Posts Tagged ‘president’

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Ranty McRantenstein

2010.August.23

[Contributor Post by johncleonard]

Politics has been particularly upsetting lately. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t really want to write about it. Well, nothing particularly useful, anyway. So, in that vein…

I’ve had it with social conservatives. If they don’t appreciate what freedom of religion in this country gives them and they can’t share with everyone else, the motherfuckers can all try and practice their religion in Iran. It’ll be cheaper for the rest of us to evict them and pay for their relocation than it will be to continue to fight their senseless wars. And Hell, even the Supreme Court of MEXICO has upheld same-sex marriage as a right. Fucking MEXICO, people! One of the most Catholic nations on the planet understands separation of church and state better than Americans do.

I’m sick of Libertarians, too. The Market is not some magical force that can fix everything. In fact, left to their own devices, markets have been responsible for and/or supported some of the worst things that people do to one another (let’s start with slavery and go from there). Also, you stupid motherfucking twats, just because you were born with enough privilege to pull yourselves up from nothing (And your idea of “nothing”? Not even close.) doesn’t mean that everyone else in this country is. On paper the opportunities may be equal, but it’s far past time to take off your blinders and see what things look like in practice.

I’m sick of the Republican party pandering to the social conservatives and other various nutjobs (yes, I’m looking at you, Teabaggers). How the fuck hard is it for you to grasp the idea that you’re supposed to be helping the country, not wanking over bikini/rifle pictures of Sarah Palin?  Keep trying to hold back progress and progress is going to squash you like the insects you are.

I’m sick of the Democrats and other liberals being such cowards. Why is the US (supposedly the greatest nation on Earth) always the last to take care of its own people? Where’s our version of universal health care? Where are you on getting all of us equal rights and privileges? Quit cock-gobbling the lobbyists and do what’s right for the people for a change. Oh. That’s right. That won’t get you re-elected. I just have to ask, “If it’s the right thing, who the FUCK cares?” If you can’t grasp the gravity of that, go simper somewhere else. Like Nevada. Prostitution is legal there, so you should have no trouble at all earning a living.

Oh, and all this illegal immigration crap is beyond disgusting. It’s a bunch of white people trying to protect their privileged status as the majority. You know what? Every last person who thinks that illegal immigration is the problem should be doused in napalm and set on fire.  It’s not the problem, you puss-dripping cocks, it’s a symptom. It’s a symptom of the economy in Mexico (and other places) being even  shittier than ours. It’s a symptom of businesses who think they’re above minimum wage and worker safety law.  It’s also a symptom of a legal immigration path that can take in excess of 20 years to process a simple application. We could build Fortress America, and people would still figure out how to get in if the problems that lead to the symptom of illegal immigration aren’t fixed.

You know what else pisses me off? Our schools. Yeah. Exactly what this country needs is more mindless automatons. This is one of the many things that’s led to our economy being crap, our government being dysfunctional (at best), and has supported the gradual loss of individual liberty. But they’re doing their job right now, I’ll give ‘em that. We’ve got a huge workforce of complacent and compliant workers.  So many we don’t know what the fuck to do with them all.  It’s our just deserts for not encouraging innovation and imagination and for allowing politics to determine curriculum.

But wait! There’s more!

The whole WTC/Mosque flap is another great big steaming pile of racism. Something like 84% [editor's note: Gallup polled 68% nationwide] of the population oppose the location. Well, you shining nuggets of shit, the site is a full two NYC-sized blocks from the (16-square-block) WTC complex. It’s being built on private property with private funds. It’s not just a Mosque, but also a community center. Some of the higher-ups involved with the project have even openly cooperated with the FBI’s counter-terrorism efforts. Yep. Let’s demonize and dehumanize the enemy and then pretend we didn’t know better when average people start taking matters into their own hands.

Then again, maybe we should just start rounding up all the Muslims and Mexicans and putting them into camps like we did with the Japanese immigrants in WWII. Oh. Wait. We already tried that (with the Muslims, anyway). Shrub/Chimpy (the guy who spent 8 years with Cheney’s arm up his ass running him like a puppet) didn’t get all that far on that one, did he? Maybe there’s still some hope for the masses, after all…

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Into the Beast of the Belly (Can I Get a Whataburger with That?)

2010.June.24

I love a road trip. It gives me an excuse to tidy up my living space, sleep even more erratically than usual, spend hours at a time alone with the open road, and indulge in some serious primal sing therapy. If I had my druthers, my book would be written entirely from the road, via dispatches on research, conversations, and sights from across the South.

It’s been over a year since I had a decent excuse for a road trip, so I gladly signed on when invited to attend the Texas Democratic Convention in Corpus Christi (home of Texas’ own Whataburger–their burgers are nominal, but their breakfasts are excellent).

The process so far required just about the least I could do. The Dems prorate their delegations at each level based on corresponding primary turnout, but unlike 2008 there were nowhere near enough volunteers. I was nominated by my precinct in absentia, and promoted to the state level by virtue of having shown up at the county convention. I don’t even know whether I’m a full-on delegate or an alternate.

This year’s convention should be fascinating like a social worker checking in on a past case. While only a fraction of the enthusiasm of 2008 remains, that year has sculpted much about this convention. In 2008, I cheered on Obama’s campaign for not only rallying his influx of newly passionate voters, but for educating them along the way. I said even then that if Obama lost, the knowledge his organization injected into previously uninvolved voters would sustain a stronger movement among those who needed it the most.

To get through the Texans for Obama process and have a chance as a delegate to anything, you had to learn about your precincts, your senate district, your county, and how all of these institutions exist in conjunction with or separate from one another. You had to get to know your neighbors, your fellow activists (new and old), your Internet organizing resources, and you were invited to frequent training, volunteer, social, and strategy-planning opportunities. Even in Texas, where Obama was trailing and the campaign invested only minimal resources, those of us who participated got to know candidates, rules, and organizations at every level–information that, for the most part, remains relevant and useful long after inauguration.

From what I’ve seen so far, it is working, though perhaps not as thoroughly as I had hoped. Several supporters I met in 2008 have gone on to run for local office, form neighborhood organizations, or take on issues like activists instead of whining like armchair quarterbacks.

Of course 2008 also casts some shadows over the convention…

At any moment of the SD conventions I attended in March, you would think the Tarrant Democrats were a strong, united front with a healthy respect for polite dissent and the communal goals of serving the greater good and strengthening the Democratic presence in Austin…

Well, at any moment but one, and it’s kind of hard to explain.

The proportional delegations I mentioned above are part of a fun little contrivance the Texas Dems call the “Texas Two-Step”, where the state primary is split into both a primary and a caucus. Voters can participate in both. Those who support this system say it defends the interests of party faithful and/or particularly passionate voters who are willing to go to extra lengths to be heard. The caucus system is the source of most of the state Democratic platform, and everything is voted on at every level. But detractors say it essentially allows for some participants to vote twice.

If you heard about the 2008 primary here in Texas, then you probably heard that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each won and lost–Clinton won the primary, Obama the caucus. Because the caucus counted for slightly more votes, Obama ended up with most of the state’s delegates. Clinton supporters statewide, which included much of the party establishment and only a minority of the wave of newcomers to the process, were not exactly happy about the result, and a huge chunk of platform debate at every stage involved whether to keep or toss the Texas Two-Step.

Back to March of this year, when the issue came up again, I got to see that 2008′s animosities were alive and well. As someone who quixotically believes that liberal values and simplification of politics/government can somehow be compatible, I was the only former Obama-supporter to vote in favor of eliminating the Texas Two-Step. Moreover, I was told that this was really just “all about Hillary again”, and those of us who stood were chastised by friends and strangers alike, even booed. So much for unity.

Our delegation narrowly voted against the resolution to eliminate the Texas Two-Step, but I suspect it will come up again in Corpus Christi. Otherwise, all assurances are that this one will be swift, painless, and inspiring. Gubernatorial candidate Bill White lacks the charisma of either Obama or Clinton, but fortunately most of us are just as antipathetic to his opponent as we were to his predecessor, W.

Maybe I’ll actually have time to attend a party or two this year (conventions are rife with affinity-based trainings, happy-hours, and after-parties; the twelve-hour days in 2008 prevented my or anyone else attending most of them). Maybe there’s a reason they call them political parties after all…

Sorry, I was a real ass for saying that one. ;)

[Tomorrow (or, you know, whenever I get around to it): A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing! Or, How Does an Independent Survive Two Days of Non-stop Partisan Rallying?]

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Obama, DADT, and Lobbying the Radical Moderate

2010.May.18

Point of clarification: it’s all a Democrat’s fault.

Bill Clinton himself has admitted that his naive rush to “allow” gays in the military by instituting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a bad decision, resulting in an awkward bit of protocol that no one (including Clinton himself) expected to last this long. For all the anti-gay posturing of Republicans before and since, it was not Reagan or Bush I but Clinton and his bicameral Democratic majority who took a military directive and turned it into federal law.

But we all know it’s up to a Democrat to fix the mess; alas, our big hope is an old school president elected in new school times. Oh sure, Obama’s “diverse” and technologically inclined, but he approaches politics like a man born in another time: he skips the rhetoric and chides his opponents to do the same; then he makes a proposal, expects his opponents to suggest a reasonable compromise… and after a bit of teeth-gritting back-and-forth, a moderate policy is achieved and the greater good is achieved. This is called consensus-building, and it is pretty much antithetical to anything you will find on cable TV opinion programming.

Alas, these are new school times (or at least times from another side of the political cycle), where most of Obama’s opponents (and many of his allies) would just as soon shove rhetoric down America’s throats, stonewall without compromise, and go on cable opinion shows to blame everything on the opposition (even when it was your idea to begin with) than hash out nuanced compromise over a round table discussion.

The juxtaposition makes Obama’s slow-even-for-old-school approach to ending DADT stand out all the more. When the political atmosphere is overly charged, overly vitriolic, and overly partisan, being moderate seems radical; I contend that this is why Obama was elected–it’s certainly why I voted for him. However, many of those voting for a radically moderate policy may not have been expecting that it would be accompanied by radically moderate action, and some of Obama’s strongest supporters are getting tired of waiting for that “radical” part to kick in. DADT would seem like the perfect opportunity to implement major cultural progress that would reduce costs, require little Congressional crossfire, and avoid overhauling any further cornerstones to our economy.

Yet, Obama waited, and with good reason from his perspective. Ending two wars, averting financial collapse, and planting the roots of systemic change in healthcare seemed more important because they affected everyone. While social justice ideals may tell us that “an injustice somewhere is an injustice everywhere”, the fact of the matter is that most Americans (even the majority who support some advancement of LGBT rights) would have seen gay rights as a need of the few in the face of the needs of the many. Sadly, politics is perception, and jumping into such a decision could have endangered every other dream placed in Obama, radical or moderate.

Keep in mind, the nation is so primed right now that if Obama can reach the end of a single term without being assassinated or converting our nation over to rampant socialism, without rewriting the constitution to praise Allah or seizing property from Whites to give it to Blacks, without abandoning Iraq and Afghanistan or invading small town America, it will be a great victory for radical moderation over the dangerous forces of overblown rhetoric (though, without a separate figurehead, one unlikely to be claimed and, therefor, noticed).

There were small opportunities; perhaps Obama’s first weeks in office, or that dizzying week after health insurance reform passed: points in time when Obama was riding on high waves and an executive order suspending DADT could easily have been buried amid a thousand other headlines. But Obama’s approach of moderate action prevented such a stealthy move; what on a national level seems to be a simple transition will still have a direct impact on soldiers who are already psychologically stretched and physically drained. So he has called for a year-long analysis (such a study panel is the kind of moment when even I will mutter “liberal” under my breath with a snarl) to research how best to end DADT.

Will it take a full year to strategize the implementation of a DADT repeal? I seriously doubt it. Could measures further than those recently put in place have been taken to slow the impact of DADT? Of course. However, during that time, soldiers and officers who oppose the repeal will have a lot more time to consider their opinion and prepare for the change (Hell, we may even be out of Iraq by then, which should make anything easier for our military). Knowing it is coming should, I hope, make it easier to accept when the time has come. Even once it is legally possible for LGBT soldiers to serve openly, it will not be easy, and some soldiers will remain closeted for years, if not decades; the social adjustment could easily take a generation, but a gradual implementation (or period of warning) will go a long way into smoothing the rough waters of change.

There are more cynical advantages for Obama to delay, of course. He is keeping his options open, for one; should the November election see the Dems blown out of the water (which I doubt, but six months is an eternity in politics), he will move toward 2012 with one fewer bulletpoint against him from social conservatives. Or make that three, because while Obama supports gay adoption and “civil unions”, the sooner DADT passes, the sooner activists on both side will move on to fighting over even more controversial steps toward equality. And while few of the Black American voters who supported Obama 19-to-1 in 2008 have noticed how little his agenda has thus far helped non-whites and poor communities, you can expect that some of the 64% who find “homosexual behavior” to be “morally wrong” would notice if they saw LGBT equality placed as a higher priority.

(None of these items is as straightforward as presented here, though it is perceived to be by many. Sadly, this comparison–which is not original to me–is just another symptom of us-and-them thinking, where even constituents of progressive values focus on their own communities and do not recognize the commonality with other maligned groups.)

But drawing action from a radical moderate will not come from thinking cynically. LGBT activists have been exasperated with Obama’s inaction since the day after inauguration, and they have only experienced one major victory during his 16 months in office. There has been organization and marching and blogging and activism galore–and this is as it should be. In a way, maybe the DADT delay has been good for the LGBT community, too. Not for the individuals, sadly (rates have slowed since Obama’s inauguration, but hundreds have still been booted through his delay), but for the organizations and the LGBT community at large. As a repeal of DADT has approached… well, become imminent… well, seemed likely… eventually… the LGBT community has had less public attention on same-sex marriage (and even activists were running the risk of outrage fatigue after Prop 8). Perhaps with this little detour toward DADT (and ENDA, which will hopefully come next), the disparate opinions within the community will have a chance to breathe and remember what they have in common.

While the goal of every activist organization should be to render itself obsolete, a motivated and unified community is easier to solicit for donations and volunteers, and I suspect there’s still a huge well of untapped hetero allies out there who haven’t given since they got that HRC sticker on their back windows. At the same time, the broader American culture continues to inch closer toward tacit, even open, acceptance of that community and the notion that, hey, gays are people too! Demonstrations help that and arrests help that, so long as they remain clear, focused, and non-violent. Signs about same-sex marriage and adoption will do well alongside those on DADT and ENDA, but don’t try to also protest the wars, corporate media corruption, and the closing down of your local library (at least not at the same event). Activists must treat every opportunity as a discussion on one specific topic and resist the urge to yell at the hetero-normative public instead of talking with them. While some minds are not likely to ever change, others will be preparing for change who wouldn’t have otherwise.

Don’t misunderstand me; Obama is a busy man with a full agenda. Reneging will come all-too-easily if LGBT activists do not keep up the pressure. Politics being the antithesis of humanization, you cannot expect any politician to treat you like a human being instead of just a vote; you must demand it. It is the right and responsibility of every supporter of LGBT equality (whoever you sleep with) to keep up the protests, keep up the letters, keep up the conversation so the President does not–cannot–forget his promise. Unless the Dems keep a strong majority in mid-term elections (which is possible, but hardly likely at this point), I doubt we will see national progress beyond DADT and ENDA during Obama’s first term; then, it will again fall to LGBT activists to help him win a second term so he can make bigger promises toward equality and we can work tirelessly another four years to hold him to them.

It isn’t fair–and promises have already been broken–but it is the way of politics. You have to fight a lot to win a little, and deserving it means you just have to work twice as hard.

Questions to ask while we wait:

How is recruitment?
Why no temporary moratorium?
What about those already discharged?
Will DADT impact mid-term elections?

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Where Was the Best Place to Watch the Inauguration?

2009.January.27

If you were in Atlanta, probably the big gathering at Centennial Olympic Park, but if you couldn’t make it into town, you’d be hard pressed to beat a warm house with a big TV, which is what we ended up doing. I was glad to hear from friends who were part of the DC throngs we saw on screen, but I was just a digital age spectator. After the ceremony and Obama’s drive/walk to the White House, we found a Five Guys for lunch (A DC institution! What was it doing in Georgia?). In the evening, we drove into downtown Atlanta just to explore. We found a gentrified neighborhood near the MLK Center and talked over coffee.

Sights: Underground Atlanta, Sweet Auburn

Topics: What lyrics might have been going through Obama’s mind as he stepped onto the inaugural stage, Rick Warren‘s inoffensive invocation, whether Aretha and the classical ensemble would release their performances as singles on iTunes, Feinstein‘s inoffensive hosting, whether Biden (or the new administration in general) got to choose which Associate Justice administered his oath, Roberts’ flubbing the oath, the President’s inaugural speech (one of my favorites so far, including the first mention of “nonbelievers” in such a prominent national address), the poor delivery of the poet, how great was Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery’s benediction, whether Obama had to remind himself “cab, not blades” as he led Bush to his helicopter, how distracted the NAACP’s new president might have been at Love Shack being played in the background during his CSPAN interview; the merits and drawbacks of franchising and its explosive growth in recent years (leading me to wonder whether there isn’t a franchisor out there who is franchising the business of franchising), the resemblance of Atlanta’s streets to those in Lower Manhattan, awareness of privilege by White men, the resemblance of a certain statue to John McCain, whether a swimming pool was an appropriate tribute to MLK, and the repurposing of old buildings.

Soundtrack: Johnny Lloyd Rollins, Barenaked Ladies, Guy Forsyth.

The next day we returned to Cold-lanta…

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Who Is this Other W?

2008.December.8

[ETA: MSNBC is airing something about GM tonight, but I can't find the details. It may be an article in a longer program (my guess would be 1600 Pennsylvania) or a special that bumps something else. If anyone knows more, drop me a line.]

When you’re thinking about who should be clearing his desk out in January, there’s one other W to keep in mind: General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner (no, really, he was born with that name). This clever fellow worked his way up to the top job at GM from posts in finance and operations outside the US. He came in young, fresh out of grad school, and had only a few years of domestic experience when he became CEO in 2000 at the age of 47. Between this and previous executive positions with the company, Wagoner oversaw the peak years of the SUV craze, the rise and fall of GMAC, and a 96% fall in the company’s stock value over less than three years (see a thorough bio from better days here). Despite spiking fuel prices over the last three years and the image backlash against SUVs, Wagoner continued to steer his company to depend upon the highly profitable SUVs, which could fetch as much as $10-$15,000 profit per vehicle. (In case you’re curious, the industry average is about $800, but some compact cars are even sold at a loss of several hundred dollars)

Despite the golden goose that laid the Hummer, GM continues to suffer financial woes new and old, some of which predate Wagoner’s taking of the helm; but not even Robert C. Stempel saw such a decline when he was CEO. But he never indicated government funds might be pursued until very recently; as recently as October, GM swore up and down it wasn’t facing bankruptcy.

Now, Wagoner is insisting that if GM doesn’t get an influx of cash this month, that GM will not make it to 2009. They’re even asking their employees, retirees, and car-owners to help lobby on their behalf.

I can’t help wondering if he isn’t rushing the matter, because he knows that under Obama and the next Congress, there is likely to be much more oversight and stipulation attached to any welfare checks (that’s right, I said it–Richard Wagoner is a corporate welfare queen!). Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) is already calling for Wagoner to be replaced at GM, with others calling for the rest of the board to go as well.

In case you haven’t heard, Wagoner’s big plan to save GM-and-therefore-the-American-economy includes laying off another 30,000 workers (33% of current workforce, but that’s after other recent layoffs and buyouts pared it down by at least 50,000). I know, I know, omlettes and eggs, right? But with unemployment already getting uncomfortably high, do we really want to see that many more GM employees out on the streets, to say nothing of all those domino-effect jobs from peripheral automotive industries that rely on GM?

It’s not a pretty picture. There are already indications that the mortgage industry is about to undergo a second wave of defaulted mortgages (not that the first has passed) because so many prime (as opposed to sub-prime) mortgage-holders have lost jobs.

This is what you call a downward spiral.

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What’s Your Stake?

2008.November.13

All other things equal, would you rather have an insider or an outsider representing you on policy matters?

John Steele Gordon, a commentator on NPR’s Marketplace, today contended that for Treasury Secretary, President-Elect Obama should select “a fox who knows the weak spots in the hen house”… someone like Henry Paulson. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have someone who knows a security from an exchange. (Gordon’s delivery was so dry it sounded like satire until he cited founding SEC Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy as an example of someone whose success came because he “knew where the bodies were buried” and “what reforms were needed”.)

Meanwhile in Texas, we have a member of the Texas State Board of Education who has taken it upon herself to warn America that the president-elect is not an American and will institute martial law. A little out of her jurisdiction, yes, but not much more than her position on the board – where she helps develop the public school curriculum – considering her side work developing a curriculum for “church study groups, home schools and private school classrooms” that her own children have only attended home school and private school.

Is it too much to ask that officials elected or nominated to serve a specific sector (such as education, FEMA, energy, international relations…) have some direct experience in that sector? Even if you believe in changing a system as it exists, you can’t (well, shouldn’t) just make an immediate and unmitigated 180 turn away from established policy. You probably don’t want to turn your car around on the highway without slowing down and exiting. You probably don’t want to put a communist in charge of trade (despite some of Obama’s frothier detractors’ certainty that very thing will happen). You probably don’t want a vegan as your butcher, a Mormon in your porn, or a misanthrope as your spokesperson.

Look for someone who has at least some vested stake in the work ahead. Even if they aren’t a member of your political wing. The party operatives might do more harm than good. Sometimes intentionally.

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What Is Fair Tax?

2008.November.9

If there was any battle that was doomed from the start in 2008, it was Mike Gravel‘s bid for the presidency. He stole attention in the Democratic debates by raising questions that Democrats aren’t supposed to ask, but showed less than 1% in every poll and primary that bothered to include him. Then he said that was just a springboard for his big goal: the nomination of the Libertarian Party, where Gravel came in fourth in a field of eight. The Libs ended up with Republican Bob Barr; apparently even Libertarians have to side with name recognition once in a while.

I don’t know enough about Gravel to say whether he would have been a good candidate, but he definitely had some interesting ideas. How many Libertarians do you know who want single-payer healthcare? One that has gotten my attention is FairTax, an initiative that would eliminate the IRS and address funding needs with a simple sales tax on new goods and services. It is largely supported by Republicans, but Gravel saw it as an important piece of his larger interest in direct democracy – returning government to the people.

Fair Tax also rebutts the shared Democrat and Republican mythos: Democrats tax more! Repulicans spend less! There’s this notion that if you might ever need government assistance for anything, you should support Dems because they’ll pay for it, but if you ever wanted to be rich (and who hasn’t at some point?), you should support Republicans because they’ll let you keep more of it. Americans for Fair Taxation mention the contradiction on their website: “Indeed, the tax code is manipulated by both parties in Congress alike with reckless abandon to punish enemies and reward supporters…”

The Fair Tax would tie taxation directly to consumption, holding more of us accountable to our own spending habits and making sure that wealthy Americans pay their share (but are not saddled with more). Visitors to our country would also pay the consumption tax, so one’s visitation or immigration status would no longer exempt them from paying taxes.

There are drawbacks, mostly tied to any transition from the existing system. There would appear to be a price hike of 30%, since proponents insist that the sales tax should be included in all quoted prices, but the bigger concern would be the entire segment of industry that would be completely eliminated. Accounting as we know it would be decimated, and an entire skill set that applies to every single sector would become obsolete. No small issues, these.

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I’m Your Biggest Fan – Don’t Fuck this Up!

2008.October.23

One of the themes I hope to develop with this blog is holding one’s own heroes accountable. Most voters will expect immediate and swift change after a new president is inaugurated, and they will expect it to happen with little-to-no attention on their part.

But that’s now how democracy works.

I want Obama to win, and I think he will. But I don’t want the millions of fervent supporters who got him into the White House to beam at him and slap each other on the back for a job well done. Our responsibilities as citizens do not end with the election of our candidate.

Obama won many of us over by saying the right things. Once he’s in office, we must make sure that he follows up by doing the right things.

The third debate would be a good example of a moment when we should expect more.

“I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply.” [except that this was in response to a question about negative campaigning; Obama used the issue itself to avoid the question]

“The notion, though, that because we’re not doing town hall meetings that justifies some of the ads that have been going up, not just from your own campaign directly, John, but 527s and other organizations that make some pretty tough accusations, well, I don’t mind being attacked for the next three weeks.” [The fact is, Obama has renegged on a couple of promises to McCain once they became politically inconvenient, and I haven't quite forgiven him for one in particular.]

Where was that classic “disagree without being disagreeable” line Obama has been saying for months, maybe years?

“… what is important is making sure that we disagree without being disagreeable. And it means that we can have tough, vigorous debates around issues. What we can’t do, I think, is try to characterize each other as bad people. And that has been a culture in Washington that has been taking place for too long.” [At last! Only 10 minutes into a 15-minute topic...]

That debate was painful for me. If it hadn’t been for further slips by McCain only minutes later, I might have conceded this debate to McCain. I was quite sure that both had lost it, and was surprised to hear the positive reactions Obama received. I guess we should be grateful that Obama’s worst performance was still better than McCain’s best, but that’s the same kind of pervasive us-and-them mentality that gets our politics so messy in the first place. Most of the time, as long as voters feel like their candidate is saying what they want to hear, they think that person is winning. Few allow for the possibility that someone could be lousy at debate, but a good candidate, or vice versa.

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Learnin’ Something New…

2008.October.15

As an amateur wonk and activist, I’ve heard the basics of the Obama and McCain stories a thousand times, and could probably tell them as well as any journalist on the cable news (though that’s not saying much). Yet, I couldn’t resist the lure of yet another bio as I sat down with leftover saag tonight, despite my intention to seek out some new drama to rot my brain for an hour. PBS’ award-winning Frontline was running a two-hour documentary on both presidential candidates, filling in the gaps for those who haven’t yet memorized Obama’s 2004 speech to the DNC or which years McCain was a P.O.W.

And I managed to learn something.

For instance, I knew that Obama had a relatively short political career, with a coreographed succession of moderate outreach and subtle idealism. What I had not realized, however, was that Obama has yet to win a serious contest in his political career. His greatest struggle up to this point was probably running for President of the Harvard Law Review back in law school. His first office was won after each of his opponents had their candidacies dismissed for invalid petitions (not my favorite way to win an election, and another quiet little hint that Obama might be worse than the Arab-Muslim-Terrorist-Black-Nationalist-Late-Book-Returner his opponent’s supporters believe him to be–he might be one of those god-damned politicians. You know, the kind Barack Obama wants to take Washington away from. Anyway, once he was the incumbent, re-election came easily. In 2000, Obama ran for Congress and lost 2-1 in the primaries against a popular incumbent. Obama’s 2004 election to the U.S. Senate came easily after his original opponent was embarassed out of politics by sex-club allegations from his ex-wife, Seven-of-Nine. Improvised opponent Alan Keyes was flown in from Maryland to establish residency and be black, but was laughed all the way home by 73% of the electorate.

As for McCain, I learned that I’m not the only person who thinks he has changed since his 2000 primary run (I want to call it “maverick”, but no… just… no…). Frontline laid it out there, how McCain stumped for W’s re-election in 2004 and came to support policies he had once opposed. Apparently, every presidential nominee since Reagan (and possibly before) has been an establishment statesmen who stands in party-line and waits his turn for the party’s nod. For McCain to get that nod, he had to get publicly close to W. And even as W’s poll numbers had bottomed out since the 2006 mid-term elections, the president still had the power to make McCain the party’s next statesman or denounce him to eternal maverickdom. Whether because he feels he needs the power to do some good (let’s hope this is Obama’s rationale for playing politics so well), or because he’s grown tired and wants to retire in four years, or because he has a Clinton-esque sense of entitlement, John McCain sucked it up and kissed a lot of ass to get where he is today. It’s too bad, really. I liked that 2000 guy. Moreover, I respected him.

Fortunately, there is still some hope that this election won’t be like the last few… dozen. That two decent, upstanding men will carry on a respectful, meaningful discussion of our country’s direction by focusing on those elusive issues and not on character assassinations, even when their own supporters call for blood. Is it so dumb to think maybe the guy who loses could wake up on November 5th and just say, “Well, we did our best and we did justice to our values, it just wasn’t our time…”?

Of course there’s always 2012…

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