Friday, January 25, 2008

New York Times Endorsements

The all important (or not important at all) endorsements from the paper of record in this country were released today. Not surprisingly the Times endorsed New York Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary race. It is also no surprise that they chose to endorse Arizona Senator John McCain for the Republican nomination.

What was interesting was the manner in which each nomination was couched. One could say in the Republican contest the choice was a no-brainer. The snub of Rudy Giuliani should come as no surprise, because journalists in New York have long known what the rest of us are learning; that he is nuttier than a fruit cake! The editorial board’s clear and long standing position on the separation of church and state made an endorsement of Mike Huckabee all but impossible. The only other possibility would have been Mitt Romney and the Times rightly caught the fact that a man as truly conservative as Governor Romney claims to be would never have gotten elected to lead Taxachusetts. His chameleonesque ability to stand for “whatever you want” is totally unappealing and uninspired.

If I had to come up with an overarching theme for the Times’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton I would have to say it was; “Hedging their bet.” Clearly the times like Hillary, but I think they are equally critical of her style as they are of Obama's newness. I found it interesting that they would say: “The sense of possibility, of a generational shift, rouses Mr. Obama’s audiences and not just through rhetorical flourishes. He shows voters that he understands how much they hunger for a break with the Bush years, for leadership and vision and true bipartisanship.” Then they go on to say: “The next president needs to start immediately on challenges that will require concrete solutions, resolve, and the ability to make government work. Mrs. Clinton is more qualified, right now, to be president.”

To my mind these two points knock on the door of the central issue defining their major difference without daring to walk through it. Mr. Obama wants to change the tone of the debate. It is impossible to assess how rancorous the tone has gotten in Washington over the last seven years in a vacuum. The vitriolic way Democrats and Republicans have fought so bitterly over all manner of issues didn’t start in 2000. It has certainly gotten worse since then. I would argue that the political tone became particularly partisan after the election of President Clinton in 1992 and really fell apart after the 1994 midterm elections.

That isn't the sole responsibility of the Clintons. The Republicans are equally, if not more, to blame. But the Clinton administration was good at slinging mud and fighting. The Times hints at this when they say: “As strongly as we back her candidacy, we urge Mrs. Clinton to take the lead in changing the tone of the campaign. It is not good for the country, the Democratic Party or for Mrs. Clinton, who is often tagged as divisive, in part because of bitter feeling about her husband’s administration and the so-called permanent campaign. (Indeed, Bill Clinton’s overheated comments are feeding those resentments, and could do long-term damage to her candidacy if he continues this way.)”

I wonder if we can truly feel comfortable rolling the dice on the next 8 years. If we need to change the tone, do we want to look to the past to guide us? The Times, apparently, thinks we should. But then again, the paper of record marched in lock step with President Bush to war in Iraq.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What is the point???

All this debate about race and gender, are people missing the point? Obviously African-Americans and Hispanics face challenges that whites do not, but the single greatest challenge in America is being born into poverty. John Edwards is the candidate speaking most coherently on this issue.

For all her bloviating about being the most informed, most qualified, most experienced candidate, with the ability to lead on issues; Senator Clinton is all too happy to slip away from the issues and engage in “politics as usual.” And even when discussing issues, Clinton’s approach seems to showing a shocking lack of understanding of the challenges that poor Americans face. Her plan to expand health coverage is to mandate that people buy health insurance, expand the patchwork of government plans, and take steps to make private insurance plans a little more “affordable” is pitiful. All the health care plans being pushed are pitiful. They are, at best, a continuation of the status quo policy of piecemeal action because our leaders lack the courage to fight for drastic and bold change.

An individual mandate plays directly into the conservative “individual responsibility” position. This is their bailiwick and the fact the Democrats have retreated to this point is a sad statement of how far from the solution we are. Health plans in Massachusetts, after the passage of the reform bill in 2005 (which includes an individual mandate) responded to requests to provide a plan with a “low” $200 monthly premium offered a plan with a $500 deductible and severely curtailed benefits. The companies said they could create plans that met any cost requirements, but would such thin coverage hold any appeal with consumers? How many poor people can afford $200 per month (that just covers one person, not a whole family)? How does a $500 deductible provide any incentive to go to the doctor early and engage in a preventative approach to health care that all public health officials claim is the best and most cost effective approach? We need to blow up the system and we need leaders willing to do it from inside the system.

Washington isn’t the problem. Rich people are! They become inherently uninterested in sharing with other people. Some may espouse liberal rhetoric, but they are inherently disinterested in putting their own well being and societal status on the block when looking for solutions.

Poor people, Hispanic, black, or white; are being left behind in this society. When Dr. King said: “…We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. Poor people are also trapped in ghettos. Upward mobility becomes increasingly difficult the further down the socio-economic scale you go. Is there a glass ceiling for women? Yes! Is there still discrimination against minorities in this country? Absolutely! But I would argue that class discrimination is the worst, by far. Illegal immigrants from Central America are okay, as long as they are mowing our lawns or washing our cars, but as soon as their kids want to go to college or they want public health services, they are suddenly a scourge. To quote the increasingly annoying Bill Clinton: “Give me a break! This is the biggest fairy tale!” Talk about a red herring!

For all his powerful speeches on this issue, John Edwards is ultimately not the right guy to lead this fight. Our current system has created inequity of wealth and we need to change it, but it is simply not possible to force the type of change we need. Ultimately we may also be unable to finesse change, as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would like. In which case, we are in big, big trouble.

Some thoughts on "the dream"

I posted Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream speech” to this blog and have spent some time contemplating it over the past few days. I try to listen to the speech every year on the holiday in his honor. This year the speech was particularly thought provoking. As readers of this blog know, I have written extensively about the Democratic primary contest that is quickly becoming the Hillary and Barack Show.

Hillary Clinton is an intelligent person that stands for things that for the most part I can get behind. Race was injected into this contest based on comments made by Hillary and President Clinton. I think that their comments were taken out of context by people who wanted to inject a discussion of race onto the agenda. Those people, ironically, were “leaders” in the African American community. They were responding to shockingly bad journalistic coverage of these issues. The Clinton’s, whether intentionally or not, have been playing the race card. It is sad. In my mind it undoes so much of what they stood for. And, by pushing this debate, civil rights advocates may have doomed the first serious African American candidacy in the history of our nation.

Unfortunately, unless he can get back to his populist message, this debate all but torpedoes Barack Obama’s campaign. It is sad because a national discussion of race would be a good thing for our country. We need to continue the discussion of race. The leaders of the civil rights movement pushed race onto the agenda in the 1950’s and 60’s. They forced us to think about our own views and confronted us with the difficult reality of prejudice in America. Dr. King reminded us that “nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.”

So where are we today? In 2008, many people want to believe that racism is behind us. Unfortunately it isn’t and in many ways it is worse now. In the 60’s racism was in your face. You often knew where you stood with people. Now it is incredibly taboo to discriminate based on race. That is why you have people telling pollsters that they would vote for a black candidate, but inside the voting booth, all bets are off.

Barack Obama tried very hard to make his candidacy about an American running for President as opposed to an African Americans running to be the first black President. We will know that we are past our racial divide when a black person can be elected without having to run as a spokesman for every black person in America.

I may very well vote for Barack Obama and I don’t care what color his skin or what his ethnicity is. I am drawn by his message of uniting rather than dividing Americans. I have determined that the President is head of only one of the three co-equal branches of government and so, in order to govern effectively, a President must be able to build consensus. For a candidate, like Hillary Clinton or John Edwards, to say that they have a list of things that they are going to do on day 1 is arrogant. Arrogance in a President is almost never received warmly on Capitol Hill. Paul Krugman of the New York Times, several weeks ago wrote about the differences between the various policy plans advocated by the various campaigns. By and large, there is little difference between the Democrats on policy. As I have said, in the absence of major differences on policy we need to focus on vision, message and style.

Dr. King, in response to the growing popularity of groups like the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers, said: “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. Perhaps the Clintons, with their “fight, fight, attack, attack,” approach to politics, didn’t weren’t listening.

Let’s go through this quote again and change a few key words:

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the [Democratic] community must not lead us to a distrust of all [conservative] people, for many of our [conservative] brothers [and sisters (to make all the feminists happy)], as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom [, liberty and prosperity] is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

Sounds like it could be an endorsement of Barack Obama, doesn’t it?

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’” Is it still just a dream? Today, I think it is.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"I have a dream..." Thank you Dr. King!

Aug. 28, 1963

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Experience" vs. "Change"

I had someone tell me that they were supporting Hillary Clinton for President, the other day. On the surface, this is the right answer. Senator Clinton is smart and stands for the right things. But she has three things working against her.

First, she has ZERO charisma. Does anyone get vaklempt when she speaks? She doesn't inspire, she doesn't evoke passion (unless you're a 65 year old woman).

Second, she represents the past. She and President Clinton want to recapture the spirit of 1992 and the eight years that followed. Those were good years. But they cannot bring them back. Nor should we want them to. The world is just too different now. I agree that she had a role in the things that the Clinton administration accomplished, but I believe it is disingenuous for her to claim those successes as the defining portion of her resume for President. She was the President’s wife. How is that acting like the feminist icon everyone claims she is?

Her resume for being President is comprised entirely of being married to a former President!?! YIKES! I'd like young girls to grow up knowing that their individual accomplishments are more important than who they marries in defining them.

When you break it down, Hillary Clinton's accomplishments consist of surviving a emotionally frigid family environment, graduating law school, coping with President Clinton's extramarital nonsense, being on the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart (did you know that?), shady land deals in Arkansas (is there any other kind there?), and getting elected to the Senate in New York as a carpetbagger.

The third, and ultimately fatal, flaw is that she is divisive. Republicans feel about the Clintons, the way Democrats feel about President Dubya. Do we really need another 4-8 years of that? Isn't 16 years enough of half of America hating the other half and vice versa?

All this said, if Hillary Clinton is the nominee of my Party (I'm a Democrat, in case that wasn't totally obvious coming from a guy from Amherst, Massachusetts), then she will have my vote and my support. But until that time I am supporting Barack Obama. He is also very intelligent; he has more experience as an elected official (8 years in the Illinois State Senate prior to going on 4 years in the U.S. Senate). Yes, he is young (but older than Theodor Roosevelt and John Kennedy when they were elected). I believe that the difference between Obama and Clinton's platforms (and Edwards' for that matter) are nominal and thus it becomes about style and personality. Clinton want to be a do-it-all President like her husband and Jimmy Carter before her, but these two men, while incredibly intelligent and capable have lists of accomplishments, while in office, that are limited. They needed to delegate, lead and inspire, instead of always act like the smartest person in the room (which they invariably were). We need someone more hands on than the current President, but more important we need someone with the wisdom and judgment to listen to advisors and then make the informed choice. I believe that Barack Obama is in the vein of Teddy Roosevelt and JFK in that regard. He has my vote.