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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Needed to Nominate

Consensus, Compromise and a Head-On Collision

As I watch the DNC Rules Committee hearing today, there are a couple of things that come into my mind.

First, though I hate that the Democratic process has been like watching the slow motion crunch of an Alligator Alley head-on collision, it is a really great thing that this is happening now instead of on the Convention floor in August. We need a nominee.

That brings me to the second thing. I have one word for the Rules Committee: consensus. I've heard them talking about compromise, but that means someone has to give up something they are attached to, like Hillary would have to let go of her campaign's dogged determination to seat and count every delegate in Michigan and Florida as they voted. Given her rhetoric in a May 22 e-mail:

"I'm so proud that so many people -- more than 300,000 of you -- are standing with me to ensure that the 2.3 million votes cast in Florida and Michigan are counted. It's such an important principle in our country: when the voters speak, we count their votes.

"Your commitment to that principle means a lot to me, and to the people I talk to in Florida and Michigan who want to make sure they have a voice in this election. Yesterday, I spoke to voters in Florida, and they are all too familiar with the consequences of not counting every vote.

"On May 31, we'll hear the decision from the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee on whether they'll seat the delegates from Michigan and Florida. And while we wait to hear their ruling, you and I must keep fighting together to win every last vote in the final three races."
-Hillary for President email, May 22, 2008

I would find it quite surprising that she would be willing to compromise, and an unwillingness for compromise is an unwillingness for consensus. To be sure, compromise is not needed for consensus because the latter means wanting what is best for everyone in the party. But Hillary wants what's best for Hillary, and her campaign seems to think that what is best for Hillary is what's best for the Party.

Yet the consensus that must emerge by the National Convention cannot be the result of a resignation or capitulation. Consensus here comes from realizing the consequences of continuing a potentially devastating intra-party fight. Consensus comes from stepping up and being supportive of the process, the Party and the nominee. There are no losers when we stand together.


Monday, May 26, 2008

For the Sake of Surrender

John McCain will not surrender in Iraq. He continually says so.

In another military cemetery in America, a widow, a mother, a son receive a folded flag. The stars and stripes that draped the coffin of their fallen hero is a flimsy bandage for the bloody scar on their hearts. Each mourner, consumed by pain, let's out a wail, letting all who hear it know that they have reached the point when the deep sorrow they have been feeling has sucked even more emptiness from the depths of their already empty soul.

And we cry with the son, the mother, the widow. We reach our hearts around them and hope to heal them by our embrace.

Some of us wrap ourselves with our own flag, hugging it as close as a rabbi's prayer shawl, as we try to find meaning to the tragedy of this war. Beneath our shroud, we mumble:

For the sake of the wounded and the dead,
we must surrender to the error,
surrender to the folly,
surrender to the truth,
for God's sake.

In any case, we are the enemy to whom we must surrender.

During the Vietnam War peace negotiations, there was a term made popular in Washington: "Peace with Honor." It was a phrase that always seemed odd to me, a way of saving face during an unwinnable war. But it was never considered surrender.

Here and now, in this war, we must pursue honor first, the honor of our own nation. When we vote this November, honor is what's at stake - our global identity as an ethical and honorable nation. Peace may follow; it may not. But at that point, when we stand in good faith to confront our enemies, we will do so as respected, responsible members of the world community.

Surrender? No. Cut and run? Puh-lease.

But when we are united in changing our country? Honor. And peace.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Shadowy Perspectives in the Time of Politics

The Relative Importance of Past Elections

There is a sense now that this could be the most important presidential election ever for our country. You hear it from this side of the aisle all the time. It is an important time for change, so vote because this election will be the one that changes our path. This election will determine if we can turn a downward socio-economic spiral into a surge upward. This election will get us away from policies based on war and toward policies based on diplomacy. This election is about the future.

But truth hides in shadowy perspectives on the past. I mean, if we go ahead, say, eight years, would we look back on this election with the same kind of intense gravitas which we ascribe to it now? More? Less? Certainly I can point to three presidential elections in my lifetime that seem very important now, though they did not necessarily occur that way at the time.

1968, in fact, was one that was just as important then as it is now. The country was deeply divided over age, over race, over rights and over another unwinnable war. There is no doubt that the intensity of that election and its subsequent result changed the way an entire generation approached politics and public service.

I think that one election to which we were not tuned in all the way was, in hindsight, 1980, Reagan/Carter. Reagan was elected only because he represented a clear difference from our pal Jimmy, who had a very tough administration. Even with a Democratic majority, he kept hitting roadblocks. That and the events in Tehran were Carter's undoing. Reagan promised to bring us out of what Carter called our "national malaise."

I don't think anyone foresaw how wildly popular Reagan would become, that he could take the Marines on a little tap dance through Grenada and call it a war, or that he could get away with fighting the Communist backed Sandinista government in Nicaragua by sending weapons to the Contras in exchange for cocaine sold to Americans by the CIA, or that he would be able to send arms to Iran via Israel to get hostages back, or that he could sell arms directly to the Iranians and use some of the money to fund the Contras in Nicaragua.

So 1980 saw the election of someone who we all knew would be difficult for progressive values, but we had no idea he would stay so busy sticking our collective noses where they didn't belong.

The last, most important election was 2000. As my wife says, we knew we didn't like him but we didn't expect that W was actually dangerous. Who really knows what would have happened had the will of the people prevailed? Would a Gore administration have paid closer attention to the warnings before 9/11? We almost certainly would not have invaded and occupied Iraq:

"It is impossible to succeed against terrorism unless we have secured the continuing, sustained cooperation of many nations. And here's one of my central points; our ability to secure that kind of multilateral cooperation in the war against terrorism can be severely damaged in the way we go about undertaking unilateral action against Iraq."-Al Gore, Commonwealth Club, Sept.23, 2002

We probably would not have raided Social Security. There would most likely be no federal deficit. Really, in this case, hindsight reared its head quickly, followed four years later by intense regret.

Now we find ourselves in another "most important election." Is it? Only time will tell.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

On the Day of Your Daughter's Wedding

Make Me the Country I Want to Choose

Mr. President, I come to you on the day of your daughter's wedding to ask for peace for my planet. I tried to be a good American. I voted for a Democratic Congress, but they will not stop the war. I gave my money to the ACLU, but they cannot stop the secrecy, only fight to expose it. I went to Luca Cheney, but he casts with the fishes.

Your pen is powerful, Mr. President. I beg you, please, speak to the little dictators. One word from you, and we won't have to go to the mattresses any more. We will be able to sleep in peace in our own bedrooms, where our children play with their toys.

I want a clean environment and affordable energy. I need you to re-educate those factory owners and oilmen you keep in your pockets like so many nickels and dimes. Tell them to put their obscene profits to work on solar and wind power, on hydrogen powered vehicles.

This election could be perfect for me. It would make America a star (again). Please, make me the country I want to choose.

On this, the day of your daughter's wedding, I congratulate you. May she bless you with many little liberals.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Moulting Hulls: A New Way to Campaign

How Barack Obama is Changing the Conversation of Political Campaigning

Picture a beach. Large, with windswept dunes, tall, dry grass spears from it as sparsely as the hair on John McCain's head. Scattered across the sandy hills are old bunkers, built by Nixon, Reagan and Bush 1 and 2, and even JFK, LBJ and WJ Clinton. There old fart politicians wait for the new politicians that dare to challenge their turf. They have survived by keeping their big guns sighted on the sea.

When the new ships carrying hopeful politicians attempt to cross the narrow bay, the old guard opens fire. They don't aim to sink the approaching boat - merely to make it list a little. That way, they can bring it in to shore in the guise of offering assistance.

"I don't know who shot at you," they say. "I just heard an explosion and came running. But you're lucky. We just happen to have a plan, er, I mean a shipyard where we can make the repairs for you and you can be on your way. Oh, don't worry. We've been doing things this way for years."

The fresh faced politician looks forlornly at this unwelcome handler.

"Oh, don't worry about the money. You're one of us. As long as you need your ship patched, we will be here for you. Now off you go."

Sure enough, a couple of days later, the new politician's ship is ready to set to sea. Indeed, it is repaired, and though a couple of planks, some nails and some pitch don't make it too attractive, it is seaworthy. So off he goes, charting a course to success on unpredictable surf.

But the people on other islands, who need him to give them a lift, see the poorly dressed gash in his ship's hull, and don't trust the repair. They definitely are hesitant to get on board. Then they look around at the other ships making their way to the harbor and shudder. Everywhere they look, on every hull, is an equally nasty patch.

The town crone hobbles up to them and, seeing their concern, says "Don't worry, dearies. This always happens. Just pick the boat you hate the least and climb on," and up a gangplank she waddles.

A lot of the other older folks do the same thing. Some of them even convinced their neighbors and family to join them. "Hurry up or you'll be left behind! You won't have a say about the ship's course," they shout from the deck rails.

Then, from the direction of the bunkered beach island, they see something miraculous. A smoldering ship begins to list, but instead of heading for the old shipyard, it turns and makes a heading toward them. They all gasp as they see it begin to list, smoke pouring from its side. They all see the smoke and they all know what happened. Those who haven't chosen a boat shake their heads in disbelief. Those on the old decks cackle with laughter and point at the fool coming towards them.

Suddenly, as they are all watching, the smoke stops, and slowly, the ship begins to right itself. "Look at that," says a young girl standing at the harbor, pointing. There, in the wake of the ship, the old smoldering hull is sinking. The boat now wears a shiny new hull, a confident one, and the people on shore rush to meet it. They cannot wait to climb aboard and meet the captain.

Somehow, Barack Obama has found a way in politics that doesn't involve putting a patch on controversy and hoping you don't see it. He's found a way to turn attacks into gold because it's not about the ship; it's about commitment to a destination. Instead of standing up like a petulant child and saying, "I'm not bad. They are," he stands firmly and says, "This is what the real issue is. It's racism. It's divisiveness. It's dismissiveness. But if we confront that, this is what's possible. We maintain our ship because we are committed to our course."

His biggest challenge will be going back to the bunkered island, his ship constantly renewing itself under their fire, and seeing if he can get the old farts to get on board.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Context of Context

When they heard his words, they were shocked by their vehemence. They were "taken out of context," as the popular excuse goes. He tried to assure us that when you look at the entire sermon, it was perfectly in line with the congregation's beliefs, not nearly as inflammatory as the little soundbites that the "media" keeps playing over and over and over again.

"Have you read the entire speech? Next question."

Yet the difference between the words and the speech from which they were extracted don't seem entirely distinct. So if it is not in the speech itself, where is the context of these words that fire up the Right and puzzle the Left?

It is the context of culture, a construct of the environment of the ecosystem of the mind. We all have a perspective, and the trick to great oratory is knowing how to give context to that perspective. Barack Obama has the gift of an agent of change to understand the world through the perspectives of others, so the social context of his speeches can be broad and sweeping and - if he loses track - unintentionally alienating to some segments of the public.

Reverend Wright, on the other hand, is so used to basing his context on the perspective of his congregation (which may or may not be the perspective from which he originally viewed life), that his speeches are intentionally narrow and sharp and targets like an arrow, but an arrow meant more to incite than to wound. It's what preachers do. They speak to their audience. They incite and they excite. They know what it takes to grow their garden.