Sunday, August 31, 2008

Big Night

To my jaded ears the signal moment in the Obama's masterful speech on Thursday came when he nearly shouted one word after a litany of horrors that is our current economic, social, and political circumstance: "Enough!" It struck straight to the heart, a cry of negation and affirmation, as clear a statement of principle as anyone could ask for. In his acceptance speech, the Obama delivered red meat to the troops, who needed it, slicing and dicing John McCain with surgical precision to reveal him ; he laid out programs for the policy wonks; and he raised the stakes with his peroration. Beginning with a subtle but unmistakable allusion to Martin Luther King--just the right note for a man who wouldn't want to be accused of exploiting a happy historical coincidence--that the Obama was accepting the nomination 45 years to the day after King's majestic "I Have a Dream" speech (everyone knows that by now)--he soared out of the stadium, bringing his audience along for the ride.

It was a gigantic audience, to be sure--84,000 in Denver's Mile High Stadium [I know, it's a commercial field), and another 40 million live, according to the New York Times. Early polls show a considerable bounce that McCain's publicity stunt on Friday, August 29, might actually have bumped up more.

The stunt was his announcement that his vice-presidential nominee would be Alaska's governor Sarah Palin. I say reckless not only because she is untried but also because she has some major deficits that were never checked or, worse, ignored as irrelevant. In effect she wasn't vetted to the extent that a clerical worker is. Here's an Editor and Publisher summary of editorials and stories from Alaska on Palin. Alaska has a human population 670,00 plus or minus, most of whom live in Anchorage or Fairbanks. Wasilla, where Palin began her meteoric rise, lies about an hour north of Anchorage and is best known as home of the Iditarod International Sled Dog Race, although Palin herself seems to prefer snow machines to dogs. I've been to Wasilla; it has a population of 7,000 to 9,000, depending on the season.

An ardent anti-abortionists, who makes no allowance even for rape or incest, Palin nonetheless does not extend her belief in the "right to life" to other species: She disapproves of listing polar bears as an endangered species, approves aerial gunning of wolves, lifting wolf cubs from their dens and killing them, and hunting in general. She's a rabid "evangelical" Christian who believes in Creationsim, we're told, as if we need another anti-intellectual in the presidency--and make no mistake, the odds are not long that McCain with his history of melanoma, his heavy smoking, and god knows what else will live through his term, if he is elected. It appears that McCain chose her as eye candy for the hook and bullet crowd, fashion adviser to their wives, and who knows what to John McCain--at the least a statement of contempt toward the office, the Republic, and anything that doesn't celebrate him. She's also a doll thrown to the media covering the McCain campaign, who drooled all over Palin, and twittered over their boy's recklessness.

I've been to Alaska twice and tracked the Iditarod from Anchorage to Nome, with a side trip across the Nome peninsula to Shishmaref in a Cessna Super Cub flown by a pilot whose mother was Yupik and father was Irish. Like most Alaskans, he'd learned to fly in high school. Absent roads, you fly or snow machine. I love the place, but being a young inexperienced woman politician from Alaska, who won the governorship in November 2006 with something on the order of 120,000 votes--the Obama spoke to 84,000 people live, remember, in Denver and 200,000 in Berlin--and has served without distinction for less than two years, does not qualify you for he presidency.

In fact, Palin's chief accomplishment seems to be the use of her office to pursue a a family vendetta against her former brother-in-law, a state trooper. The Washington Post has taken the lead on this story--bless it--and has a front page story today. Essentially, she is accused of pressuring the public safety commissioner, Walter Monegan, in person and through her husband and aides, to fire the ex-brother-in-law and then firing Monegan in July 2008 when he refused. The Alaska state legislature has appointed an independent prosecutor to look into the matter, and he is due to report in October. Apparently the Republicans feel they can tough out this small family affair, given the bigger things they've covered up in Washington for the past 7 years, and they might. But I think they are wrong. I won't even bet on Palin being the nominee.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

History Made: Part I

I finally caught up with a video of Bubba's speech to the Democratic Convention last night, and he brought a tear or two to my eyes, not least because he rose above all the shit from the battle for the nomination and gave a presidential endorsement of the man who should be the next president. Hills did the same on Tuesday night, and again last night when she called for the nomination of the Obama acclamation. The Clintons understand better than anyone, that they can't lose by putting all of their considerable influence behind getting the Obama elected. But by sulking and not helping, they can destroy their party and Bubba's legacy, not to mention the Hills's opportunity to lead the Senate, which I think is where she is headed, much less gain a future nomination herself.

But the tears didn't fall over political tactics. They fell because a considerable bit of history was made last night--a national political party that has counted among its members in years past some of the most noxious racists this country has produced put forward as its nominee for president an African-American, a black man. It is true that the Obama is, according to these racial definitions, half black and half white, but in America's racist tradition any bit of "black" blood has by tradition and, in some places law, been enough to define a person. That has always been absurd, of course, but it's not stopped people from being discriminated against, raped, castrated, lynched, and falsely imprisoned--and that was after emancipation. That 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, we could come to this pass, is nothing short of astonishing. That the Obama delivers his acceptance speech, 45 years to the day after King delivered his majestic "dream" to the several hundred thousand marchers from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, is even more fitting. Here's a link to text, audio, and video of "I Have a Dream," introduced as the "moral leader of our nation." ['Meet physical force with soul force."]

If the Obama is elected president, there should be dancing in the streets, because in a fundamental sense the world will have turned. Bubba and the Hills have I believe helped launch the final phase of the Obama's improbable journey. Now, they have to help bring it home, for different reasons--he to restore a reputation as the 'first black president' that he so recklessly imperiled with his blatantly racist appeals in the primaries; she to advance her power and influence. "Time has come today."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thoughts on Celebrity Candidates

The German pope draws several hunded thousand to an outdoor mass and that's grand because he's the holy bloody padre--grand inquisitor, too. The Obama draws several hundred thousand to a major speech, and he, the man who might become leader of the most powerful nation on the planet and far more significant than the current pope, is dubbed a 'celebrity' by his enfeebled opponent, who appears stuck in his prisoner of war cell--understandable, but we don't want that for president. The 'celebrity' designation is seized upon by the media, who should viscerally hate the pope, as they should hate anyway who would tell them collectively or individually what to believe, think and write, but would rather it appears crawl into that cell with McCain.

It's fair to ask why?

The media and assorted pundits from other fields who sneer at celebrity like fame and fortune just fine--thus their collective fixation on circulation, viewership, and book sales, not to mention public opinion polls--so it's a little hard to swallow the argument that there is something inherently wrong with 'celebrity.' Nor is it the case that Americans somehow have a cultural aversion to popular leaders; rather, Americans tend to surrender too much to them--think George Bush after the megaphone stunt.

But to call the Obama a 'celebrity' is to deny him status as a charismatic, galvanizing leader, which he has the potential to be. He can be a rabble rouser, a joke, or a 'celebrity,' but he can't make the leap that the lesser Hollywood celebrity made to 'leader.' The primary reasons for this perceived--I should say, 'fabricated'-- failure on the Obama's part are intimated to be intellectual, racial, and temperamental. In short: he's too much a soft -boiled brown egghead. Didn't the Obama allow the Clintonoids to highjack his convention, after all? And that gets recycled through the media again and again, making it dificult for the counter voices to be heard.

I say, let them sneer. The Obama who set out on this mad quest seemed to understand that were he to win, he needed numbers, and to get those numbers, he needed an organization. To build such an organizaton in such a short time, he needs to galavanize people who haven't voted and don't vote. He needs to appeal to the vast majority of Americans who embrace the mixing zone that country is rapidly become, who recognize that this country will only reclaim the greatness squandered by the Bushites by welcoming people from all over the world who come here to build their dreams. It's hard to deny, 40 years later, that the Obama can carry the promise of '68--or some of it to power--something the last two, full Baby Boomers, failed so miserably to do.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Unasked Questions

I wonder when the Obama is going to start asking directly about McCain's fitness for office. He can use surrogates, if necessary, but he needs to start now in order to spur the self-complacent media to action. I'm talking about the media members who happily broadcast or print the scurrilous, ad hominem attacks on the Obama by McCain's spokesmen and cutouts. The rule in place appears to be: If someone with an official sounding title says something, we can use it. That kind of system allows candidates to disavow comments that go beyond the pale, even while they continue to throw them. McCain and his negative ops team are masters of this approach, and they have benefited directly from Hillary Clinton's scorched earth tactics, particularly the constant questioning of the Obama's ability, his capacity, his patriotism, and his experience--all without even an ironic wink at the fact that when he ran for president, her Mr. Bill was a two-term governor of one of the poorest states in the country, who, to prove he was tough, approved the execution of a retarded black man...., and who couldn't keep his fly closed. Those were his qualifications.

It would behoove the Obamans to remember that they can't refute these charges by stating that in fact the opposite is true. That gives them credence. Nor can you say the Obama's lapses are less than McCain's. Rather, you have to stick to your program, which should be simple and straightforward, and directly attack McCain's supposed strengths. Thus, McCain talks about judgment and experience, Obama counters with ads and comments about McCain's vicious temper and how that clouds and has clouded his judgment. McCain boasts about refusing early release from POW camp in Hanoi because he didn't want special privilege as son of an important admiral. The Obamans counter by presenting the record of how McCain benefited every step of his Navy career because he was the son and grandson of admirals and every step of his political career because of the wealth of his second wife and his own slippery relations with lobbyists. McCain talks about reform; Obama talks about lobbyists, the Keating 5, and Cindy McCain's corporate jet. McCain talks about the importance of family; the Obamans talk about his purported lovers, his divorce, his and his wife's lying about their adoption of Indian children. McCain talks about elitism; the Obamans talk about a man who doesn't know how many houses he owns and ask what else he doesn't know about his own life and marriage. Then, they ask who pays his gambling--craps--debts, or are they forgiven by the casinos? The Obama should also point out daily that McCain and Bush have castigated him for wanting a timetable for bringing all troops out of Iraq. Yet Bush just went and agreed to a timetable.

Obama could also help himself by presenting good, crisp programs, simply explained. Thus, a single-payer health-care program--not something he endorses, although he should--would cost X dollars and would improve medical care X amount. Back the envelope calculations I've done show that only about 30 cents on the dollar spent on health care currently goes for actual patient care--for doctoring. The rest goes for insurance company executives and share holders and other third and fourth parties, as well as to office expenses for the doctors who must maintain full-time staff just to handle insurance. He could also document how this program would actually liberate American workers and make them competitive with the rest of the world. But the Obama doesn't have bold plans; he's a moderate Democrat at best. That's not much, but it's a heap better than what Bush/McCain can manage.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Tangled Web

Time is short, so I will be too. Today's New York Times carries two op-eds of note. The first by Mikhail Gorbachev places responsibility for the mess in Georgia squarely on the shoulders of its president, the Western, re US, stooge, Mikheil Saakashvili, who launched an attack on the civilian, population of South Ossetia, using his US trained troops and weapons. Gorbachev says he was encouraged in this aggression by the US, mucking around in the Caucasus again--proof that we never learn. He puts the lie to all the high-blown US chest thumping. The second comes from Maureen Dowd, channeling a late night shot-glass punctuated meeting between John McCain and Hillary Clinton to congratulate each other on the destruction of the Obama camapaign and MCCain's agreement to run for only one term and thereby clear the way for Hills in 2012. Unfortunately, this gruesome scenario has the ring of truth, even down to the suggestion that Mr. Bill asked his buddy Putin to invade Georgia in order to help McCain's campaign. Gorbachev makes clear that thae Russians have their own reasons for doing so, and given their anger over Kosovo, they are unlikely to want to help a Clinton do anything, but that is a consequence over which they have no control.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The McCain Campaign: What Is It Good For?

We're watching the wind blow as the rain machine known as Tropical Storm Fay sloshes up the peninsula, having made a lot of local disaster managers look silly and insuring that next time, no one will listen to their drum beats of doom.

Here, to fill the void is a guest posting from an old friend, writer and editor Bruce Stutz:

So John McCain was going to send Joe Lieberman to straighten things out in Georgia? What will he do, threaten to bring in the Hadassah? My thought for the day, though, is that McCain’s candidacy should give hope to those held at Guantanamo that someday, despite years of captivity and torture that left their bodies wracked and their minds addled, they too, could find themselves running for President.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

McCain's Confusion

John McCain's mental lapses have long been apparent and sometimes reported, like when he confuses Shia and Sunni Muslims or rearranges the borders and even the geographic location of various Middle Eastern countries or shows that ethics are for the masses, not for the privileged like John McCain, who did almost as well at the Naval Academy as George W. Bush did at Yale. Both were legacies--Bush to the manor born, McCain to the admiral's suite--but whereas the Bushy cruised through on the 'gentleman's C,' McCain worked disdainfully--he has said he had a "chip" on his shoulder--to graduate 894th out of a class of 899. His current forgetfulness, referenced by Frank Rich in today's New York Times column, could reflect McCain's mental lassitude, but it could also be due to dementia that is being deliberately concealed. Similarly, McCain's entanglements with lobbyists should receive more scrutiny than the New York Times and Washington Post have provided, good tough that has been. We've had quite enough of Bush's intellectual slothfulness and hardly need another one like him, no matter the cause. Beyond that, it's long past time for political correspondents to stop making candidates sound like people they are not. In some cases, the reporting may be worse than that--mistatements corrected in service to a bigger falsehood that the candidate or office holder puts out as truth and is presented as such by media outlets.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Free Advice

Free advice is the best advice because having cost nothing and being unsolicited, it's easy to ignore. So here's my completely free advice to the Obama:

Responding directly to every bit of eejitry emanating from the McCain't campaign is not only impossible, because there is so much of it, but also counterproductive, because it is petty and juvenile. The McCain'ts are spoiled children on the school playground, trying to provoke a fight, so they can run, crying foul, to their parents who are blocking the school door to keep 'them' out.

It would be better to change the name of the McCain't campaign bus from "Straight Talk Express" to "Gutter Talk Unlimited." Every time a McCain't rant is aired, have someone, preferrably a John McCain't look alike, from your 'gutter talk' team take a nice graphical representation of the most appropriate McCain't virtue or value--the ones he wears on his chest: TRUTH, DIGNITY, HONOR, COURAGE, INTEGRITY, PROBITY, GOOD JUDGEMENT, EQUALITY, FREEDOM--crumple it up, throw it in the gutter, and stomp on it. Then have a child walking by pick it up and drop it in the garbage, while the McCain't continue fuming nearby. The voice over: "John McCain says, [fill in the blank, according to context]. But John McCain makes a mockery of what he says. Will the real John McCain reveal himself?"

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Go Figure

It is axiomatic that American voters usually will chose their economic self-interest over their inherited--culturally inherited, I would have said--biases and prejudices, with a footnote that directs the reader to a lengthy digression on race, the great unbridgeable divide, in America. One can't live in this country and not be aware of race--yes, exceptions abound--but you basically have to live in a hermetically sealed bubble to escape it. Experience tells us that a black candidate may have significant leads in the polls running up to election day, only to lose decisively. Pollmeisters call it the Bradley Effect, after L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, who 1982 took a large lead into the gubernatorial election in California only to lose. Surprised pollsters suspected that people were deliberately concealing their true inclination or choice, perhaps for fear of having their bigotry and inane biases exposed to the light. Nonetheless, the opposition spends time and money to make sure those prejudices and biases are at fever pitch on election, while the black candidates do not run from but do not call attention to their race. They would rather discuss policies and programs.

Given that, here is my question for every journalist and editor who has mindlessly repeated the charges of John McCain and his hatchet men not only that the Obama "played the race card" against them but dealt it from the bottom of the deck as well--in other words, he cheated and he lied: Why would any black candidate call attention to his race, knowing that the bias against him because of his race is precisely what he must overcome in order to win election? The Obama himself has more often been criticized by African-Americans as not being black enough--here reporters need a crash course in the complexity of the black community in many American cities, like Miami, where native born African-Americans and blacks from the Caribbean, South America, and Africa hardly form a community of shared cultures, histories, and dreams, then do the same thing for the 'white' community. The Obama wants race out of the picture. Many in the mainstream media has fallen for the same ugly tactics used to turn Max Cleland and John Kerry from war heroes into fakes and cowards, in part because of their addiction to "he-said, she-said, gottcha journalism" and in larger measure because journalism schools don't 'do' history, The McCain'ts have done everything they can to turn the Obama from a man into a 'boy,' and in the context of American history that is racism--plain, pure, as simply as it comes. To pretend otherwise is inane.

Of course, McCain's charges can't bear honest scrutiny, which is exactly what they deserve, as does his own less than stellar record as a legislator. 'Then, too, one can question why the main stream media refuses to investigate thoroughly McCain't's prisoner of war days, his entire military career, and, as the Washington Post and New York Times have periodically, his life in public service, his temper, his intellectual sloth, his purported affairs, and his moral cowardice in attacking the Obama in such a low down,vile manner and then denying he has done so.

Michael Powell and Bob Herbet sort through the race card issue in today's New York Times. Maybe others of their colleagues will take heed. Unless they do, they will continue to give credence to lies, and they will show how it is that Americans will follow their prejudice and fear rather than their own good sense.