Friday, October 31, 2008

Blue and Red

Is there any other developed nation in the world as fundamentally divided as we are here in America? I don't see one. Certainly not France or Britain or Canada or Germany or Japan. While they all have multiple political parties/movements, they just don't have the sheer ideological division that we have here. They used to, but their experience in World War II seemed to have purged that away.

The difference between the Red and the Blue here is so vast, that we can hardly discuss politics rationally. Now the feeling is more fear of the other side and what they might do if they are in office.

It didn't used to be this way, it seems to me. I really doubt that the difference between the Eisenhower Republicans and the Truman Democrats was all that great, on either domestic or foreign policy. Even when Nixon ran against Kennedy, the divide was not that great.

Undoubtedly, the Vietnam War and the breakdown of the Cold War consensus started our great divide growing. It was then exacerbated by the Reagan Coalition. Now that we have had a basically Reaganite dominance in government for nearly 30 years, with all its results in terms of a near-bankrupt economy with manufacturing disappearing offshore and the banks collapsing from their irresponsible practices, Gilded Age levels of income and wealth disparity, and growing anti-Americanism around the world, we don't even remember what a truly centrist government, that looks out for the American middle-class, looks like.

Obama's policies are not far-left liberal, as the Republicans are claiming, they are center-left and realist. Anyone who has looked at either his team of economic or foreign policy advisors, or has read his works, knows this is true.

I hope that someday we might be able to overcome our polarization and national division. But I am not confident about this. The worldviews that bisect us are really set in place and thrive on religious and cultural divisions that are very basic to American life.

All this doesn't bode well for really making progress on the great problems that confront us. It looks to me like stalemate and paralysis are more likely. Obviously, a big Obama win might possibly help with this, if he can show the country what a true leader with a governing majority can do to solve practical problems in the tradition of American democracy.

We'll just have to wait and see what happens in four days.


A former Republican Secretary of State and one of John McCain's most prominent supporters offered a stunningly frank and remarkably bleak assessment of Sarah Palin's capacity to handle the presidency should such a scenario arise.

Lawrence Eagleburger, who served as Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush and whose endorsement is often trumpeted by McCain, said on Thursday that the Alaska governor is not only unprepared to take over the job on a moment's notice but, even after some time in office, would only amount to an "adequate" commander in chief.

"And I devoutly hope that [she] would never be tested," he added for good measure -- referring both to Palin's policy dexterity and the idea of McCain not making it through his time in office.

Quotable Quote

"Life in these United States, as Reader's Digest used to say, isn't perfect, but neither is it Somalia."

--Kathleen Parker

The Latest Smear

The Washington Post editorializes on the latest smear attempt by the McCain campaign against Obama, one Rashid Khalidi:

For the record, Mr. Khalidi is an American born in New York who graduated from Yale a couple of years after George W. Bush. For much of his long academic career, he taught at the University of Chicago, where he and his wife became friends with Barack and Michelle Obama. In the early 1990s, he worked as an adviser to the Palestinian delegation at peace talks in Madrid and Washington sponsored by the first Bush administration. We don't agree with a lot of what Mr. Khalidi has had to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the years, and Mr. Obama has made clear that he doesn't, either. But to compare the professor to neo-Nazis -- or even to Mr. Ayers -- is a vile smear.

Does John McCain realize how much of his credibility and goodwill he has lost by this kind of "reckless ad hominen" campaigning. It is really sad.

Economic Gloom

As I hop around the web, looking at articles on the economy, my first impression is that nobody really knows how to go about fixing this economy. We seem to be sinking into a deep recession, perhaps the deepest since the 1930s, and there is no quick fix or prescription that will solve the problem. And until the election is completed and the new administration is in place, leadership at the top is missing. So clearly things are going to get worse before they get better.

The First Black President

Right now, things are looking good for an Obama/Biden victory on Tuesday. The latest NYT/CBS poll puts the race nationally at about 50/40, with voter positions hardening. In addition, and very significantly, about 6 in 10 voters feel that Sarah Palin is unqualified to be Vice President, which would seem to be a serious obstacle to enough people supporting the McCain/Palin ticket to give them the win. As one political pundit wrote, "This cake looks baked."

So it looks like we're getting set for some history to be made: the first African-American president. What a way to begin the new century. It gives one hope that perhaps anything is indeed possible in America.

Coming Together

It's an amazing day when a liberal and conservative columnist recommend the exact same thing. Paul Krugman and David Brooks each recommended in the NYT increased government spending on infrastructure as a way of both helping the economy as it slips into recession and working on a serious national problem (infrastructure decay).

See, we can come together and solve problems, can't we.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


An Obama endorsement from a conservative foreign policy expert, Francis Fukuyama, who is exactly right in his diagnosis of the past eight years:

I’m voting for Barack Obama this November for a very simple reason. It is hard to imagine a more disastrous presidency than that of George W. Bush. It was bad enough that he launched an unnecessary war and undermined the standing of the United States throughout the world in his first term. But in the waning days of his administration, he is presiding over a collapse of the American financial system and broader economy that will have consequences for years to come. As a general rule, democracies don’t work well if voters do not hold political parties accountable for failure. While John McCain is trying desperately to pretend that he never had anything to do with the Republican Party, I think it would a travesty to reward the Republicans for failure on such a grand scale.

McCain’s appeal was always that he could think for himself, but as the campaign has progressed, he has seemed simply erratic and hotheaded. His choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate was highly irresponsible; we have suffered under the current president who entered office without much knowledge of the world and was easily captured by the wrong advisers. McCain’s lurching from Reaganite free- marketer to populist tribune makes one wonder whether he has any underlying principles at all.

America has been living in a dream world for the past few years, losing its basic values of thrift and prudence and living far beyond its means, even as it has lectured the rest of the world to follow its model. At a time when the U.S. government has just nationalized a good part of the banking sector, we need to rethink a lot of the Reaganite verities of the past generation regarding taxes and regulation. Important as they were back in the 1980s and ’90s, they just won’t cut it for the period we are now entering. Obama is much better positioned to reinvent the American model and will certainly present a very different and more positive face of America to the rest of the world.

Odd Couple

E Pluribus Unum

There is a lot of deep wisdom in this quote from Andrew Sullivan's blog:

And that's why January 20, 2009, is so important: the day Barack Obama is sworn in as our 44th president will mark the third, and I believe the final defeat of the forces of repression and division in this country, and the actual end of the American Civil War.

How can I be so sure? Because when the American President is inaugurated, it is directly homologous to the crowning of the King in ancient days: the King is the groom, the Nation is the bride, the crowning is the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage. When Barack Obama is sworn in as our 44th president, a symbolic marriage will be enacted, binding us together forever, black and white. We will have chosen to become one. We will have chosen to become family. The War will be over. E pluribus unum.

The whole world will be watching this. You have stated over and over again that an Obama presidency would be “transformational”, even “indispensable”. You're right. And you're right that this is only the beginning. A new chapter is dawning.

Will the old guard resist? Of course. But their power is waning. Providence made sure the better man lost in 2000, and the eight years since have been just enough rope for the old, corrupt right to hang itself.

The Obama Cool, The Obama Vision

The single greatest advantage Obama has is his temperament and personality. He is one 'cool, calm, and collected' guy, who also has this intuitive sense of vision that allows him to see things in wholes. These traits, which seem to me to be gifts given rather than skills developed, have enabled him to defeat the fabled Clinton machine, and have him on the verge of defeating the dreaded Republican machine.

The very same traits are the things, along with his intellect, his listening and reconciling skills, and his centrist, pragmatic approach, that I believe will allow him to govern as President with excellence and good results. (His present policy prescriptions are, in this sense, much less important as a reason to vote for him, because they will almost certainly change after he gets to the White House.)

I feel fairly confident that Obama will win this year, because it just seems that everything is coming into place for this. But if it doesn't happen, heaven help us, because there is going to be the biggest sense of disappointment and even despair on the part of many millions of people that we have ever seen. And I have absolutely no idea what the result of that might be.

The Obama Advantage

Five things in particular seem to be giving Obama the edge in this election: the debates, the economy, Sarah Palin, more money to spend, and a better ground game.

Obama 'won' the debates, according to the post-debate polls. This is a big change from, say, 2000, where Al Gore was excruciatingly bad in the debates, compared to the fresher, if glib, George W. Bush.

The financial, and now broadly economic, crisis of the last month is definitely helping Obama as well, forcing many middle and working-class folks to ignore some other factors, such as race, and focus on something where Democrats seem to be more trusted.

While Sarah Palin has clearly reved up the Republican base, especially the Christian Right, she has also alienated many independents, who find her 'aw-shucks' manners to be off-putting and her intellectual inadequacies and total lack of national or international experience or even interest to be, for all intents and purposes, disqualifying, at least for now.

Having the money to put into both ads and organization has given Obama a real edge, and this is in part a result of his internet saavy and his glamour as a candidate.

Finally, Obama's experience as a community organizer allowed him to put organizers on the ground to get more people to the polls to vote.

Together, these advantages should allow Obama to win, even though we remain a country severely polarized and divided politically and ideologically, and even though Obama's racial and international roots are something that some people are still having trouble swallowing.

This Sense of Possibility

As the election approaches, Roger Cohen writes a very unusual NYT column that spoke to me. A brief quote:

Nowhere else could a 47-year-old man, born, as he has written, of a father “black as pitch” and a mother “white as milk,” a generation distant from the mud shacks of western Kenya, raised for a time as Barry Soetoro (his stepfather’s family name) in Muslim Indonesia, then entrusted to his grandparents in Hawaii — nowhere else could this Barack Hussein Obama rise so far and so fast.

It’s for this sense of possibility, and not for grim-faced dread, that people look to America, which is why the Obama campaign has stirred such global passions.

Americans are decent people. They’re not interested in where you came from. They’re interested in who you are. That has not changed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A New Generation

This is why the boomers need to relax and hand over the reins to a new and younger generation, who will almost surely do a better job than we have:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Lest you think Sarah Palin came out of nowhere, Richard Cohen clues us in on how it really happened:

Until two cruise ships steamed up to Alaska two summers ago, the record for the silliest statement by a journalist had been held by Lincoln Steffens, in his time a famous American radical. Sent in 1919 to see how Russia was doing under the communists, Steffens supposedly reported, "I have seen the future, and it works." In 2007, several conservative journalists got off their cruise ships and met Sarah Palin. They saw the present, and she was a babe.

The cruises were sponsored by the National Review and the Weekly Standard, journals of significant influence in conservative circles. The ships disgorged some top conservative editors and writers, who on two occasions were invited at the governor's mansion. Almost to a man, they were thunderstruck.

What followed, once everyone returned to the lower 48, was a gusher of mush -- praise, love notes, sweet nothings and, altogether, the sort of mooning one does not usually hear from the likes of William Kristol, Fred Barnes, Rich Lowry, Dick Morris and my Post colleague Michael Gerson. In short order, important writers set themselves the task, in print and on television, of promoting Palin and, in the process, making perfect asses of themselves. They succeeded at both.

After an apparently bravura saying of grace, she wowed her guests with some excellent halibut cheeks and the Category 4 force of her personality. Some of them sank into a kind of delirium known to high schoolers and praised her as "my heartthrob" (Kristol), "a mix between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc" (Gerson) and, so far not evident, "smart" (Barnes).

That's what they get for going on a love-boat cruise and doing politics at the same time.

Flawed Worldview

Conservative columnist David Brooks writes today in the NYT about the economic mess we're in, Alan Greenspan's recent and startling confession of his own flawed worldview, and government regulation:

If you start thinking about our faulty perceptions, the first thing you realize is that markets are not perfectly efficient, people are not always good guardians of their own self-interest and there might be limited circumstances when government could usefully slant the decision-making architecture....But the second thing you realize is that government officials are probably going to be even worse perceivers of reality than private business types. Their information feedback mechanism is more limited, and, being deeply politicized, they’re even more likely to filter inconvenient facts.

This meltdown is not just a financial event, but also a cultural one. It’s a big, whopping reminder that the human mind is continually trying to perceive things that aren’t true, and not perceiving them takes enormous effort.

In other words, we are guided more by our worldviews and ideologies rather than the empirical information coming to us. Which is why Greenspan's failure of worldview is costing us so much. And which is also all the more reason to not have as our government regulator someone who doesn't believe the government should be regulating!

Greenspan typified the anti-regulation mindset of the last several decades, under both Republican and Democratic administration (he was reappointed by Bill Clinton, don't forget). And now, the whole worldview and mindset (a paradigm shift?) is changing, and regulation of banks, markets, etc. is the order of the day.

We're going back to what we used to call a 'mixed economy', in order to avoid the distortions and excesses of the 'free and unfettered market'. If you thought we learned that lesson back in the 30's, then think again.

I actually think of the 'mixed economy' as a conservative thing (stabilizing, cautious, etc.), but if you insist on viewing it as 'liberal', then now we're all liberals again.

The only exception to that would be that shrinking number of free-market libertarians who think the government should not intervene in the current mess and should not regulate anything but let everything free to take its course, come what may. They (like Ron Paul) have a theoretical case to make, of course, but it's not one that most people are going to accept.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Flawed North Carolina Ballot

This is so frustrating! Why can't they design a ballot properly? I noticed this myself when I voted the other day, and I thought to myself, "This could be trouble."

"I was sure I voted for president, but then a friend told me that a straight-party vote in North Carolina includes every office except president. That made me really mad," Linda Chavis told OffTheBus.

Politically speaking, Chavis didn't just fall off the turnip truck. She is a volunteer "crew chief" for the Obama campaign in Raleigh who did not notice the separation between the straight-party vote and the presidential vote on North Carolina's
poorly designed ballot in 2004. "I thought I voted against George W. Bush, but it turned out I didn't vote for president at all. It's an issue today because we're still using the same confusing ballot," said Chavis.

Chavis wasn't the only dumbfounded voter in 2004. A Duke University researcher estimated that more than 90,000 people who voted in North Carolina inexplicably did not cast a vote for president. That's 60,000 to 70,000 more than researchers would expect.

Top Ten List to Vote for Obama

Andrew Sullivan's top ten list for why conservatives should vote for Obama:

10. A body blow to racial identity politics. An end to the era of Jesse Jackson in black America.

9. Less debt. Yes, Obama will raise taxes on those earning over a quarter of a million. And he will spend on healthcare, Iraq, Afghanistan and the environment. But so will McCain. He plans more spending on health, the environment and won't touch defense or entitlements. And his refusal to touch taxes means an extra $4 trillion in debt over the massive increase presided over by Bush. And the CBO estimates that McCain's plans will add more to the debt over four years than Obama's. Fiscal conservatives have a clear choice.

8. A return to realism and prudence in foreign policy. Obama has consistently cited the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush as his inspiration. McCain's knee-jerk reaction to the Georgian conflict, his commitment to stay in Iraq indefinitely, and his brinksmanship over Iran's nuclear ambitions make him a far riskier choice for conservatives. The choice between Obama and McCain is like the choice between George H.W. Bush's first term and George W.'s.

7. An ability to understand the difference between listening to generals and delegating foreign policy to them.

6. Temperament. Obama has the coolest, calmest demeanor of any president since Eisenhower. Conservatism values that kind of constancy, especially compared with the hot-headed, irrational impulsiveness of McCain.

5. Faith. Obama's fusion of Christianity and reason, his non-fundamentalist faith, is a critical bridge between the new atheism and the new Christianism.

4. A truce in the culture war. Obama takes us past the debilitating boomer warfare that has raged since the 1960s. Nothing has distorted our politics so gravely; nothing has made a rational politics more elusive.

3. Two words: President Palin.

2. Conservative reform. Until conservatism can get a distance from the big-spending, privacy-busting, debt-ridden, crony-laden, fundamentalist, intolerant, incompetent and arrogant faux conservatism of the Bush-Cheney years, it will never regain a coherent message to actually govern this country again. The survival of conservatism requires a temporary eclipse of today's Republicanism. Losing would be the best thing to happen to conservatism since 1964. Back then, conservatives lost in a landslide for the right reasons. Now, Republicans are losing in a landslide for the wrong reasons.

1. The War Against Islamist terror. The strategy deployed by Bush and Cheney has failed. It has failed to destroy al Qaeda, except in a country, Iraq, where their presence was minimal before the US invasion. It has failed to bring any of the terrorists to justice, instead creating the excresence of Gitmo, torture, secret sites, and the collapse of America's reputation abroad. It has empowered Iran, allowed al Qaeda to regroup in Pakistan, made the next vast generation of Muslims loathe America, and imperiled our alliances. We need smarter leadership of the war: balancing force with diplomacy, hard power with better p.r., deploying strategy rather than mere tactics, and self-confidence rather than a bunker mentality.

Things Fall Apart

According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, the global economy continues to spin apart:

Economic data rarely inspire poetic thoughts. But as I was contemplating the latest set of numbers, I realized that I had William Butler Yeats running through my head: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

Christian Nationalism

Connected to our previous discussion of the Constitution, there is a form of Christian Nationalism that we probably should know something about. This interesting article appeared in the Anchorage Daily News, regarding Sarah Palin's religious beliefs, which some think share in this Christian Nationalism. Here is brief quote:

Extreme Christian Nationalists not only believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation but that its institutions should be run entirely by fundamentalist or evangelical Christians. They believe they have a mandate to purge our institutions of "humanists" who believe that humans are in control of their own destiny, progressive Christians and non-Christians. They believe there are seven areas of society that must be controlled, the so-called Seven Mountains Strategy: church, family, education, government and law, media, arts and entertainment and business.

Muthee echoed this Christian Nationalist strategy in his Palin blessing sermon, where he stated, "When we talk about transformation of a society, a community, it's where we see God's Kingdom infiltrate ... seven areas in our society." Muthee went on to describe his version of the Seven Mountains Strategy and when he got to politics he was praying for Gov. Palin.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Constitution and King David

The Caretaker writes on the Yip Blog in response to the previous blog below:

I had a thought in response to the claim on the Chronicler's blog that the Constitution was founded on Biblical principles. Could somebody point out to me where in the Bible the principles of the Constitution are located? Did King David write a psalm about the importance of separation of powers and freedom of the press? Did Paul take time out in his letter to the Thessalonians to discuss checks and balances or to set up an early Christian electoral college and democracy?

Democratic government was, in a very broad sense, a product of Judeo-Christian thought. But most accurately the Constitution was a product of the Enlightenment and Western thought. I don't see a direct link to anything that is discussed in the Bible.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

God and the Constitution

A reader writes, in reply to this post below:

....our forefathers bled and died so that we could be free. They were radicals, and rebels, but they were also Godly men. Not Muslim, Buddist or Atheist, this country WAS founded on the basic principals of the Bible. Not the Q'rann or any other book of false gods. The Bible. And as much as this country says it's free, it is only free because of the basic principals that it was founded upon. America is special BECAUSE of those specific principals. When the Constitution was written there was nothing in it about seperation of church and state. That was later in a letter that John Adams wrote SUGGESTING a separation. Whether or not, the "others" want to admit it, this is a country founded on the deep belief of God. Not Allah, not Buddah, not Science.

It's amazing to me that the Christian Right has had such a hard time seeing the plain facts about the Constitution. It is really not ambiguous or complex at all.
Historian Garry Wills has it right: The right wing in America likes to think that the United States government was, at its inception, highly religious, specifically highly Christian, and even more specifically highly biblical. That was not true of that government or any later government—until 2000, when the fiction of the past became the reality of the present. (The best book to read on this subject is Will's Head and Heart: American Christianities.)
I am not suggesting that America as a nation was not religious or majority Christian. It clearly is the most religious country in the West and remains majority Christian (of which I am a happy part). Yet when the Constitution was written, in which are found the 'basic principles' that every President vows to protect and defend, there was nothing in it about God. It is not a religious document but a legal and political document, devoid of religious reference, except to prohibit 'religious tests'.

That doesn’t mean the founders didn’t believe in God (e.g. John Adams was Unitarian, James Madison, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson were deistic Anglicans, others were Congregationalists, Quakers, Lutherans, Catholics, etc), but it does mean that they were intentionally 'disestablishing' the church (no state-sponsored or promoted church, unlike England and Europe in general) and keeping the state and church insulated from each other, for the good of both. (First Amendment.)

This of course benefited many churches (like Methodist and Baptist), while hurting others (the Congregationalist established church of New England and the established Anglican Church of Virginia). It has provided freedom for all Christian denominations, and even non-Christians, to practice their religion freely without government interference or partiality or discrimination. This is the basic reason that we are the most religious people in the Western world. It follows that our beliefs and ethical positions are also reflected in the people we elect to serve in government positions and therefore influence public policy.

Furthermore, not only is there no mention of God in the Constitution, and not only is there to be no ‘establishment’ of religion but complete religious freedom, but there is also a specific prohibition of any religious test for holding national office: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (Article VI, Section 3) The plain, 'strict' meaning of this is that any person, regardless of their religious faith (or no faith at all), is eligible for any national government office.

So when the Christian Right speaks about America as a 'Christian nation', it is true that we are majority Christian. But it is not correct to say that our Constitution is Christian in any direct sense. Which of course is why Jews and Muslims, not to speak of others, can become American citizens and pledge their full allegiance to the Constitution without violating their own religious faith.
In all of this, I am not necessarily arguing that this is the way it should have been (in fact, I've argued elsewhere that Methodism should be the established religion!). I'm just saying that that is the way it was. If anyone wants to try and change the Constitution to more accurately reflect their religious views, be my guest. There's an amendment process for that. I don't, however, think that would get very far.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Too Much Time and Money

I early voted today. It was my 10th Presidential vote. I have voted 3 times for Republicans and 7 times for Democrats (including this year), so I guess that makes me somewhat of an independent.

In any case, I am so ready for this election to be over. It has taken way too long and cost too much money. What is it about our political system that allows this to happen? We need to figure this out and change it, because we cannot afford to spend this much time and money in elections. We've got to spend more time governing effectively and solving our problems, or we are going nowhere fast.

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

A 22-nation survey by the BBC found that voters abroad preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. McCain in every single country — by four to one over all. Nearly half of those in the BBC poll said that the election of Mr. Obama, an African-American, would “fundamentally change” their perceptions of the United States.

Healthy Relationships

Some good relationship advice from the article mentioned in that last post:

There are three major factors that determine the health of any relationship: Authenticity, responsibility and appreciation. The following discoveries apply to relationships at home, at work, and in the world at large:

•A relationship thrives only when people speak honestly to each other about the significant matters in the relationship.

•A relationship thrives only when people take responsibility, instead of blaming each other, for the issues that arise in the relationship.

•A relationship thrives only when people express abundant appreciation for each other.

Body Politics

Here is a very interesting article on the John and Cindy McCain relationship (and indirectly, on the Obama relationship as well). Don't know whether it's accurate or even relevant at all, but it's fascinating. Just a brief quote to whet your appetite:

After the last presidential debate we had many requests to give our interpretation of the awkward "hug moment" at the end. From a body language perspective, the moment revealed a great deal about the McCain marriage. If you have time, go back and look frame-by-frame at the end of the debate, when the presidential candidates hugged their spouses. Here is a sequence of still shots that capture to a degree some of the points we want to discuss. Take note of the perfunctory hug, stiffness and lack of contact between the McCains, and compare those bits of body-talk with the way Michelle and Barack Obama greeted each other with smiles and a long hug. They were still hugging when John McCain tried awkwardly to connect with Mrs. Obama. The McCain hug looked as stiff as a puppet show, while the Obama hug looked as natural and graceful as a ballet.

The Conservative Crackup

E. J. Dionne writes of the Conservative Crackup:

The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity -- and Sarah Palin. Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans, learned manifestoes by direct-mail hit pieces.

As to this point, it is a sad, sad thing. True conservatism of the kind into which I was immersed for about 15 years, from 1982-1997, is a sophisticated, intellectually profound enterprise, and one still worth the effort to study and learn from. One writer and scholar not mentioned in the list above, Russell Kirk (whom I had the privilege of meeting and studying with in 1987), is still well worth reading, especially his The Conservative Mind. But this movement has been overwhelmed lately by true yahoos and propagandists like Limbaugh and Hannity.

Conservatism has finally crashed on problems for which its doctrines offered no solutions (the economic crisis foremost among them, thus Bush's apostasy) and on its refusal to acknowledge that the "real America" is more diverse, pragmatic and culturally moderate than the place described in Palin's speeches or imagined by the right-wing talk show hosts.

I'm not sure that this is why Conservatism has 'crashed', but as a political cause, it definitely will be entering the wilderness for a time of purging (and this is true even if McCain were to win this election).

The Feminine Mystique

Kathleen Parker, the fearless (and erstwhile?) conservative columnist, goes where angels fear to tread in the WaPo:

My husband called it first. Then, a brilliant 75-year-old scholar and raconteur confessed to me over wine: "I'm sexually attracted to her. I don't care that she knows nothing."

One does not have to be a psychoanalyst to reckon that McCain was smitten. By no means am I suggesting anything untoward between McCain and his running mate. Palin is a governor, after all. She does have an executive résumé, if a thin one. And she's a natural politician who connects with people.

But there can be no denying that McCain's selection of her over others far more qualified -- and his mind-boggling lack of attention to details that matter -- suggests other factors at work. His judgment may have been clouded by . . . what?

Ms. Parker, if McCain wins the election this year, you are definitely not being invited to the White House Christmas Party.

Abortion As A Moral Issue

Rev. Thomas Reese writes in the Catholic weekly America:

After decades of debate over abortion, something new has occurred this year.

First, the Democratic Party is now not just using pro-choice language; it is also acknowledging the need to do something to reduce the number of abortions. Democrats, like presidential candidate Barack Obama are now willing to say that abortion is a moral issue--something the pro-choice lobby always opposed. Democrats are now promoting social and educational programs that will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and help pregnant women have their babies. In other words, after many years of insisting that abortion be legal and safe, the Democrats are finally emphasizing that it should be rare.

This new emphasis by the Democrats will not win over the hard-core pro-lifers, but it will make it easier for those, especially Catholics, who are concerned about abortion and other issues to vote Democratic.

If Obama Wins?

He will have to return, full force, to the inspiration business. The public will have to be mobilized to face the fearsome new economic realities. He will also have to deliver bad news, to transform crises into "teachable moments." He will have to effect a major change in our political life: to get the public and the media to think about long-term solutions rather than short-term balms. Obama has given some strong indications that he will be able to do this, having remained levelheaded through a season of political insanity.

His has been a remarkable campaign, as smoothly run as any I've seen in nine presidential cycles. Even more remarkable, Obama has made race — that perennial, gaping American wound — an afterthought. He has done this by introducing a quality to American politics that we haven't seen in quite some time: maturity. He is undoubtedly as ego-driven as everyone else seeking the highest office — perhaps more so, given his race, his name and his lack of experience. But he has not been childishly egomaniacal, in contrast to our recent baby-boomer Presidents — or petulant, in contrast to his opponent. He does not seem needy. He seems a grown-up, in a nation that badly needs some adult supervision.

---Joe Klein

Colin Powell's Most Important Point

An American Muslim speaks out:

America is made up of men and women of all faiths, and all are protected by the Constitution.

Colin Powell reminded us of this important fact Sunday morning asking, "Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?"

The answer again is no, but there have been some who've suggested otherwise. In recent years, and especially since the horrifying events of 9/11, some have demonized Muslim Americans as a threat to our national security and indeed our American way of life. Some have questioned the loyalty of American Muslims calling for the barring of all American Muslims from public service and the military. And others have even proposed that, unless Muslims take a special loyalty oath, that we criminalize the practice of Islam with 20 years in prison.

We've seen this before. The same ugly things that are being said about Muslims were said about Catholics, about people of the Jewish faith, and about Mormons. And now, bigots are attacking Muslims and Islam. Like those who warned against a nefarious plot by Catholics or Jews to control American schools, banks, and the government, these racists ominously warn us of the dangers of accepting Muslims as Americans, lest we succumb to "a cultural jihad." And such anti-Muslim rhetoric has led to real violence against innocent Americans, both Muslim and those perceived to be Muslim or Arab.

I think it's good that America accommodates all faiths. Americans of all faiths--Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist--bring strength to America and are protected by our Constitution and included in our national fabric. The Founding Fathers excluded religious tests from the Constitution, knowing fully that one day Catholics, Jews, Muslims and atheists could conceivably secure elected office. Indeed, when the first Muslim was elected to Congress last November, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a descendant of slaves, he swore his oath of office on the copy of the Qur'an--the Muslim scripture--that belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

I know this is hard for those on the Christian Right to believe, but America is not a 'Christian Nation', in the sense they mean it. A majority of Americans are Christian, that's true, but America is by design a country that is open to all religions and where all religions are to be treated equally.

That's not hype or 'liberal', that's Constitutional and historical fact.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

An Ideological Earthquake

Alan Greenspan admitted today to a congressional committee that the economic ideology, the worldview, by which he made decisions as Fed Chairman was fundamentally flawed. Markets and banks actually do need oversight and regulation by government.

This is simply unbelievable. It's like the Pope saying that 'papal infallibility' is wrong. (I write more about the dying Conservative movement here.)

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said.

Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Mr. Waxman pressed the former Fed chair to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Mr. Waxman said.

“Absolutely, precisely,” Mr. Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

Obama's Number One Priority

Nathan Lindquist (a favorite blogger of mine) quotes Obama on his number one priority in the Oval Office. Do you know what that is? According to Joe Klein, it is alternative energy:

But Obama seems a more certain policymaker now, if not exactly a wonk in the Clintonian sense. He has a clearer handle on the big picture, on how various policy components fit together, and a strong sense of what his top priority would be. He wants to launch an "Apollo project" to build a new alternative-energy economy. His rationale for doing so includes some hard truths about the current economic mess: "The engine of economic growth for the past 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20. That was consumer spending. Basically, we turbocharged this economy based on cheap credit." But the days of easy credit are over, Obama said, "because there is too much deleveraging taking place, too much debt." A new economic turbocharger is going to have to be found, and "there is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy ... That's going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office."

I think this is exactly what we need, and it could solve a lot of problems all at the same time: dependence on foreign oil, peak oil, global warming, unemployment, trade deficit and probably more.

Grotesque Slander of a Good Man

The Smog is Lifting

In the "Nice Clothes" post below, in what was mostly a sarcastic and flippant piece about a truly insignificant issue, I made a serious point at the very end that I want to elaborate on: Republicans need working-class people to be on their side, so they (wealthy Republicans) will continue to benefit economically (buy clothes), even though that works directly against the economic self-interest of the working-class people themselves.

This is at the heart of the Reagan Era, as expressed so well by Thomas Frank in his 2004 book, What's the Matter with Kansas? After being baffled as to why average-income voters were supporting conservative economic policies that actually made them poorer, Frank realized the sophisticated nature of this scam.

"While earlier forms of conservatism emphasized fiscal sobriety, the [Great Backlash] mobilizes voters with explosive social issues--summoning public outrage over everything from busing to un-Christian art--which it then marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends....[Cultural] backlash ensures that Republicans will continue to be returned to office even when their free-market miracles fail and their libertarian schemes don't deliver and their 'New Economy' collapses....Because some artist decides to shock the hicks by dunking Jesus in urine, the entire planet must remake itself along the lines preferred by the Republican Party, U.S.A."

"Old-fashioned values may count when the conservatives appear on the stump, but once conservatives are in office the only old-fashioned situation they care to revive is an economic regimen of low wages and lax regulations. Over the last three decades they have smashed the welfare state, reduced the tax burden on corporations and the wealthy, and generally facilitated the country's return to a nineteenth-century pattern of wealth distribution. Thus the primary contradiction of the backlash: it is a working-class movement that has done incalculable, historic harm to working-class people."

"The leaders of the backlash may talk Christ, but they walk corporate. Values may 'matter most' to voters, but they always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won....Abortion is never halted. Affirmative action is never abolished. The culture industry is never forced to clean up its act."

"The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professions; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking....Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining."

This, dear reader, is the swindle of the Reagan Era that is being revealed before our very eyes by the financial crisis of 2008. Times are changing. Fewer people are ready to believe the bogus cultural charges against Obama: "radical", "friend of 60s terrorists", "elitist", "pro-abortion", "secret Muslim". It's not working, because it's not believable.

Colin Powell didn't have to make anything up when he recently endorsed Barack Obama; he simply told the truth. The smog is lifting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Conservatives for Obama

Everything To Lose

One thought I've had but haven't seen anyone talk about I finally found in an article by historian Garry Wills in the New York Review of Books:

That is why the Republicans are so desperate to win this year. If they fail, not only will their previous encroachments be endangered, but the investigation of illegal acts will be removed from protection by presidential veto. Nothing short of wholesale pardons by the outgoing president can give many people cover for acts they undertook on the assurance that the unitary executive was exempt from congressional action. This prospect is so terrifying that John McCain has taken over the thuggish tactics that defeated him in 2000. The Republicans have everything to lose.

What White People Cannot Know

A medical student in Indiana writes about an experience he had while voting:

For me the most moving moment came when the family in front of me, comprising probably 4 generations of voters (including an 18 year old girl voting for her first time and a 90-something hunched-over grandmother), got their turn to vote. When the old woman left the voting booth she made it about halfway to the door before collapsing in a nearby chair, where she began weeping uncontrollably. When we rushed over to help we realized that she wasn't in trouble at all but she had not truly believed, until she left the booth, that she would ever live long enough to cast a vote for an African-American for president. Anyone who doesn't think that African-American turnout will absolutely SHATTER every existing record is in for a very rude surprise.

An Absurd Statement

John McCain says that Sarah Palin is the most qualified Vice President candidate in recent history. Really? More qualified than Dick Cheney? Than George H.W. Bush? While one can disagree with the policies of these two Republican VPs, they were manifestly hyper-qualified, by virtue of both intelligence and previous government experience as Congressmen, Secretary of Defense and CIA Director, Ambassador to China and the United Nations, White House Chief of Staff, among other positions.

This is objectively an absurdly incorrect statement. What could he possibly mean by this? Will he simply say anything to get elected, no matter how disconnected from reality?

Or did he possibly mean that because she doesn't have any experience in Washington at all, that that makes her the most qualified? That is at least plausible. I know fed-up ordinary people, sick of politics as usual, who would buy that argument. (You know who I mean, don't you.)

Nice Clothes

Sweet mama! The Republicans spent over $150,000 outfitting their Vice-President in clothing, including $75,000 in the Neiman-Marcus in Minneapolis around the time of the Convention. No wonder she looked so hot. That's a lot of clothes! What, do they have a separate plane just to carry her wardrobe?

Our alleged 'Joe-Six-Pack', small-town, real American from Alaska loves her clothes, that's for sure. Could it be she was trying to imitate the well-known clothing habits of the slightly richer Cindy McCain? Ah yes, those Republicans.

But I keep wondering. Why do so many Joe the Plumber types keep getting duped by these high-flying Republicans? Let me tell you a little secret: they're not really on your side, but they sure want you on their side, so they can keep buying those nice clothes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pointlessly Sleazy

Here's how one blogger sums up the Republican campaign so far:

It’s not so much that McCain’s campaign has been purposefully sleazy as they’ve been meanderingly, pointlessly sleazy....Obama was a conspirator in voter fraud for a weekend, a terrorist for about three days, until he was a socialist because some plumber in Ohio said so. Before that he was a celebrity and presumptuous, a race-baiter, a shady community organizer, sexist, inexperienced, a baby killer, a sex predator and a dozen other things. You wonder why McCain/Palin supporters feel like they can go to rallies and talk about Obama being a Jew-bought Islamic radical cokehead forced abortionist communist? Because it’s the standard that the campaign’s set....

Another Republican Converts

Another prominent Republican and foreign policy expert under Reagan, Ken Adelman, comes out for Obama:

Primarily for two reasons, those of temperament and of judgment.

When the economic crisis broke, I found John McCain bouncing all over the place. In those first few crisis days, he was impetuous, inconsistent, and imprudent; ending up just plain weird. Having worked with Ronald Reagan for seven years, and been with him in his critical three summits with Gorbachev, I’ve concluded that that’s no way a president can act under pressure.

Second is judgment. The most important decision John McCain made in his long campaign was deciding on a running mate.

That decision showed appalling lack of judgment. Not only is Sarah Palin not close to being acceptable in high office—I would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency. But that selection contradicted McCain’s main two, and best two, themes for his campaign—Country First, and experience counts. Neither can he credibly claim, post-Palin pick.

I sure hope Obama is more open, centrist, sensible—dare I say, Clintonesque—than his liberal record indicates, than his cooperation with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid portends. If not, I will be even more startled by my vote than I am now.

What Does the Wasilla Mayor Do All Day?

Which Is The Greatest of All The Amendments?

Stephen Colbert, America's greatest political satirist, said last night that one interesting way to identify one's politics is to answer the following question. Which constitutional amendment is more important to you--the First or the Second?

Well, the answer is easy and also comes as a question. Which Amendment is 'first' and which is 'second'?

The Real Barack Obama

For people still wondering who Barack Obama really is, here is an interesting brief video of clips from some interview programs from before he became Senator or Presidential Candidate.


Paul Slansky makes a good case for John McCain having to apology to America for having picked Sarah Palin.

A Few Wacko Violent Types Live Everywhere

This just in, from our beautiful North Carolina mountains:

A dead bear was found dumped this morning on the Western Carolina University campus, draped with a pair of Obama campaign signs, university police said. It had been shot in the head.


Let me just say that, having once lived about 30 minutes from the WCU campus for about 10 years, I can tell you that that does not represent the vast majority of the people living in that area. Having said that, there are also present in a few areas up there some pretty wild and crazy people: survivalists, insurrectionists, Aryan Nation types. That sounds like something they would do (just killing a terrorist?)

Defending the Constitution

I really appreciated Colin Powell's willingness to reemphasize our historic separation of church and state, when he endorsed Barack Ovama and pushed back against the sleazy Republican campaigning of late:

"Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, 'He's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.' This is not the way we should be doing it in America."

Just as it is very conceivable that a Jewish person could become President, so too with a Muslim person. Christianity is the majority religion of America, but American is not a 'Christian nation', as some fundamentalists would conceive it. Good Americans worship as Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and Unitarians. And anyone of these, given the right circumstances, could become President and do a very good job. It is the Constitution, not the New Testament, that the President vows to defend and protect.

Let the Lord and the 'holy catholic church', not the Republican Party, defend Christianity. They're better at it anyway. (For more on this, see this sermon, and also this one.)

Sarah Palin

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman and Former Secretary of State Colin Powell's assessement of Sarah Palin:

"I was also concerned at the selection of Governor Palin. She's a very distinguished woman, and she's to be admired, but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made."

For political moderates everywhere, Sarah Palin remains the single best reason to vote against John McCain.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Not So Blind At All

A relative of mine sent me the following statement about Obama, which followed complaints about Obama's connections to Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, Whoopi Goldberg, among others.:

Are the American people so blind??? If this was a white rich man, he would have been discredited and thrown to the wolves. Why are people so hesitant to judge a man (good or bad) because he happens to be African American? (That's correct political speak, because I believe that Senator Obama is actually from Africa.)

The reason this Swedish-American white guy (that's me) likes Obama has very little to do with his race, although I obviously find him to be a very attractive biracial man . (Actually, African American is more accurate for Obama than most blacks, because his dad was from Kenya while his mother was from Kansas, which makes him literally an 'African American'.) I do think his racial identity has been a political plus and not a negative, for perhaps the first time in American history.

But Obama is so much more than that. As I put it elsewhere recently, "Obama rivals Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford in his character, while at the same time matching the charisma of Reagan, Clinton, and Kennedy, the intelligence of Nixon, the courtesy of George H.W. Bush, and the political skills of L.B.J." He's even like George W. Bush in having an intelligent, beautiful wife and two lovely daughters!

Barack Obama is a very special presidential candidate in so many ways. That's why there is so much excitement and support for him around the country and the world (even if he does have the biggest ears I've ever seen).

Ps. I am so glad to see Colin Powell and Warren Buffett join the rest of us deluded, brainwashed, blind Obama supporters.

Growing the Middle Class Again

"I want to spread the wealth around." So said Barack Obama to Joe the Plumber, in the context of explaining his economic plans. Joe than told the press that sounded like 'socialism' to him. Question: does this make Obama a socialist?

No, it makes him what I have elsewhere referred to as a 'Renew Deal' liberal, something like F.D.R. The initiatives of the middle part of the last century created the most successful middle class in the history of America, reducing the disparity between the economic classes. During the Reagan era, however, the middle class has been increasingly squeezed and reduced, while the rich have grown much richer. In other words, most people are doing worse, while the few are doing much better.

There are many reasons for this, including the decline of unionism, the outsourcing of manufacturing, the deregulation of finance, the weakening of the dollar, enormous tax cuts for the wealthy, and so on. It is Obama's intention to turn as many of these things around as possible, so as to increase the size of that vital middle class.

Working-class and middle-class people need to look beyond the hype and the distractions and the mud-slinging of the radio talkshow hosts and this political season, to see where their true enlightened self-interest lies. Because that is precisely where the national interest also lies.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Houston Chronicle Endorses Obama

The Houston Chronicle, who has not endorsed a Democrat for President since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, endorsed Barack Obama for President. Reason: Sarah Palin.

Perhaps the worst mistake McCain made in his campaign for the White House was the choice of the inexperienced and inflammatory Palin as his vice-presidential running mate. Had he selected a moderate, experienced Republican lawmaker such as Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison with a strong appeal to independents, the Chronicle's choice for an endorsement would have been far more difficult....

Back in the spring, Obama's sentiments seemed more a hope than reality. Since then, we have watched him grow in the roles of candidate and leader, maintaining grace under fire without resorting to political expediency. He is by far the best choice to deliver the changes that Americans demand.

Fareed Zakaria GPS

One of the best new shows on TV is GPS with Fareed Zakaria. It airs on Sunday at 1 PM for an hour and has some of most objective and honest commentary on economic and foreign affairs on television.

Palin Not Ready

"Sarah Palin is not ready to be President."

---Colin Powell

Too Painful

Ah, c'mon George Will. Why can't you comment on the political or economic situation? Have you taken a vow of silence? Is it just too painful to talk about what and how the Republicans are doing? Are you unable to face the fact that the era of your great hero Reagan is finally coming to an end? Is the Conservative movement over which you are 'the dean' really dead?

I'm so sorry.

Transformational Candidate

"Barack Obama is a transformational candidate"

--Colin Powell

I Hope He Was Kidding

Todd Palin addressed a crowd of 75 fellow sportsmen at a gun club this morning as part of a three-event campaign swing through Pennsylvania.

The husband of the Republican vice presidential candidate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, told supporters that it is important to have a ticket that "supports our core values -- hunting and fishing." Mr. Palin, who is new to the campaign trail, spoke for only three minutes at the Pitcairn-Monroeville Sportmen's Club.

Colin Powell

Oh yah!!

Mormon Newspaper Goes For Obama

The Salt Lake Tribune, which supported George W. Bush in 2004, has endorsed Barack Obama and, like so many newspapers, given the pick of the unprepared Sarah Palin as the reason.

....out of nowhere, and without proper vetting, the impetuous McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. She quickly proved grievously under-equipped to step into the presidency should McCain, at 72 and with a history of health problems, die in office. More than any single factor, McCain's bad judgment in choosing the inarticulate, insular and ethically challenged Palin disqualifies him for the presidency.

I'm not a Mormon, but I couldn't have said any better myself. (Who knows, maybe there's a little pique because McCain didn't pick the Mormon Romney?)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Musical Interlude: James Taylor

One of my favorite James Taylor songs: Copperline

The Dying Reagan Era

It's important to remember that we are entering a new political era. The Reagan era in America is now dying a very fast and painful death and has to be replaced by something else. Will it be the updated, 21st Century New Deal of Barack Obama, or will it be whatever John McCain does with it?

The heart and soul of the Reagan Era, the political coalition our last great president formed of neo-conservative anti-communists, free market fundamentalists and country club wealthy, and the religious right, has become decrepid and feeble. It is literally falling apart before our eyes.

In part this is because the Communist world collapsed around 1990 of its own dead weight, leaving us no real enemy to fight. The neo-cons have tried very hard ever since to replace Communism with Radical Islam, but that effort has been largely blown apart by the disastrous Iraqi War. Meanwhile we keep our vast military machine deployed around the world, spending trillions of dollars in the process, trying to keep the shrinking reserves of oil flowing to our vast national fleet of pickups and SUVs.

In part, it is because Reaganomics (and the neo-liberalism of Clinton, which was really a Democratic version of Reaganomics), while doing some economic things very well, has also left us up to our eyeballs in debt and dependent upon the rest of the world to fund that debt. Manufacturing has been largely replaced by go-go finance, aka Casino Capitalism, creating an illusion of prosperity but not the substance. Also, it has created the greatest disparity in the distribution of national income and wealth since the Gilded Age, which many people are beginning to understand and oppose. Finally, it is has left us very vulnerable to the increasing global shortages of oil by ignoring our growing dependence on foreign sources of energy.

And in part, it is because the founding celebrities of the Religious Right--its Falwells, Dobsons, Robertsons--are aging and losing influence (or already dead), while the younger generation are moving in a different, more nuanced political direction (e.g. Emerging Church).

And there are other reasons as well--the Internet, for example, or the rise of China and India as global competitors.

Where Obama will take us--toward a new New Deal (or as Time calls it, the Renew Deal)--is quite clear to me. He will try to reverse the worst consequences of the Reaganomics with new measures across the board, with an activist government intervention, while at the same time, working hard to restore America's good name around the world by working cooperatively with our friends and negotiating with our foes whenever possible, with use of force as a last resort.

But where McCain will take us is not clear to me. Perhaps he would just preside over the current economic ruins, until replaced by Hillary Clinton in 2012, or Sarah Palin even sooner. Or perhaps he would make it worse by attacking Iran or provoking the resurgent Russia.

Whatever he would do, McCain would be joined in it by what remains of the Reaganite intellectual resources at the American Enterprise Institute (where I almost went to work in 1988), anti-taxer Grover Norquist and his buddies, and the fundamentalists at the Family Resource Council, among others. (Oh, and I can't forget that ever grinning Joe Lieberman, who would obviously join McCain in the White House in order to perpetually stand just behind McCain's chair in the Oval Office and continue grinning, since he will be 'persona non grata' in the Senate after the election.)

Now where Sarah Palin would take us, that is an interesting question! And that is beyond the horizon of my current viewpoint, though I know that I desperately don't want to go there.

Experience Versus Potential

Our greatest Presidents have not generally been those with the most experience, but those with the greatest potential. Think about it. Did Lincoln have much governing experience? Did F.D.R.? Did Reagan? They had a little, but not much. Then think of the really experienced ones. Nixon, Ford, Bush 41, Hoover. Lots of governmental experience, but really, what did it gain them (or us)?

It is certainly true that John McCain has had many more years of being around the corridors of Washington, as a U.S. Senator for some 27 years. But how much potential does he have to be a good, or even great, President? I think our answer to that question lies in the fact that the only reason he's close at all now in the polls is because he took as his running mate someone with very little experience but with great potential (at least in the eyes of some fervent supporters).

Barack Obama obviously has limited experience in governing, with a few years at state senator, then U.S. Senator. But that's not what has attracted his supporters, including this one. (Biden has most of the government experience, yet that didn't help him at all to win the Democratic nomination.) Obama's supporters see his great potential. First-rate mind, first-rate temperament, great eloquence, as even his opponents acknowledge. Add to that his character, those attributes of vigor, vision, calmness, strong ethical core, unifier, concern for the little guy, non-ideological pragmatist. Then wrap it all up in an attractive exterior of a post-racial African-American, and you have the makings of true greatness. Individuals like Barack Obama only come along every once in a great while.

That's why experience doesn't really matter this year in this election.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lay Off Obama's Faith

As 'Mudcat Saunders' just said on the tube: "People come up to me and say, 'Obama's a Muslim and he's got a crazy pastor.'" And I say, 'Well, which is it?'" Someone else just said to me that Obama probably joined his church just to win black votes.

Is there any other person in politics who's had more mud thrown on their faith? Think about it. Why has Obama's faith been such a target (going back to the wonderful spring obsession with two or three 15 second clips of Rev. Wright)? For the record, he's a baptized, professing Christian, who was a member of the United Church of Christ until he resigned from Trinity UCC after the Rev. Wright flap.

Do many people know or even care what McCain believes or where he goes to church? If a politician's faith is so important, should we know all the details of McCain's religious faith and activities, other than he is now pro-life? Seen any videos of his church or his pastor preaching? I haven't the foggiest idea, and I don't really care. I think you can tell all you need to know about a politician's faith by the kind of life that they live. The rest is between themselves and God (and maybe their pastor).

Palin's religious affiliation, as different as it is, has been pretty much ignored by her political enemies, even though there is a lot of unusual stuff there. I know about it, because that's my job as a religious professional. Until recently, she was a Pentecostal, though her church was reportedly condemned by the 'mainstream' Pentecostal denomination for being heretical.

Quick--tell me what church Joe Biden belongs to. That's right, he's a faithful, active Catholic. Seen any videos of his priest preaching?

I find the Right to be very hypocritical in all this, ignoring the shortcomings of their own candidates' religious lives, while piling on without conscience on those they oppose. Spreading internet rumors about Obama being a secret Muslim, or as one recent email put it, wanting to make us 'one nation under Allah.' What nonsense.

I think that the historic separation of church and state in this country was ingenous and responsible for both the strength of religion here and our ability to avoid wars of religions. (I preached a couple of sermons on this subject, if you want more details from a preacher's point of view, here and here.)

The Right should lay off Obama's faith and stop using it as a political weapon.

Against the Iraq War From the Beginning

Back in 2003, I found the government's argument for invading Iraq to be really weak and even devious. Also, having been a neo-conservative in the 80s and early 90s, I was more aware than most of their influence in the Bush administration, and I was very skeptical of the justifications for war I was hearing from both the government and media. So, even though I didn't personally know anyone else who agreed with me at the time, I decided that I had to speak out against the invasion. I could not bear to be silent, no matter the cost.

So, this is what I wrote in my church newsletter, of all places, since I didn't have this blog:

As I write on this Valentine’s Day, it looks very much like we are in the final stages of something that is quite the opposite of the spirit of this day of love and affection, namely, our preparation for war against Iraq. Honestly, I am filled with feelings of apprehension and dread at the coming tide of war. Some might say that you shouldn’t ‘be anxious about anything,’ as the apostle Paul once wrote. (In fact, that would make a pretty good sermon right now!) But right now, I feel more like the prophet Jeremiah, when he wrote, “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.” (4:19)

A British columnist wrote recently in the Times of London, “Few peoples go happily to war nowadays. Fear for our fighters is augmented by worry about our “enemies” because global media have given us a clear picture of the suffering wars bring, particularly to the poor. It is no longer easy to be robustly unimaginative or romantically heroic about warfare….”

Truthfully, I am not as convinced as our current government seems to be that we need to rush into war. Granted, I don’t have all the classified information they may have, but I’ve not been very impressed by what we’ve been told, either. Of course, I admit that I very well could be wrong, but then again, our government has been wrong before too, as I saw up close in my younger days. I am not a pacifist, but I do believe, with the historic Christian tradition, that war should be the last, last resort, given its unique horrors and unintended consequences. I think there may be a stronger case for stalling, waiting out, deterring, containing the tyrant Saddam. Right now, it seems to me that North Korea and Al-Quaeda pose far greater threats to world peace.

At any rate, I’m having a very hard time giving my informed ‘consent’ for this war to begin. But at this point, nobody’s asking me, so I guess I’ll just have to live with whatever the consequences and casualties of the coming hostilities. All I can do now, however inadequately, is to express my feeble protest for the record, before the special and horrible (mostly unseen, to us) carnage of war begins. May God save us all from (and mercifully forgive us) our collective folly.

Hmm...Did I hear somewhere that Obama opposed the Iraqi invasion too? Maybe that's why I like him so much.

Simply Ridiculous

I was going to do a number of posts making the case for Obama, and I already wrote several minor ones. But I think I've changed my mind on that. At this point, I'll let the various endorsements I refer to make the case for Obama (like the Chicago Tribune endorsement today, their first for a Democratic nominee for President in 161 years).

Really, if someone still thinks Obama is a revolutionary, a friend of terrorists, a secret Muslim, an anti-American, a Marxist, or some other form of radical, then nothing I can say will change their mind.

I really can understand someone liking McCain, even if he isn't charismatic or eloquent. (I liked Al Gore in 2000, and he was pathetically uncharismatic! But I voted for him because I agreed with his stands on policies and his worldview.) If you approve the Republican policies of the last 25 years, including the last 8, and their results in America, including what's happening to us right now, then vote for Senator McCain. I can respect that. If not, then vote for Obama.

I don't like the way things have been going, so I'm going with Obama.

But please, don't try to paint Obama as a Muslim, a radical, a deceiver of all, a friend of terrorism. Because all of that is simply ridiculous.

A Musical Interlude: Feist

A really quirky and enjoyable music video by Feist:

The Real Radical

While there is not a radical bone in Obama's body--he is a classic reforming liberal pragmatist--one cannot say the same for the 'First Dude', and by possible inference, his wife Sarah Palin. Todd Palin has had a fairly long (and recent) connection with a radical Alaskan political party, called the Alaskan Independence Party. Sarah Palin has spoken at the AIP's convention as recently as this year. Read this article for more information and other links. Now, this is a real story.

Conservative Radio Host Endorses Obama

On his talk show on WPHT today, conservative Philadelphian Michael Smerconish endorsed Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Smerconish did so by reading a couple paragraphs from his pending op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I've decided," he said. "My conclusion comes after reading the candidates' memoirs and campaign platforms, attending both party conventions, interviewing both men multiple times, and watching all primary and general election debates.

"John McCain is an honorable man who has served his country well. But he will not get my vote. For the first time since registering as a Republican 28 years ago, I'm voting for a Democrat for president.

"I may have been an appointee in the George H.W. Bush administration, and master of ceremonies for George W. Bush in 2004, but last Saturday I stood amidst the crowd at an Obama event in North Philadelphia," says the Republican.

Senator McCain, Please Stop It

The McCain campaign continues to make its charges, in phone calls to undecided voters around the country, about 'domestic terrorist' Bill Ayers, about which I've written here and here and here. It's really pathetic, I think, with all that confronts us in this country.

But it really says more about McCain and his campaign than it does about Obama. It is so sad and dishonorable to be saying that the Democratic nominee is a friend of terrorists and haters of America, when that is obviously not the case. In their fear of losing, the McCain campaign is engaging in behavior that should discredit it in history.

This kind of thing can only work to generate an extremism of the right which, down the road, could itself lead to more violence and terrorism in our country, of the political assassination and Oklahoma City kind. As one who endured the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy during my senior year in high school, I have no desire to go there.

Please, Senator McCain, stop it. Listen to your better angels. Stop it now and preserve what honor you have left.

Obama's Social Conservatism

Prominent blogger Andrew Sullivan writes:

Obama's skin color has obscured a pretty basic fact about him: he seems to have had a very conservative private life as a public figure. His marriage and family life have been much more traditional than John McCain's - someone who admits to promiscuity and adultery and divorce. Unlike McCain he's a long-time regular church-goer. Biden is also a family man, devoted to his kids and first and second wife, and a tee-totaler.

Chicago Tribune Endorses First Democratic Candidate in 161 years

For the first time in its long history of 161 years, which goes back before the Civil War, the Chicago Tribune has endorsed the Democratic candidate for President. Here are some of its thoughts.

The Tribune in its earliest days took up the abolition of slavery and linked itself to a powerful force for that cause--the Republican Party. The Tribune's first great leader, Joseph Medill, was a founder of the GOP. The editorial page has been a proponent of conservative principles. It believes that government has to serve people honestly and efficiently.

The Republican Party, the party of limited government, has lost its way. The government ran a $237 billion surplus in 2000, the year before Bush took office -- and recorded a $455 billion deficit in 2008. The Republicans lost control of the U.S. House and Senate in 2006 because, as we said at the time, they gave the nation rampant spending and Capitol Hill corruption. They abandoned their principles. They paid the price.

On Nov. 4 we're going to elect a president to lead us through a perilous time and restore in us a common sense of national purpose.The strongest candidate to do that is Sen. Barack Obama. The Tribune is proud to endorse him today for president of the United States.

Obama is deeply grounded in the best aspirations of this country, and we need to return to those aspirations. He has had the character and the will to achieve great things despite the obstacles that he faced as an unprivileged black man in the U.S.

He has risen with his honor, grace and civility intact. He has the intelligence to understand the grave economic and national security risks that face us, to listen to good advice and make careful decisions.

When Obama said at the 2004 Democratic Convention that we weren't a nation of red states and blue states, he spoke of union the way Abraham Lincoln did.

It may have seemed audacious for Obama to start his campaign in Springfield, invoking Lincoln. We think, given the opportunity to hold this nation's most powerful office, he will prove it wasn't so audacious after all. We are proud to add Barack Obama's name to Lincoln's in the list of people the Tribune has endorsed for president of the United States.

Loathesome Campaign

Andrew Sullivan shares one Republican reader's explanation of why he is switching to Obama this year.

Buy, Buy, Buy

Warren Buffet, the greatest investor of our time, writes about why this is a good time to buy domestic stocks.

Nobel Laureate Krugman's Economic Prescription

Paul Krugman dispenses some economic medicine for the U.S. economy:

On the other hand, there’s a lot the federal government can do for the economy. It can provide extended benefits to the unemployed, which will both help distressed families cope and put money in the hands of people likely to spend it. It can provide emergency aid to state and local governments, so that they aren’t forced into steep spending cuts that both degrade public services and destroy jobs. It can buy up mortgages (but not at face value, as John McCain has proposed) and restructure the terms to help families stay in their homes.

And this is also a good time to engage in some serious infrastructure spending, which the country badly needs in any case. The usual argument against public works as economic stimulus is that they take too long: by the time you get around to repairing that bridge and upgrading that rail line, the slump is over and the stimulus isn’t needed. Well, that argument has no force now, since the chances that this slump will be over anytime soon are virtually nil. So let’s get those projects rolling.

Unshakable Serenity

Neo-conservative David Brooks, in his NYT column, makes what I would consider a backhanded endorsement of Obama:

And it is easy to sketch out a scenario in which he could be a great president. He would be untroubled by self-destructive demons or indiscipline. With that cool manner, he would see reality unfiltered. He could gather — already has gathered — some of the smartest minds in public policy, and, untroubled by intellectual insecurity, he could give them free rein. Though he is young, it is easy to imagine him at the cabinet table, leading a subtle discussion of some long-term problem.

Off Course

Kathleen Parker, excommunicated conservative, writes about the strange Republican party that casts out its dissidents (most recently Christopher Buckley).

The truth few wish to utter is that the GOP has abandoned many conservatives, who mostly nurse their angst in private. Those chickens we keep hearing about have indeed come home to roost. Years of pandering to the extreme wing -- the "kooks" the senior Buckley tried to separate from the right -- have created a party no longer attentive to its principles.

Republicans are not short on brainpower -- or pride -- but they have strayed off course. They do not, in fact, deserve to win this time, and someone had to remind them why.

As a former Republican and conservative myself, who left quite a bit longer ago than Buckley or Parker (I voted for Reagan once and Bush 41 twice), I agree.

Presidential Qualities

The Washington Post endorsed Barack Obama for President this morning. In doing this, they wrote that the decision was made much easier by McCain's decision to pick a Vice-Presidential candidate who "is not ready to be President." Then they gave these reasons for picking Obama:

Mr. Obama is a man of supple intelligence, with a nuanced grasp of complex issues and evident skill at conciliation and consensus-building. At home, we believe, he would respond to the economic crisis with a healthy respect for markets tempered by justified dismay over rising inequality and an understanding of the need for focused regulation. Abroad, the best evidence suggests that he would seek to maintain U.S. leadership and engagement, continue the fight against terrorists, and wage vigorous diplomacy on behalf of U.S. values and interests. Mr. Obama has the potential to become a great president. Given the enormous problems he would confront from his first day in office, and the damage wrought over the past eight years, we would settle for very good.

The Media's Obsession with Undecided Voters

Another take, with a definitely irreverent tone, on the 'undecideds' in this election can be found here, in a clip from The Daily Show.

Big Ears

There is a very interesting article in the WaPo on Obama's approach as a new Senator in 2005 and 2006, which explains a lot about him and the way he might govern as President. Here's a little taste:

Listening, staff members said, also became Obama's primary strength as a decision maker. When an issue confounded him, he assembled what he called a "brainstorm group" to mull it over. He sometimes retreated to his office for hours at a time to call experts.

Obama encouraged two of his policy advisers, Michael Froman and Karen Kornbluh, to arrange casual meetings with Washington-area thinkers. They would assemble a conversation group -- six economic experts, say, or eight communications specialists -- and arrange a dinner. Obama opened the meetings by introducing himself, then spent most of the meal listening.

His Senate staff meetings followed a similar formula. On the eve of an important vote, Obama would clear his schedule and assemble key advisers in his office. Surrounded by Rouse and half a dozen policy experts, Obama stretched out on the couch in his office, sometimes resting his head on a pillow and closing his eyes. He asked everybody in the room to take turns sharing their advice, insisting on the participation of even his most quiet, junior staffers.

"He liked it when staffers disagreed among themselves about a particular issue," said Lu, Obama's legislative director. "He wanted us to argue it out in front of him, and he probed each side's arguments and asked hypotheticals, almost like a judge. He wanted to hear from everybody in the room."