Monday, September 29, 2008

The Joy of America: Alabama's "Dixieland Delight."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Presidential Campaign

We have two good men running for president. The first debate did not change my mind on that, or my probable choice, Senator Obama. The debate also did not change my mind on a political development, not new, but reemphasized, to my surprise and chagrin, since 9/11.

Shortly after 9/11 the blame game began: Bush, the gentleman's-C student, missed the signs; No Clinton did; No Bush; No the entire CIA. President Bush looked forward, and acted. It was a time for all Americans to come together and Bush led.

I can't balance my checkbook so I have no idea what this financial crisis we're in is about. But a lot of smart people from both parties have been throwing around the "D" word and I can see the parallels: a lack of regulatory reform leading to paper financial tigers that crumble with first wind and voila we're in a depression.

We have to look forward, not back, we have to come together, not blame, we have to act. Both candidates were more specific on what they would do on the issues, a welcome change in particular from Senator Obama, whose gauzy speech on the financial crisis was virtually a parody of the political art form.

But what most disappointed in the debate was the blame game.

Obama: Now, we also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain, a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most, and somehow prosperity will trickle down.

This was Senator McCain's response:

I've been not feeling too great about a lot of things lately. So have a lot of Americans who are facing challenges. But I'm feeling a little better tonight, and I'll tell you why.

Because as we're here tonight in this debate, we are seeing, for the first time in a long time, Republicans and Democrats together, sitting down, trying to work out a solution to this fiscal crisis that we're in.

Obama: The question, I think, that we have to ask ourselves is, how did we get into this situation in the first place?


On Iraq:

Obama: Well, this is an area where Senator McCain and I have a fundamental difference because I think the first question is whether we should have gone into the war in the first place.

McCain: The next president of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not. The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind. That's the decision of the next president of the United States.

On troop-funding:

Obama: And the strategic question that the president has to ask is not whether or not we are employing a particular approach in the country once we have made the decision to be there. The question is, was this wise?


Obama: Now, keep in mind that we have four times the number of troops in Iraq, where nobody had anything to do with 9/11 before we went in, where, in fact, there was no al Qaeda before we went in...

The last answer is a blooper that Senator Obama didn't get called on, to my knowledge. Saddam Hussein didn't have anything to do with 9/11, nor did his government, but Al Qaeda was represented in Iraq at the time and Osama Bin Laden himself slipped through our hands and across the border into Afghanistan.

It is inevitable for the candidate of the party out of presidential power to point to the failings of the party in power, and to it's candidate, but one does so at the risk of being only a politician, not a leader. Senator Obama's reply to Senator McCain's call for bipartisanship in addressing the financial crisis, that "The question...that we have to ask ourselves is, how did we get into this situation in the first place?", is not the reply of a leader. His remark that the strategic question in Iraq is, "was it wise?" to be there in the first place... is not the strategic question in Iraq.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Presidential Campaign

A few days ago I revealed to a waiting world, comprised of three Americans and five Chinese, my probable choice for president:  Barack Obama.  I must have the same sense of direction in politics that I have in driving. This is his "plan?" He could have been talking about anything here. CNN:

At a campaign event in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Obama laid out the reforms he would pursue as president to avoid another economic crisis.

I must have the same sense of direction in politics that I have in driving. This is
his "plan?" He could have been talking about anything here. 

First, Obama said that he would reform "our special interest-driven

Obama said he would make the government "open and transparent"

Secondly, Obama said he would "eliminate the waste and the fraud and
abuse in our government."

Obama also said that he and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, would
crack down on excessive spending from both parties and close loopholes
for big corporations.

Obama said he would pursue "updated, common-sense regulations" in the

financial market.

Obama has said several times since the recent Wall Street crisis that,
in meeting with top economists, he was encouraged to not roll out a
specific plan for fear of overly politicizing the work of Congress on a
government bailout of financial firms.

Well, he accomplished the last one.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Presidential Campaign

I joined the 21st century in politics today.

Up to now I had formed my impressions of our two presidential candidates the way that Americans did before 1932, certainly before 1960, that is without television or radio.  I own neither.

Today while surfing, I decided to watch Governor Palin's and Senator Obama's convention speeches on YouTube. I watched Palin's first because I was so charmed by what I'd heard and read and by the still photos I'd scene. She was everything that I had thought, and almost all of that was positive. Then I watched Obama's.

There was no comparison.  Next to a younger, prettier, more vivacious Ann Richardson, I saw a leader.

Our political discourse today is dominated by what the qualifications for vice president are, and whether Governor Palin meets them.  I don't know what they are but I know that being a mayor of a small town and a two year governor of Alaska aren't.  

Alaska is the most unrepresentative state in the Union.  I would guess that it's ethnic distribution is something like 70% white, 20% moose, 9% Eskimo and 1% other. 

Alaska has one-fourth the population of the borough of Brooklyn, New York.

While those of us who live in the "lower 48" struggle with gas prices, Alaskans get a yearly oil revenue dividend, and have for thirty years. 

All of this is not a criticism of Governor Palin:  Alaska has to have a governor and Wasilla had to have a mayor.  It's a criticism of Senator McCain.  The pick showed arrogance: if Governor Palin is qualified for the vice-presidency then it's hard to imagine who isn't.  

For me, Senator McCain's great draw was his experience.  Senator Obama is the luckiest politician in the world.  Only when his Democratic primary opponent and then his Republican general election opponent got caught with a live boy or a dead girl did this unknown state senator and community organizer become a U.S. Senator.  And he was only half-way through his first term when he announced his presidential candidacy.  

I don't want another Jimmy Carter, someone who is clearly out of his league in the presidency.

But experience is only important if it informs decision-making.  George H.W. Bush was the most prepared man ever for the presidency, and he showed the qualities of a career underling and yes-man, lacking "the vision thing."  He chose Dan Quayle for his running mate.

Experience also did not inform Senator McCain's choice for vice-president.  Instead,  it suggested that he would make a decision as an old person does, one who doesn't have the energy any longer to think things through.  The choice surprised his closest campaign advisers. It was impulsive, reckless, in my opinion, a "gut" decision.  Gut decisions are often those that are made by the intellectually lazy, or fatigued.  In his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, President George Bush famously said that he had looked the man in the eye and trusted him. Vladimir Putin, the former head of the Soviet KGB, and future Russian autocrat.  

Governor Palin has made her wonderful family story a compelling drawing point of her candidacy.  If that story is relevant, and I believe that all candidates' histories are relevant, then she cannot inoculate herself from the warts. Seventeen year old Bristol's pregnancy indeed may be a thing that happens to many American families, but that does not make it a qualification for vice-president. And because Governor Palin has made her family an important part of her candidacy, voters may fairly consider what Bristol's pregnancy says about Sarah Palin as a person.  

Governor Palin is socially, rigidly, conservative, that is the reason that Senator McCain chose her.  She is against abortion.  A lot of Americans are.  But then there are the alternatives, and those who believe as Governor Palin does must choose alternatives in 21st century America. And the rest of us must evaluate.  If she preached abstinence to Bristol, then she is as unrepresentative of America as is her state.  If she preached the use of condoms then her ability to lead her own daughter failed.  

It is also inspiring that the Palins decided to keep Trig after they knew that their little one had Down's Syndrome.  But as one woman was quoted as saying in the New York Times, "How exactly is this going to work?"  How is this socially conservative mother going to be a good mom to five children, one with Down's Syndrome, and a grandmother, nay a mother, to Bristol and "Sex on Skates" Levi, by whom her teenage daughter is pregnant?  

Is Palin going to move to Washington, D.C. and uproot her family if she and Senator McCain are elected?  Or is she going to commute to Alaska?  If she moves to Washington, will Levi move with her?  It's hard to believe that that would happen, and if it doesn't that would mean one more child growing up without a dad.  

If she moves to Washington  and leaves her family in Alaska and commutes how is that going to effect her ability to carry out first, for the country,, her job responsibilities, and second, her family responsibilities.  If she moves the whole kit and caboodle to D.C., what is that mother-of all-culture-shocks going to do to her family? It has to be one or the other, and how are either consistent with putting family first, another name for being socially conservative, which is the reason McCain chose her?

If Barack Obama, the son of a bigamous Kenyan man and a white Kansan woman, had a daughter who was pregnant at 17, Republicans--and I--would not be processing it as a sign that Obama was experiencing the same problems as the rest of us.  We would be saying, or thinking, that it was just another depressing reinforcement of a Black stereotype.

No, this will not do.  

The country deserves a president who is going to make rational decisions, not those based on his gut.  

No, being governor of Alaska is not a qualification for vice-president, whether or not it is a disqualification.  

No, having five children and still being with "her guy" is not a qualification.  

And certainly no, putting one's career over family-especially this challenging, needy family-is no qualification for being vice-president.

There is one sense, and a very important one, in which Sarah Palin is qualified to be vice-president, and that is that she is a wonderful, charming person who makes a visceral connection with people. She makes people like her, and like themselves.  That is a fantastic asset for a national leader. However, taken as a whole, this uniquely American personality should not be the proverbial "heartbeat away from the presidency."  That is not her fault.  It is Senator McCain's. I expected more from him.  So, I have gone from a fence-sitter to an Obama probable.  I am Benjamin Harris.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Joy of America: Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses"

Friday, September 05, 2008

The memorial
to Clover Adams,
a suicide, designed
by Augustus Saint
Rock Creek
Washington, D.C.