested.

It is in this context of unreality that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker came to the Hill this week to report on status of the distant war that fails to touch most of our lives in any measurable way.  At least they had the honesty (albeit calculated) not to claim that we’ve have turned any corner or are seeing light at the end of the tunnel.  What they presented instead was something fragile and reversible.  It was a transparently implied “best not to upset the applecart” warning, fully expected and an open-ended trap.  Don’t you feel like we’re watching one of those excruciating circular dramas?  The antagonists change names chameleon-like, disappearing and reappearing, to suit the playwright’s purposes in a moment of time.  I distinctly remember Rummy talking of dead-enders but equally of criminals in those halcyon days of proclaimed triumph over tyranny.  Now, if the duo from the Green Zone is to be believed, the very same criminals seem to be back in Basra.  Like John McCain, we can’t quite decide if they are Sunni or Shiite.  The enemy is a moving and changing target, except of course for that ever-present constant, Al Qaeda in Iraq (now AQI), depending on the narrative in total retreat, but never completely gone.  And what about all those deadenders?  Not to worry, they are currently our (well-paid) best friends.  Elliot Spitzer, eat your heart out.  In the unlikely event that AQI fails, we always have Iran to fall back on.  This of course is the same country whose President was recently greeted by Prime Minister Maliki in Baghdad with pomp and public hugs?

It’s hard not to think of Viet Nam every time I watch one of these predictable hearings – always far more theater than substance.  The Democrats by and large (Joe Lieberman still sits on their side of the table) oppose continuing the conflict and valiantly try to get the designated “performers” to define an endpoint, even an imperfect one.  The Republicans on the Armed Services Committee and less so on the Foreign Relations Committee cheer the great progress made in these post surge months.  Fragile and reversible, much to applaud.  Some of these cheerleaders are disingenuous but that doesn’t mean that they are really clueless.  Regardless of party, everyone up there knows there is no good solution.  All most know from the Viet Nam experience that when we leave, perhaps even if it happens precipitously, the sky is unlikely to fall.  Whatever damage there is has long since been done; whatever destabilization will continue with us or without us.  One thiing we do know, there is a definable and measurable difference between how John McCain and either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will move forward come January 20.  Richard Nixon, who came to office with no illusions about winning in Viet Nam, nevertheless escalated and stayed the course for more than four additional years.  It is not hard to imagine what John McCain, who contends this conflict is winnable (and we’ve made progress toward that end), will do should Americans decide to transition from Bush to him.  He may chafe at mention of those hundred years but, for even the younger among us, he has a lifetime in mind.  If for nothing else we have to rationalize having the world’s largest US Embassy in what will continue to be (in the best of circumstances) a second or third tier strategic ally or trading partner. 

So the choice in November will be clear and, despite the pundits turn toward the economy as issue number one, I think the war will still prevail.  Most Americans, albeit with scant personal sacrifice, want out.  They sense (more than 80%) that the country is headed in the wrong direction and the Bush war, articulated or not, is ultimately the root cause.  In the long run, however, when and how we exit is almost less important than what has become of us as a nation.  As my father said in his speech at the 1963 March on Washington, we can’t be a nation of onlookers, but that’s exactly what we are.  At best.  There may be signs, still small, that some of us are waking up to that message.  The unprecedented rise in voter registration and participation in the primaries thus far is certainly a sign of some life, and more importantly the taking of some responsibility.  64% of the eligible voted in 2004 up for 60% in the Bush v. Gore election.  We’ve seen worse but still disgracefully lag other democracies. 

Voting is a start, but doesn’t go much beyond making a nominal financial contribution when the basket is passed down the row at church, sometimes less.  The question we have to ask ourselves is why we haven’t been out on the street and down to Washington to protest what most of us seem to feel is something unjust.  We castigate the rage of a Rev. Wright who speaks out, sometimes with offensive vitriol, without asking ourselves why we are so quiet and complacent.  Are we really comfortable with the horrendous collateral damage of our policies, some of them blatantly moved more by economics than by any conceivable or acceptable moral compass?  Would that the discussion about the seemingly awful and “unpatriotic” things he said, had been not merely about race (albeit long overdue), but also about our national character of comfort and convenient remoteness.  That is a discussion we all need to have – the ultimate checks and balances, not about our government, but ourselves.