Category Archives: Obama

BAM!


It’s up…it’s going…it’s out of the park….

Obama’s speech today. Whether he wins or not, there will always be this speech:

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”
Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.


Lunacy

Two political posts in one day…I don’t know, might be a sign of a dangerous addiction. It’s just been, well…there’s a big shadow crossing the moon this evening, and the city has fallen silent except for all these dogs inexplicably howling. Plus Mercury’s in retrograde of some such shit, and Mayans say time ends in four years.

Four years?

So the president, who’s romping around Africa, being entertained by lovely native dancers wearing his face on their asses (not making that up), has hit the all-time lowest approval rating in history. To put 19% in perspective, mental health professionals estimate as much as 17% of the population suffers from psychiatric disorders, so Bush is 2 points ahead of crazy. (Still better than Cheney.)

Meanwhile, Shiite militia leader al-Sadr said he’ll decide Saturday whether the cease fire he instituted will continue. If he say yes, the truce continues. If he doesn’t say anything…game on. And there goes that much vaunted improvement the troop surge was supposedly responsible for, because the next thing you know, the Shiites and Sunnis are going to be drawing down on each other again. Maybe why all that talk about bringing guys home has…just…kind of…tapered away….

Meanwhile, the Clinton camp is walking around like someone’s just struck them all in the head with baseball bats and they’re trying to catch their equilibrium, which they do now and then to wave their arms and yell “He’s not presidential! He just talks good!” Uh huh. Even Mr. Bill and James “Serpenthead” Carville are saying Clinton’s got to win either Ohio, Texas, or maybe both, and number wizards are saying she has to win them decisively. Like by, uh, 20 points. Meanwhile, the newest polls in those states show Obama continuing to close the gap. People were a little worried about Michelle Obama’s remark that for the first time in her adult life, she was proud of America–ruh roh–until Bill O’Reilly, actually trying to defend her from some right-wing caller, said, “Look, I’m not going to round up a lynching party until I learn the facts.”

Oops. Either he knew what he was doing and was stupid, or his unconscious took over and revealed who he really was. Either way, the heat’s off Michelle.

And then…oh God. You really can’t…you just really make this stuff up much less hope it’ll happen, but New Yorkers, when they sip their coffee and blearily snap open the Times tomorrow are going to be confronted with a big headline that John McCain was making nicey-nice back in 2000–when he was 63, kids–with a 40-year-old female lobbyist who just happened to have business with several of McCain’s committees, and whose clients contributed to John “unimpeachable ethics” McCain’s campaign. Which really comes as no surprise for those of us who remember that dingbat when he was one of the Keating Five, but it’s coming as a rude awakening for the GOP establishment to be dealing with their own “bimbo eruption.” Pat Buchanan reportedly had a public meltdown on MSNBC earlier this evening.

Ah irony. Irony is a sweet, sharp liquor that goes down ice cold then kicks your brain right out its skull. Irony’s a keeper.

This one day after David Letterman said of McCain, “Doesn’t he remind you of a greeter at Wal-Mart? He reminds you a mall wanderer. He reminds you of that guy who gets confused by the automatic door at the supermarket.”


The Sting of the Icepick


So John McCain was trying to stay awake as they steered him down the plane ramp and Hillary Clinton was eating Xanax the way Reagan ate jellybeans, when both felt an icy sting in their spines, and suddenly they were paralyzed and sprawled across, in McCain’s case, a sticky jet tarmac and, in Clinton’s case, a Marriot short-wired carpet.

Then the icepick wielder slipped off his military-issue sniper gloves and replaced them with elegant leather that matched his overcoat and suit, and Colin Powell, desperate to rehabilitate his formerly-stellar reputation after squandering it as Bush’s “good soldier” before the U.N., crisply told reporters that he might actually vote for a Democrat this year, then went on to praise Barack Obama.

Which blew the shit out of McCain’s rep with the military and independents and croaked Clinton’s increasingly weird attempts to explain that she’s an agent of change having been in public life for 35 years, and, in short, gave Obama a huge credibility boost.

The times they are a-changing….

Ah, Baby Boomers. Live by the song, die by the song.


Looking to November

What we know now, after yesterday’s primary swarm, is that McCain will probably be the Republican nominee and that Obama and Clinton are tied. Obama’s better set to win the next handful of primaries–Virginina, D.C., Maryland, and Wisconsin–then Clinton’s well placed to win Texas and Ohio. Which means the nomination might be settled at the convention by superdelegates, which tend to be establishment figures and trend toward Clinton unless something changes between now and then.

In other words, we’re in for a long summer. Conceivably, so’s John McCain because, even though he’s winning primaries, he’s losing conservatives, and, even if he pulls from the center, he needs conservatives to win. He may even face a revolt in his party, though no one’s talking about that yet; so we could see both parties in a donnybrook before this is over. And it’s…just…going…to…get…unrealHere’s what’s interesting to me. McCain’s winning in largely Democratic states, pulling from independents and moderate Republicans, but the advantage in those states still goes to the Democrats. McCain’s going to need to do something to bring conservatives on board, else they stay home on election day and he loses, but to do so risks alienating moderates. If Clinton is nominated, hatred for her is so strong among conservatives that she might rally the base, but Obama, tacking toward center, has been winning traditionally Republican states, which actually puts him in a stronger position to win in November because he’ll get the traditional Democratic vote and pull from the center. I think. Unless I’m wrong. Or something else happens.
Oh hell. We’ll get down to the last week or so of campaigning, when everyone’s so exhausted that they’re stepping all over themselves, and McCain is looking older than God, and he’ll start snapping and snarling at people and having Hanoi Hilton flashbacks, and reporters waving microphones will all start to look like they’re wearing black pajamas and aiming AK-47s, and at some point someone will hand him a baby to kiss, and he’ll bite its head off on camera, and they’ll run pictures over and over of McCain with blood running down his chin, and the Democrat will beat him like a gong because McCain not only hates children but eats them, and, on a dark, moonless night, McCain will take that long walk out into the Arizona desert and chock a round into his good old reliable Vietnam-era service weapon, and a lonely, hollow shot will ring out amid the saguaros, followed by silence.Or something like that.


Barack, JFK, and 911

I think it’s pretty fair, given the pollsters and pundits track record this year, that no one knows how Tuesday’s mega-primary will come out–I’ve lost track of how many states are in play, but it comes out to something like half the parties’ nominating delegates. The general consensus is that McCain’s well positioned among Republicans, though I’m not sure, given the antipathy against McCain by the hardcore right, that a lot of Republicans aren’t going to just stay home.

The latest polls (see previous caveat) have Obama and Clinton running neck and neck, and since the Democratic primaries are proportional, it could be that they split the delegates, and the battle continues right up to the convention. But, after a good bit of introspection, I’ve finally decided that, when it comes down to it, I prefer Obama.

I’m of an odd age, coming in at the tail end of the Baby Boom, where I was too young to really remember JFK (I remember the funeral) or be part of the “youth movement,” and too old to be a member of Generation X (whatever that really is). I guess that means I can dig the Stones, the Clash, and Nirvana. I do remember Bobby Kennedy, however, and I can’t even listen to his voice without feeling a deep wound inside, in that he held the promise of healing a deeply divided country in 1968 and ending a disasterous war. And his death gave us Nixon, who–despite the incumbent’s qualifications–is still probably the worst president in history.

But I watched the Democrats, for years, yearn for a new JFK only to nominate, over and over, competent, non-charismatic policy wonks and be defeated by the Republicans. Bill Clinton, smartly, ran towards the center and tapped into a Kennedylike spirit of hope (in the nihilistic winter of Bush I), and gave one of the most exciting, inspiring inaugural addresses I can remember, only to get smacked down by his hubris and run the country like a moderate Republican.

And here we are in even a darker winter with a worse Bush, the pendulum is distinctly swinging towards the Democrats, and, if there was any time that I’ve truly felt this, it seems the country is hungry for unity. There was, for a brief moment following 911, a sense of the nation as one and of the world in sympathy with its customary punching bag, and I don’t need to explicate how thoroughly Bush squandered that opportunity. I think the hunger’s still there, and I think the right candidate, with charisma, intelligence, and nerve, can tap into that spirit and the hunger for optimism that characterized the early 1960s before it all went thoroughly to hell in Dallas.

McCain, assuming he gets the nomination, may have an appeal to independents, but, brass tacks, if he won, he’d be the oldest sitting president in history. He has a nasty temper, disheartens the Republican rank and file at a time when they’re demoralized to begin with, and his goofy humor and military freakishness about Iraq (read: still fighting Vietnam, that crazy steel glint in his eyes) would be a pretty damn interesting contrast with Obama’s poise and wit. Whereas running against Clinton would essentially be refighting Bill’s impeachment battle, which might invigorate the conservatives and turn off the moderates. I know a lot of hardcore Democrats want a battler in the White House, and that’s what they think they’ll get with Hillary, but you need the center to govern in this country, and I think the Republicans, who are poised to lose more seats in November, might be off their game when faced with a statesman rather than a warrior. When you fight warriors, you look tough. When you belittle statesmen, you look churlish.

An Obama nomination still seems like a long-shot. But it’s an exciting long-shot. And maybe, just maybe, one that genuinely wears the mantle of hope.


*ding!*

I’m only printing the following from the Talking Points Memo blog because it makes my comments seem semi-smart. Despite this, it’s interesting.

S

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Obama: Reagan Changed Direction Of Country In Way Bill Clinton Didn’t
By Greg Sargent – January 16, 2008, 3:19PM
This is interesting — Obama is turning up the volume of his argument with what he terms Clinton style “incremental” change, arguing that Ronald Reagan fundamentally changed the direction of America in a way Bill Clinton didn’t. Obama made his case in a sit-down interview with officials from the Reno Gazette-Journal…

Some will find Obama’s words about Reagan overly kind. And this is the first time I’ve heard him mention Bill Clinton in the context of saying such generous stuff about Reagan.

But Obama is also making an argument about the readiness of the electorate for change, comparing today’s desire for a new direction with the electorate’s mood in 1980. In this context, Obama is presenting himself as a potentially transformational figure in opposition to Hillary, who, Obama has been arguing, is unequipped to tap into the public’s mood due to her coming of age in the sixties and her involvement in the political battles of the 1990s.

Juxtaposing Reagan and Bill Clinton in this way, however, decidedly takes his argument to a whole new level.


Morning Maniac Music

“Okay people, you have heard the heavy groups. Now it’s time for morning maniac music. Believe it. It’s a new dawn.” — Grace Slick introducing the song “Volunteers” at WoodstockGoddamn I love politics. Some people dig sports, know all sorts of obscure stats on who played center for the Cowboys in the Seventies, etc. Other people play the ponies. There’s a vice for everybody, as Shannon Wheeler (who writes and draws the “Too Much Coffee Man” comic) puts it: you can’t escape addiction–choose yours wisely.

Just as every gambler taps out and every sports geek sees their team slaughtered now and again, those of us who love politics get used to being lied to and watching our ship slide toward the rocks. Don’t get me wrong: if there’s anything the last eight years has taught approximately 78% of the U.S. population, it is that it matters who wins. But for the true politics junkie, the journey is literally half the high. Which is why we get all wired on nights like tonight.

Because it wasn’t just that Barack Obama beat the supposedly unbeatable Hillary Clinton (or that other guy) or that Mike Huckabee (who?) beat the hair farmer from Mass. who spent $7 million dollars of his own bucks; it’s that they both won decisively. And there’s nothing more fun than taking the conventional wisdom and tossing it out the 27th-story window to watch it fall and shatter into, uh, 7 million pieces.

This isn’t to say Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States (and certainly doesn’t mean Huckabee will be). But it does intimate that 2008 may be one of those seismic elections where pretty much everything changes, the pros get smashed, and we wake up November 4th a little freaked.

It’s funny, because I’ve been through one of those. It sucked, unfortunately, but there’s no denying that 1980, when Reagan was elected, completely changed the landscape and left us with a legacy that we’re still dealing with. (I know Republicans liked to crown Bush II as the new Reagan, but I said all along that he was the new Nixon, and that’s what he turned out to be. I get one right once in awhile.) I was barely hatched when Kennedy won in ’60, but I watched the Democrats wander in the wilderness for years in search of a new Jack, just the way rock critics wistfully kept trying to find a new Dylan in the Seventies. There was one Jack Kennedy; there’s one Bob Dylan. End of story.

I know Obama reminds some people of Kennedy, and there’s a little bit of that New Frontier gleam in his eyes, but, in truth, Obama reminds me of Reagan. Not in any policy sense imaginable–there he’s, if anything, the anti-Reagan. But he’s got that rock star thing budding, that catch in the throat that he might be real thing, and he can speak. Really speak. Smack you in the head and nail the imagination speak. And even if you hated Reagan as thoroughly as I did, there was something goddamn infuriatingly likable about the guy that would just drive you crazy. That quality wins elections and changes political landscapes.

As for Huckabee, he might get croaked in New Hampshire, probably by McCain and Romney–though Mitt has that past the due date smell beginning to waft from him, but he’s poised to do well in South Carolina with the social conservatives, and if he rebounds out of there, he might have a chance. Which would be beautiful, man, because you will see the bloodiest civil war in a national party since McGovern won the Democratic nomination in 1972. If Huckabee somehow survives that, he’s gonna look like he’s been dragged behind a truck for a year, and the Democratic nominee, whoever that is, will cream him the way Johnson creamed Goldwater.

Clinton’s strong in New Hampshire. She might beat Obama there, which would set up an epic battle in South Carolina, where Edwards will be a factor unless he gets so totally croaked in New Hampshire that he’s no longer viable. (I like John Edwards, but, ironically enough for a famously successful trial lawyer, he just can’t seem to close the sale.) So if this is a three-act, it looks like tonight we’ve seen Act I, New Hampshire could be Act II, and South Carolina could be Act III. No matter what, it was a great night for Obama, an exciting night for Huckabee, a chance at survival for Edwards (though not a strong one), a sobering night for Clinton, and a suck-ass night for Romney, who deserves it ’cause he’s an animatronic construct.

Goddamn, I love politics.